Language

Here are some notes about language and wording that I regularly encounter and in some (but by no means all) cases have to work to remember. These are, for the most part, differences between the US and UK versions of English. Some of the ones marked “UK” are specific to Newcastle and the North East, but I don’t always know enough to distinguish them from general UK usage, so I’ve just marked them all as UK. Also, these are not necessarily “standard” or “approved” wordings, but they’re how people talk.

This page contains items on different wordings, different meanings, and different pronunciations. And finally, some notes. Each list is presented in the order in which I thought of the entries, with newer ones at the bottom.

Different wordings

US Term UK (or North East England) Term Notes
Pants Trousers In the UK, “pants” are underpants.
Double whole note Breve Pronounced “breeve”, not as in Italian.
Whole note Semi-breve
Half note Minim
Quarter note Crotchet These musical weirdnesses make me all crotchety.
Eighth note Quaver
Sixteenth note Semi-quaver (and it gets even more amusing from there)
Measure (music) Bar Sometimes it’s called a bar in the US, so this one is not hard for me to remember.
Sidewalk Pavement
Yard Garden …if it has plants in it. If it’s paved, it’s a yard.
Cleaning lady Cleaner This makes perfect sense, and I started using it (even in the US) as soon as I heard it.
Cell phone Mobile phone
Closet Cupboard Very few homes in the UK have built-in closets (it’s far more common to have wardrobes as free-standing furniture), and I’m told that even the ones that are built in are called cupboards. Also, they say “skeleton in the cupboard”, further supporting the use of “cupboard” for “closet”.
Pocketbook, purse Bag, handbag
Her name is… She’s called… I’d point out that people aren’t always called by their names.
Period (in punctuation) Full stop This makes sense, and conveys the meaning better.
Quotation marks Inverted commas LOL
Vacation Holiday
Deer in the headlights Rabbit in the headlights No doubt due to the differences in the local animal populations!
Iced-tea spoons Sundae spoons Now I know what to ask for when the weather gets warm(ish) and I need to buy some spoons for iced tea.
Take the cake Take the biscuit
Turtleneck Roll neck
Mock turtleneck Polo neck
Washcloth Flannel
Flannel Flannelette
Toilet paper Toilet rolls
Paper towels Kitchen rolls
Fabric softener Fabric conditioner
Sleet Hail See the discussion of the different meanings of “hail”, below.
Podiatrist Chiropodist :-(
Since I wrote this, I have learned that podiatrists are becoming more common in the UK, and that they are not the same thing as chiropodists.
Excuse me Sorry
Nail polish Nail varnish Not that I use it myself, though. :-)
Move Shift As in, “We need to shift this merchandise” or “Shift!”
Outlet Socket The thing in the wall where you insert electric plugs.
Homey Homely
Supposed to Meant to As in “You’re not supposed to do that.” Funny thing is, I had never noticed this before I moved here.
Cash register Till
Cart Trolley I don’t think the kinds of trolleys they have in supermarkets are what the National Capital Trolley Museum has in mind!
Also, this term is used not only for the large ones in supermarkets but also for the small personal ones that little old ladies (including me!) use to haul their shopping home from the store.
Store Shop A store seems to be more of a warehouse, a place where things are stored.
Eggplant Aubergine In the US, “aubergine” refers to the color, not the vegetable.
Zucchini Courgettes I once saw this spelled “cougarettes” on the English menu in a resturant in Italy. ;-)
I’d also note that “zucchini” is incorrect; it should be “zucchine”. But don’t get me started on the misappropriation of Italian words into English. That’s a conversation that never ends.
Shrimp Prawns Brits reserve “shrimp” for the tiniest ones. I’m not sure how they tell where shrimp stop and prawns begin.
Dessert Pudding
Chicken (egg, tuna) salad Chicken (egg, tuna) mayonnaise “XYZ salad” in the UK is XYZ with salad greens. (I wonder what they call potato salad.)
Bathtub Bath In the US, a bath is what you are taking while you’re in the bathtub, bathing yourself. (Or when you lose all your money in the stock market. :-)
Faucet Tap I have always understood “tap”, as used in the US, to mean the thing that draws water out of the supply (it “taps” into it, as it were), not the thing that delivers the water into the sink. Therefore, US sinks have both hot and cold taps (unseen, in most cases, hidden in the wall or the cabinet) but only one faucet.
Stovetop, rangetop Hob, cooktop
Stove Cooker
Overpass Flyover
Bus Bus or coach The large intercity ones are called coaches in the UK.
Corn Sweetcorn “Corn” can mean many things in the UK, including oats (mostly in Scotland) and wheat (in some parts of England, I’m told). So it’s best not to use the word by itself.
