Brit Language: Word Confusion

I love England: the celebration of tea, fresh-baked scones with clotted cream, rural thatched cottages, crunchy fish and chips, those lovely hand pies called Cornish pasties, a warm and friendly pub on every corner, and our shared language. So, it never occurred to me I would experience word confusion when we visited England a few years ago.

I had to laugh when some Australian tourists asked if I was a Brit? I wanted to say yes, (in my heart and mind, I am a Brit!) but I knew as soon as opened my mouth, my mask would be ripped off. Like many ‘foreigners’ I suffer from word confusion.

French fries are chips, and chips are crisps, and a biscuit is a cookie. I thought cookies were those sweet soul satisfying morsels we sneak, when no one is looking, while we savor every bite. It’s hard for me to feel that way about a ‘biscuit’. I wonder, do Brits use cookies or biscuits to track website activity?

British English is often kinder. I can’t imagine Mr. Noddy Boffin, the Golden Dustman, as the Golden Trash Collector. Still, I’m confused. Don’t trainers work in a gym? Isn’t a jumper one who jumps?  The soccer/football issue still baffles me, but I’m not sports minded. Rubbers erase pencil marks, but Americans use erasers; rubbers are prophylactics. You wear wellies, we wear galoshes.

The First Floor is the Ground Floor, the Second floor is the First Floor, an Elevator is the Lift, and an Apartment is a Flat. See the problem? I’m knackered just thinking about it.

Here’s another: takeaways. Pay more to stay and eat, than if I leave the premises with my food? I’d heard takeaways mentioned on shows like Outnumbered, where Mom being a terrible cook resorts to yet another takeaway, but I just assumed that takeaway was another word for takeout. We experienced this in the Cotswolds when we ordered a takeaway sandwich. We’d been walking all day and we were exhausted, so we sat down to wait. We were stunned when the management asked us to vacate the chairs since we paid for a takeaway!

Word confusion is a big issue for immigrants. The Arbout Project is helping immigrants learn to “be British” and experience British language and culture with the help of a volunteer mentor. I too am open to new ideas and experiences but the idea of haggis or eel dishes still terrify me. I’m afraid those words mean exactly what I think they do.

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  1. avatarHoward says

    The British usage of “biscuit” predates the American by at least three and a half centuries.

    Brits are perfectly happy to use the Dutch-derived term “cookie” for the things when they’ve been made in an American style, eg., Maryland Cookies. And they don’t mind calling the snoopware “cookie” since apparently it was first thought of in the US.

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