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American English / British English

This was a project to collect and publish details of WWW pages in the United Kingdom. The text of all catalogue entries conformed to normal British spelling and usage.

If you are more familiar with American usage you may find the following list helpful.

It is not meant to be exhaustive. Links to further information about the differences between British and American English are available, especially if you are interested in colloquial and slang usages. (http://pages.prodigy.com/NY/NYC/britspk/dictlink.html)

The first part of the list shows differences between American and British spelling of common words. An asterisk indicates that the pronunciation differs as well as the spelling. A plus sign indicates a British usage that is, apparently, not unknown in North America.

American

British

Notes

aluminum *

aluminium

Interesting discussion at http://www.quinion.com/words/articles/aluminium.htm

analog

analogue

 

anesthesia

anaesthesia

 

archeology

archaeology

 

boro

borough

"boro" is informal and is sometimes seen in British road markings. In Scotland the word is "burgh" but it is pronounced "burr" or, sometimes, "borough" NOT "berg".

bylaw

bye law

 

catalog

catalogue +

 

center

centre

 

color

colour

 

curb

kerb

Edge of roadway or pavement. "curb" in the sense of "restrain" is used in British and American English.

defense

defence

 

dialog

dialogue +

 

donut

doughnut

"donut" is informal and is quite commonly used in BE to suggest that the bun is of a typical American character.

draft

draught

 

encyclopedia

encyclopaedia

 

favorite

favourite

 

gage

gauge +

American usage is obsolete

gray

grey +

 

gynecology

gynaecology

 

hauler

haulier

 

honor

honour

 

humor

humour

 

jewelry

jewellery

 

license

licence

British usage is license for the verb and licence for the noun

maneuver

manoeuvre

 

meter

metre

British usage is "meter" for a measuring device and "metre" for the unit of length. A correspondent suggests that the US military prefers "metre".

mold

mould

 

mustache

moustache +

 

nite

night

"nite" is informal in both AE and BE.

omelet

omelette +

 

pajamas US

pyjamas

 

practice

practise

British usage is "practise" for the verb and "practice" for the noun

program

programme

British usage is "program" for computers and "programme" for television or radio.

routing

routeing

 

specialty

speciality

 

story

storey

of building

sulfur

sulphur +

According to a correspondent the American spelling is now "official" British spelling for use by professional chemists but it is unlikely to be recognised by any other British English speaker.

thru

through +

American usage is obsolescent but may still be seen on road signs etc.,

tire

tyre

part of wheel in contact with road

vise

vice

tool

Generally American English -or as a word ending is equivalent to -our in British English, American -er as a word ending is sometimes equivalent to -re in British English. In American English the final e is removed from verbs before adding -ing, in correct British English this is not done giving "routeing" (British) and "routing" (American), however the American practice of dropping the "e" is becoming quite common in British English. If a verb ends in a single 'l' then the American -ing, -ed and -er forms also have a single 'l' whereas the British forms have a double 'll'. For example American English has signaler, signaling and signaled whereas British English has signaller, signalling and signalled. American English tends to prefer -ize and -ization whereas British English prefers -ise and -isation contrary to statements by certain well-known British authorities and much spell checking software.

Canadian spelling seems to be intermediate between the British and American (US) forms but is generally closer to British practice. There are variations from province to province. A quiet half-hour spent perusing the Vancouver Yellow Pages suggested that "aluminium", "gauge", "jewellery" and "mould" are preferred. [OK - I know there are better things to do in Vancouver !]. Some correspondents have suggested that Canadians normally use "aluminum".

There are, of course, exceptions to the above rules. American usage is "glamour" not "glamor" and "advertising" not "advertizing". British usage has "honorary" and "honorific" without the "u". Several correspondents have also noted that the British usages "centre" and "theatre" are displacing the American usages, particularly where the establishment in question wants to suggest that it is of superior quality.

When spelling out words (and 'phone numbers) it is British practice to say things such as "double e" for "ee" and "treble 3" for "333".

Please note that "tonne" is not a British spelling of "ton" but a quite separate metric unit equal to 1000 kg as distinct from the British ton of 2240 lbs (= 1016.96 kg).

As I receive more information from American correspondents it is becoming clearer that there are quite widespread regional variations in both the US and Canada, this looks like an interesting topic for further study.

The second part of the list shows common differences in usage. I.e. those cases where different words are used to describe the same thing. The primary purpose of this list is to indicate American usages that would be unfamiliar to speakers of British English. The following indications appear alongside some of the American and Canadian usages.

American/Canadian

British

Notes

A

airplane *

aeroplane

 

alligator pear Obs

avocado

 

AM

Medium Wave

Radio stations broadcasting using amplitude modulation on frequencies in the range 555-1600 kHz. In Europe (and the UK) the actual frequency range is 531 to 1611 kHz with 9KHz channel spacing. Stations do not have distinctive callsigns. There are (in the UK) a number of national stations (not all operated by the BBC) that can be heard anywhere in the country.

antenna

aerial

Electronics. A correspondent has suggested that AE uses "aerial" for rod type antennae such as the "rabbit ears" sometimes used with TV sets.

apartment

flat

A flat occupying more than one floor is called a "maisonette" in BE and a "duplex" in New York. A correspondent suggests that CE uses "flat" to refer to accommodation with some shared facilities and another suggests that AE uses "townhouse" to refer to a multi-level apartment. Another correspondent suggests that AE reserves the word "apartment" to refer to rented accommodation. BE does not distinguish between owned flats and rented flats.

apartment house/building

block of flats

See entry for "condominium".

appetizer

starter, hors d'oeuvre

"hors d'oeuvre" is rather posh.

area code

dialling code

Telephone. The obsolescent BE phrase STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) code may be encountered.

arugula

rocket

Edible plant used in salads.

asphalt

Tarmac

The BE term is proprietary. A composite of bitumen (a tarry substance) and gravel used for surfacing/paving roads etc. In American usage "tarmac" is used to refer to surface of airport runways etc. A macadamised road is one with a surface of carefully graded stones first devised by John Macadam in the early 19th century. "Tarmacadam" refers to the same form of road construction with a final layer of a tarry substance designed partially to prevent vehicles throwing up dust and small stones and partially to prevent rainwater seeping into the road structure. According to a correspondent oil men use "asphalt" to refer to something found down an oil well.

attached home obs

semi-detached house

A pair of dwellings sharing a single common wall. There are, apparently, significant regional US variations in the names of types of housing.

attorney

lawyer

See notes on "lawyer".

auto, automobile obs

car

The word "auto" is still sometimes seen in notices and road signs. The American usages would sound strange to British ears.

automated teller machine (ATM)

cashpoint

A "hole in the wall" machine from which you can get money.

B

baby carriage

pram, perambulator

The word "perambulator" is very pompous. This is a substantial crib or cot-like container kept well clear of the ground on large wheels.

backpack/backbag

rucksack

Carrier for camping equipment etc., usually with a metal frame, worn on the back.

back-up light *

reversing light

AE prefers "reverse light" according to a correspondent.

baked potato

jacket potato

A potato cooked without removing the skin.

baking soda

bicarbonate of soda

Sodium bicarbonate (Na2CO3) used in cooking.

ball-point pen

Biro

The BE term is proprietary. Invented by the Hungarian Laszlo Jozsef Biro in the 1940's.

Band-Aid

sticking plaster

The AE term is proprietary. The word "bandage" referring to an "ad-hoc" wound dressing made of cloth, gauze etc., is common to AE and BE.

bandshell

bandstand

British bandstands do not have sound reflecting shields or enclosures and are just fenced, roofed and raised enclosures in public parks. A correspondent suggests that bandshell is a West Coast usage.

bangs

fringe

Hair style. In BE a "fringe" is hair hanging straight down beneath the normal hair line and usually trimmed to a straight edge; "bangs" refers to a fringe at the side with sharply swept forward ends.

bankroll US

foot the bill

 

bar

pub, public house

An establishment where drinks can be purchased for consumption on the premises as distinct from an off-licence (BE) or liquor store (AE). In BE a "bar" is either a room within a public house, cafe, club, hotel etc., where drink is sold or the actual counter over which drinks are sold. Public houses often have several rooms with differing standards of furnishing and comfort and prices to match. In order of increasing facilities these are quite commonly called the "public bar", "saloon bar" and "lounge bar" although there are many variations. Public houses, although intended primarily to sell drink, often sell meals nowadays. Many public houses are "tied", which means they are actually owned by a brewery, and the landlord really is just a landlord. "Tied" houses give preference to the owner's brands although recent legislation and consumer pressure has made it much more likely that "guest" beers will be on offer. You may occasionally come across a "beer house" which is a public house only licensed to sell beer and similar drinks but not wines or spirits. See notes on "beer". The AE terms "tavern", "roadhouse" and "saloon" referring to various types of drinking establishment have no direct British equivalent.

barrette*

hair slide

 

baseboard

skirting board

A plank fixed along bottom of wall. In BE a "baseboard" is a board on which something, such as a model railway layout, is built. "cove" is sometimes used with the same meaning in AE/CE but in BE this refers to a curved moulding between wall and ceiling.

bathrobe

dressing gown

 

bathroom

toilet

Especially in a domestic context. In BE a bathroom is a room containing a bath in a private house or hotel. See discussion under "washroom".

bathtub

bath

 

battle stations US

action stations

The US Navy now refers to "general quarters".

beater *obs, Can

banger

Decrepit car. AE also has "clunker", "jalopy" (obs?), "hooptie" and "junker". Both BE and AE refer have "lemon" in this context.

beer

lager

The drink referred to as "beer" in American usage would not be recognised as such by many British drinkers. In British usage "beer" is a mildly alcoholic beverage served at a temperature that does not freeze your taste buds. "Real Ale" is beer prepared with the minimum of chemicals in a traditional fashion, usually in small local breweries. In BE lager is beer brewed using low temperature fermentation, it is typically lighter and clearer than normal beer and often served chilled. The word "lager" has some negative connotations being associated with drunken youths known as "lager louts". The word "ale" is slightly archaic and now means the same as "beer". The word "stout" describes a strong dark beer brewed with roasted malt or barley and particularly popular in Ireland (Guinness is the best known brand). See notes on "bar".

bell pepper *

red pepper, green pepper

Yellow ones are also available. A variety of capsicum. There is some evidence of US regional variations. CE has "red sweet pepper" and is generally as BE. A correspondent has, rather confusingly, suggested that in AE a "red pepper" is hot whereas a "red bell pepper" is mild.

