Many of my books are set in London, but many of my readers are American. As an American who’s married to a Brit, I can assure you that we two nationalities sometimes speak a very different language – and it can lead to big misunderstandings!
When my husband and I first started going out, I made the rookie girlfriend mistake of offering to do his laundry for him (I’ve been doing it ever since). He gave me an armful of colored clothes but left his whites in a pile on the living room floor (total 25-year-old bachelor). On top of the pile of whites, there was a pair of khaki pants, so I pointed to that pile and said, “Do you want me to wash your khaki pants, too?”
He turned red and said, “Um, if you really want to.”
Then his face cleared, and his Master’s degree in American Lit kicked in. He remembered what khaki pants are in the U.S., and he explained his embarrassment. “In the UK,” he said, “pants are underwear, and, uh, kak means shit.”
Yes, after our first real date, I basically told my future husband, “I’d like to wash your shitty underwear.”
So, to help avoid any other misunderstandings, here are some of the British words and grammar my characters use, along with an explanation for my American readers.
In the UK, pants are underwear. You wear trousers over your pants.
Only girls have a fanny. If you are a girl, your fanny refers to what some Brits also call your “front bum.” (Side note: If you want to make a Brit giggle, tell him about your fanny pack.)
An aubergine is an eggplant and courgettes are zucchini.
Sarky is British slang for sarcastic.
Something with elastic in it is elasticated, not elasticized.
A leaving do is a goodbye party, usually thrown by your colleagues on your last day of work (sometimes the night before your last day, which is dangerous when there’s alcohol involved and you have to face your colleagues the next day).
When talking about dates, Brits will sometimes use ordinal numbers (e.g. first, second, third, etc.) for both the day and the month. For example, the first of the third would be the first day of the third month, or March first.
In British English, collective nouns (i.e. a noun that refers to a group of individuals, such as family and team) are plural because they’re composed of more than one person. That’s why you’ll see phrases like my family are and England are—when referring to the England rugby team, not the country—instead of my family is and England is. I know it looks like a typo if you’re not used to it, but it’s not.
Brits often refer to sport in the singular (I don’t watch much sport) and maths in plural (I’m great at maths).
Lastly, Brits don’t use the word gotten (as in, I have gotten used to explaining British English). They use got instead.
Hope this helps! Do you have anything to add? Tweet me or leave me a comment on Facebook!
Maths is short for mathematics, icing frosting, sweets, candy…. So many but the fanny word gets me every time.
And everything is brilliant and lovely. Then there’s the loo…..
A German-born friend of mine told me that “loo” is related to the German “Kloo” via the Anglo-Saxon. Being Left Coast American, I always disdained any plumbing convenience as being called “a bathroom” without a tub. I have to give this one to my midwestern cousins. Anyway, “Toilet” is nearly universal over the planet.
The “Khaki” color was born from the failure of Britain to subjugate Afganistán. The bright red British Army uniform stood out against the natural surrounds, and they were decimated. As a result most armies don “Khaki” as a way of fitting into desert terrain. The Brits didn’t learn from the American Revolution. And in recent news, “Afghanistan is the place for empires to go to die”.
As a non native English speakers, I find it hilarious when the Brits and American argue about their language differences. For me, they are amusing. In one instance when I was working in international company where the employee consisted of American, Australians, Asian and Englishmen. Our manager was a British. One day, he spoke in an American accent and purposely accentuated the word “Schedule”. Minutes later, he teased how wrong the American pronunciation was. He repeated the pronunciation several times, laughingly, while my colleagues – British, Americans and Australians were rolling their eyes. I said if the American pronunciation of ‘schedule’ was wrong, I asked him to pronoun the word “School”. That shut him up immediately and never to teas my American friends again.
As an English mum (mom) I wouldn’t think It was at all unusual for my young daughter to ask me for a pack of novelty rubbers for school.
Haha, you win