List of British words not widely used in the United States

Here's a nifty Wikipedia entry: List of British words not widely used in the United States. One must be very careful not to confuse one's "bell-ends" with one's "fag ends." (HT: @FlaixEnglish)



  1. How about words that are used way differently? That’s even more confusing. I was watching a BBC documentary while toiling at the treadmill tonight and John Romer was waving around a piece of wheat bread and talking about the unavailability of corn in Byzantium. I knew what he was talking about but it was still pretty jarring.

      1. Addicting = Addictive
        Sodder = Solder
        US Momentarily = For a moment
        UK Momentarily = In a moment

        Stop breaking English!

        1.  Surely the word with the biggest potential for misunderstanding is fanny?
          In the US it seems to mean someone’s bottom, in the UK it refers to a vagina.
          You have no idea how much we laugh at American tourists with their fanny packs.

          1. As an Australian the intro for the 90’s hit TV show The Nanny always amused me. She was out on her fanny? Surely that’s gotta hurt!

  2. I at least started through the list, and will go back to it.  In the mean time I’ll just say, the English language if FUBAR. 

  3. Well that was all good fun, and we all had a jolly good laugh.
    Now let’s go play some quoits… whatever that is.

    1.  Quoits are 32-ounces and poiunts are 16.  What’s wrong with kids these days they don’t know their measures.

  4. Some of these are questionable.  I’ve never referred to grated cheese as “shredded” despite 55 years in the USofA.

      1.  I thought “shredded” referred to the result of attempting to hop ones skateboard on to a sloped railing, only to fall flat on ones face on the gravel.

      2.  Yet the device that most people use to reshape cheese to put on pizza/nachos is called a grater (at least here in Oz)

        1. Yeah. Shredded cheese is a packaging word. You’d put grated cheese on your pasta, but you’d just put cheese on your pizza, even though it says shredded on the label.

          1.  Perhaps they call it shredded cheese because it looks like paper that has been through a shredder

    1.  I do, depends on whether the cheese in questions has been shredded or grated.  Not really the same thing for cooking purposes.

    1. There’s no real reason to watch American television. As Morrissey once said, “it’s for children.” 

      And it’s true. These days with Youtube you can watch all the British shows you want, and you’ll never feel the desire to watch American cack again.

      1. Although the Yanks are indeed cack-handlers par excellence, to say all their telly is crud betrays vast ignorance.

        Two words vaporise that assertion: Breaking Bad.

        1.  Agreed. I’m finding most of my show-watching seems to hinge around British TV, but Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, etc? Hell, even network TV is managing to do all right for itself, if you deign to include Hannibal.

        2. Yeah, and the Simpsons is genius, no question about that. Seinfeld was kinda amusing. But on the whole, it’s interesting how slim the pickings are for American TV. It’s just not that watchable. Quantity is definitely inversely related to quality.

          1. I’ll take a shot at America for a lot of things but TV is not one of them. It may be the home of The Bachelor, Jersey Shore, Lost and a host of other mind-numbing idiocy but I’ll take American TV over British any day.

            Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Scrubs, My Name is Earl, Chapelle’s Show, Everybody Hates Chris, Ren & Stimpy, Simpsons, Futurama, South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, The Life and Times of Tim, Adventure Time, The Sopranos, Breaking bad, The Wire, Cops, First 48 Hours, .. and that’s just the things I’ve seen!

            The Brits do come up with some good stuff, but not quite as much: Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Black Books, Top Gear, Little Britain, The Office (sorry… IMO Gervais kills it over the US version), Extras, Whose Line is it Anyway (yes, the Brits did it first, and did it better), The Mighty Boosh.

  5. Growing up in Canada (admittedly amongst a thick British diaspora) I think we used about 1/3 of these.  

  6. I’m an equanimical sort; forgiving of regional dialects so foreign to my delicate Californian ears.  But my enjoyment of those entertaining Top Gear blokes notwithstanding: calling a four door vehicle a saloon as opposed to the obviously correct sedan is like chalk on a blackboard.