beltway, loop

ring road, circular road

A road circling a city. There are various other regional and local North American names. CE as BE.

bill

note

In the sense of a piece of paper currency. British currency notes currently in general circulation are 5, 10, 20 and 50. The 5 and 10 notes are frequently called "fivers" and "tenners". The different notes are of different sizes, colours and general appearance which makes things a bit easier for the visually handicapped unlike the paper currency of a certain North American country.

billfold Obs

wallet

The AE term is becoming obsolescent and being replaced by "wallet"

billion

thousand million

The old British usage in which a billion was a million2 is now largely obsolete and most British speakers would assume the American meaning. Careful users avoid the words altogether and use exponent notation. The usage continued

  • trillion = tri+(m)illion = million3 = 1018
  • quadrillion = quad+(m)illion = million4 = 1024
  • centillion = cent+(m)illion = million100 = 10600

The American naming seems to work on the principle 103+(number3)

binder clip

bulldog clip

Spring loaded device for holding sheets of paper together.

birdcage

no equivalent

Net covering over swimming pool.

biscuit

scone

 

blacktop

Tarmac

See notes on "asphalt". AE usage may be primarily rural to distinguish from "dirt roads".

blinders

blinkers

 

blinkers

indicators

Part of a car. See note on "turn signals". In BE blinkers are used on horses to prevent them being distracted by things going on on either side.

blood sausage

black pudding

The AE term "chorizo" has a similar meaning.

blush

rosé

light pinkish wine

bobby pin *

hair grip, Kirby grip

"Kirby Grip" is proprietary.

boneyard obs

scrapyard, junkyard

Place where old machinery etc., gently rots away. "boneyard" is a regional US usage.

bouillon cube

stock cube

 

boxcar

no equivalent

A covered railway wagon with a door for loading. British railways use either open trucks, wagons built for specific loads such as oil or, most commonly "container flats" which are flat trucks with no side panels adapted to carry the ubiquitous containers.

braid

plait

Hair style. British geographers would refer to "braided streams" and British electronic engineers would refer to "braided conductors".

breakdown lane

hard shoulder

Lane at edge of multi-lane limited access road. A correspondent suggests that "breakdown lane" is specific to the North East of the US.

brewpub *

no equivalent

British usage would simply refer to a "pub that brewed its own beer" although the word "microbrewery" is now becoming common in both BE and AE.

Brit

Briton

"Britisher" sounds rather Germanic (especially in stereotypical WW2 films). "Briton" is not widely used. We are Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen (and women!) and confusing them causes offence. The correct name of the country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, often abbreviated to the United Kingdom. Great Britain is a large island off the North West coast of Europe, it includes the kingdoms of England and Scotland and the principality of Wales. England and Scotland share the same monarch but Wales has a prince of its own. Northern Ireland is just a province, don't confuse it with Ulster which includes the counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal in the Irish republic. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey etc) are not legally part of the United Kingdom.

The word "Brit" is rapidly coming into popular usage. The correct adjectives for things from Scotland are "Scottish" for most things, "Scots" for the people and a sort of pine tree and "Scotch" for the whisky.

broad jump

long jump

 

brown bag lunch

packed lunch

Lunch obtained from supermarket or, more usually, made at home and taken to work. In US practice supermarkets and grocery stores give/sell customers brown paper bags to take the groceries home in, in UK practice plastic bags, with handles, are used, a practice now becoming common in North America.

bun

bap, roll

A small round loaf, often used to make hamburgers. In BE buns are often sweet and deliciously sticky and there are many varieties such as the hot cross buns traditionally served on Good Friday.

bureau Obs

chest of drawers +

A piece of furniture consisting of a number of wide shallow drawers one above another mainly used for storing clothes and linen. A correspondent has suggested that the US usage is regional. In BE "bureau" refers to a piece of furniture typically found in old-fashioned offices with both drawers and a fold-down writing surface.

burglarize

burgle, steal

"Steal" is now the commoner AE usage.

burlap

hessian

coarse fabric used for sacking, bags and, sometimes, wall covering.

bus

coach

In British usage for journeys between towns and cities its a coach, always single decker. Within towns and cities it's a bus, often double-decker.

busboy

No equivalent

In British restaurants the waiter clears tables.

busy signal

engaged tone

Telephone system.

butterfly blade

flick knife

 

C

caboose *

guard's van

A caboose traditionally includes sleeping and messing facilities is painted red and has a sort of H-shaped chimney, a guard's van does not.

cadaver

corpse

A dead body. AE seems to increasingly reserve the word "cadaver" for medical and forensic use.

cafeteria

canteen

Place, especially in a factory or school, where meals are served. BE also uses "canteen" for a small water bottle used by soldiers and campers and also for a collection of cutlery.

candy

sweet

The word "candy" refers to a particular crystallised sugar confection in British usage.

canine cookie Obs

dog biscuit

 

car

carriage, truck

A railway vehicle for carrying passengers (carriage in BE) or freight (truck in BE). On the road its a "car" in both BE and AE.

caravan obs

convoy

Group of vehicles travelling together. The American usage "caravan" is rare/archaic except when the vehicles are camels. In BE a "caravan" is a mobile home or trailer. A correspondent has told me that American estate agents (Realtors) refer to groups of viewers of properties as "caravans".

carnival

travelling fair or circus

In British usage a carnival is a period of widespread public celebration often associated with street processions, this also applies in a few American cities such as New Orleans. A fair is travelling entertainment with sideshows and rides such as dodgems, ferris wheels, helter-skelters etc. A circus has seating round a ring (or several rings) where clowns and animals perform. The tent covering the ring of a circus is called the "big top".

carousel

merry-go-round

Fairground ride consisting of wooden (or plastic) horses on poles which rise up and go down as the whole rotates. I have seen examples with up to five rings of horses.

carpenter's level

spirit level

 

cart

trolley

Shopping. BE does not use the word "cart" in this context reserving it for a wheeled trailer pulled by a vehicle or horse.

casket

coffin

The American style casket looks very elaborate and in rather poor taste to British eyes. Coffins are invariably very plain affairs.

cattle guard

cattle grid

 

cell phone, cellular phone

mobile phone

Often just called "the mobile" in BE and "cell" in AE.

check US

cheque

Banking. Same pronunciation, different spelling. CE as BE.

checkers

draughts

Board game.

checking account

current account

Banking. The American facility is technically called a "demand deposit account". It is called a "chequing account" in CE.

cheesecloth

muslin

 

chesterfield

settee

See entry for "couch".

chicken wire

wire netting

 

chicory

endive

 

chief executive officer (CEO)

managing director (MD)

Head of day to day operations of a commercial organisation. The American usage is creeping in in the UK.

chifforobe *

gentleman's wardrobe

A wardrobe with hanging space on one side and drawers on the other.

chips

crisps

Thin fried slices of potato usually sold in bags as snacks or "nibbles". According to a correspondent there is now US legislation requiring that the word "crisp" be used to describe those made from moulding chopped potato.

chorizo

 

See entry for blood sausage.

cilantro

coriander

herb

city

town

In American usage "city" is used for any "incorporated" area, which seems to mean that it has some form of local government, as such the population may be only a few hundred. There are state-by-state regional variations in the precise meaning of the American term. In British usage an urban area is only a city if it has a cathedral or has a royal warrant saying it's a city. If it isn't a city it's a town (or a village). My own city, Wolverhampton, has a population of about 250,000, a bishop, a university, a main-line railway station, trams and over a thousand years of history but it didn't become a city until December 2000.

closet

fitted wardrobe

Especially a walk-in wardrobe or small storage room that is a permanent fixture not a piece of furniture.

closing out

closing down

Sale of goods when shop or company ceases regular trading. AE also uses this to refer to stock clearance of particular lines of merchandise.

clothes pin

clothes peg

Holds washing on a line.

coach

economy

Inexpensive class of accommodation on a train or aeroplane. In BE a "coach" is a single decker bus like vehicle that carries booked passengers or is booked for a party of passengers, unlike a 'bus' it does not stop to pick up custom at the roadside.

collect call *

reverse charge call

Telephone.

comfort station Obs

public convenience, toilet

See discussion under "washroom". I have also seen "comfort house" applied to a portable toilet on a building site. A correspondent reports "port-a-potty" for temporary facilities. This would probably be called a "portaloo" in BE, although this is a proprietary term. According to a correspondent this term has re-appeared in AE as a fold-down table for changing a baby's nappy.

comforter

quilt, eiderdown, bedspread

Warm covering on top of bed that is made up traditionally using sheets and blankets as distinct from a duvet.

concert master

leading or first violin, leader

Orchestra.

condominium, condo *

block of flats

Both BE and AE use "condominium" to refer to a territory governed jointly by two nations. In referring to a block of flats BE does not distinguish between rented flats and individually owned flats. "condominium" usually means that the flats are individually owned rather than rented.

conductor

guard

A railway official. In London, buses have both a driver and a conductor whose job is to sell tickets.

consignment *

second hand goods

The American term refers to goods sold on commission, a concept unknown in the United Kingdom.

cookie

biscuit (sweet)

In British usage "cookie" is sometimes used to refer specifically to a biscuit with chips of chocolate included known, I believe, as a "chocolate chip cookie" in AE.

cooler

cool box

a well insulated box used for food etc., Both BE and AE also use "cooler" as a slang word for a detention cell.

cord

lead, flex

Flexible electrical cable joining an electrical appliance or telephone to a socket. For power connections British practice uses the same colours as are used in Europe, brown for live, blue for neutral and green with yellow stripe for earth. Older British practice still used for permanent cables is red for live, black for neutral and green (or bare copper) for earth. American practice is black for live, white for neutral and green for earth, although it is not normal for the cord from the outlet to the appliance to have colour coded wires.

corn

sweet corn, maize, corn-on-the-cob

In British usage "corn" is used fairly generically to mean "wheat" or "oats".

corn starch

corn flour

 

cotton batting obs

cotton wool

 

cotton candy

candy floss

 

cotton swab

cotton bud

Q-Tip is a proprietary US term.

couch

settee

An upholstered seat for two or more people. BE has several variants with no specific words for two or three seated versions. A "chesterfield" has buttoned leather upholstery. "Sofa" is a fairly common alternative. A "chaise longue" has an arm at one end only so you can lie down on it. In BE a "love seat" has two seats side by side but facing in opposite directions in a sort of "S" shape, suitable only for the most chaste amatory activities. "couch potato" means the same in BE as AE.

