Americanisms and British Equivalents

Ok, so I'm an American. That's just how it worked out. Americans and others writing British novels can make some enemies. Or at best receive constructive criticism when we use a term foreign to the British ear. You are invited to comment below on Americanisms and inform us of the proper terminology. Most will be added to the list. The following terms are not of my research but are brought to you by my British friends and enemies. ;) Reviewers are welcome to chip in. This page is the result of a discussion amongst Facebook friends.

What is listed is the result of comments from others, not my own research. However, please realize that there are discrepancies and variations as well as changes through the centuries. For your novels, please research all facts and word usage. We don't want your readers to have a snit!

Proper forms of address (It's a link.)

Advice column = Agony column
Anne Landers = Agony Aunt
Around the block = Around the corner
Arranged = Sorted
Ass = Arse
Bangs (hair) = Fringe
Bed pans = Chamber pots, Pot, Potty (for children),
Blonde = with an e for a female
Blond = without the e for a male
Bug = Germs
Bugs = Beetles or Insects
Call (on the phone) = Telephone, Ring
Candy = Sweets
Cookies = Biscuits (one kind is called digestive biscuits or digestives)
Crazy person = Nutter
Devastated = Gutted
Different than = Different to
Dove = Dived
Drapes = Curtains
Fall = Autumn
Faucet = Tap
Fishing poles = Fishing rods
Food = Nosh
From (in comparison) = To. His clothes were different to those of the others.
Garbage = Rubbish
Gas = Petrol
Go and see, go and tell = Go see, go tell
Go to the hospital = Go to hospital
Gone crazy = Lost the plot
Gotten = Got
Great! = Brilliant!
He wrote me = He wrote to me
Highway = Road (occasionally "the King's highway" though!)
Hobo = Tramp
Hood (of a car) = Bonnet
Idiot = Tosser
Ladybug = Ladybird
Like (verb) = Fancy
Little bit = Tad
Make a right = Take the next road to the right
Math = Maths since 1911, Mathematics before
Not right = Wonky
Once only = One off
Off of = Off
Off the rack = Off the peg
Ostentatious = Posh
Pants = Trousers
Proud = Chuffed
Rich = Well to do
Saloon = Pub
Sedan = Saloon
Sidewalk = Pavement
Snuck = Sneaked
Someplace = Somewhere
Stolen = Nicked
Suspenders = Braces
Suspicious = Dodgy
Sweater = Sweater (Men) Jumper (Women)
Talk with = Talk to
Tailor made, Custom made = Bespoke
Tired = Knackered
Toilet paper = Bog roll
Trail = Track or Lane
Trash = Rubbish
Trunk (of a car) = Boot
Two weeks = Fortnight
Vacation = Holiday
Visit with = Visit
Where I'm at = Where I am
Whine = Whinge
Write me = Write to me

The Little Words
A different perspective on that = A different perspective to that
Different than that = Different to that


What is known as the ‘first floor’ in the US is known as the ‘ground floor’ in Britain (and other countries in the British Commonwealth). The American 'second floor' is the 'first floor' in Britain.

In the UK rivers are always referred to as 'River X' not 'X River'.

In Britain, a muppet = an incompetent or ineffective person--an idiot.

What we in the States know as pudding--a soft, thick gelatinous treat--in Great Britain can refer to any sort of dessert course or to a stuffed entrail or sausage.

Though an English friend tells me Forgotten should be Forgot, Jane Austen used Forgotten 75 times acc. to http://writelikeausten.com/?q=forgotten.

Horsy stuff:
Reins/lines - there's a dichotomy between reins (private and commercial vehicles) and lines (agricultural wagons, ploughs etc; tend to be 1/4 inch thick cord, or light rope, rather than leather).

Bits: USA usage of "snaffle" tends to be any jointed bit; in England a snaffle is a bit that is not a "curb" bit and so the use of a snaffle tends to imply the rider is a bit rough and ready, an uneducated, unsubtle rider.

Corn fed = signifies horses fed on grain( oats/barley etc) i.e. well fed and fit (it has not been fed on maize!)

Telling time: "In England in times past it was NEVER nine-forty-five, or eight twenty-five, etc. It was always a quarter to ten, or twenty-five (or even five-and-twenty) past eight. Five past eight, ten past eight, a quarter past eight, twenty past eight, five and twenty past eight, half past eight, five and twenty to nine, twenty to nine, a quarter to nine, ten to nine, five to nine, nine o'clock. Never nine a.m., or p.m. No twenty-four hour clock. This was how it was when we were kids, and the idea of eight-forty-five etc. came from the Americans when I was a teenager! My mum always used to say five-and-twenty to or past the hour. She was born in 1916. Even now most of us Brits still say a quarter to the hour or a quarter past, or half past, or twenty-five past etc." Author Evelyn Tidman

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Some of the above came from Thesaurus.com.


17 comments:

Linda Root said...

