Social Question

_zen_'s avatar

English versus English: British and American (or Australian, Canadian et al) - what's the difference, really?

Asked by _zen_ (7809 points ) June 26th, 2011

Yeah, yeah: colour and color, neighbour and neighbor; but other than a handful of words like lift/elevator – what other differences have you encountered.

Bonus lurve for slang.

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58 Answers

trickface's avatar

You’re avin’ a giraffe ain’t ya? There’s busloads of differences!

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
aprilsimnel's avatar

@trickface, lorry loads, even!

Aethelflaed's avatar

The punctuation. The periods/exclamation points/question marks go on the outside of quotation marks in British English, but on the inside in American English. Makes much more sense the British way.

_zen_'s avatar

Lorry loads always reminds me of the (British Singer – formerly named) Cat Stevens: Where do the Children PLay. Great song.

Lyrics

Symbeline's avatar

Slang; In America and Canada, a fag is a derogatory term for a homosexual. In the UK, it’s a cigarette. Incidentally, ’‘fagot’’ in the UK is a log. (piece of wood, not fecal matter) While here, again, it’s not something nice to say.

I believe fagot, as wood, is derived from the French word, pronounced fah-go. (which is an ensemble of logs, rather than just one log) But I’ll stand corrected.

Also, shite and shit.

trickface's avatar

@Aethelflaed but isn’t “Hey Jude!” better than “Hey Jude”!, ? I agree with the full stop notion (period, teehee).

Aethelflaed's avatar

@trickface Lol. Well, if you put it on the outside, you can do things like Clara always sang while making breakfast; this morning she chose “Hey, Jude!”. So then you can denote that the exclamation point is on Jude, not that Clara sings while making breakfast, or that this song is particularly delightful.

Symbeline's avatar

In the UK, a cunt is used to describe a person, whether you like them or not. It basically just means ’‘dude’’. Over here, it’s a slang for vagina, and also an insult to call someone a cunt.

(fanny being the more popular slang for vagina rather than cunt, although over here, fanny means butt. I’m not sure if cunt as ’‘dude’’ and fanny as vagina goes outside of Scotland though)

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

In the US, “fanny” is used for buttocks. In the UK, it means women’s private bits below the belt.

Aethelflaed's avatar

A “fruit machine” in the UK is a “slot machine” in the US (gambling). I kept thinking that this guy who “robbed a fruit machine” thought that a couple of old oranges and apples were really worth breaking into a machine for.

trickface's avatar

@Symbeline I would have to say cunt isn’t as friendly as “dude” in England, it can be used cheerfully between friends, but it still means dickhead really.

For example, our fire alarm has just started making the ‘need new batteries’ beep at 3am, and meaning she wants me to fix it, my gf turned and said “Dude”. I replied “cunt” and she went “WHAT?! I just said dude and you said cunt?!” I explained this is what I was writing about! It’s still severe to say cunt :)

@lillycoyote I back you up on that.

lillycoyote's avatar

Bollocks, man, there are a lot of things! E.g.: I know they say “maths” instead of “math” for an abbreviation of mathematics. And sometimes words are defined and used a little or more than a little, differently. I believe that in British English they use the phrase “a scheme” mean simply “a plan” or course of action of some kind, where in American English, the word “scheme” has negative connotations and is generally used to describe something illegal or dishonest in some way. Hopefully, a Brit will back me up on that but that’s the impression I’ve gotten from reading articles on the BBC website as to what the word scheme means when the Brits use it.

Symbeline's avatar

@trickface Yeah, I wasn’t entirely sure how far cunt as dude went. Thanks for clearing that up, I’ll know not to use that term if I ever travel to England. :)

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Whut wee’ve gaut heeya eez fayhluh tue cummoonicait

The Suthun drawl is the finest evolution of the English language. I’m not sure our friends across the pond are refined enough to fully appreciate it.

dabbler's avatar

I am smitten by the UK practice of pluralizing the verb for nouns that are collections, like corporations, teams, groups….
E.g.
Coca-Cola are introducing a hideous new variation on their classic drink..
or
St. Basil’s rugby squad are_ leading the league in visits to their parents at weekend.
But
The data are validating… as far as I can tell only eccentric data workers and latin students would says that.

anartist's avatar

The differences run all through the language as the two dialects evolve independently and draw upon different references—for instance—the concept of “not black enough” [identifying with “white” values and culture] is expressed in the US by referring to a familiar cookie. “He’s an Oreo” while in the UK “he’s a coconut”

or would you rather be “dressed down” or “sorted out”?