county

 

American usage would, typically, be "Orange County". Apart from "County Durham" the word would not be used in referring to a British administrative division, the suffix "-shire" means that it's a county anyway. The use of the word "County" is normal in referring to Irish administrative divisions. They're called "parishes" in Louisiana, in British usage a "parish" is the lowest level unit of government (rural areas only) or ecclesiastical organisation. There are no standard geographical subdivisions between the nations of the UK and the counties. Unlike the states of the USA and the provinces of Canada there are no standard postal abbreviations for British counties, and their names are frequently omitted from addresses, a practice that is accepted by the Post Office if a post code is included.

cow pie

cow pat

Something you don't want to put your foot in.

coworker

workmate

"coworker" is also understood in BE as a slightly more formal term. BE also has "Workmate" as a proprietary term for an adjustable workbench.

crackers

biscuits

In British usage "cracker" can refer to a particular type of biscuit used with cheese or the usage "crackers" can imply that somebody is mentally deranged. BE speakers would be unaware of any racially offensive connotations.

crane fly

daddy-long-legs

Insect with long legs (Tipula Maxima). [My dictionary suggests that AE uses daddy-long-legs to refer to something called a harvestman (Order Opilones) that lives in leaf litter and is a sort of spider with very long legs.]

crawl space

under floor void

 

crazy bone *obs

funny bone

 

cream of wheat

semolina

 

creek

stream, brook

in British usage a "creek" is a small inlet of the sea. I am told the American word can also be spelt "crick", reflecting common pronunciation, although this would be considered uneducated.

crosswalk

pedestrian crossing

Specially marked part of roadway used by pedestrians crossing the road. The British usage "zebra crossing" is obsolescent. Many such crossings are controlled by traffic lights, some are still uncontrolled but indicated by large orange globes on striped posts known, after the presiding minister who first installed them, as Belisha beacons.

cuban

no equivalent

Floridan term for a sandwich with roast pork, ham, and swiss cheese.

cuffs

turn-ups

At bottom of trouser legs. Shirts (with long sleeves) in both AE and BE have cuffs.

cupcake

fairy cake

Small individual cake.

custom made

bespoke, made to measure

This refers to clothing, otherwise "custom made" is normal British usage. BE also has "bespoke software" (for computers).

D

davenport

bed-settee

The AE term is probably proprietary. In BE a davenport is a type of desk.

daylight saving(s) time

(British) summer time

In AE "summer time" refers to any period of time during the summer.

dead end

cul-de-sac

BE also has "no through road", meaning a road that just stops. "cul-de-sac" is largely confined to suburban roads and usually implies a turning circle at the end, often with houses built round it. People live in cul-de-sacs not on them. "no outlet" is also sometimes seen in North America.

deck

pack

of playing cards

deck

no equivalent

A part of a house consisting of wooden boards on the outside of the building at ground or first floor level (or higher) allowing people to walk around. British houses simply do not have such things, the nearest equivalents are "patio" meaning an unroofed area adjacent to a building paved with slabs, "verandah" a covered and glassed walkway along the side of a building and "conservatory" a room-like extension entirely walled and roofed in glass. Wooden decking for use in gardens was introduced to the British market in 1998 and is being heavily promoted as "decking".

deductible

excess

Of insurance payouts.

deep freeze

freezer

Domestic appliance for storing frozen food.

delivery tanker

tanker

A vehicle that transports and delivers liquids such as milk and petroleum products.

delivery truck

van

 

denatured alcohol

methylated spirits, meths

Ethanol (C2H5OH) that has been made unfit for drinking by the addition of methanol (CH3OH), pyridine and purple colouring. See also "rubbing alcohol".

desk clerk

receptionist

In hotel. Both BE and AE use "receptionist" to mean the person in a commercial office who greets visitors.

dessert

pudding

Course after main course of a meal other than breakfast. "Pudding" usually implies that it has been cooked, otherwise "dessert" is often used. Calling the course "afters" is thought rather common by most British people. It is also sometimes called a "sweet" in BE. A correspondent has suggested that AE uses "pudding" with the same meaning as the BE "jelly", see entry for "Jell-O". CE as BE.

detour

diversion

 

diaper *

nappy

 

differ... than

differ... from

The American usage "different than" grates terribly in British ears, in British English it's "different from" and "differing from".

dime

no equivalent

10 cent coin. For notes on British money see the entries for "nickel" and "loonie".

diner

café

Strictly there is no British equivalent of the traditional 12' wide American diner. In British usage the spelling "caff" (and pronunciation) is used to indicate a rather lowly establishment.

dirt road

unpaved road

BE would more usually call this a "track".

discount

concession

Reduced admission prices to cinemas, theatres etc., for students, pensioners etc. Advertisements often quote a regular admission price and a price for "concessions". Other uses of "discount" are the same in AE as BE.

dish pan

washing up bowl

 

district attorney

public prosecutor

The "procurator fiscal" in Scotland. Many state variations in the US.

divided highway

dual carriageway

 

docent *

curator, guide

In a museum, historic house or art gallery. Correspondents have suggested that "docent" implies a volunteer and also that "curator" refers to the director or administrator of a museum in AE/CE.

doctor's office

surgery

Contrary to the usage actual surgery is only done by surgeons in hospitals. British senior surgical staff are often referred to as "Mr." rather than "Dr." no matter how highly qualified. This probably dates back to the time when doctors were qualified but surgeons were little more than barbers unworthy of the honorific title. British dentists and veterinarians never use the title "Dr.".

double whole note

breve

Music.

downtown

town centre

The word "center" is, apparently, common usage in New England. Geographers sometimes refer to the central business district or CBD, but this isn't a general BE usage.

(the) draft

conscription

Enforced membership of military forces. It was also called "national service" in the UK but was abolished in the 1950's.

drapes *

curtains

 

dresser

chest of drawers, dressing table

A dressing table is a table, usually with 2/3 small drawers and a large adjustable mirror used by ladies for doing their make-up.

driver's license US, driver's permit Can

driving licence

 

drug store

pharmacy, chemists

Pharmacy refers specifically to a place where medicines can be obtained both on and off prescription. A chemist's shop as well as incorporating a pharmacy will also sell a variety of personal products such as soap, tooth brushes, toothpaste, combs etc.

druggist obs

chemist, pharmacist

The word "chemist" is more common in BE.

dry goods store

drapery, haberdashery

A shop selling, cloth, thread and related items.

dump

tip

Throw something away. Also the place where things are thrown away.

Dumpster *

skip

Waste storage and transportation. AE term is proprietary.

duplex (house) *

semi-detached house

A pair of dwelling houses sharing a common wall. The single-storied version, which is very unusual, is called a "semi-detached bungalow" in BE. An apartment with two floors would be called a "maisonette" in BE. CE as BE. According to a correspondent CE uses "duplex" and "triplex" to mean a building containing two or three self-contained flats. A correspondent has also mentioned "shared-wall dwelling" as AE bureaucrat-speak.

E

editorial

leader

Article in newspaper or magazine expressing the opinions of the editor. The American usage is not uncommon in BE.

eggplant *

aubergine

 

eighth note

quaver

Music.

electrician's tape

insulating tape

Sometimes called "electrical tape" or even "sticky tape".

elementary school

primary school

Attended by children from about 5 to 10.

elevator

lift

If it's for goods only BE has the word "hoist". A "grain elevator" is called a "silo" in BE.

engineer

engine driver

Person controlling a locomotive. Otherwise BE uses "engineer" in the same way as AE.

England

United Kingdom

The American habit of saying "England" when the United Kingdom is meant is mildly annoying to people who live in England and EXTREMELY annoying to people who live in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. A correspondent has suggested that this American habit is becoming less common. See notes on "Brit".

entrée

main course

In British usage "entree" means first course sometimes known as starter or in posher circles "hors d'oeuvre".

eraser

rubber

Used to remove marks made by pencils, British pronunciation is eraZer, American is eraSer.

excise laws

licensing laws

 

exit

junction

Usually numbered location where you enter (BE) or leave a limited access highway. In North America exit numbering normally reflects the distance in miles (US) or kilometres (Canada) from the start of the highway except on the East Coast. In the UK junctions are numbered successively with new junctions built since the road was first laid out having numbers such as 7a and 11b.

Exit in the sense of "way out" inside a building is the same in BE and AE.

expressway

main road

See notes on "interstate".

Exxon

Esso

Petrol company. Now ExxonMobil.

eyeglasses

spectacles, specs

Usually just plain "glasses" in both AE and BE. Now where did I put them ?

F

fair

show

There is no direct British equivalent of a state or county fair. The nearest are agricultural shows held in rural districts. In BE a fair is a travelling collection of rides and amusements that is set up for a few days in a convenient location.

fall

autumn

Both words are used in CE.

fanny pack

bum bag

Small bag worn around the waist and resting on the bottom. In BE "bum" is a slightly vulgar word for "bottom" and "fanny" is a distinctly vulgar word for the female genitalia.

faucet *

tap

Strangely in AE tap water comes out of the faucet unless you're in Pennsylvania where, apparently, its the register.

fava bean

broad bean

Vegetable (vicia faba).

fedora

trilby

Soft felt hat. There are slight differences.

feminine napkin

sanitary towel

The word "tampon" has the same meaning in both British and American usage. "Maxi Pad" is an American proprietary term.

fender

wing

Part of car.

mudguard

Part of bicycle.

field

pitch

A sports ground.

fire hall Can

fire station

 

firehouse

fire station

 

fire starter

fire lighter

Small packet of readily combustible material.

fire truck *

fire engine or fire appliance

Professional fire fighters deprecate the usage "fire engine" and refer to "fire appliances" (BE) or "fire apparatus" (AE). The phrase "fire engine" is also used in America.

first floor

ground floor

In British usage the floors of a building are numbered starting at zero rather than one. So an American reference to the "second floor" would correspond to a British reference to the "first floor".

