Verbal Migration: UK English and its American Cousin

I had the excellent fortune a few years ago to make a friend in England (the marvels of the internet!) who, after listening to me whine about wanting to go abroad long enough, invited me over.

And wonder of wonders, he actually meant it.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I went. Yes, I spent 12 days in a foreign country with a stranger I met online. And it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

I hadn’t been able to study abroad in college because of time (and money) restrictions, but, having spoken to a lot of people who have, I think my experience was even better, because I was able to hang out with people just going about their daily lives, giving me a very real and personal welcome to their country. (Okay, those lucky folks who can spend months abroad maybe have it better, but still!)

I kept a journal of my trip (I highly recommend it!), and one day while on the Tube to London I made a list of all the English-y words I was learning that I would never get to use at home in Texas.

This week I found this lovely Wikipedia page—List of American Words not Widely Used in the United Kingdom—and was reminded of my little list of British Words Not Widely Used in the United States. (Maybe it’ll be of some use to Doctor Who, Downton Abby, and Harry Potter fans.)

Englishisms (and my understanding of their meanings**)

  • biscuit > cookie
  • black pudding > not pudding, best not to ask; doesn’t taste bad, though
  • blimey > an exclamation, mostly of surprise
  • Bubble & squeak > dish made with leftovers, potato, cabbage, and onion (also peas and carrots); like a hash brown potato
  • cashpoint > ATM
  • chips > fries (but thicker)
  • chuffed > pleased, thrilled, excited
  • city > a populated place that has a cathedral
  • cream tea > hot tea served with scones, butter, jam and clotted cream
  • crisps > chips
  • cuppa > a cup of (hot) tea (correct use: “do-ya wanna cuppa?”)
  • curry > all Indian food
  • downs > hills, an old English deriviation
  • dual/single carriageway > highway
  • feck (Irish) > shockingly not a curse word, but used for mild frustration…used liberally
  • fings > Welsh accent for “things”
  • footpath > trail/path
  • hamlet > a small village without a church
  • half-seven (ie. time) > “half” and a number indicates it is half-PAST the following number; ex. Half-seven = 7:30 (note: they’ll also tell time in either 12-hour or 24-hour increments without any trouble at all)
  • holiday  > vacation
  • HP sauce > A-1 steak sauce, served with a full English breakfast
  • innit/indidn’t > “isn’t it,” particularly heard in the West London accent
  • knackered > tired/tuckered out
  • Lockets > a brand of lozenge, only available at a candy store (rather than at a pharmacy as in America)
  • mate > friend/pal/chum
  • mental (gone mental) > crazy
  • moor > upland hilly area with acidic soil
  • myself (Irish) > dropped frequently instead of I or me or my
  • pavement > sidewalk
  • petrol > gasoline
  • (feeling) poorly > to be sick, ill
  • posh > fancy
  • queue > line you wait in
  • quid > pound (like “buck” for dollar) whether in paper notes or coins
  • Rock > hard stick candy found in Brighton; has words inside
  • roundabout > circular road switch point in which is recommended you pray for the right exit
  • scone/scon > deliciousness in breaded form, eaten with butter, jam, and clotted cream
  • spend a penny > to go potty/use the restroom. Comes from penny-pay public bathrooms
  • Sunday roast > roasted meat (beef, lamb, chicken, or pork) served with peas, carrots, broccoli/cabbage, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy
  • scrumping > old word for stealing apples
  • tat > cheap crap
  • tings > Irish accent for “things”
  • toilet/loo > restroom/bathroom
  • Tube/Underground > subway
  • twee > over-the-top whimsy, so overdone and fake it loses any real charm
  • village > populated place that has a church
  • weald > a certain flat plain in the middle of hills
  • Yorkshire pudding > not at all like pudding, actually; resembles a bread bowl
**Any mistakes are either my own doing…or because my host willfully misled me. But they’re probably right. He’s a good bloke.
Yes, it’s true; I mostly ate my way through South England. Can you tell?

What words have you picked up in your travels?

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