(Updated July 7)

I know we technically speak the same language, but sometimes British and American English are so different, I wonder if we’re really even saying the same thing. (Sometimes, we’re not!) For example: while watching Big Brother on TV the other evening (the Brits are obsessed… I don’t share the affinity), I watched a woman speak for about a minute and had absolutely no idea what she was saying. Honestly! I knew she was speaking English, and I knew I should recognize it, but her accent was so fast and thick, I could not comprehend a single word she said.

Apart from the obvious differences in terminology such as crisps (American chips), chips (American french fries), and quid (similar to the American slang “bucks”), there have been some less-expected differences. Just for fun, here are some of the more interesting linguistic differences I’ve encountered over the past few days/weeks:

– Looking for the arugula? Ask where you can find the rocket. (Yes, arugula = rocket)

– Those woven pieces of hair in your hairstyle? Those would be plaits (pronounced ‘plats’), not braids.

– Want a Sprite-like drink? Order a lemonade. An American lemonade? That would be ‘still lemonade.’ A very important difference! See my first post about London for more on this topic.

– Sick or injured? You’re not going into a hospital, or the hospital… just hospital. (As in: “He was taken to hospital earlier this afternoon” or “She’s still in hospital”). This one is simultaneously scintillating (because it makes me feel like I’m really in Europe!) and grating (article omissions bother me!).

– Satisfied or extremely happy with something/someone? “Brilliant” and/or “lovely” are the perfect words of choice. They have also taken strong root in my daily vocabulary.

– Interested in expressing gratitude or commiseration? “Cheers” would be the appropriate response. I have heard the phrase “thank you” less than five times from a British person. Despite this (and unlike my love of the words ‘brilliant’ and ‘lovely’) I can never bring myself to say ‘cheers’ in regular conversation- it just doesn’t sound right without the accent!

– Waiting with a bunch of other people for a bus to come, the tube to arrive, or someone in front to speed up with whatever the heck they’re doing that’s slowing everyone else down? You’re in a “queue,” never a “line.” (Again, a word I don’t think I have ever heard a British person say. “Line” is strangely and quintessentially American!)

Now, the next time you make it across the pond, you’ll be linguistically prepared!


One thought on “Communication

  1. Art Ickle says:

    Think of British “hospital” like American “heaven.” E.g., “He was taken to heaven early this morning” or “She’s still in heaven.” Hospital in Britain is heavenly, right? Cheers!

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