First Nations *Can

American Indians, Indians

The native (pre-Columbian) population of America.

flagstaff obs

flag pole

"flagpole" as a single word is common American usage.

flashlight

torch

With a bulb and batteries.

flatware

cutlery

 

float home obs

house boat

 

float plane Can

sea plane

An aeroplane adapted to land on and take off from water. The British usage "flying boat" is obsolete. There are differences in nomenclature depending on whether the main fuselage is intended to touch the water (a flying boat or sea plane) or whether the only part intended to touch the water are floats in more or less the position where a normal aircraft would have wheels (a float plane).

floor lamp

standard lamp

Domestic lighting appliance consisting of a tall pole with a lamp on top.

football

American football

See "soccer".

four way (stop)

cross roads

A place where two roads intersect. In America in the absence of traffic lights, priority is given to vehicles in order of arrival and, if two arrive at once, to the vehicle on the right. In the United Kingdom one or other of the roads will have priority, priority is indicated by road markings.

freeway

motorway

Limited access high speed trunk road. American usages "freeway", "highway", "beltway", "causeway", "express way", "parkway" all have similar meanings that are not differentiated in British usage. "freeway" often implies that it isn't a toll road or turnpike. Apart from a few bridges, toll roads are currently unknown in the UK, although the countries first toll motorway is opened north of Birmingham in 2004. See "interstate" entry for details on British road numbering.

freight elevator

hoist, goods lift

 

french fries

chips

Sometimes just plain "fries" in AE. The variants "home fries", "steak fries" and "shoestring fries" don't map into BE, they're thick-cut chips, thin-cut chips and whatever you get in MacDonald's.

freshman

no equivalent

In BE "freshman" or "fresher" is sometimes used to refer to a first year undergraduate at a university. See notes on "high school".

fridge pack

no equivalent

See entry for "two-four".

funeral director

undertaker

 

furnace *

central heating boiler

Domestic use only. In BE "furnace" is industrial.

G

galoshes

Wellington boots, wellies

Tall rubberised boots.

garbage, trash

rubbish, refuse

 

garbage can

dustbin

 

garbage collector obs

dustman

BE computer scientists talk about "garbage collection". Political correctness has now given AE "sanitation engineer", in BE this term would refer to somebody who designs and builds sewers and associated facilities, a specialised form of civil engineer.

garter belt

suspender

Used to support ladies' stockings. In British usage a "garter" is a band, usually elastic, that goes around the leg to support a sock or stocking. There are no gender specific connotations.

gas

petrol

Fuel for motor vehicles. British usage reserves "gas" to mean an inflammable gas such as methane or carbon monoxide piped to domestic and industrial premises as a fuel. The word gasoline would not be widely understood in Britain. "Petroleum" is sometimes seen in legal and official notices. British aeroplanes are fuelled with "avgas" however, unless they're jets, of course.

gear shift, gear stick

gear lever

Part of car.

generator

dynamo

It converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. The American usage would be familiar to British ears. I was once told that a dynamo only generates DC whereas the machine that generates AC is called an alternator.

German shepherd

alsatian

breed of dog

girl scouts US

girl guides

 

goaltender

goalkeeper

"goalie" is common in both AE and BE.

goatsucker

nightjar

bird

golden raisin US

sultana

A dried grape.

goose bumps

goose pimples

 

goose egg *

duck

Score of zero in a game. The BE usage is confined to cricket.

gotten

got

"gotten" is sometimes used in BE to suggest an American rustic.

grade

gradient (slope)

The American usage of the word to refer to a stage in a child's progress through school is unknown in the UK. AE has "sixth grade" and "sixth graders" whereas CE has "grade six" and "grade sixes". See entry for "high school".

grade crossing *

level crossing

Road/railway crossing.

graham crackers

digestive biscuits

Biscuits made from whole wheat flour. Also available part coated with chocolate or as a pair sandwiching a cream filling.

grease pencil

chinagraph pencil

 

green thumbs

green fingers

good at gardening

ground

earth

Electrical.

ground

minced

meat, but mincemeat is something completely different composed mainly of fruit and used for making delicious small pies at Christmas time.

GST Can

VAT

Goods and Services Tax / Value Added Tax. A tax levied "at the point of consumption". In the UK shop prices are almost always quoted inclusive of VAT (currently 17.5%) so what you see is what you pay. In Canada shop prices are quoted exclusive of this tax so you're in for a surprise when you get to pay, you can always blame "the government". Canadian GST is currently 7% but the provinces levy their own provincial sales tax (PST), typically at about the same level as the government tax.

gumboot *obs

wellington

Boot, usually rubber or rubberised, reaching well up the calf worn in agricultural contexts.

gurney *

no equivalent

It's not that wheeled stretchers are unknown in British hospitals, it's just that there is no common name for them.

H

half note

minim

Music.

hardware store

ironmonger

 

hat check girl

cloakroom attendant

AE may be obsolescent, since few people wear hats now.

headlamp obs

headlight

Car.

heavy cream

double cream

 

hex

cast a spell on

 

Hidabed, hideaway

bed-settee

A couch or sofa that can be converted to a bed. Hidabed is proprietary. May also be called "daybed" in both BE and AE.

high school

secondary school

The British system of education for those under 18 is quite different from the US system. From 5 to 11 children attend a primary school, often starting in a class called "reception". From 11 to 18 they will attend a secondary school, in some areas they may transfer to sixth form colleges at the age of 16. The stages are referred to as years starting at 1 (at age 5) up to 11. After the 11th year children may join the 6th form (don't ask !). The phrase "high school" when used refers to a school, often for girls, with selective entry via competitive examination. A similar school for boys is often a "grammar school", many of these are fairly ancient foundations and in recent years have become co-educational. AE references to "freshmen", "sophomores", "K12" etc., would not be understood in the UK. In Scotland "high school" means any secondary school.

high tea Obs

afternoon tea

A light meal taken in the late afternoon. Usually cakes and similar confectionary with a pot of tea. Widely available in British restaurants and "tea shops" which specialise in this sort of meal. In BE "high tea" refers to a more substantial meal taken at the same sort of time but with at least one cooked course.

highboy

tallboy

Tall chest of drawers.

highway

main road

In British usage the word "highway" is confined to formal and legal contexts. See entry for "interstate".

hoagie *

roll

There is really no direct BE equivalent. The alternative AE usage "submarine" or "sub" is not uncommon in British usage. "grinder" (mid west esp Pittsburgh), "hero" and "poor boy" (New Orleans) are regional US variants. The usage "hoagie", according to one correspondent, is specific to the Philadephia area.

hobo *

tramp

Some AE speakers use "hobo" to mean a casual or itinerant worker as distinct from a "bum" or "tramp" who lives by begging and handouts. There is no word in BE to convey this precise distinction.

hog

pig

In British usage a "hog" is a person that claims exclusive use of something, i.e. hogs it. Farmers use "hog" to mean a male pig and "sow" to mean a female pig, the use of "hog" to mean a pig of either gender is probably obsolescent.

honor box

honesty box

Where you put money in return for small items.

hood

bonnet

car

hope chest

bottom drawer

Where a women keeps garments etc., against the possibility of matrimony.

hopper ball

space hopper

Large bouncy ball with ears. May be proprietary.

horny

randy

slang. Eager to engage in sexual congress. Americans called Randolph should not introduce themselves in British circles by saying "Hi, I'm Randy", unless, of course, ......

(house numbering)

 

British houses are usually numbered serially starting from one end of a road or street with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other side, however it is not uncommon to find them numbered sequentially up one side of the road and down the other. Subsequent subdivision of plots results in houses with numbers such as 60A, 60B, 60C etc., fractional house numbers are more or less unknown in British usage. North American numbering seems to be a sort of co-ordinate system related, probably, to land subdivisions giving rise to frequent gaps. Driving along a country road and passing house number 82357, half a mile of open countryside and then house number 85163 is very puzzling to the British visitor who will wonder where 82359, 82361, 82363 etc., are. According to a correspondent the Post Office or Local Government allocates such numbers on a basis of one number for every 25 feet of frontage. There are, as in many things American, regional variations.

house-trailer *

caravan

See entry for "trailer".

hutch

chest, Welsh dresser

A piece of furniture with open shelves, a flat surface and a single row of drawers, usually used for storage and display of plates etc. In BE a "hutch" is a small, usually outdoor, structure where rabbits, ferrets or similar animals live.

I

icebox Obs

refrigerator

In BE "icebox" refers to the part of the refrigerator kept below freezing point and a "cool box" is a well insulated box for carrying food and drink. The American practice of garages and supermarkets selling ice to replenish a cool box is unknown in Britain.

ice chest Obs

cool box

 

incorporated

limited

British firms often have titles ending in "Ltd" meaning limited liability or "Plc" meaning public limited company. "Public" implies that the company's shares are publicly traded. There are also private companies.

industrial park

industrial estate

An unlovely area of factories and other commercial premises. BE also has "trading estate".

installment plan

hire purchase

A scheme for paying for something by a series of payments after you've obtained the item.

instant replay

action replay

Use of video recordings to replay highlights immediately after the event particularly during TV coverage of sporting events.

intersection

cross roads

A place where four roads meet or two roads cross depending on your point of view. See also notes on "four-way".

intermission

interval

Break in performance in theatre, cinema or on TV. "Intermission" sounds rather old-fashioned to British ears.

interstate *US

main road, major road, trunk road

A major highway joining different parts of the country.

The usage "trunk road" is largely confined to road planners and road system administrators but most closely captures the meaning of "interstate". The specific usage of "interstate" to mean roads funded under a particular legislative act would be unknown to BE speakers. Interstate highways are arranged in a more or less regular geographic fashion with even numbers for those running east-west and odd numbers for those running north-south.

Roads in Great Britain have numbers whose initial digits are based on a radial zone system based on London and Edinburgh

  • A1 - London to Edinburgh
  • A2 - London to Dover
  • A3 - London to Portsmouth
  • A4 - London to Bristol
  • A5 - London to Holyhead
  • A6 - London to Carlisle
  • A7 - Edinburgh to Carlisle
  • A8 - Edinburgh to Greenock
  • A9 - Edinburgh to John O'Groats

Roads, for example, between the A1 and A2 all have numbers starting with 1. An initial A means a major road, an initial M means a motorway, an initial B a minor road. A T after the number means a trunk road. An A road number will sometimes have the suffix M, indicating that it has been built to motorway standards. [E.g. A40(T), A1(M)] There is also an extensive network of unclassified roads sometimes called class C roads. Road numbering is unique, the more the digits, the less important the road.

Broadly speaking an "A" road (not trunk) is equivalent to a "federal" road, a "B" road to a state road and the others are equivalent to "county" roads.

