In 1776, the American colonists and their British rulers spoke similar-enough English that the meaning of the Declaration of Independence, at least, was perfectly understood by all. In the years since, differences in grammar, spelling, and pronunciation have grown, but generally speakers of English on both sides of the Atlantic can understand each other. Except, of course, when it comes to slang. That’s where American English and British English have truly grown apart, to the point where a word can mean the exact opposite of what you think it does, depending on who’s using it. In celebration of the Fourth of July, we present a celebration of British and American slang terms.
It starts at birth
Babies might be the same the world over, but baby-related words aren’t. In the UK, babies sleep in cots, wear nappies, suck on dummies, get rolled around in prams, and — once they learn to speak — call their mothers Mum or Mummy. In the U.S., however, they sleep in cribs, wear diapers, suck on pacifiers, get rolled around in strollers, and call their mothers Mom or Mommy (for the most part). When they get older, kids in the UK will wear plimsolls or trainers, and U.S. kids sneakers or kicks. If everything goes according to plan, the British child will grow up to attend university and the American one will go to college.
The most entertaining differences in slang almost always involve sex, insults, or body parts, or sometimes all three. While I won’t go into more graphic examples, there are a lot of common expressions that have either an innocent or offensive meaning, depending on whether you’re British or American. Brits are known to do a doubletake when Americans refer to a pouch worn belted around the waist as a fanny pack, while asking an American to lend them a rubber might land them with something that is useless for erasing. A pissed American is angry; a pissed Brit is just drunk. A fit Brit isn’t in good shape; she’s what Americans call hot.
No matter which side of the Atlantic you’re on, you’ll appreciate the finer points of slang in all manner of language translation. If you know of any other good examples of American vs. British English, let us know below! (And please, try to keep it family-friendly).