It’s a well-known – and often overused – quote, but since moving from England to Los Angeles over ten years ago, it’s one that has taken on a lot of meaning for not only me, but my children as well.
Much discussion is given to the differences between British and American English, but for the most part, pronunciation and typos apart (I’m talking to you, aluminum!) it’s the same language.
However, there is the occasional word that has completely different meanings depending on what side of the Pond you’re on, and as a writer, it’s always best to be aware of the differences if you don’t want to confuse, or even insult, readers on either side of the Atlantic.
Here are my top ten favorites.
Let’s start with the word in the title. Pants in the US are trousers, and in the UK are underwear. In England, it’s also an adjective to describe something that’s not quite up to par, as in ‘That movie was pants’.
In the US, slang for condoms. In the UK, an everyday word for an eraser. When we first moved Stateside, my eldest was 11 years old, that awkward age where everything is an unwitting innuendo. On his very first day in an American school, he raised his hand and asked the teacher for a rubber. Even now, ten years later, his friends still laugh about it.
In the US, a simple slang word for buttocks. In the UK (and every other English speaking country) it’s a somewhat vulgar word for female genitalia. Even after ten years, my instincts are still to cover my daughter’s ears when someone mentions a fanny-pack.
In the US, a derogatory word for a homosexual, in the UK, a completely innocuous slang term for a cigarette. This is one of those words that is commonly used in the UK, so much so that it’s easy to forget its meaning is so offensive here in the States.
In the US, these are pieces of elastic to hold up trousers (aka pants!) In the UK, they’re sexy pieces of lingerie to hold up stockings (known as garters in the States). The other day my friend texted me to ask if I had some suspenders her five year old son could borrow for a dress-up project at school. I’m all for open-mindedness, but admit I was shocked at the thought of kindergartners cross-dressing in sexy lingerie! She soon put me right!
In the US, packets of dried thin-sliced potatoes (called crisps in England), in the UK deep-fried potatoes (aka ‘fries’ Stateside). Even now, if I’m a little distracted in a restaurant, I’ll order chips with my steak without giving it a second thought. There is nothing more depressing than getting a juicy slab of meat with a side of crisps!
Quite simply, here in the US it’s a verb meaning to raise something. Although we use the same verb in the UK, as a noun, a lift is an elevator. And if a Brit really wants to confuse their American counterparts, ask someone to give you a lift (no, we’re not asking to be carried anywhere, it’s a common term for a car ride).
Stateside, it’s someone (or something) that jumps. In the UK, a jumper is a cosy garment worn to stay warm (aka a sweater). And yes, I spelled ‘cosy’ with a ‘c’, and not the American ‘z’.
How could we mix this one up? Well, a flannel in the USA is a tartan-style shirt. In the UK, it’s a cloth used to wash your face.
Number ten has to be what is a major bone of contention between Americans and the Brits. American football is more akin to rugby, involving an egg-shaped ball primarily being carried in the arms. In the UK (and much of the rest of the world) it’s a game involving a ball that is kicked (with the foot) around a pitch.