Jelly Jam “Jelly” as we know it in the US doesn’t seem to exist in the UK. Everything I’ve seen either contains pieces of fruit (US “preserves” or “conserves”) or is as thick as US “jam”. I’ve also not yet seen any grape jam, although the ubiquitous blackcurrant jam is close enough to satisfy me.
Ice cream truck Ice-cream van Note the hyphenation.
Daypack, backpack Rucksack I carry one of these when I need to haul my laptop around.
Transportation Transport In the US, “transport” is a verb.
Cell phone Mobile phone Pronounced “mo-bile”, with a long “I” as in “bile”.
Pecans Pecan nuts Seems redundant to me, but maybe the purpose is to distinguish the nutmeat from the whole nut with shell.
Graduate from high school Leave school I haven’t yet figured out how they distinguish quitting school (withdrawing) from leaving because one has finished.
French toast Eggy bread It’s certainly an accurate characterization, but it does sound unappetizing.
At the moment At the minute We do say “right this minute” (and “not right this minute”), but generally we speak in moments.
Fall Autumn
Clothespins Clothes pegs
Ground Earth As in “earth the appliance” and “run a criminal to earth”.
Different from Different to This just feels weird.
(And let’s not get into “different than”; that’s just incorrect.)
Cursive (handwriting) Joined-up
Tidbit Titbit
Titmouse (a type of bird) Tit Can lead to much merriment.
Public school State school This whole “school” nomenclature is a can of worms. See the item on “public school” below.
Smart (as in intelligent) Clever See comment on “clever”, below
Gotten Got Somehow they seem to think that “gotten” is incorrect, or at best an iffy Americanism. I find this surprising, since they use “taken” and “broken” and other “-en” past participles, seemingly without reservation.
Coordinate (as in, connect with someone to make something happen) Liaise Yuck.
(British friends please note: “Coordinate” is not hyphenated in AmE. And yes, the first four letters are still pronounced as two syllables.)
Up to Down to As in, “That’s up to you” (i.e., it all depends on you, or it’s your decision). People here tend to say “That’s down to you.”
Dump, Dumping Tip, Tipping I’ll leave you to look up “fly tipping” on your own. (Hint: It’s nothing whatsoever like cow tipping.)
I have
I don’t have
I’ve got
I haven’t got
This is not hard and fast (both sides of the Pond say it both ways), but is a general tendency. I have noticed that when someone asks me “Have you got…?” I automatically reply “I do!” as if they had asked me “Do you have…?”
On sale, on special On offer It’s “offerta” in Italian, so why not?
Need Require As in, “Do you require anything else?”
Flatware Cutlery I would think “cutlery” would be implements for cutting — i.e., knives, and possibly the forks with which to hold the thing being cut. But evidently it’s been generalized.
As happy as a clam As happy as Larry Larry who?
But I guess there’s no reason to assume that a clam would be any happier than Larry. Whoever he is.
Cord (electrical) Cable In the US, a cable is something that carries information (perhaps in addition to power), except for heavy cables (usually made of twisted metal) that hold things up (such as ski lifts).
Broil Grill In the US, “to grill” usually means to cook something over a flame, not under it.
Blackberry Bramble This refers to both the plant and the fruit. See discussion of “bramble”, below.
Window screens, screen doors Fly screens I’m more interested in keeping out wasps, actually.
Driver’s license Driving licence This difference is not just the spelling of license/licence.
Movie Film The pretentious call them films in the US as well, but we hoi polloi tend to call them movies.
Living room Lounge Makes it sound like a sleazy bar with a man in a tux playing elevator music on the piano. (I’m not sure what they call a family room.)
Elevator Lift Oddly enough, they call an escalator an escalator.
Ride Lift As in, “Can you give me a lift to the rehearsal?” (And no one would think you were asking for an elevator.)
Check Bill The piece of paper a restaurant gives you, showing how much you have to pay.
Bill (as in a five-dollar bill) Note (as in a five-pound note) A piece of paper money.
Women, men Ladies, gentlemen This drives me nuts, probably more than any other language difference I regularly encounter.
Divided highway Dual carriageway
Four-lane road Two-lane road US usage is the number of lanes total; UK usage is the number of lanes in each direction.
Interstate highway Motorway
Traffic circle Roundabout I like these; I find them very efficient for keeping traffic moving. The UK has a lot more of them than the US does, and I find them well designed and (in the case of the large ones) well signposted.
Enter a road (in a vehicle) Emerge into a road
Catch Bite What you feel the clutch doing when it begins to engage.
Parking lot Car park But you probably knew that already.
Parking space Parking bay
