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jca's avatar

What are some differences in English phrases and usage in various English speaking countries?

Asked by jca (27942 points ) July 8th, 2012

When I visited Ireland, I went to see a film that had just started. The man at the museum where the film was said to me “It’s just after starting.” In the US, we would say “it just started.”

Yesterday I was watching Undercover Boss and the episode was on the head of a hotel chain in Australia. I noticed that when the workers greeted the guests, they would say “How are you going?” Here in the US, we would say “How are you doing?”

What are some other differences you are aware of between English phrases and usage in various English speaking countries?

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21 Answers

harple's avatar

Half past four and quarter past four, as opposed to 4.30 and a quarter after four…

Nullo's avatar

It was suggested that I “hang about” between flights at Heathrow, once. As opposed to hanging out.

CWOTUS's avatar

Indian English can be kind of awkward to American speakers.

You don’t “respond” to messages, you “revert”. (A totally inappropriate word, to my mind, but it’s in common usage that way.)

Counts are not just “a number”, but include the word “numbers” to indicate explicitly that you’re counting, I guess. For example, “I have five fingers” in the USA and most of the rest of the English-speaking world, but “I have five nos. fingers” in India. It’s very weird to me. (The word “numbers” is nearly always abbreviated that way, too.)

laurenkem's avatar

I have heard a few Brits say “Please come through” when greeting someone at their door, whereas Americans would say “Please come in”.

JLeslie's avatar

@harple I use half past, quarter after, and quarter of/to. In MI some of my friends did not understand quarter of, the “of” threw them for some reason. Even if someone never has heard half past they should be able to logically figure it out, but some people can’t. I’m America by the way.

We all know some of the words that are used differently across the pond like, lift, flat, fag, mad, mate, but you asked for phrases, which I had not ever really thought of before. Australia has a alot of slang, sheila, bloke, barby. I can think of different phrases used around the US that people don’t understand well from region to region. I’ll be following.

zenvelo's avatar

British students take “Maths” while Americans take “Math”. And “chips” in Britain are “fries” in the US, but “chips” in the US are “crisps” in Britain.

There are lots more, but the one that really stands out is that Brits that swear quite commonly use the “c” word (c*^t), while Americans consider that much more beyond the pale than the occasional “fuck”.

ucme's avatar

Where I come from, if something is described as hellish, it means the opposite to what the word itself implies.
Far from being dark & destructive, it’s means fantastic or brilliant.

CWOTUS's avatar

By the same token, @ucme, “wicked” isn’t such a bad thing to be in the US. Some parts of the US, anyway.

ucme's avatar

Yes @CWOTUS, grandma would say it’s raping the english language, bless her cotton socks.

CWOTUS's avatar

I know that in the US and the UK the word “pissed” has different meanings. Ditto “fag”. (Is that still in everyday usage there?)

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Spending time in England with the SO and his family is like having to learn a whole new language. Here is a link to a website filled with British words and their definitions.

One phrase heard often that had to be explained was, “Oh, just bits and bobs, odds and sods.” meaning (I think) just a variety of small stuff.

Kardamom's avatar

A bring and buy sale in England is similar to a rummage sale in the US.

The Brits say, “He’s called Arthur.” The Americans say, “His name is Arthur.”

In Britain a car boot is the same thing as a car trunk in the US.

Brits wear wellies or Wellingtons when it rains. Americans wear rain boots. Although back in the day, we wore galoshes.

A back pack or knapsack in the US is similar to a haversack in the UK.

Signs in the subway in the UK might say way out wheras in the US the sign would say exit.

In the UK people drive lorries. In the US people drive trucks.

In the UK if someone says “I’ll knock you up,” it means that they will come to your house. In the US, it means that they will impregnate you. But they might not come to your house ; P

In the UK they say “I’ll come round on Tuesday next.” In the US we’d say, “I’ll _come around next Tuesday.”

In the UK, someone might ask, “Can I bum a fag off you?” and the response would be, “Here you go, mate.” In the US the response might be, “I’m sorry, but I don’t swing that way.”

In the UK a hungry person might look in the larder for something to eat. In the US a person would look in the fridge or _refrigerator.

A person in the UK might have spilt something on the floor, and then hoovered it up. In the US a person might have spilled something on the floor, and then vacuumed it up.

In the UK people sometimes live in flats. Flats in the US are wide, short-sided boxes used for carrying fruits, vegetables and plants. Or women’s shoes without heels. People sometimes live in apartments in the US, which are the equivalent of UK flats. But in the UK, apartments can be a section of a giant mansion or manor house. As in the phrase, “The Queen’s apartments at Buckingham Palace.”

In the UK, a person might refer to having tea which means not only the drink, but all of the sandwiches and pastries that go along with it, in addition to tea being a designated meal time like lunch or breakfast. In the US having tea means just having the drink, no matter what time of day or night it is.

Pudding in the UK is just about any kind of dessert. In the US, this is Pudding

harple's avatar

@zenvelo That’s the second time this week I’ve heard that said, and I would like to say, for the record again that it just does not fit with my experience of the UK at all. I don’t know a single person that would feel comfortable using that word. And whilst you may say that’s just the circles I move in, I’m still going to take that over a generalisation from America. I have lived all over the UK, and have friends from so many different regions.

prasad's avatar

@CWOTUS Yes. Indian English is officially British English. But unofficially, it’s a mix of British, American and some things from India.

I know “pass out” in India and English speaking community has different meanings! You can hear it often like “When did you pass out (of college/school)?” or “I passed out in 2009”.

And, numbers are labelled differently too. Below is a sample.
Number…......What it is called in India
1,00,000….....One Lakh
1,00,00,000….One Crore
I just know that in past the numbering system used to involve a lot of numbers. I just don’t know much!

zenvelo's avatar

@harple I’ll take your experience over mine too. But it is rampant in British movies and comedies, I don’t think you’ll ever hear it in an American equivalent.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’ll give you a ring. One woman might expect jewelry, while the other one expects a phone call.

jca's avatar

@mattbrowne: Another similar phrase the Brits say is “Ring me up!”

JLeslie's avatar

Who is it that doesn’t understand give you a ring? We use it in the states and abroad I thought? Although, possibly it is an old expression in the US, I don’t hear young people use it.

ucme's avatar

@CWOTUS Fag is used a lot yes, when I smoked 10 + yrs ago, i’d call cigarettes tabs, but that’s more of a local thing.

Kardamom's avatar

@JLeslie That’s because young people don’t call you on the phone. They only text LOL The phone never rings, it just goes bee-donk. I hate that sound.

mattbrowne's avatar

@JLeslie – I think I read it in some book about a Brit moving to rural Kansas. So it’s just an anecdote. The vast majority of Americans might not have a problem misunderstanding. I simply tried to come up with an example.

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