With the London 2012 Olympics around the corner, it is expected that up to 250,000 Americans will be taking the trip across the pond to watch the games.
England and America are two countries divided by a common language – George Bernard Shaw
This has brought to attention the language barrier that Americans might face on their holiday. Yes, although they share a common origin, US English and British English share some considerable differences too!
After all, language stems from culture and vice versa culture then becomes embedded in a language. Although both countries share some similarities they have essentially separate cultures, so why would our languages be entirely the same too?
The Guardian consistently receives correspondence from readers asking them to ensure that their journalists use British English for a British readership and steer clear of Americanisms:
‘‘I find myself constantly having to reach for the dictionary to find out what your journalists are saying when I am reading the Guardian or Observer because of these ugly and unnecessary Americanisms.’’
We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language – Oscar Wilde
We have discussed the notion before; how the US and the UK language variation is not the only dissimilarity between the countries, citing Downton Abbey as an example of our differences in culture.
Within the programme, the differences are manifested in Downton’s portrayal of the relationship between an English Countess mother-in-law and her American heiress daughter-in-law.
Don’t go out in your pants!
The Daily Mail has printed an English to English dictionary as a rough guide to just a few of the potential colloquial conundrums that await baffled American visitors to the old country.
The article has the title ‘Don’t go out in your ‘pants’’, as Americans call trousers pants, but in the UK pants are underwear.
It is therefore quite sensible to provide a translation for our visitors to ensure that there are not trouserless Americans walking around London come the games!
Hopefully the dictionary, which we have borrowed below, will help our American friends avoid any embarrassing situations and have a successful time communicating in the UK.
Food and drink
Those are ‘chips’ that go with your burger, instead of fries. You’d like some potato chips? Those are ‘crisps.’
A soft drink or soda? That would be a ‘fizzy drink.’ A soft drink can refer to any non-alcoholic beverage. If you want the hard stuff, go to the ‘off-license’ rather than a liquor store.
If the waiter asks if you’d like ‘pudding,’ he’s referring to dessert in general, not necessarily the soft treat that Bill Cosby once pitched in TV ads. By the way, if you see ‘black pudding’ or ‘blood pudding’ on the menu — well, that’s not dessert at all. It’s sausage.
A ‘cracker’ isn’t only what you put cheese on. It’s also a very good thing, as in ‘That goal was a cracker!’ It can be an adjective, too: ‘London will put on a cracking opening ceremony.’
Let’s talk ‘sport.’ That’s singular in Britain, not like sports in the U.S.
Those ‘blokes’ (guys) hawking 100-meter final tickets? They’re not scalpers, they’re ‘ticket touts.’ Incidentally, if you can’t get any tickets, you can always watch on ‘telly’ where the commercials are called ‘adverts.’
You’ll definitely do a lot of ‘queuing’ (waiting in line), especially at Olympic venues for security checks. Whatever you do, don’t ‘jump the queue.’
Going to watch the finish of the marathon or cycling road race? Yes, the venue is the ‘Mall.’ No, that’s not a shopping center. It’s that iconic boulevard leading from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. And, it’s pronounced the ‘mal.’
Headed to the Olympic Stadium to watch track and field? The preferred term in England is ‘athletics.’
Of course, soccer is ‘football.’ The sport is played on a pitch, rather than a field. A player might kick the ball into the ‘stand,’ rather than stands — and there definitely are no bleachers. Players wear ‘shirts,’ not jerseys, and ‘boots,’ not cleats, and their uniform is called their ‘kit.’
Londoners don’t walk on the sidewalk. They walk on the ‘pavement.’
That crosswalk? It’s a ‘zebra crossing’ (pronounced zeh-bra, not zee-bra).
The best way to travel around the city during the Olympics will be by the ‘Underground,’ the rail network commonly known as the ‘Tube.’ It’s not the ‘subway’ — that’s a pedestrian underpass.
Tube trains have ‘carriages,’ not cars. When you get on or off the Tube, don’t forget to ‘mind the gap’ between the platform and the train.
On the road
Anything to do with cars can be oh-so confusing — and not just because you drive on the left side of the road here.
London’s roads are full of maddening traffic ’roundabouts,’ not circles or rotaries.
The hood and the trunk? No, no. That’s the ‘bonnet’ and the ‘boot.’ The windshield is the ‘windscreen,’ side-view mirrors are ‘wing mirrors,’ the stick shift is the ‘gear stick.’
A highway is a ‘motorway.’ You park in the ‘car park.’
You take ‘the lift,’ not the elevator.
That little corner store where you can buy newspapers and magazines and snacks? It’s usually called a ‘newsagent.’
Looking for a trash can? Try a ‘rubbish bin’ instead.
Thumbtacks don’t exist; they’re ‘drawing pins.’
If someone is feeling ‘chuffed,’ don’t worry. That means they’re delighted, as in, ‘I’m chuffed to bits that I got tickets for the closing ceremony.’
If someone says they’re ‘gutted,’ it has nothing to do with fish. They’re just bitterly disappointed, as in the British Olympic sprinter who’s ‘gutted’ after failing to qualify for the 200-meter final. By contrast, he’ll be ‘over the moon’ if he makes it.
You’ll hear ‘Cheers’ a lot, and not just in the pub. It’s a term for thank you. So is ‘Ta.’
On the other hand
Some words take on a totally different, even opposite, meaning in the two countries.
‘Torrid’ is a prime example — positive in American sports, negative in Britain.
In the U.S., if Kobe Bryant goes on a torrid run in the fourth quarter, he’s scoring a bunch of points. In England, if Chelsea striker Fernando Torres is having a torrid season, he can’t put the ball in the net.
The lexicon for clothing can be a minefield.
Be particularly careful when you talk about ‘pants.’ In Britain, that refers to underwear. Trousers is the more appropriate term. (Pants can also be an adjective, meaning bad or lousy, as in ‘That film was pants.’).
Suspenders don’t hold up trousers; ‘braces’ do. In British English, ‘suspenders’ are what Americans call a garter belt.
Weather or not
For those cool evenings, pack a ‘jumper,’ as opposed to a sweater. Or a jacket called an ‘anorak.’ But note: ‘anorak’ is also a somewhat derogatory term for a nerdy, obsessive person.
And, finally, with London’s rainy reputation in mind, don’t forget to carry an umbrella.
Yes, if there’s one phrase worth remembering, it’s this:
Bring a brolly.