Water heater Boiler Yes, I know it’s sometimes called a boiler in the US. But those tend to be the huge ones that heat office or apartment buildings, and the UK uses the word also for the small ones in homes.
Amd don’t talk to me about a “hot water heater”; it’s a water heater. If the water is already hot, there’s no need to heat it. q.e.d.
“ah” “ar” The way to indicate in writing that an “a” is pronounced “like the ‘a’ in ‘father'”. Not that the “a” in “father” is pronounced the same way on both sides of the Pond or anything. But “ar”??? That’s amazing. What about all the people who pronounce final “r”s? If a doctor asked me to stick out my tongue and say “ar”, she wouldn’t, I assure you, be able to get a tongue depressor in there the way she wanted.
Good job! Well done! I like the British version better.
Showing Screening The playing of a film/movie in a movie theater/cinema. See item on the different meanings of “screening”, below.
Movie theater Cinema In the UK, “theatre” is reserved for places where you see plays live.
Dress Frock I thought calling a dress a “frock” went out before 1960, but no, they still use the term for a very nice dress, a party dress.
Costume party Fancy dress party
Puttering Pottering
Fit Fitted Past tense of “fit”. As in, “that old shirt fit me well” — Brits would say “that old shirt fitted me well”. Americans do use “fitted” but not in that sense; we use it in “fitted him with” or “fitted him up with” — as in, “She fitted him up with a new shirt that fit better.”
Tylenol Paracetamol
Taxpayers Rate-payers
Sedan Saloon Howdy, pardner. Nice car you have there.
Main Street High Street
Facial tissue Paper hankie IOW, a “Kleenex” (if I may use the brand name as a generic, just for clarity)
Sweater Jumper I’m beginning to get the impression, though, that “jumper” is limited to pullovers. A cardigan is called a cardigan.
Exhaust fan, ventilator Extractor
Going-away party Leaving do
Ground turkey Turkey mince This is true of beef as well, but since I don’t eat mammals… :-)
Beets Beetroot I guess they specify “root” because the leaves are also edible.
Whew Phew I suspect you know what this means. :-)
Orient, oriented Orientate, orientated I guess this makes sense, but it sounds weird somehow.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other Six and two threes
Stick Settle What snow does when it starts accumulating on surfaces
Ornament Bauble An object to hang on the Christmas tree
Right up your alley Right up your street
Blow your own horn Blow your own bugle
On the street In the street “The salon is on/in Northumberland Street.”
Upcoming Forthcoming
Pressure Pressurise Put pressure on someone to do something
Oatmeal Porridge
Scotch tape Sellotape Scotch is a brand, and I suspect Sello is too. Each is used as the generic term in its country. (I say “its country” although Scotch tape is also sold in the UK.)
Review Revise To look over something again.
So That As in “I’m so tired!” or “I’m that hungry I could eat a horse!”
Rub the wrong way Rub up the wrong way
I’m standing, he’s sitting/seated I’m stood, he’s sat As in, I’m standing/stood in the front of the room. “I’m stood” makes it sound as if someone else has stood me there.
Grades Marks Indicators of how well you do in an evaluation (usually, in school).
Drawer, drawing Draw “The socks are in the top draw” (US: drawer) and “You will be entered in our prize draw” (US: drawing)
Scared Frightened Americans do say “That’s frightening”, but we almost never say “I’m frightened.”
Dryer Tumble dryer A household appliance for drying laundry.
Dribs and drabs Bits and bobs These aren’t precisely the same thing, but they’re close enough.
Postlude Voluntary The piece of music played at the end of a church service.
Airing one’s dirty laundry Washing one’s dirty linen Revealing unpleasant things about oneself or one’s family that one would rather people not know.
Every little bit helps. Every little helps.
Street Road Both countries use both terms, of course, but they use them differently. For example, Americans are more likely to say “across the street” and Brits are more likely to say “across the road”.
Alley Lane A small access road that runs between named streets in urban areas, providing access to back gates and trash/rubbish collection bins.
Furor Furore This is not just a matter of spelling; they’re pronounced differently. See Pronunciation, below.
Burglarize Burgle The Brits have it all over us with this one. I love the word “burgle”.
Can, canned Tin, tinned
Get shed of Get shot of, get shut of Get rid of or be liberated from, especially something that is bothersome or troubling. (Note: “get shed of” — “shed” as in “shedding” — is not all that common in the US, but I have never heard “get shot of” or “get shut of” there.)
Self-storage unit Lock-up
Shitload (or shitpile) Shed load Euphemism? Marketing?
Yours, mine, ours, theirs, these, those, etc. Your one, my one, our one, their one, these ones, those ones, etc. This difference applies only to use as pronouns, not as adjectives — e.g., “Yours is red” or “I prefer these” (US) vs. “Your one is red” or “I prefer these ones” (UK). Americans do say “this one” in some contexts, but that’s when there is a choice and we need to distinguish this one from “that one”.
