10 American Words That Don’t Make Sense in the U.K.
These American terms thoroughly confuse our British counterparts.
The words and phrases that make up the average American’s vocabulary may seem relatively easy to understand to those born in the States. But the art of “speaking American” can seem virtually impenetrable to foreigners. This is particularly true for the British, whose version of the English language has been perfected over centuries. Of course, Americans and Brits share many words, but not every one. In an attempt to break down the U.K.-U.S. language disparity, we’ve compiled a list of American words that don’t make sense to our neighbors across the pond. (Don’t worry, Brits—we have handy translations to keep you from getting completely lost).
Invite your British pal to your bachelorette or bachelor party and they might not know what to pack, where you’re going, or even what’s being celebrated. Instead of using the terms “bachelorette” or “bachelor” to describe the celebration that marks the end of one’s singledom, Brits prefer to call their male and female would-be-weds “stags” and “hens,” respectively. A “stag do” is a bachelor party, while a “hen do” is the female equivalent, according to the BBC.
Example: “Before you get married, I’m throwing you an epic bachelorette party!”
This Americanism, used in place of the word “dollar,” isn’t one you’re likely to hear across the pond. This is mostly due to the fact that a “buck” only refers to United States currency, not the British pound.
Example: “Can you lend me a buck for the vending machine? I don’t have any cash on me.”
Instead of referring to athletic shoes with spikes in the soles as “cleats,” you’re far more likely to hear a British person call football or rugby shoes simply “football boots” and “rugby boots.” The only time you might hear a Brit using this word? When referring to the spikes themselves, not the pair of shoes as a whole.
Example: “Coach won’t let you on the field unless you’re wearing your cleats.”
Example: “For dinner tonight, I think I’ll broil some salmon.”
This Americanism is derived from the words “would rather,” and it refers to a person’s preference in a matter. According to the BBC, most British people likely wouldn’t even know how to include this silly word in a sentence.
Example: “If I had my druthers, I would be eating a large piece of cake right now.”
Though there is an equivalent term in the U.K., the suffix here is what’s different. The British use “normality” instead of “normalcy,” and they consider the latter Americans’ strange alternative.
Example: “After so much upheaval in my life, I just want a bit of normalcy.”
This word was invented by Americans to describe an opportunistic Northerner who moved to the South after the Civil War. Centuries later, the term, still unique to America, can refer to a “nonresident or new resident who seeks private gain from an area often by meddling in its business or politics,” according to Merriam-Webster. But for Brits, the word “carpetbagger” only elicits a look of confusion.
Example: “That new senator appears to be an outsider and a carpetbagger.”
According to Food & Wine magazine, southern Italian immigrants to the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries gave Americans the word “arugula” to describe this leafy green. However, you won’t find the word on menus in the U.K., where “rocket” (derived from the French “roquette”) is used in its place.
Example: “Could you add a bit of arugula into the salad?”
To Americans, a backhoe is an excavating machine consisting of a digging bucket at the end of a two-part articulated arm that is typically used to move large amounts of material, like soil or rock. But if you utter this word in the U.K., don’t be surprised if people are left scratching their heads. According to Brits, one should call a digging device “a digger.” (Come to think of it, they may be on to something…)
Example: “We’re going to use a backhoe to excavate the construction site.”
Any American knows a sidewalk is a paved area alongside a stretch of road for pedestrians. However, in the U.K., “sidewalk” means, well, nothing. As far as Brits are concerned, this area is called “a pavement.”
Example: “In New York City, you’ll get plenty of dirty looks for riding your bike on the sidewalk.”
And for more everyday things that confuse people outside of the States, here are 30 Things Americans Do That Foreigners Think Are Super Weird.
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