Every American traveler in Britain has been there – you say something that is completely innocuous back home to a British person and you see wide eyes of shock or worse – you hear a snigger.
Did you just say something rude and not realize it?
It is often said that Britain and America are two countries divided by a common language. There are thousands of differences in American English and plain old English (many highlighted in our British Slang Dictionary). We thought it would be fun to put together a list of the major words that have a completely different meaning in the UK.
We’ll definitely be adding this list to our future travel guidebooks!
- First Floor – In the USA, we say the first floor to mean the ground floor of a building. In the UK, the first floor is the second floor. Confusing? Welcome to the troubles encountered by tourists in the UK.
- Jumper – In the USA a jumper is someone who ends their life by jumping off something. In the UK, a jumper is a type of sweater (usually knitted).
- Trainer – In the USA a trainer is a professional that works with you in a gym. In the UK trainer is the name given to Gym shoes.
- Pants – In the USA, pants are trousers. In the UK, pants are underwear.
- Bird – In the USA, a bird is a bird. In the UK, a bird is a name for a woman (though it’s fallen out of fashion as it’s rather sexist) but a bird is also just a bird.
- Bog – In the USA, a bog is a marshy area of boggy land. In the UK, a bog is another name for a toilet. Bog roll is toiler paper.
- Rubber – In the USA, a rubber is a condom. In the UK, a rubber is an eraser.
- Braces – In the USA, braces are devices placed on teeth to straighten them. In the UK, braces hold up pants (what we call suspenders).
- Trolley – In the USA, a trolley is a public transportation conveyance (most famous in San Francisco). In the UK, a trolly is a shopping cart.
- Chips – In the USA, chips are potato chips (or corn chips). In the UK, chips are what we would call fries but are a chunkier version.
- Coach – In the USA, a coach is someone who manages a sports team. In the UK, a coach is a bus.
- Fanny Pack – In the USA a fanny pack is a device worn unfashionably around the waist to store personal effects when traveling. In the UK a fanny is a term for a woman’s lady parts. So to call something a fanny pack is a rather offensive term. The Brits call a fanny pack a bum bag (bum is UK speak for butt).
- Biscuit – In the USA, a biscuit is a buttery bread roll. In the UK, a biscuit is a cookie.
- Dummy – In the USA, a dummy is an idiot. In the UK, a dummy is a baby’s pacifier.
- Flannel – In the USA, a flannel is a type of button down shirt that’s very warm. In the UK, a flannel is a washcloth.
- Pissed – In the USA, to be pissed is to be angry. In the UK, to be pissed is to be fall down drunk.
- Fag – In the USA, fag is a very derogatory term for a homosexual. In the UK, a fag is a cigarette.
- Boot – In the USA, a boot is a form of footwear. In the UK, a boot is the trunk of a car.
- Bum – In the USA, a bum is a homeless person. In the UK, a bum is your butt.
- Caravan – In the USA, a caravan is a type of minivan. In the UK, a caravan is a type of recreational vehicle.
- Chaps – In the USA, chaps are leather pants worn by cowboys or motorcyclists. In the UK, chaps are your male friends.
- Chemist – In the USA, a chemist is a scientist that works with chemicals. In the UK, a chemist is what we would call the pharmacist.
- Concession – In the USA a concession is a place to get snacks in a sporting venue. In the UK, a concession is a discount on a ticket for particular group of people (disabled, student, elderly, etc).
- Daddy Long Legs – In the USA, a daddy long legs is a harmless spider. In the UK, a daddy long legs is also known as the crane fly (but they do have the daddy long legs spider and some refer it to just that).
- Post – In the USA, a post is something in the ground holding something up. In the UK, the post is the mail.
The words on this list were excerpted from Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English: Brit Slang from A to Zed. Available now from major retailers in prints and eBook form. The book features over 1,000 British Slang words including extra sections on Australian and Kiwi Slang, Cockney Slang, London slang and more! There’s also a hilarious section on Britain’s rude place names. Full details here.