Checked bag Hold bag
Baggage claim Baggage reclaim I’m surprised “reclaim” is not hyphenated. :-)
Advice columnist Agony aunt
Vest Waistcoat A waist-length, sleeveless garment, usually worn under a suit jacket.
Vest Gilet A waist-length, sleeveless garment, worn for warmth.
Thread Cotton Filament used for sewing. Not all thread is made of cotton, of course.
Relatives Relations This sounds a bit suggestive to American ears, as in the US “relations” means sexual relations, intercourse.
Faculty Academic staff In the US, the “staff” at a university generally refers to the people who work there in a non-academic capacity — secretaries, administrators, maintenance people, etc. — and the faculty is the people who teach (not including students with graduate teaching assistantships).
Thesis Dissertation And vice versa.
Speak of the devil! Talk of the devil!
Eight-thirty Half-eight Short for “half-past eight”.
Downtown City centre
Close Shut “Shut” is used in the US as well, but it comes across as slightly belligerent and isn’t used nearly as often.
While Whilst I love this word.
I don’t have, he doesn’t have I haven’t, he hasn’t As in, “He hasn’t the brains to work out a solution.”
Guts Bottle Basically, courage
Drunk driving Drink driving
Cleaning Scaling What a dentist or hygienist does to a patient’s teeth once or twice a year.
Skates Boots Ice skates that consist of boots with attached blades. (May apply to roller skates too.)
Game Match A sporting event that pitches one team against another — e.g., a “soccer game” or “football match”. (I say “team” because in the US we too use “match” for individual events such as tennis or fencing.)
Checking account Current account, bank account A savings account is also a bank account, no? :-)
Cab Taxi We call them taxis and taxicabs too, sometimes, but I’ve never heard “cab” in the UK.
Taxi stand Taxi rank
Bandage, adhesive bandage Plaster, sticking plaster The brand name “Band-Aid” is often used for the generic in the US
Board a train Join a train
Shipping and handling Postage and packing
Alternative medicine Complementary medicine
Arugula Rocket “Rocket” probably comes from the French “roquette”. In Italian it’s “rucola”, and in Roman parlance it’s “rughetta”. I was introduced to this wonderful herb by Antonio, who had lived in Rome for 20 years before emigrating to the US, so I tend to think of it as rughetta. Whenever I mention it, I have to remember where I am and who I’m speaking with so that I can determine what to call it.
Housing project Housing estate These aren’t quite the same thing, though. A housing project is generally low-income housing, whilst a housing estate may not be.
Carpenter, carpentry Joiner, joinery
Intermission Interval A break between parts of a performance.
Mohawk Mohican A type of haircut.
Outbuilding Outhouse See different meanings of “outhouse”, below
Exhibit Exhibition In the US, an exhibition is much larger than an exhibit, and frequently is commercial or industrial. Exhibitions often consist of exhibits.
Clipping Cutting A newspaper piece cut out.
Crosswalk Crossing A place designated for pedestrians to cross the street.
Trash Rubbish
Pantyhose Tights See the different meanings of “tights”, below.
Run (in one’s hose) Ladder (in one’s tights)
Babysitting, babysitter Child minding, child minder
Neat, messy Tidy, untidy See the different meanings of “messy”, below.
Allowance Pocket money
As sharp as a tack As sharp as a knife Hmmm… Punctures and cuts require different kinds of sharpness.
Real estate agent/agency Estate agent/agency
Bobsled Bobsleigh Where are the horses?
Sled Sledge Americans do use the word “sledge”, but it’s not something on which people have fun sliding down snowy hills, it’s something to pull behind you (or an animal) to move goods from one place to another.
Slash Stroke The symbol “/”
Hey! Oy! (or Oi!)
Hodgepodge Hotch-potch
Filet Fillet They’re also pronounced differently, or I wouldn’t have listed them in this section. The American word is pronounced fil-AY (like the French word, which it actually is), while the British one is pronounced FILL-et (just like it looks).
Cane Stick An aid for walking, particularly by those who need assistance. (Does not apply to walking sticks used on hikes and in the woods, which Americans call walking sticks.)
Clapper Clanger That thing that hangs inside a bell, hits the sides, and makes it ring
Median Central reservation A space that runs along the middle of a road or highway, separating the two directions of traffic
Reserve. Reservation Book. Booking Arrange to have a space in a plane, train, hotel, restaurant, etc. The arrangement of that space.(
Cookbook Cookery book
Run for election Stand for election
High beams, low beams Main beam, dipped headlights Interesting how the different terms reflect different views of what’s the normal condition: low in the US and high in the UK.
