The American Guide to British Words

April 3, 2016

Moving to a new country can be extremely challenging, and even more so if you feel you can’t adequately communicate.  In this regard, we were happy that London was our chosen destination because language wouldn’t be a barrier (and I get to hear the beautiful British accent on a daily basis).  Little by little, I’m learning the British equivalent to my American words and I try to use them as often as I remember.  When I use the American version, then correct myself, people just laugh and tell me they know what I mean because they watch so much American tv.  I’d love to be able to pick up some of the English accent, but sadly, the way in sounds in my head versus coming out of my mouth is not at all like the real thing.  Looks like I’ll be sticking with my Southern American accent.  I’ve had a taxi drive ask me to repeat my street name multiple times because he couldn’t figure out what I was saying.  They pronounce their “A’s” differently (as in “dawnce” vs “dance”) and since our street name has an “a” in it, it might be an ongoing issue! Without further ado, here is the list I’ve compiled thus far of the American vs. British words.  I’ll continue to add to this list as I learn new words, so check back later for updates.

If you ever visit London, print off this handy cheat sheet and you’ll sound like a Londoner in no time!


 American WordEnglish WordExplanation/Example
attorneysolicitor or barristerThe use of solicitor or barrister depends on the type of attorney
back packruck sack
bangsfringeAs in hair. Example - "I need to trim her fringe before it gets in her eyes".
bathroomtoilet, loo or WCYou only ask for the bathroom is you want to take a bath or shower.
bed skirtvalance
NEW!bow tiedickie bow
bucks (slang for dollar)quid (slang for pound)
calendardiaryExample - "I've put the appointment in my diary."
cantinAs in food tin. Example - "I can't find the tin opener for the green beans."
car hoodbonnet
car trunkboot
cash registertill
cell phonemobile
cigarettesfagsSlang and is not used nearly as frequently as in the past.
coffee creamerwhitenersWhiteners refer to a non-dairy liquid or granular creamer (like CoffeeMate). It is atypical to use these and they are hard to find, especially flavored ones. The general rule is that you use real milk or cream in coffee.
college/universityuniA casual term but very frequently used.
costumefancy dressExample - "Are you coming to the fancy dress party on Halloween?"
crackerssavory biscuits
custombespokeAs in custom made, like a bespoke tailor, bespoke interior designer, etc.
NEW!diaper bagchanging bag
dinnerteaThis really confused me in the beginning! It was first used by a babysitter who texted me to say my daughter ate all of her tea. I had to google it to figure out what she meant. Now I hear it used all the time.
dish soapwashing up liquid
elementary schoolprimary school
first floorground floorBuildings start on the ground floor and the first floor is one floor up (typically the 2nd floor in the US). If there is anything below ground, it's the basement and negative from there (i.e. -2).
footballAmerican football
high schoolsecondary school
How are you?You ok/ You all right?It still strikes me as odd when I go into a store or meet someone and instead of saying "Hi, how are you?" they say, "You ok?" or "You all right?" It always make me think I look concerned about something until I remember that this is their standard casual greeting.
iced popcicleiced lolly
lady buglady bird
linequeueBoth a noun and verb. Example - "The queue starts here." or "They will starting queuing at 8 am."
lunchdinnerMay vary by region
mailpostBoth noun and verb. Example - "I need to post a letter" or "My package is coming by post"
mathmathsExample - "He's not very good at maths." or "Do the maths."
mommum or mummy
NEW!monkey barsclimbing frame
Moving to a new house/Moving to a new countryMoving house/Moving country
My turnCan I have a go
ovencookerMay vary by region
paper money/billsnotes
parking lotcar park
public schoolstate school
NEW!push upspress ups
rain bootswellies
Ready, Set, GoReady, Steady, Go
rentletMore detail in my previous post about housing. Instead of saying a house or flat is "for rent" you'd say it's "to let". Agents will advertise "lettings".
robedressing gown
sneakers/tennis shoestrainers
spoiled/expiredgone offExample - "The wine tastes like it's gone off." or "Let's cook the chicken before it goes off."
sports uniformkit or strip
stovehubMay vary by region
strollerpram, buggy or pushchairA pram is for newborns and young babies, usually while lying flat. Stroller is for older babies. A buggy can be a pushchair or a stroller.
NEWsunscreensun cream
swimsuitswim costume/costume
takeout/to gotakeawayExample - "For here or takeaway?" or "Let's order some takeaway."
teaafternoon tea or high teaThis is an event rather than just a drink. If you "go to tea" or ask someone over for tea, you're expected to have food as well. If you go for high tea or afternoon tea, you will have the option of savory, sweet or both. Savory includes various types of sandwiches and sweet is multiple desserts. All teas include scones with clotted cream and jam.
thankscheersUsed often as a general way of saying, "Thanks, bye."
traffic lightsrobots
trash canrubbish bin or dust bin
underwearpants/knickersPants are for boys, knickers are for girls.
untilwhileThis one was pretty confusing too. Example - "I'm going to lunch at noon while one" or "My shift is 8 while 5." Specifically used in Northern England.
whilewhilstExample - "Let's eat tea whilst watching tv."
ZzedAs in the letter Z. In school, kids learn the letters "A to Zed", not A to Z. "Z" is always said as "Zed".
zip codepostal code

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