This page not only restored order to the discussion, but actually provides a tool for improving our writing. And there are still a goodly percentage of Americans who say "I'm going to the hospital" rather than "..to hospital." My son, whoever,(also a writer)adopted the 'ise' instead of the'ize' when he went to London while in high school (I forget what Brits call high school). It cost him his usual A in English and the teacher was my daughter.LOL.

Linda Root said...

And I do need an editor.

Debra Brown said...

Thanks, Linda, for your comments. I thought "Pages" on Blogger could not have comments. Oh well!

I'll add your thought to the list.

Helen Hollick said...

Debra. You are wonderful for doing this! Thank you. I'm sure 'Britishisms' are as annoying to American readers - and sometimes the author isn't in control, many publishers have their own house style (another advantage of being an Indie Writer!)

Debra Brown said...

As one of the group members said on Facebook, some of the Americanisms were brought from England but have changed in the interim in England but not in America.

Ah yes, publishers do such things!

lordbeariofbow.com said...

Being English what I find most annoying is the spelling or should I say mis-spelling. Your Mr. Webster has much to answer for mutilating our written language.
I think the Americanisms are just an instance of the language evolving (not necessary for the best and to my liking mind you, but inevitable) but the mis-spellings were a deliberate attempt by an egotistical fool to leave his mark. He certainly has but not to his advantage.
Will somebody tell me; is a liter of lite beer a lighter beer than a light beer or a litre of light beer? Very confusing :)

Debra Brown said...

Light as in weight or light as in color, Your Lordship? :)

I find spellings like 'lite' extremely annoying.

Sue Millard said...

trail (USA) = track or lane
highway = road (occasionally "the King's highway" though!)
hobo = tramp
Some mountain road names don't have "road" after them, eg "I'm going over Whinlatter Pass" not "I'm taking the Whinlatter Pass Road".
Make a right = Take the next road to the right.

Horsy stuff:
reins/lines - there's a dichotomy between reins (private and commercial vehicles) and lines (agricultural wagons, ploughs etc; tend to be 1/4 inch thick cord, or light rope, rather than leather).
Bits: USa usage of "snaffle" tends to be any jointed bit; in England a snaffle is a bit that is not a "curb" bit and so the use of a snaffle tends to imply the rider is a bit rough and ready, an uneducated, unsubtle rider.

Debra Brown said...

Thank you so much, Sue! Lots of good information there. I hope it keeps coming in. We'll beat that Americanisms thing yet.

Evelyn Tidman said...

Actually, a four-poster bed can have drapes or curtains.

Now in Britain, we do have 'high school' which is the same as a 'grammar school' for age 11-18 year olds, but it not for the ordinary child. To go to a grammar or high school you have to be very clever, and win a scholarship (i.e. someone else pays for you to go) or your parents pay. Most children aged 11-18 attend a comprehensive school which caters for all abilities. At the moment children sit GCSE exams at age 16, and then either go on to college for training in a trade, or to take A levels which will get them into University. Or they can continue at school to take their A levels. But even as we speak, changes are afoot!

By the way, the word arse for ass is actually swearing.

And telling the time is another thing for Americans to beware of. We can and do say eight-thirty, eight forty-five etc. these days. But it is more usual to say 'a quarter past eight, twenty-five past eight, half past eight, twenty-five to nine, a quarter to nine, etc., nine o'clock. And if you are writing historically, it is always that way.

Debra Brown said...

Thanks for these clarifications, Evelyn. Much appreciated!

prinnystaylor said...

Hi Debbie,
I expect other Brits will agree but here are a few things I noticed:
Pants = trousers
Shorts = pants, underpants
Cookies = Biscuits (but not necessarily digestives as this is just one kind of biscuit)
Call = telephone, ring
Rich = Rich, well off or well to do. Posh isn't necessarily rich but it is usually ostentatious
Sweater = sweater. Jumper usually worn by women.
Worth noting that in the UK rivers are always referred to as 'River X' not 'X River' as on this side of the pond.

Debra Brown said...

Thank you; I have made those changes. :)

Sophie Schiller said...

"Where I'm at" is NOT standard American English. It came from Ebonics and became so widespread that people who wouldn't normally have spoken that way gradually accepted it.

Debra Brown said...

Thank you, Sophie. Apparently the person who contributed that phrase has seen it in American writings and wanted to clarify that the English would not use it.

Medieval Girl said...

As a Brit who reads a genre (Christian Historical Fiction) dominated by Americans, I do notice Americanisms more.

One that seems to be common is 'someplace', when 'somewhere' is more common in Britain. Also saying 'go--' instead of 'go and--' as in 'go see' or 'go tell'.

A heinous aberration- though its not word related, is foodstuffs or flora and fauna such as potatoes and Turkey in in Britain before Columbus.

Debra Brown said...

Thanks, Medieval Girl. I have updated the page at long last with your suggestions. Much appreciated.