See also entry for "freeway". E numbers are European designations, although many of these have been designated for the UK, they are more or less unknown in the UK.

intimate apparel

underwear

 

Inuit

Eskimo

Most British people are unaware of the preferred usage and are equally unaware of any negative connotations associated with the word "Eskimo". There are very few Inuit in the British Isles. A Slovak colleague of mine told me that in a recent census in the Czech Republic over 10,000 people described themselves as Inuit so forcing the government to make special provisions. CE prefers "Inuit".

J

janitor *

caretaker

BE has no distinction between a "live-in" caretaker and one who comes in on a daily basis.

jack

socket

Connector for telephone. In BE "jack plugs" and "jack sockets" are particular types of multi-pole electrical connectors. See entry for "outlet".

jelly

No equivalent

Spread for toast or bread not incorporating preserved fruit only fruit juice. See discussion under "preserves".

jelly roll

Swiss roll

A sort of cake made by spreading jam on a square cake base and then rolling it up into a cylinder.

Jell-o

jelly

US term is proprietary. A wobbly edible gelatine based substance often flavoured with fruit and used as a dessert. In British usage it is often served with ice cream and is a children's favourite.

I cannot resist quoting the following from a correspondent

Pudding is in no way related to jello, other than the Jell-O brand makes pudding (which is best described as a kind of down-market mousse that you can make by adding milk to a powder, or buy it premade in little sealed cups). It will often be called jello pudding snacks, just to tell the brand. But jello in general is the gelatin 'jelly,' as you call it. Pudding would never be used to describe the bready dessert thing such as 'christmas pudding'. that would be called fruitcake.

john

toilet

See discussion under "washroom". One correspondent suggested that "the ladies" may be called "the jane" in the interests of political correctness, I'm not sure I believe it.

jump rope US

skipping rope

 

jumper

short dress

In British usage "jumper" means a sweater.

K

kerb side

near side

Side of a vehicle nearest the kerb. In the UK this would be the left hand (port) side. It would still be called the near side if you were standing in the middle of the road when you would be nearest the off side of the vehicle. Sometimes written "nearside" and "offside".

kerosene

paraffin

A flammable liquid. "paraffin" in AE refers to a solid waxy substance known as "paraffin wax" or just plain "wax" in BE and used for making candles etc.

kindergarten

nursery

See discussion under "high school".

Kleenex

tissues

American term is proprietary.

knickers/knickerbockers

plus fours

Rather old-fashioned loose fitting trousers especially worn by golfers. In BE "knickers" refers to an undergarment covering the body from the waist to the top of the thighs, it can also be used as a slang word implying contempt or annoyance. In BE a "knickerbocker glory" is a rather splendid ice cream, fruit and cream dessert served in a tall glass.

L

last name

surname

 

lawyer, advocate, attorney

lawyer, solicitor, barrister

In BE "lawyer" is a general purpose term, broadly synonymous with "solicitor" for a legal practitioner. A "barrister" is a more highly qualified (and paid !) practitioner who specialises in pleading (advocacy) in higher courts. Until very recently only barristers were allowed to practice in higher courts but this is slowly changing. In England and Wales, justice is administered via a hierarchy of magistrates' courts, county courts, crown courts and high courts with an ultimate appeal to the House of Lords. In criminal cases proceedings are initiated and led by the public or crown prosecutor (known as the procurator fiscal in Scotland). The legal system in Scotland is different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. CE as BE.

lead

cable

Permanent electrical wiring. See entry for "cord". "cable" meaning TV distributed by cable is common to both AE and BE.

legal holiday

bank holiday

Current bank holidays in England are (for 2002) Jan 1st (New Year's Day), March 29th (Good Friday), April 1st (Easter Monday), May 6th (May Day), Jun 3rd Spring Bank Holiday, don't confuse with Whitsun which is a religious festival), Aug 26th (Summer Bank Holiday), Dec 25th (Christmas) and Dec 26th (Boxing Day). [In 2002 June 4th is also a bank holiday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd.] The May day holiday is always the first monday in May, not May 1st.

lemonade

real lemonade, squash, cordial

In British usage "lemonade" often refers to a sort of carbonated sugar water.

license plate / license tag

number plate

It indicates the identity of a vehicle. British number plates are permanent for the life of the vehicle. There is a single nationwide system of numbering. The payment of annual road tax is indicated by a small paper disc fixed to the windscreen.

Lifesavers *

Polo

Both terms are proprietary and refer to a hard round white mint, sometimes fruit flavoured, with a hole in the middle.

lightning bug

fire fly

 

lima bean

butter bean

 

line *

queue

Group of people waiting in an orderly fashion. AE "waiting in line" is equivalent to BE "queueing".

line cord *

mains lead

Flexible cable joining electrical appliance to supply.

liquor

spirits

Alcoholic drink whose preparation involves distillation. Includes whisky, brandy, gin, vodka.

liquor store

off licence

A shop selling alcoholic drinks for consumption off the premises. There are regional variations in both AE and CE. Many British supermarkets and grocery shops also sell alcoholic beverages. In some North American regions (e.g. British Columbia) the sale of alcohol in this fashion is a monopoly. See notes on "bar".

lobby

foyer

First main room you encounter on entering a hotel, theatre or cinema. Both terms may be encountered in all versions of English. In BE a "lobby" is a group of people attempting to influence an organisation or decision making process, especially parliament.

locker room

changing room

 

long distance

trunk call Obs

Telephone. There is no general word for this in BE.

longshoreman

docker

Apparently a West Coast term.

loon

great northern diver

Bird pictured on Canadian one dollar coin.

loonie Can

no equivalent

This refers to a one dollar coin. In BE and AE "loony" is a colloquialism for lunatic.

Fortunately I'd read the Air Canada in-flight magazine when the airport bus driver asked me "Have you got a Looney ?"

The British pound coin is simply called a "pound coin". Pound notes were last issued in England in about 1985. Scottish banks issue their own notes which are different from those issued by the Bank of England and their one pound notes may sometimes be encountered. They are widely accepted in England.

Referring to a pound as a "quid" is rapidly becoming uncommon in BE. Intriguingly the plural of "quid" is "quid". See entry for "bill" for details on British paper currency.

lorry obs

hand cart, dolly

 

lost and found

lost property

 

lot

plot

Parcel of land that can be bought and sold and is, usually, partly occupied by a building.

love seat

settee

see entry for "couch".

low fat milk

semi skimmed milk

In the UK there is no defined meaning for phrases such as "fat free" and "low fat" although consumer groups are campaigning for such standards.

luggage rack

roof rack

On the roof of a car. In BE luggage racks are found in trains and aeroplanes but not cars.

lumber

timber

AE distinguishes standing timber (i.e. trees that haven't been chopped down) from lumber (which is what they become after they've been chopped down and the logs cut to shape and size). BE uses "timber" in both contexts.

In BE "lumber" refers to unwanted items hence "lumber room" and "to lumber somebody" i.e. give them an unwanted task and also means to proceed slowly and clumsily.

lunch pail

lunch box

 

M

M & M

Smarties

Both terms are proprietary and refer to small sweets with hard coloured sugary coatings. Both words are also sometimes used to mean any small item. Smarties have hard chocolate centres are shaped vaguely like flying saucers. A correspondent tells me there is a US sweet called Smarties that do not have chocolate centres.

mail

post

What you do to a letter or parcel to send it on its way. Whilst on its way its "in the mail" (AE) or "in the post" (BE).

mail man

postman

"mail lady" sounds improbable to British ears. In Britain she's called a post woman. "mail carrier" is an alternative American usage and has the official approval of the US Postal Service.

mail slot

letter box

Aperture for delivery of postal items to premises. Note that in British English, "letter box" also refers to a box in public place where letters etc., are deposited for onwards transmission by the Postal Service, sometimes known as a pillar box.

main street

high street

A common name for the most important road in a town or city. Often used to refer generally to the shops and retail outlets of a town or city.

maize

sweet corn

"maize" is apparently uncommon in AE. Also known as "corn on the cob". The use of "maize" to mean a shade of yellow is not known in BE.

mall

shopping centre

The obsolescent British usage "shopping arcade" means a group of shops fronting on to a covered pedestrian way. "Shopping centre" usually implies covered access in British usage whereas American usage uses "mall" to imply covered access and "center" to imply non-covered access. A "parade of shops" in British usage refers to a row of shops fronting on to a road, this usage is largely confined to Southern England. "mall" can also mean a large public park-like area such as Independence Mall in Philadelphia.

Mason jar

Kilner jar

Both terms are proprietary.

mass transit

public transport

 

Master Card

Access

Credit card company. The British arm has been called "Master Card" since 1998 but many British people still refer to "Access".

master of ceremonies

compere

The person who introduces the performers in a TV or stage variety show. However BE uses "master of ceremonies" for the person "orchestrating" a wedding reception or similar social occasion.

mean

bad tempered

In BE "mean" means stingy, unwilling to spend money, miserly. In AE "mean" can also mean "good" but this is probably obsolete.

meat grinder

mincer

 

median (strip)

central reservation

Dividing strip down the middle of a dual carriageway. Also called "median strip" in AE.

military time

24 hour clock

Times expressed using numbers in the range 0-23 for the hours.

mimosa *

Buck's Fizz

A drink made by mixing champagne and orange juice.

mobile home

caravan

See notes on "trailer".

modeling clay

Plasticine

BE term is proprietary.

mortician *

undertaker

There are regional variations in American usage. A correspondent tells me that "mortician" is still used for a hospital employee working in the morgue.

Mother's Day

Mothering Sunday

In the UK this is the fourth Sunday in Lent (21st March in 2004), in the US it's the second Sunday in May. "Mother's Day" is widely used in BE as a synonym for Mothering Sunday.

movies

films

The productions themselves. In BE you go to the cinema.

movie theater

cinema

"cinema" is also used in both BE and AE to refer to the art and culture of films.

moving company

removal company

A company that will move your personal effects etc.

moving van

pantechnicon, removal van

Lorry adapted for moving personal effects when moving house. Sometimes called a "panel truck" in AE.

muffler

silencer

Part of vehicle exhaust system. In British usage a muffler is a sort of scarf. In AE a silencer is something you put on a gun.

mutual fund

unit trust

A scheme whereby the investor buys shares or units in a fund which, in turns, buys shares in many companies thereby spreading risk. Dividends received by the fund are aggregated and paid to the fund's investors in proportion to the number of units they have purchased.