Defroster (front), defogger (rear) Demister (both front and rear)
Testify Give evidence My exposure to this comes not from personal experience but from watching crime videos on BBC and ITV players.
Air conditioning, A/C Aircon
Goat cheese Goats cheese Note the missing apostrophe.
Drunk Pissed
Tachometer Rev counter That’s what my driving instructor called it, anyway. But he thought a stop sign was a hexagon. :-)
Laughing gas Happy gas Nitrous oxide
Chat with Chat to
Sell off, Sell Sell up
Clipping Cutting Something clipped/cut out of a newspaper or magazine
Raise Rise An increase in wages or salary
Sports Sport
Employee Member of staff
Coworker Colleague British friends have told me that they read “coworker” as “cow orker”, haha. Most probably they would hyphenate it (see note at bottom of page). Brits use “colleague” for many more situations than Americans do; we tend to reserve it for fellow professionals. But I like the British way, as it provides a handy short form for referring to someone who works for the same organization as does the person to whom I’m speaking. “Your colleague told me X…” or “I spoke with one of your colleagues yesterday…” — very convenient!
Dredge Drag Search the bottom of a body of water by dragging something along it to see if it catches anything
Inspection, inspector Survey, surveyor A person who comes to inspect a property that’s being sold, to report to the buyer on its condition and any defects that will need to be addressed.
Public holiday Bank holiday Why specify “bank”?
Zipper Zip
Parakeet Budgerigar (“budgie”) I like this word. :-)
Station wagon Estate wagon
Pickup truck Van ??? Even when it has an open bed in the back? Odd.
Pick one’s brain Pick one’s brains
Train wreck Car crash What happens when the singers in a group lose their coherence and the different parts go off rhythm with each other.
X (“ecks”, the letter X) Cross A/an “x” marked in a box to select it
Defroster (front), defogger (rear) De-mister
Reference Referee A person you list on e.g. a job application as someone who can confirm your skills and capabilities.
Proctor Invigilate To monitor an in-person exam and make sure no one cheats
Tent canopy Marquee
“Gossip” “Chinese whispers” A children’s game in which one person whispers something to the next, who repeats it to the next, and so on, and they see how garbled it becomes at the end
Pull someone’s leg Take the piss
Dull as dishwater Dull as ditch water
Staff Stave This applies only to the terminology of printed music (and to the thing carried by Morris dancers, so a Morris-dancing friend informs me); Brits do use “staff” for other meanings, such as a group of people who work for an organization. It turns out that “stave” is a back-formation from “staves”, which is the plural in both versions of English.
English American The version of English that Americans speak. In the US, we say we speak English (or American English, if we want to be precise and distinguish it from other versions of English). In the UK, they say that Americans speak “American”. Linguists refer to these versions as AmE and BrE, so I’m sticking with my contention that “English” is not specific to to British English. So there. :P
Elasticized Elasticated Huh.
Tic-Tac-Toe Naughts and Crosses
Zero Naught
Potted plant Pot plant Heh heh. See the different meanings of “pot plant”, below.
Equipment Kit, or plant Imagine my surprise the first time I saw a road sign warning of “Heavy Plant Crossing”! I had visions of Ents or the Jolly Green Giant lumbering across the road.
Ten-foot pole Barge pole As in, “I wouldn’t touch that with a…”
Neuron Neurone The second syllable is pronounced differently. Americans pronounce it like the second syllable of “Klingon”, whilst Brits pronounce it like “own”.
(See how I used “whilst” there? I’m perfectly willing to forgo my objections to the use of “while” to mean “although” if it means I get to use “whilst”. I love that word. :-)
Jetway Air-bridge That thing that connects an airplane to the airport terminal so that passengers don’t have to walk up/down stairs or go outside to embark/disembark.
Airplane Aeroplane Yes, Brits do pronounce the “o”. Odd that they don’t say “aeroport”.
Cane Stick A device used for support when walking is difficult. You don’t want to know how I know this.
We use “walking stick” for a similar thing, but that’s usually for something used for walking in the woods or other rough terrain and not because a person has difficulty with ordinary walking.
Woods Wood These are slightly different, as the US “woods” tends to be generic and the UK “wood” tends to refer to a specific bit of woodland. But in the US, “wood” refers to the material that trees contain.
Christmas lights Fairy lights Not quite the same thing.
Bathing cap Swimming hat
Index cards Record cards
Nearsighted Short-sighted See next section for comments on differences in the use of “short-sighted”.

