American words – what are those?

Before I moved to England I thought British people and American people spoke the same general way just in different accents. Before then I knew the British used the word fags for cigarettes. That was a lesson I learned after my old friend Lisa’s English mother asked if we could pick her up a few while we were at the store. The look of shock on my face prompted her to explain. I had heard the term bloke used to refer to a guy and a few other little words here or there through watching films like Austin Powers but for the most part I was entirely naive to how many differences there were between American English and British English.

I became pregnant with my son not too long after settling in England and up to that point aside from the time I nearly went into heart failure because my father in-law asked what time I wanted him to knock me up, I had not encountered too many other major differences. Being pregnant and living in a new country was difficult. I had to get used to a national health system instead of a private insurance system for my medical needs and other obvious differences. The biggest thing I needed to adjust to was what all those baby gadgets are called. I went shopping for a crib, a bassinet, some cloth diapers, onesies and a stroller but what I came out with was a cot, a moses basket, some cloth nappys, baby grows and a pram. It seemed overnight I was starting to conform to the word differences. Over time I found this easier than trying to explain what I meant by everything I said or dealing with the looks I was getting.

Nine years later my tone of voice, speed of speech and word choices have changed drastically from when I arrived in this country. Now fewer people have trouble understanding me and not too often do I need to repeat myself. Now I sound more British but not with the same accent as those from where I live. I still get asked if I am American but less than I used to. I am finding more people think I am Canadian or Irish now.

Here is a list of other words I no longer use as often and their British replacements:

Biscuit (at least in the American sense as a biscuit is a hard cookie here)

Broil – Grill

Buddy – Mate

Candy – Sweets

Catsup (Ketchup) – Red Sauce or Sauce

Cell Phone – Mobile

Chips – Crisps

Costume – Fancy Dress

Cotton Candy – Candy Floss

Dish Soap – Washing Up Liquid

Dish Towel – Tea Towel

Drug Store – Chemist

Dumpster – Skip

Eggplant – Aubergine

Eraser – Rubber (this makes me laugh each time)

Fanny Pack – Bum Bag (Fanny in this country is a body part located on the opposite side of the body of what it is in the US)

Flashlight – Torch

Fries – Chips

Frosting – Icing

Garbage – Rubbish

Gas – Petrol

Hood of a car – Bonnet

Jell-O – Jelly

Jelly – Jam

Ladybug – Ladybird

Mail – Post (so a mailman is a postman and a mailbox is a postbox)

Mathematics – Maths

Mini Van – People Carrier

Mom – Mum

Pacifier – Dummy

Paper Towels – Kitchen Roll

Parking Garage – Multi Storey Car Park

Period – Full Stop

Popsicle – Ice Lolly

Realtor – Estate Agent

Row House – Terraced House

Rutabaga – Swede

RV Park – Caravan Park

Sidewalk – Pavement

Sneakers – Trainers

Station Wagon – Estate Car

Sweater – Jumper

Track and Field – Athletics

Trunk of a car – boot

Vacation – Holiday

Wash Cloth – Flannel

Yellow Light – Amber

Zucchini – Courgette

There are probably many more. There are also American expressions I use that are not used over here and some British ones I have come to use often as well but I will save them for another post on another day.







About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a primary and middle school teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three and a wannabe author.
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11 Responses to American words – what are those?

  1. pattisj says:

    There are quite a few differences. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  2. “I became pregnant with my son not too long after settling in England and up to that point aside from the time I nearly went into heart failure because my father in-law asked what time I wanted him to knock me up, I had not encountered too many other major differences.”

    Fun post, Billie jo 🙂

  3. Not only was this a fun post, but it brought back memories. My first husband was from Scotland and used most of the common Brit terms, plus a few of the Scottish ones (eg: “Dinna fash yerself, lassie.” – means, Don’t fret or get upset, girl.)

    However, being Canadian, I learned something from your list…it’s the price we Canucks pay for being part of the British Commonwealth but also close neighbors of Uncle Sam. In that list, many of the words I use interchangeably and didn’t even know that one was the Brit version and one was the American version (such as pacifier-dummy, sidewalk-pavement, period-full stop), while others I recognized as solely UK words (rubbish for garbage, bonnet and boot for parts of the car, chemist for pharmacist, and so on). I like to think I was bilingual, but now I am married to my lovely American man and am discovering that American English is not as close to Canadian English as I thought (I can’t think of any offhand, but I know there are dozens of them – when I think of them, I’ll add them to this post).

    Actually, this is all very important for me (and other writers) to realize when we come to fleshing out our characters. Not only do we have to figure out how the MC, for instance, talks because of his education level and occupation, but because of his country of origin. Just because it is an English-speaking country is no guarantee that the character speaks the same way as people do in another English-speaking country.

    Great post, Billie Joe! 🙂

    • Thank you Sandra! I find language amazing anyway it is partially why I took so many linguistics classes at college. I find as a writer I have to pay more attention to my MC’s language because I flit in and out of spellings for shared words to depending on which frame of mind I am in at the time.

  4. Hi Billie Jo! Thanks for sharing your experience – I used to follow you a lot when I was writing over at StorySketches. I moved over to a different blog now, but I would like to nominate you for the booker blog award. Details here:
    Thanks! – Kati

  5. I didn’t really have to think much about my Englishness until I started working freelance writing things for American clients and a personal project that also has to be in American English, and suddenly I found myself thinking ‘does that work?’ Especially as the personal project is a comedy, and I think I have a very (strange, but still) British sense of humour. Or humor. Your list of words might come in handy for future reference actually, if you don’t mind me pinching it?

    I don’t know why some people get so upset that Americans spell things differently. I’d happily use quite a few of the American words on that list in place of their English ones. Perhaps aluminium (even thought that’s just spelling, not a different word) should have been on that list; it seems to be the one that causes the most fights!

    • Haha, have you been spying on my personal facebook page Rewan? The thing that prompted me to write this entire post was a discussion over the word aluminium. I had posted that I knew I was becoming more British and less American because I did not say aluminum that day but aluminium instead. 🙂

      Of course you can pinch (or steal) this list and if you ever want to run anything by me, you know my email address.

      As for the spellings of words I use them interchangeably now. I will even vary which spelling I use depending on who I am directing the statement at.

      British humour grows on us Americans in time. 🙂

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