N

napkin

serviette

 

native americans

american indians

 

nickel

no equivalent

5 cent coin.

The traditional names for British coins such as tanner (6d), bob (1/-), florin (2/-) and half-a-crown (2/6) all disappeared when the currency was decimalised in 1972. Surprisingly new names for the new coins have not emerged apart from the 1p coin being called a "penny". Mercifully the habit of referring to 5p as "five pee" that was common immediately after decimalisation is now dying out and most people would simply say "five pence".

The current coin set is 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, 1 and 2. The 1p and 2p are copper plated steel, sometimes called "coppers", the 5p and 10p are "silvery", the 10p being bigger than the 5p (unlike the nickel and dime). The 20p and 50p are curious seven-sided "silvery" affairs with curved edges, these having the interesting geometrical property of constant width (similar to the eleven-sided loonie). The 1 coin is small thick and rather yellowy, nobody calls it a sovereign. The recently introduced (1999) 2 coin is similar to the Canadian $2 coin having a "silvery" bit and a "yellowy" bit.

The US government has, apparently, made several efforts to issue dollar coins in recent years but these have proved to be remarkably unpopular.

I was at a meeting at the European Commission recently and we were all comparing our shiny new small change ('euro' coins have national symbols on the reverse) and commenting that I'd got a Luxembourg 'euro' when a German colleague asked if I had any British euros. Not yet.

nightstick

truncheon

Blunt cosh-like weapon carried by policemen.

normalcy

normality

 

notions

haberdashery

Accessories such as buttons and zips used in the manufacture of garments. In BE "haberdashery" also refers to a shop selling such things.

number sign

hash mark

See notes on "pound sign".

O

oatmeal

porridge

 

offense players

forwards

Players who lead attack in certain team sports such as football.

oh

nil

Used in reporting the scores of sports fixtures. Where AE would say "two-oh" or "two to nothing", BE would say "two-nil" for a score of 2-0.

oil pan

sump

Part of engine of motor vehicle.

on-ramp, off-ramp

sliproad

How you join or leave a limited access highway. Sometimes called "exit ramp" in AE.

operating room

operating theatre

 

orchestra seat

stalls

seat in a theatre on the same level as the stage and orchestra

outhouse

privy

In British usage an outhouse is just that. A small, usually brick, building used for storage or similar purposes with no through access from the main building.

overalls

dungarees

In British usage an "overall" is a one-piece sleeved garment used to cover one's normal clothes when working in a dirty place or job. In British usage "dungarees" often refer to such a garment worn by children or women, especially when pregnant, it consists of trousers integral with a bib-like top.

outlet

socket

Connector for telephone or electrical power. In BE these are sometimes referred to as "telephone points" or "power points".

British telephone sockets are similar to American ones except that the little latching thingy is on the side rather than the top. Technically the American connector is an RJ11, the British plug is a BT/431A or a BT/631A depending on whether there are 4 or 6 wires, the socket is a BT/601A although there are variants. RJ45's are used in both the UK and North America for data connections.

British power sockets have three thick flat pins in a sort of T-shaped arrangement, plugs are large clumsy things whose only saving grace is a fuse in the plug, the user has to find a screwdriver to connect a plug to a cable. American power sockets use thin flat blades, sometimes with a round earth pin, plugs are almost always moulded on to the cable. In very old British buildings an extraordinary variety of round pin sockets may sometimes be encountered. British domestic electric power is nominally 230V at 50Hz, whereas American is nominally 117V at 60 Hz

British light bulbs use a two pin bayonet fitting of similar size to the large screw fitting used on American light bulbs. Light fittings have two spring loaded pins that hold the bulb in place. Less likely to come undone than a screw fitting. Screw fitting light bulbs are quite widely obtainable for use in imported fittings.

overpass

flyover

Road system.

P

pacifier

dummy

Artificial nipple used to stop small children crying.

paddle

bat

For "ping-pong" and similar games.

panhandler *

beggar

 

pantihose/pantyhose

tights

An American correspondent tells me that "pantihose" are translucent whereas "tights" are opaque. This distinction is not known in BE.

pants

trousers

The word "pants" refers to an undergarment in BE.

paraffin

wax

See entry for "kerosene".

parka

anorak

In British usage the word "anorak" is also used pejoratively to refer to somebody with a seemingly obsessive hobby interest in something mechanical.

parkade Can

multi-storey car park

 

parking garage/ramp

multi-storey car park

 

parking lot

car park

 

parking stall

parking bay

 

party tent

marquee

Large tent for social or commercial functions.

pass

overtake

When a faster vehicle passes a slower one travelling in the same direction, especially when the manouevre involves crossing into a lane normally used by vehicles travelling in the other direction.

pastor

minister, vicar, rector

There are subtle differences but you have to understand the ancient and complex administrative hierarchy of the Church of England to understand them. There are also curates, rural deans (even in urban areas), archdeacons, wardens, vergers, readers and sextons.

paved shoulder

hard shoulder

At side of road. See entry for "pull out".

pavement

paved area

Many British people think, incorrectly, that the American usage "pavement" refers to the surface of a road. In fact, it refers to any area that is paved and sealed against water by asphalt or concrete. Such areas can be for foot traffic as well as vehicular traffic.

penitentiary

prison

"prison" is also common American usage except in the proper names of such institutions where "penitentiary" or "correctional institute" is used.

penny

cent

Referring to a 1 cent coin as a "penny" confuses British visitors.

period

full stop

Punctuation at end of sentence, otherwise its just a dot or decimal point.

personalty Obs

personal property

Presumably by analogy with "realty".

petroleum

crude oil

As it comes out of the ground. See entry for "gasoline".

phonograph Obs

record player, gramophone

"gramophone" is distinctly archaic. Of course gramophone records (aka "vinyl") are themselves pretty much obsolete now, although keen audio types may still have a "turntable" to play them on.

pitcher

jug

Nothing to do with baseball (!).

plastic wrap

clingfilm

Thin transparent film used for wrapping food. "Saran wrap" is a US proprietary term.

playhouse

Wendy house

 

plexiglass

perspex

Also known as lucite.

pocketbook obs

wallet, purse

The AE word "pocketbook" is reported as being synonymous with "handbag"

polliwog * Obs

tadpole

Baby frog.

pool

snooker, billiards

Really three very different games, the only similarities are the use of long narrow wooden cues to push balls around on a cloth covered table usually in a smoky club.

popsicle

lollipop

Frozen confectionary made of ice cream or fruit juice. The British version usually has a spatula like wooden stick printed with execrable jokes. The old fashioned version consisting of flavoured crystallised sugar may also be encountered. "Popsicle" is proprietary.

pork rinds

pork scratchings

 

postal code Can

post code

See entry for "zip code".

postal outlet Can

sub post office

A shop that includes a counter providing postal services as well as its normal trade (it may be a pharmacy, a grocery or, especially in rural areas, a general store). Post Offices (sometimes called General Post Offices or Crown Offices) are owned by the Post Office (or Post Office Counters Ltd.,) and handle only postal services, although they're increasingly branching into the sale of stationery, greetings cards etc.

potato chips

crisps

See also entry for "French Fries".

pot holders

oven gloves

Padded mittens for holding hot dishes. Oven mitts in CE.

pound sign, number sign

hash sign

This refers to the symbol #. To British people a pound sign is, of course, the currency symbol . Confusion is heightened by the fact that the # symbol appears in the same place on American keyboards as the symbol on British keyboards (above the 3). You're probably wondering where the # symbol appears on British keyboards, that's another story.

powdered sugar US

icing sugar

 

pre-natal

ante-natal

For mothers to be.

preserves

jam, marmalade

Fruit, usually chopped in, mixed with sugar and boiled then cooled and bottled. Used as a spread on toast, bread etc, and as a cake filling. In AE it is suggested that "jam" implies pulped fruit whereas "preserves" implies recognisable chunks of fruit, in BE both would be called "jam". In BE "preserves" refers to fruit preserved whole, usually in a sugar solution or syrup, without being first chopped up. "marmalade" is the same thing made using citrus fruits such as oranges and is widely used on toast at breakfast.

pressure

pressurise

To try and force somebody to do something.

private school

public school

You have to pay to go there. In BE "private school" means pretty much the same thing as "public school".

proctor

invigilator

College or university official charged with supervising the conduct of an examination.

professor

lecturer

Teacher in university or college. In BE the title "Professor" is awarded to lecturers who have a particularly distinguished record in administration or research (usually the administration of research). A correspondent has suggested that "professor" implies that the title holder has tenure.

property check (girl)

cloakroom attendant

See also "hat check girl".

prong

pin

Business part of electrical connector, especially the large flat blades on North American mains connectors.

pruning shears

secateurs

small gardening tool

public school

state school

You don't have to pay to go there. The state, in the guise of local authorities, pay. OK, you ultimately pay via taxes.

pulley cords

sash ropes

Part of window.

pullout, pulloff

lay by

Place where you can park temporarily at the side of a road. This is not to be confused with the "shoulder" or "hard shoulder" that runs continuously at the side of major roads and motorways.

pump

court shoe

A low-cut slip-on woman's shoe. In British usage "pump" is a regional name for what is now called a "trainer" or "running shoe". In Scotland "pump", apparently, means to pass wind.

purse

handbag

In BE a purse is used by women to carry currency notes, credit cards etc., whereas a handbag is used by women to carry a vast assortment of oddments including their purses.

Q

quarter

no equivalent

25c coin.

quarter note

crotchet

Music.

Quonset hut *

Nissen hut

Building shaped as a half-cylinder with walls and roof formed from corrugated iron. American term is proprietary.

R

radio

wireless

"radio" is now normal in BE, "wireless" sounds pleasantly archaic except when applied to non-wired local area networks.

Radio Shack

Tandy

The same catalogue of electronic goods. Tandy has recently been taken over and the name is likely to disappear from British High Streets.

railroad

railway

 

rain check

no equivalent

There is no BE equivalent of the "strict" meaning of a ticket for re-admission at a later date or a chit issued by a shop to entitle you to purchase a reduced price item that is temporarily out of stock.

rappel

abseil

 

Realtor *

estate agent

"Realtor" implies membership of a professional body, the National Association of Realtors or its local branches

Realty *

estate agency

 

recess

break

Gap in proceedings, usually for refreshment when BE might specifically refer to a "lunch break" or a "dinner break", however British courts recess. Both terms are also used in schools as a rather grown-up version of "play time".

reforestation

reafforestation

 

rent

hire

Of cars.

restroom

toilet

See discussion under "washroom".

résumé

curriculum vitae (CV)

Document prepared to impress prospective employers. "curriculum vitae" is sometimes used by American academics. In British usage a résumé is used to mean a summary or summing up in any context.

retirement fund

superannuation

certain type of contributory pension scheme, usually involving regular deductions from a monthly salary.