Different meanings of the same word or phrase

Term or phrase US Meaning UK Meaning Notes
Pavement The hard surface of any outdoor paved area Sidewalk Just to complicate matters: In Italian, “il pavimento” is the floor.
Apology “I’m sorry” “I’m sorry, I can’t make the meeting” (or other event)
“You all right?” “Is something wrong?” “How are you?” This may help explain why middle-aged women in Newcastle all seem to be worried or grumpy when they’re just walking along on the street. :-)
Quite Very Sort of, fairly i.e., “not quite”
Cupboard A container, usually wooden and usually attached to the wall, where one stores small to medium-sized things. A canonical example is kitchen cabinets. Apparently, it is pretty much any built-in or attached storage space, including what in the US we would call a closet. I once tried to explain to an Italian colleague the difference between cabinets and cupboards (not knowing at the time how knotty this problem is). He shook his head and grumbled, “English has too many words.”
Philadelphia Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Cream cheese (from the Kraft “Philadelphia” brand of cream cheese) This is in line with “Hoover” for vacuum cleaner and “Black and Decker” for electric drill. Americans sometimes use brand names for the generic — e.g., “Kleenex” for facial tissue and “Xerox machine” for copier (although I call them copiers) — but we don’t come anywhere near the Brits in this regard.
Flannel Type of fabric Washcloth, face cloth
Surgery Surgical operation A professional person’s office, or a session to address problems and offer advice; a place where a professional person provides consultation I think it means an operation in the UK as well, but in the US it doesn’t mean an office or a troubleshooting session.
Hail Large-ish balls of ice that fall in the summer Balls of ice that fall any time of the year I’m guessing that UK summers don’t often get hot enough for them to have what the US considers hail to be. But see the Weather Channel on the different types of wintertime precipitation: “Sleet is different from hail. Sleet is a wintertime phenomena [sic]; hail usually falls from thunderstorms under completely different atmospheric conditions — and usually during the warm spring and summer months.”
Homely Unattractive, ugly, plain Homey, cozy, like home
Pudding A dessert like a custard-pie filling, most commonly flavored with chocolate, vanilla, or butterscotch. Pretty much any dessert This explains why a “plum pudding” is (more or less) a cake.
Subway Underground train Underground walkway
Flyover A maneuver in which airplanes fly over a predetermined place on the ground. A road bridge over another road.
Jelly A fruit spread that is fairly thin (not runny) and contains no pieces of fruit. Gelatin dessert à la Jell-O In the UK, “jam” seems to be the generic term for fruit spread, jelly, jam, and preserves.
Student Anyone of any age who attends any kind of school, college, or university. Someone who attends an institution of higher education, beyond high school. Kids who attend school up through what we would call high school (AFAIK they don’t call it that in the UK) are called pupils.
Cheap Inexpensive, and with the implication of questionable quality or value Inexpensive, with no implication about quality
Public school School run by the government, which students attend free of charge. School run by a private institution and for which a fee is paid. I *think* they are called “public” in the UK because they are open to most anyone who can pay, as opposed to being limited to members of a specific religion, for instance, but I’m not sure about that.
Clever Ingenious Intelligent
A&E Arts and Entertainment Accident and Emergency (i.e., the emergency room) Arts and Entertainment TV
Bramble A thorny, tangled thicket. A blackberry bush or fruit. The dictionary says the term may also be used for raspberries, but I’ve never heard it used that way. When my UK friends and acquaintances say “bramble jam”, they mean blackberries.