It’s delightful actually, the simultaneous invention.

A word to the wise—better not knock a girl up in the US, but it’s ok in the UK

Coloma's avatar

Well…I am in contact with a lot of Australian raft guides at my river store, I can always tell the Aussies from the New Zealanders because they ask for my boss ( Steve) as STIVE! lol

I used to get really confused between the Aussies and N’Z’ers..but, “Stive’ is ticket. haha

anartist's avatar

@Aethelflaed actually the us punctuation is even worse than you imagined. The periods and commas go inside quotation marks that may just select a phrase, but the exclamation points and question marks go outside. Go figure.

@Symbeline actually a faggot is more like a twig or kindling than a log and it is used in this country a little In children’s fairytales the beautiful daughter of the old woodsman is often sent out to gather some faggots to start a fire when her adventure begins. I thought it was funny that an insult would be to call someone a piece of kindling. But as a child at camp I did. I yelled “You faggot!” at someone I was angry at and was harshly reprimanded by the counselor—I asked why it was so bad to call someone a stick of wood. She was nonplussed—never knew the word.—Like someone in DC who got fired from a city job for using the word “niggardly” and using it properly. The ruling stood, even after the definition was read, because the person should have known not to use a word that might accidentally offend those less well-read.

And last—fag, cigarette, some use in us too. Also the custom in public schools for senior boys to push around junior boys making them do things such as fetch some fags—sort of making them a servant. I think the boy in the submissive role is called a fag

zenvelo's avatar

One time at my brother’s for a big family dinner, I said “I’m stuffed”. My British sister in law was astounded that I was allowed to use such vulgarity in front of my parents at the dinner table. Little did I know it meant “I’m fucked”.

Coloma's avatar

@zenvelo

Good to know that. lol

lillycoyote's avatar

@trickface LOL. Boy you Brits are clever! Much smarter than us Yanks. You backed me up on what I said before I even said it, or maybe it’s time difference. :-)

JLeslie's avatar

UK mad is crazy, US generally we use mad for angry.

Biscuit in UK can mean cookie (sweat) or cracker (savory). Biscuit in America is a fluffy breadlike item.

zenvelo's avatar

Chips for french fries, crisps for potato chips.

Boot for trunk, bonnet for hood.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Don’t forget the pronunciation of words like “schedule” (like “shedule” in the UK/Canada) and lieutenant (like “lefftenant”). And the Brits add a whole extra letter to “aluminum” (“aluminium”).

@anartist, I remember the “niggardly” case – so stupid.

shrubbery's avatar

Rubbish bin = trash can.
We just say “chips” to either mean hot chips (french fries) or potato crisps.
Bathers = togs = swimsuit.
Thongs = flip flops.
We say “write to someone” instead of just “write someone”.
We would say “I can’t be fucked (bothered) cleaning my room” to mean the same thing as “I can’t be fucked (bothered) to clean my room”
Dinghy = small row boat.
Highway = motorway = freeway.
Footpath = sidewalk.

I’m Australian, btw. I’ll come back if I think of more.

shrubbery's avatar

@dappled_leaves, I think you’ll find that rather than Brits adding extra letters, Americans remove letters.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@shrubbery, as a Canadian I’ll agree (and don’t even get me started on why anyone needs an American spelling for metric units), but aluminum was named aluminum first, then changed to aluminium. So I’m claiming the letter was added. :)

lillycoyote's avatar

@shrubbery My father may have been secretly Australian then, because he built a small rowboat for us when I was a kid and he and all of us always referred to it as a dinghy.

JLeslie's avatar

@shrubbery Also, Americans use thongs and freeway. Thong you don’t hear as much now, but my mother and many people in that generation us it 55+ I would say. Motorway is not used in America that is true. Highway is used interchangeably with interstate in some parts of America, and in others it isn’t.

I think I grew up with a dinghy being used for smaller boats that are towed by larger ones, or a boat that was small, but not exactly like a row boat, a row boat had several benches. And, in my mind a dinghy could have a motor.

shrubbery's avatar

@dappled_leaves I just wiki-ed that and I read it that they both came about at the same time and it was just who preferred which- but I did not know that so thanks for pointing it out and making me look it up!
@lillycoyote I mentioned that one because I just have this vivid memory of being in the Fluther chat room one day talking about my grandpop’s dinghy and everyone pissing themselves and it took me ages to work out why :( haha
@JLeslie yeah we use highway and I couldn’t remember which was American and which was British out of freeway and motorway.
Also can’t remember what Americans call bathers. I think togs are British.

zenvelo's avatar

Freeway is a regionalism in the U.S., especially in the West. The East coast has a lot of turnpikes, and in New York they call it a thruway, because they charge tolls. Tolls aren’t charged on a freeway.