(American) Revolutionary War

American War of Independence

Spot of unpleasantness in the late 18th century.

roast

joint

Meat. In American usage "joint" refers to a preparation incorporating illegal drugs (or "certain substances" as the British police call them), this and other usages of "joint" are not uncommon in BE.

robe

dressing gown

See "bath robe". The use of the word "robe" for a particularly rich and special garment is common to British and American English.

roll

tube

Cardboard cylinder, especially for certain sweets.

rooming house

lodging house

Also "roomer" and "lodger".

rotary

roundabout

Road system. Also known as a "traffic circle" in AE. "rotary" is, apparently, common usage in parts of New England but unknown in other parts of North America. Sometimes called a "traffic island" in BE. In the UK you'll also find mini-roundabouts which are white painted humps at road junctions, car drivers treat them as roundabouts but drivers of large and awkward vehicles can drive straight over them with due caution. Near Swindon there is a wonderful road system called the "magic roundabout" which consists of a large roundabout with small satellite roundabouts where each side road joins it.

In some parts of the UK there is a modern practice of placing large and bizarre items of sculpture in the centre of roundabouts.

round trip US

return

ticket to get you there and back.

row house *

terrace house

see entry for "townhouse".

rubber boots

wellingtons

"Welly/Wellies" are common informal BE. Very long boots reaching above the knee and worn by fishermen/anglers are called "waders" in both British and American usage.

rubbers obs

condoms

Contraceptives. "Rubbers" is colloquial/archaic. "Durex" is a BE brand name. "Trojan" is a AE brand name. "Rubbers" is, apparently, used for rubber boots in New England.

rubbing alcohol *

surgical spirit

Used for sterilizing.

Rube Goldberg

Heath Robinson

Early 20th century humourists and cartoonists specialising in drawings of implausible and eccentric machines tied together with string and sticky tape.

run

ladder

Defect in ladies' tights (pantihose) or stockings.

run for office

stand for election

If you succesfully stand for election to parliament you become the sitting member.

runners Can

trainers

 

running shoes

trainers

There are interesting regional variations in both British and American usage. "Pumps", "Plimsolls" and "Daps" are all British regional variations. American regional variations include "Sneakers" (New England and Mid-Atlantic states) and "Tennis Shoes".

rutabaga *

swede

 

S

sack lunch

packed lunch

 

sales clerk

shop assistant

The rather grander sounding "sales associate" is appearing in AE.

sales tax

VAT

see entry for "GST".

sand box *

sand pit

Where children play. In BE a "sand pit" is also a place where sand is extracted for commercial and industrial use, children don't play in such sand pits.

sanitary napkin

sanitary towel

"Tampons" are the same in British and American usage. Pantyshield and Kotex pad are proprietary AE terms.

Saran wrap

clingfilm

The AE/CE term is proprietary.

savings and loan trust

building society

Organisation originally devoted to making loans to help members purchase their own homes. Until fairly recently British building societies were owned by their members, i.e. were "mutual", many have now converted to banks and are owned by their shareholders. In the process of conversion substantial numbers of shares were issued free to members who then sold them. The resulting money is called a "windfall" in the British press and has also resulted in the appearance of "carpetbaggers" who join a still unconverted society in anticipation of easy profits. Technically building societies that have converted to banks are no longer building societies but this subtlety would probably be lost on most British people.

sawbuck *Obs

sawhorse

The usage of "sawbuck" for a 10$ bill has no British equivalent. "workhorse" and "trestle" have very similar meanings.

scab

blackleg

Strike breaking worker.

scale

weighbridge

Facility for weighing commercial vehicles. Sometimes called a "weigh station" or "truck scales" in AE.

scallion

spring onion

 

schedule

timetable

In BE "schedule" is used to refer to forward planning of, usually personal, activities with a very similar meaning to the word "plan".

scheme

plot

both terms have overtones of deviousness. "scheme" lacks such overtones in BE.

Scotch Tape

Sellotape

Both terms are proprietary. "Sticky tape" is also sometimes used. This refers to thin transparent tape used for parcels, mending torn paper and fixing notices in such a way that the paint comes off the wall.

scratch pad Obs

note pad

 

seaboard

coastline

"coastline" is apparently now common AE usage.

second floor

first floor

In British buildings the ground floor is, effectively, floor zero.

sedan

saloon

Type of car.

seeing eye dog *US

guide dog

An animal specially trained to help blind people. CE is as BE. AE term is proprietary. AE also sometimes refers to a "dog guide".

semi-trailer *

articulated lorry

 

server

waiter or waitress

The word "server" has overtones of gender non-specific political correctness.

senior

pensioner

"Senior citizen" is common in both AE and BE.

shade

blind

Specifically "shade" in American usage refers to a continuous piece of fabric that can be rolled or unrolled, known as a "roller blind" in British usage. The arrangement of adjustable horizontal slats is known as a "venetian blind" in British usage. There is no specific BE term for the vertical slats known, apparently, as "verticals" in AE.

BE also has "shades" as a colloquial reference to dark sun-glasses.

sherbet

sorbet

Water ice made from fruit juice etc. In British usage "sherbet" is a fruit-flavoured effervescent powder, often eaten with liquorice by children.

shoestring Obs

bootlace, shoelace +

Used for tying up shoes and boots. Both BE and AE have "doing something on a shoestring" to mean with the least expenditure of resources.

shoulder

hard shoulder

See entry for "breakdown lane".

shrimp

prawn

In British restaurants "shrimps" are larger (and more expensive) than "prawns" which is contrary to normal zoological practice. AE restaurant usage is equally confusing with regional variations.

sidewalk

pavement or footpath

 

silverware

cutlery

knives, forks and spoons. Modern AE/CE reserves "silverware" for the best cutlery.

sixteenth note

semi-quaver

music

ski mask

balaclava

Head covering popular with terrorists and bank robbers.

skivvies obs

underpants & vest

"Skivvy/skivvies" in BE refers to a menial domestic worker.

sled

sledge

A sledge hammer is the same in both BE and AE.

slingshot

catapult

 

slowpoke

slowcoach

 

smoked herring

kipper

Very nice too apart from all those little bones.

snaps

press studs

Metal or plastic fixings that snap together.

sneakers

trainers

See discussion on "running shoes".

snowbird

no equivalent

Tourist from some cold (e.g. Ontario) who spends the winter in somewhere warm (e.g. Florida). In the UK there are people who spend every winter in cheap accommodation in Spain.

snowpack

lying snow

 

snow peas *

mangetout

 

soccer

football

Do not confuse with American football.

social security number US

national insurance number

Unique personal identification used by state benefits and taxation schemes. British national insurance numbers consist of two letters, six digits and a further letter (no spaces). Known as "social insurance number" in Canada and consisting of nine digits like its US counterpart.

soda

soft drink

Sometimes called "pop" or a "fizzy drink" in BE. Correspondents have suggested that Americans use "soda", "soda water", "soda pop", "soft drink", "coke", "cola" and "pop" fairly interchangeably with distinct regional preferences, e.g. "pop" in the mid-west, "coke" in the south and "soda" in the north-east. There is no BE equivalent of the delicious sounding dessert/treat called "soda" and made from ice cream and fruit juice.

soother *obs

dummy

Artificial nipple used to stop small children crying, usually called a "pacifier" in AE.

sophomore

no equivalent

 

spool

reel

Sewing thread etc.

sports utility vehicle (SUV)

pick up

Essentially a small lorry.

spur line

branch line

Characterful and uneconomic part of railway system.

squash *

vegetable marrow

Slightly different but related vegetables. In British usage "squash" often means "fruit juice". The game "squash" is the same in both British and American usage.

stalk

stick

of celery.

standings

table, league table

lists showing relative performance of sports teams.

state school ?

special school

School for those with learning and/or behavioural difficulties. Such schools are sometimes described as offering "special education", "special needs" in BE. "learning center" and "educational annexe" are also used in AE. The AE term can also, apparently, refer to a University that is funded by the state.

station wagon

estate car

 

statutory holiday Can

bank holiday

 

stemware *

wineglasses

 

stevedore

docket

 

stick shift

gear lever

Part of car; "stick shift/stick" can also refer to a car with manual transmission.

stocking stuffer

stocking filler

small Christmas gift

stop lights

traffic lights

 

store

shop

In British usage a store is a place where things are stored such as a warehouse, however the American usage is not uncommon in Britain although confined to larger establishments.

stove

cooker, oven

Used for cooking not heating. In British usage a domestic "cooker" comprises both a heated "hob" comprising burners or hotplates on the top of the cooker ("cooktop" in AE) and a heated "oven" which forms the main part of the cooker.

straight

neat

Drinks, undiluted with mixers such as water and tonic.

streetcar

tram

Americans seem to use the words "streetcar", "tramway" and "trolley" almost interchangeably to mean any form of public surface transport not powered by an internal combustion engine. In British usage there are a number of quite distinct usages.