Screening An advance showing of a movie, often to gauge audience reaction Any showing of a film This always trips me up. When @tynesidecinema tweets about a screening, I automatically think there’s some new movie coming out. Although this may be reinforced by my experience in usability testing (in which screening is a process of deciding which applicants to accept as participants in the study), I heard “screening” in the movie sense long before I got into usability.
Fancy dress Extremely nice attire, such as a tuxedo or a ball gown Costume, such as what one would wear at Halloween
Saloon A bar in the Wild West A sedan car
Jumper A loose(ish), sleeveless dress under which one wears a blouse or a lightweight turtleneck/mock-turtleneck sweater A pullover sweater Jumpers are often worn by young girls, especially as school uniforms. Here’s a sewing pattern for a women’s jumper and blouse.
The Met Metropolitan Opera (New York) Metropolitan Police (London)
Knickers Knee-length trousers, like what one wears for golf or cross-country skiing Women’s underpants
Common Frequently encountered Vulgar, lower-class
Graduate (n.) Anyone who has ever graduated from an educational institution. Usually said as “graduate of” a specific institution. Someone who has only just graduated from university.
Cauliflower The material; any amount of the flower of this plant One head of cauliflower In the UK, they say “two cauliflowers” to indicate what Americans would call “two heads of cauliflower”. In this sense, “cauliflower” in American English is just like “broccoli”.
Vest A waist-length sleeveless garment. May be associated with a three-piece suit, or may be an outer garment for warmth when you don’t need anything heavy. An undershirt.
Outhouse Outdoor toilet, privy Any small building not attached to the main one, such as a workshop or shed.
Undertake Make an effort to do something; for example undertake to win a gold medal in Olympic Figure Skating. Pass another vehicle in the slower lane. IOW, if overtaking is passing in the faster lane, undertaking is passing in the slower lane. It’s gotta be a back-formation and in a way it’s kind of stupid, but in another way it makes a kind of sense because there’s an advantage to having a single word for it.
Tights Thick hosiery with a panty attached, worn by young girls or for warmth by women. Often made with cotton, sometimes with wool. Any pantyhose, including lightweight, sheer nylons.
Messy Untidy Untidy and dirty
Athlete Someone who excels at any sport Someone who excels at track and field
Red peppers Hot red peppers, chili peppers Sweet red peppers, ripe bell peppers
Take a class Attend a class to learn Teach a class
Sick Ill Sick to one’s stomach, vomiting
Pissed Pissed off, angry Drunk
Tick off Make angry Check off (from a list)
Cutting A piece cut from a plant, for propagating it elsewhere A piece cut out of a newspaper or magazine
Bum A no-good person, someone who does no work A person’s rear end
Cress Watercress; see photo at Able & Cole Garden cress, or salad cress; see photo at W.S. Bentley
Referee Someone who mediates between two sides (often two sports teams, especially in basketball and American football) and makes sure the rules are followed. A reference (see above)
Cross (noun) Two crossed lines, one vertical and one horizontal Two crossed lines in any orientation, including X
Marquee A sign over the entrance to a moviehouse or playhouse that shows the names of current and upcoming attractions A tent canopy for outdoor events Marquee in the US (will open in a new window)
Marquee in the UK (will open in a new window)
Pot plant Marijuana plant A plant growing in a pot
Short-sighted Unable to look past the very near future Unable to see at a distance In the US, the term refers to a perspective, a way of thinking. In the UK, it refers to the visual condition and possibly also the perspective.