A freeway is a highway with limited access. Many are now funded by the Federal Interstate system. In California, a highway is not necessarily limited access, but it is a state funded route, so we use highway all the time (hence California Highway Patrol). And we also have U.S. Highways, such as Highway 101 that runs up near the coast from Los Angeles to Seattle.

JLeslie's avatar

@shrubbery In more rural areas in the US, highway is used verbally for roads that are typically at least 4 lanes (2 lanes each direction) many times it is divided by a median, not always, and is a main thoroughfare, but is not an interstate. In more densely populated places many times highway and interstate are used for the same road. On the east coast I have never heard people use interstate, while here in Tennessee, which is near the middle of the country, but within the American south, they use interstate typically, and I never hear freeway, and highway is used for roads actually names highway, like Highway 70, or East West Highway in Maryland for instance. Many Americans don’t know region to region what is commonly used, and they have to figure itonce they get there.

JLeslie's avatar

Oh yeah, thruway. Haven’t heard that in a long time.

lillycoyote's avatar

@shrubbery Actually, I’ve encountered a lot of Americans who didn’t know what I was talking about either. My dad was from West Virginia. They have their own ways. That may have been a part of it. Just like any country, I suppose, there are a lot of regional differences in the way people speak in the U.S. Not just accents but usage. When I moved to Oregon it was hard to get used to what was a “bag” where I grew up, being referred to as a “sack.” If you go into a store and buy something where I grew up they will ask you if you want “a bag for that.” In Oregon they will ask you if you want a “sack.” And then there is the whole regional soda, pop, coke thing in the U.S. Depending on what part of the country you are in, if you want or are offered a soft drink it will be referred to as either “pop,” “soda” or in the South mostly, “Coke” is used as a generic term for a soft drink, a carbonated beverage, “Do you want a Coke, or something” basically means do you want a Coke, a 7-Up, a root beer, ginger ale, etc. I’m sure there are regional differences in all countries.

_zen_'s avatar

35 posts, no GQ????

Sheesh – fluther used to be lurvely.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@anartist Not the way I was taught. I was taught that they always, always go on the inside.

ucme's avatar

Haddaway & shite man bonnie lad. A mean howay, a divin nar what thas on aboot ya nar worra mean like.
I gave you a GQ because I care ;¬}

Stinley's avatar

@shrubbery Thongs in British English is a pair of knickers possibly called a G-string in US? And pavement is the word UK use for sidewalk/footpath

Poke in Scottish means a paper bag (as well as to jab with a pointed implement like a stick or finger)

Chuffed means very pleased

Chuffing is a euphemism for swearing – ‘Get out of the chuffing way’

Scheme in Scotland is also a housing scheme (like Projects in US maybe?). There’s a reality TV programme just now called The Scheme based pretty near to where I grew up. Maybe don’t watch it at work – I think you may pick up some slang words there…

Bellatrix's avatar

I haven’t lived in the UK for years, so some of these terms might not be used anymore.

@shrubbery I think togs might be a uniquely Queensland thing. Same with port for a suitcase.

I don’t know if people do this in the U.S. but in the UK, the vacuum cleaner was referred to as the Hoover.
Sticky tape was often Sellotape.
Sausages = Bangers (UK) = Snags (Australia)
Grog = Alcohol
Goon = Cheap wine in cask (Australia). Goonbag = the silver bag the wine comes in (Australia).
Servo = Service Station (Australia),
Bottle-o/Bottleo (Australia) = Off Licence (UK – probably other slang term)
Piss-up = party (Australia) not to be confused with a Pisser or Dunny = toilet (Australia)
Garbo = Garbage man (Australia), Bin man = Garbage man (UK)
Sanger = Sandwich (Australia) Butty = Sandwich (UK)
Sunnies = Sunglasses (Australia)
Stubbie = Bottle of beer (Australia)
Tallie = Tall bottle of beer (Australia)
Middy = Glass of beer (Australia)
Pony = Small glass of beer (Australia)
Schooner = larger glass of beer (Australia)
Bogan = someone of a lower class link