  1. cable car A vehicle without an engine or motor that is moved by a hauling cable. Apart from the unique system in San Francisco, these are suspended from a stationary overhead cable. They are sometimes called "gondolas" or "air trams" in AE/CE. "Chair Lifts" and similar arrangements used by winter sports enthusiasts are not referred to as "cable cars" in BE.
  2. tram This is a vehicle that uses steel wheels running on steel rails let into the surface of a normal road. It is usually powered by electricity taken from overhead conductors. They were once driven by steam engines or pulled by horses. Modern systems are sometimes referred to as "light railways" or "metros" especially when a substantial portion of the route is on a private track rather than public roads.
  3. trolley bus This is a bus-like vehicle with normal rubber tyres but powered by electricity taken from overhead conductors. These quiet, clean vehicles are, alas, obsolete in the United Kingdom, however extensive systems still operate in Vancouver and several other North American cities.

strip mall

parade of shops

See entry for "mall"

stroller

push chair, baby buggy

A device with four (small) wheels for the conveyance of small children in a sitting position. The version with three large wheels is now being seen occasionally in the UK.

stub

counterfoil

In British usage a "stub" is a shortened end of something, often implying that the rest of the object has been broken off, the usage "stub one's foot" means to bring the foot into sudden, often accidental, contact with some obstacle. "counterfoil" is becoming uncommon in BE but my cheque book still has counterfoils.

submarine, sub

Unless you're in the Navy, see entry for "hoagie".

subway

underground railway

In British usage a "subway" is a means by which pedestrians can cross from one side of a road to another by means of tunnel or underground passageway. The American usage of "Underground Railroad" to refer to the smuggling of escaped slaves from the South by Harriet Tubman would be unknown to the vast majority of British people.

suspenders

braces

In British usage "suspenders" are used to keep ladies' stockings in the right place. Braces are elastic straps passing over the shoulder and used to keep gentlemen's trousers from falling down although the use of a belt or elasticated waist-band is now much more common. Both AE and BE also use "brace" to refer to a device for supporting something or holding components at a precise distance in both dentistry and general engineering.

sweeper *Obs

vacuum cleaner

Also often called a "hoover" in BE, although the word is proprietary.

switch

points

Part of railway. BE uses "switch" in the same way as AE in other contexts.

switchback

hairpin bend

Sudden reversal in direction of road. In BE a "switchback" refers to a road that goes up and down a lot, also known as a "roller-coaster".

switchblade knife

flick knife

Also known as "butterfly blade" in AE.

switcher

shunter

Small railway locomotive.

switchyard

marshalling yard

Place where goods trains are assembled from individual trucks.

T

takeout

takeaway

 

telephone pole

telegraph pole

Although the provision of a public telegram service by the then Post Office is a distant memory, the poles that support the overhead wires are still quite frequently called "telegraph poles". See notes on "utility pole".

teleprompter

autocue

Device that saves politicians and actors the chore of memorising their lines. US term is proprietary and should be "TelePrompTer".

teller

cashier

banks, shops. CE uses "bank teller" otherwise CE is as BE.

texas gate *Can

cattle grid

System of bars let into surface of road to prevent passage of animals whilst allowing free passage of vehicles.

thread

cotton

Used for sewing. In British usage "thread" is sometimes used in this context to identify something stronger than the normal product.

thumbtack

drawing pin

 

tic-tac-toe

noughts and crosses

 

tie

sleeper

Piece of timber or concrete supporting the rails of a railway.

tie

draw

sport

toonie Can

no equivalent

Two dollar coin. Variant spellings including "twoonie", "twonie" and "twoony" are now, apparently, rare. For notes on British money see the entries for "nickel" and "loonie".

townhouse *

terrace house

A house, usually of more than one storey and with other houses sharing common walls on both sides. It will have its own door onto the street. In British usage "terrace housing" sometimes implies low quality housing reflecting the large number of small dwellings of this type put up to house the workers of the newly industrialised towns of the 19th century. In British usage "town house" usually indicates an up-market variant of the humble terrace found in and near city centres.

tractor-trailer

articulated lorry or "artic"

 

traffic circle US

roundabout

Road system.

trail

track, footpath

Especially away from roads.

trailer, trailer home

caravan

Mobile living accommodation towed behind a vehicle. Caravans, sometimes called just plain vans by their users, are subdivided into touring caravans which are towed by people travelling from place to place and static caravans which stay more or less permanently on a site but can be moved on the back of a lorry. AE "trailer park" is equivalent to BE "caravan park".

train station

railway station

The logical American usage is replacing the illogical British usage.

transit

public transport

 

transmission tower

electricity pylon

Metal lattice tower supporting high voltage electric power cables.

trapezoid

trapezium

Wonderfully confusing, according to my dictionary, BE and AE apply opposite meanings to these two terms. In BE a trapezium is a quadrilateral with (at least) one pair of parallel sides.

trash

rubbish

 

trash can

dustbin

 

trolley

 

See discussion under "streetcar".

truck

lorry

In BE "fallen off the back of a lorry" means acquired in dubious circumstances.

truck stop

transport café

 

trunk

boot

of car

tub

bath

See "bathtub".

tube

valve

Electronics.

turn signals *

indicators

Part of car. Very old British cars used "trafficators", which were small illuminated mechanical arms that emerged from the top of the door pillar.

turtle neck

polo neck

A sweater that fits closely round the neck and has a turned over collar.

tuxedo

dinner jacket

"tuxedo" refers to the jacket and trousers combination

two-four Can

no equivalent

This refers to selling beer in packs of 24 bottles or cans. Beer is sold in such packs in the UK, but there is no specific name for such packages. Apparently a "slab" or "carton" in Australian.

two weeks

fortnight

I.e. 14 days

U

under basement obs

cellar

Underground room beneath house, entirely beneath local ground level and usually without windows, used just for storage. Rare in British houses built later than about 1920. CE is as BE.

undershirt

vest

 

unemployment compensation/insurance

dole, unemployment pay/benefit

Money paid via state run insurance schemes for those out of work. "unemployment pay" is the official title. "pogey" is a Canadian word.

union suit *obs

long johns, combinations

Thermal underwear. "Union suit" and "combinations" refer to a one-piece garment covering the whole body.

utility pole

telegraph pole

Pole, usually wooden, supporting power and communications cables especially for final distribution to domestic premises. In the UK electric power is almost always distributed underground and communication cables are increasingly underground. British visitors are often surprised by the untidy tangles of overhead wire in North American cities.

V

vacation

holiday

BE does not distinguish between "public" or statutory holidays (sometimes called "bank" holidays because banks are not open for business) and individual holidays from work. CE as AE. In BE the verb is "to go on holiday".

vacationer

holidaymaker

 

vacuum

hoover

A suction domestic cleaning device. The BE term is proprietary but is surprisingly common.

valance

pelmet

Decorative box like construction at top of window to conceal the tops of the curtains and the rail they run on.

vanilla extract

vanilla essence

 

variety meats

offal

Entrails and internal organs used as food.

verticals

no equivalent

See entry for "shade".

vest

waistcoat

In British usage "vest" refers to an undergarment worn underneath a shirt.

veterans' day

remembrance day

Day for remembering former soldiers. In Britain this is celebrated on the Sunday nearest November 11th with parades and church services. The custom of observing 2 minutes silence at 1100 on November 11th has recently been re-introduced and is now observed by most British people, especially the young, this is most impressive and moving. Canadian practice is similar to British practice. Around remembrance day British people wear paper poppies as a mark of remembrance.

W

walker

Zimmer (frame)

BE term is proprietary.

wall to wall (carpet)

fitted carpet

 

wallet

purse

In British usage a wallet is a small folding holder for paper money (not coin), cards etc. Men usually carry wallets in a pocket (trouser or jacket).

wash cloth

(face) flannel

"face cloth" in CE.

washroom

toilet

Both AE and BE have numerous euphemisms for the place where one urinates or defecates. "Toilet" is generally acceptable in British usage as is "loo". "WC" (meaning water closet) is also acceptable but usually means the actual apparatus rather than the room in which it is located. "Lavatory" sounds rather old-fashioned. In British English a washroom is a place where one goes to wash. The words "john" and "jakes" perhaps both derive from the French "Jacques".

"washroom" seems to be the preferred Canadian usage.

Public facilities are called public conveniences in BE. They are also commonly called "the gents" and "the ladies" in BE.

water heater

immersion heater, geyser

Arrangement for producing domestic hot water other than as part of a central heating system. An immersion heater uses an electric heating element in a tank. A geyser, sometimes known by the proprietary name "Ascot", is a gas operated device, which bursts, rather frighteningly, into action when you turn the tap on.

wax paper

greaseproof paper

 

weed wacker, weed eater

strimmer

Powered garden tool that consists of a rapidly spinning nylon line that chops down weeds. US terms are proprietary.

welfare

benefit

A variety of state payments to the poor and needy.

well-to-do

well-off

 

wheat bread US

brown bread

I.e. it isn't white. There are many variants some of which are just coloured, most of which are "wholemeal" meaning that all the wheat including the husks is used in making the bread, not just the grain. CE is pretty much as BE.

whiskey

whisky

"whisky" is distilled in Scotland, the drink distilled in Ireland and other places is called "whiskey".

White-out

Tippex

Both terms are proprietary, the non-proprietary "correcting fluid" is sometimes used.

whole note

semi-breve

Music.

windshield

windscreen

Part of car.

wire

telegram

A text message sent via a public telegraph system. In BE the verb is "to send a telegram" and in AE the verb is "to wire a telegram" as the noun "telegram" replaces "wire". The British Post Office stopped providing a public telegram service many years ago.

wrench

spanner

A tool with a claw shaped aperture used for tightening or loosening nuts. An adjustable version is called an "adjustable spanner" or a "monkey wrench" or a "Stilson" in BE. Most British nuts and bolts are now in European standard metric sizes although the American UNC and UNF sizes are not uncommon as are the older British Association (BA) and Whitworth sizes. You need a lot of spanners to cover all eventualities. Most nuts are, of course, hexagonal. You'll find octagonal nuts on some plumbing fixtures and square nuts are also seen occasionally. I'd never seen a pentagonal nut until I went to Florida and looked at a fire hydrant.

XYZ

yard

garden

In British usage "yard" means an area of ground adjacent to a building with a hard surface adapted for use by vehicles and horses, a "garden" is a place where plants are grown. In American usage "yard" covers both, referring to that part of the property not covered by buildings. I've received some suggestions that AE uses "garden" to refer to that part of the property where crops, especially vegetables, are grown for private domestic use. This would be a "vegetable garden" or a "kitchen garden" in BE.

zee US

zed

last letter of the alphabet. Canadians call it "zed".

zip code US

post code

Used to speed sorting mail. US zip (properly ZIP = Zoning Improvement Plan) codes consist of 9 digits with a dash after the fifth. The dash and the final four digits are often omitted. British and Canadian codes use both letters and digits e.g. WV1 1SB (this university), V8W 1Y2 (a good book shop I once visited) and are correctly shown with a gap between the two parts and no full stops since they are not abbreviations.

zipper

zip

 

zucchini

courgette

 

Numerical

911

999

Telephone number for emergency services. Actually 99 is usually sufficient. The extra 9 is in case you're on a private branch exchange when the first 9 gets you an exchange line. British telephone systems will also recognise the European standard emergency services number 112. A correspondent has told me that 911 also works in the UK but I've never had the courage (or the need) to try it.

 

Autor je Piter Burden.