Different pronunciations

This section lists some differences in pronunciation that I’ve encountered on the eastern side of the Pond. It’s not about the differences that we all know about (such as the “a” in castle and Bath, as pronounced by people from the South of England) but about differences that have surprised me and that I find a little odd.

Word US UK Comments
Contribute, distribute Con-TRIB-ute, dis-TRIB-ute CON-trib-ute, DIS-trib-ute
Israel Speaking: Is-ree-ul
Singing: Is-rah-el
Speaking or singing in English: Is-ray-el I have yet to bring myself to sing it that way.
Furor, Furore FYOOR-ur fyoo-ROAR-ee
Beta bay-ta bee-ta Ours is more like the original Greek, I submit. :-)
Skeletal SKEH-leh-tul ske-LEE-tul I *think* we pronounce “skeleton” the same way but I’m not sure.
Vaginal, Urinal VÆJ-in-ul, YURE-in-ul vuh-JINE-ul, yuh-RINE-ul
Jesu YEA-zoo, regardless of the language of the rest of the song JEE-zoo, when singing in English Ew.
Clerk Clurk (rhymes with “work”) Clark (rhymes with “dark”) Reminds me of my grandfather.
Heinous HAY-nus HEE-nus
Macrame MACK-ruh-may ma-KRAH-may
Toll (the sound of bells) Rhymes with roll and poll Rhymes with doll and loll
Corollary CAHR-uh-lair-ee or CORE-uh-lair-ee cuh-ROLE-uh-ree or cuh-RAHL-uh-ree
Centenary SEN-ti-air-ee sen-TEE-nur-ee
Garage ga-RAZH GAR-ridge (rhymes with “carriage”) Thanks to @lynneguist for the insight about “carriage”
Academia ack-a-DAY-mee-uh ack-a-DEE-mee-uh

Some notes

The British hyphenate EVERYTHING. When in doubt about a prefix or a two-word phrase, hyphenate it. Co-worker. Hyper-ventilate. Trans-Atlantic. Re-patriate. Ultra-marine. Semi-final. Ice-cream. Let your imagination run free! (I wouldn’t put it past them to hyphenate “reify” or “unusual”, haha. :-)

In the case of the semifinal example above, some time ago I had occasion to collaborate with a UK native, and we were using a shared file to keep track of action items and their status. I kept writing that something was in “semifinal” status, and my colleague kept changing it to “semi-final”. I finally said that I didn’t mind his/her changing it if he/she felt more comfortable with its being hyphenated, but I did want him/her to know that the unhyphenated version was the more common American spelling and that the way I was writing it wasn’t an error. (Those of you who know me know how much I HATE being thought incorrect when I’m not. LOL)

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  1. Reading the latest update I had a couple of “Aha!” moments, including two lane road vs. four lane road. And after all this time there are odd words that I still have to reach for, and not necessarily the ones you would guess based on frequency of use: shopping cart, for instance.

    By the way, Sellotape (all one word) is indeed the brand name turned generic. Those of us of a certain age remember this being a Shibboleth for the presenters on Blue Peter. In those days the BBC was absolutely obsessive about avoiding the merest whiff of commercial promotion of any product, but occasionally the presenter would say “Sellotape” and quickly correct themselves to “sticky tape”.

    • My driving instructor keeps referring to roads that have one lane in each direction as “single-track roads”. I drove on actual single-track roads (in the Hebrides) before he ever started driving, and I suspect he’s never been on one. :-)

  2. By the way, I notice you haven’t yet added the automotive differences which I’m sure you’ve noticed: bonnet for hood, windscreen for windshield, boot for trunk, etc. I’m sure you will once you’ve passed your British driving test!

  3. “Bottle” is an odd one. “He has a lot of bottle” does indeed mean he has bravado (which of course is subtly different from courage), but “he bottled it” means he failed to show the necessary courage in making a choice. You might hear it said of a politician who chooses the wrong but politically expedient option over the right but brave decision.

  4. Regarding “cab” for “taxi”, you will hear that in London specifically in the expression “black cab” for the iconic London taxi. Correspondingly, the drivers are called “cabbies”.

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