Mullet = hairstyle where it is shorter at the front, longer at the back link
Skank = tarty/trashy girl (Australia)
Tramp stamp = tattoo on the lower back (Australia).
Flanno – checked shirt (Australia)
Uggies -Ugg boots (Australia)
Ute – Utility truck (Australia)
Durries = cigarettes (Australia)
Smoko = break time at work (Australia)
Arvo = Afternoon (Australia)
Avo = Avocado (Australia)
Rellos or Rellies = Relatives. For instance, “the rellos are coming over”. (Australia)
Battler = person who is a hard worker but working class (Australia)
Brekkie = Breakfast (Australia)
Budgie Smugglers/Dick togs = men’s swimming trunks (Australia)
Root = Fuck. “Do you wanna root?” Can also mean something is stuffed (“The television is rooted”. All the rest are Australian.
Cactus = something that doesn’t work. “It’s cactus.”
The Coathanger = Sydney Harbour Bridge
Crook = ill “I feel a bit crook”
Cranky = In a bad mood. “Geez, I’m feeling a bit cranky”.
Dag = Dorky sort of person. Not stylish. “You’re a bit of a dag”.
Dob = tell tales on a person. Inform to police. “He dobbed on us”.
Ear-bashing = Nagging. “I got an ear-bashing when I got home”.
Gobsmacked = Surprised. “I was so gobsmacked when I won the meat tray at the pub”.
Manchester = Linen, bedsheets, table clothes and the like.
No worries = don’t worry about it. No problem.

Enough for now. Handing the baton to someone else.

Stinley's avatar

I forgot about knackered. Originally we in UK just used it to mean very tired but we do now know that it also means tired from too much sex and use it more prudently.

_zen_'s avatar

This has been great!

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Stinley I thought knackered meant drunk, or at least tipsy.

ucme's avatar

Knackered can also mean broken or buggered.

Stinley's avatar

@Aethelflaed Never heard it used as that, but nothing surprises me about the uses of words to mean drunk…

@ucme yep – broken through overuse or wearing out.

ucme's avatar

Here are a few examples of the local dialect from my neck of the woods.

Bide : Stay
Bray : To strike or hit
Chuddy : Chewing gum
Drarked : Soaking wet
Gisa gan : Give me a go/turn
Lowp : Leap/Jump
Stotting down : Torrential rain
Tabs : Cigarettes
Canny bairn : Cute/Well behaved child
Kets : Sweets/Candy
Buggerlugs : Naughty/mischievous child

Aethelflaed's avatar

lol. buggerlugs. I want to use that more in everyday language.

Bellatrix's avatar

@ucme You see that is what I LOVE about the UK. You can go down the road and people speak a different language. I have heard of buggerlugs but that’s it. I’ve used buggerlugs with my own kids. Here there really isn’t much difference in the actual words used for things. The speed people speak might change but that’s about it. Great post. Now we need you to record your voice saying those things.

trickface's avatar

@ucme from tha toon?

ucme's avatar

@Bellatrix Haha, i’m sure the yanks would need subtitles if that were the case. Probably most of the brits too. So many rich & wonderful words up here, they just flow off the tongue.

ucme's avatar

@trickface Nah, a little further north. We’re a little more refined than the geordie scum XD

MilkyWay's avatar

I haven’t got anything. You guys picked em all out.

trickface's avatar

I’m surprised Canadians haven’t offered much.

JLeslie's avatar

@Stinley Thong in the US is the same, we would say thong underwear. Thongs, the plural would be used for flip flops. English uses one word for 6 things, especially verbally, sometimes written it is spelled differently, sometimes not. Drove my husband crazy when he was first learning the language. Although a Russian women I met said it makes it easier to learn the language, especially pronunciation, because there were fewer words to learn than other languages?

Stinley's avatar

@JLeslie that’s the beauty of it: one word for six things and six words for one thing!

anartist's avatar

@Aethelflaed see Chicago Manual of Style—unless the question is part of the quotation [in which case it belongs inside] the question mark goes outside. Ditto exclamation point.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@anartist And that may be (I don’t have my Manual on me). But it’s hardly a well known rule, or agreed upon, or whatever; tons of professional writers don’t follow that rule.

anartist's avatar

@Aethelflaed those writers lack good editors.

Main diff? Parallel evolution of common language.

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