Except they don’t. Both countries call their language “English” but the differences are many, and the misunderstandings can get in the way of good communication. Gildshire (Did you know there are 23 counties in England that end with “shire” and that they cover 53% of the country?) Magazine can help you with some of the terminologies. Navigating the left side of the road as soon as you leave Heathrow? That’s up to you and your guardian angel to figure out.
Here are 20 terms Americans use and the British counterparts, along with our opinions on the matter:
- American “counter-clockwise,” versus theBritish “anti-clockwise.” Against the clock? That seems needlessly contentious. The American term sounds like we are gently correcting the clock, rather than opposing it.
- American “lawyer,” or “attorney,” versus the British “barrister.” We admit a fondness for the British courtroom, resplendent with powdered wigs and “the Crown.” It’s as if the Queen’s shiny hat itself is speaking. But we choose either of the American versions this time. Barrister sounds too much like a staircase handrail.
- American “cookie” versus the British “biscuit.” We’re going to side with the Brits this time around. If I order a biscuit picturing a hard, dry breakfast accompaniment and get a cookie instead, I win!
- American “hood,” versus the British “bonnet.” The Brits win this one, as well. When discussing the (usually) engine compartment on a car, “hood” sounds vaguely sinister with its connotations of a dangerous neighborhood or hat meant to hide its wearer. “Bonnet” is so much more pleasant. It’s redolent of springtime and a trip to Piccadilly Circus for piccalilli.
- American “trunk” versus the British “boot.” Neither term is ideal. Elephants have trunks in front, a fact that can confuse a child learning about the parts of a car. The British boot makes the trunk of a car and the shoe kicking it when it breaks down synonyms. We’re going to give zero points to both countries and invent a new term. We like carbustle.”
- American “parking lot” versus British “car park.” No question about this one. The Brits win by a mile. In a parking lot, my car sits there, pummeled by the wind, rain, and scorching sun. In a “car park,” my vehicle meets new friends and plays on a teeter-totter while I’m out of town.
- American “fries” versus British “chips.” S. A. U.S. A. “Fries” are evocative of the hot and tender goodness inside the plastic bag. “Chips” are something bad that happens to your paint job or your tooth.
- American “stove” versus the British “cooker.” We have to give the Brits credit for straightforwardness this time. What does it do? It cooks your food. “Stove” can also mean gimpy because you kicked the carbustle of your car with a boot.
- American “potato chips” versus the British “crisps. We giveth and we taketh away. We docked the British for using the term “chips” for fries. This time we give the point to Britain. All on account of the Americans using that vulgar term to describe a ruffled table for french onion dip.
- American “pacifier” versus the British “dummy for baby.” Good heavens! Why don’t we just come out and say “fake booby?” We give the point to the United States for class and gentility in the face of nipples.
- American “overalls” versus the British “dungarees.” We so want to give the point to the Brits. The word just rolls off the tongue. One can imagine Audrey Hepburn shopping for dungarees. But the usage of the term “dung” for pants stops us cold. Point Americans.
- American “garbage collector” versus the British “dustman.” We have to side with our British friends across the pond on this occasion. “Garbage collector” connotes someone who has a storage unit in which to cherish other people’s trash.
- American “overpass” versus the British “flyover.” The American word tells the unvarnished truth. But isn’t the language supposed to soar? The picture of a Prius sprouting wings and sailing over the road below is just too delicious.
- American “soccer” versus the British “football.” We would have to give up our American man-card to side with the British here. It’s better to have one word for the game without the helmet and pads and another name for the other one. Especially since “American football” is taking hold in England. Sorry, we have to hold the line on this one.
- American “vacation,” versus the British “holiday.” Another matter of form over function. “Holiday” sounds better. But it can be confused with Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, my birthday, and other important occasions. When Americans go on vacation they vacate the premises. A “staycation” is really nothing, and shouldn’t ever be said.
- American “eraser,” versus the British “rubber.” We can’t award a point to the Brits here. The confusion inherent in their word for our word is astronomical.
- American “vest” versus the British “waistcoat.” We have a vested interest in beautiful language, and Great Britain wins this one. A vest can be worn by someone looking to stop a bullet. But a waistcoat is worn by someone holding a flute of champagne and chatting up a bird in a droll manner.
- American “closet” versus the British “wardrobe.” I have to admit to some confusion about this until I was too old to admit to confusion. I thought the lion and the witch came out of a shirt and a pair of pants I wasn’t wearing at the moment. A closet is a place for your wardrobe to live. A wardrobe is your collection of clothes. The Americans win this one.
- American “line” versus the British “queue.” I admit to using “queue” at times. That’s because it sounds cool. But, the American word “line” is exactly the interminable wait behind the one in front that is splitting her order into different pay methods. We’re awarding the point to the Americans for clarity of purpose.
- American “yard” versus the British “garden.” At the moment my yard is a collection of crabgrass and weeds, half submerged under the 12th straight day of rain. If the Brits want to call that a lovely term like “garden” I’m okay with it. They can call my subcompact vehicle a “motorcar” too if they want.
So there you have it. Twenty expressions you will hear on your trip to the country out of which the United States was born. Keep this handy guide with you and you’ll never be embarrassed to erase your schedule with a rubber and go on a holiday to England. Pack a waistcoat, though. You’ll get better treatment in the queue at the restaurant if you look sharp.