    Saloons have -Two- wooden swinging doors…opening to a room containing a long, rectangular surface with a parallel brass cylinder as a foot rest (spittoons optional) where alcoholic drinks are served.

    1. It’s a sedan if it has one passenger, and is carried on poles by two footmen walking one in front and one behind.  I can’t remember seeing any of those in California, but I can’t claim much local knowledge.

    2. Sorry, you’re “forgiving” “regional” dialects? So the English of Britain is “regional”?

      Crikey, you’re a fookin’ piece a work!

    3. The use of the word ‘Saloon’ for cars derives from its use as a word for describing a luxury railway car – a use which predates it being applied to your swingy-door, wild west bars.

  7. It is slightly odd to see ones language treated like some anthropological exhibit; I suppose I can see now why Johnny Foreigner gets so upset. Especially seeing language removed from its geographical and cultural context. 

  8. As a Yank I seem to have read one too many Brit authors over the years for this list seems like every day lingo to me. Of course it took me a bit to puzzle through some of these words. An example would be Boffins of course, which in my mind I always kept referencing back to RETURN OF THE JEDI. Who knew?

  9. It would be entertaining to watch a non-British English native speaker trying to use this as a guide to actual usage – I think they would stand out as a foreigner even more obviously than if they never knew any of it. Some of what’s in the list is artificial (no real person actually uses them), some is archaic (I can imagine my great-grandparents saying them, but nobody born more recently), and some is plain wrong. That still leaves quite a lot of it being correct – but unless you know which is which before you start, you are no better off.

    1. As a Brit working in the US I encountered a number of well-meaning Americans who’d hear my accent and immediately want to use all the lingo they picked up from watching Doctor Who or whatever. It just makes you cringe with embarrassment. You can see a few people doing it in these comments.

      1.  I met a man once who lived the wrong side of the iron curtain and who had learned English solely by reading detective stories and science fiction, most of it from some decades earlier. So he spoke written English of another generation. The overall effect was quite surreal.

        1. At DLI we had a Russian instructor who learned English this way while doing a 10-year stretch in a gulag.  Russian spelling is phonetic, for the most part, so he assumed this with English.  Every now and then we’d help him with pronunciation.

          1. But that’s still relatively comprehensible.  My Greek has more in common with reading Euripides than with modern Greek, not that I remember much of what I learned of it in college.  (Homer was a few hundred years earlier, and in an Ionian dialect, and New Testament Koine Greek 500 years later is also fairly different than classical, and pronunciation for all of them is really guesswork.)

      2. How do you think us Aussies feel? Any time Americans try to do our accent they just do a retarded British accent.

    2. Yeah, when I (an American) was in the British Isles, I really didn’t want to try to use the local lingo because I knew I’d make a fool of myself. I was out having brunch with my roommate’s family in Northern Ireland, and had to go to the bathroom. When I asked “where’s the restroom?” they all just stared at me. I continued, “umm… bathroom?” The only other word I could think of, being put on the spot and forced to recite synonyms for bathroom, was “loo” but I felt like an idiot saying that. I finally found success with “toilet.” That was a surreal experience, since I never expected that particular cultural barrier. The things we take for granted.

      1. I’m flummoxed that anyone from the UK wouldn’t know what a restroom was when asked by an American, and the idea that they wouldn’t know what a bathroom is is bizarre.

        1. In England if you asked for the bathroom, it would be to have a bath. Which would be odd behaviour of someone visiting for the first time.

          1. Well, this Englishman has never experienced any confusion when asking people where the bathroom is.

          2. IMO the weird thing here would be Poms unaware of this usage by Yanks, since ‘restroom’ and ‘bathroom’ are pretty familiar via telly and movies.

            They were prolly just taking the piss ; )

          3. Except for a few oddities like ‘looking glass’, common US idiom falls more on the U side.

          4. And if you asked for the restroom, it would be to have a rest. Which would be odd behaviour.

        2. Have you been baffled trying to identify someone who you know is very familiar, but you can’t place them; and they turn out to be someone from work in your local shop? I suspect we have the same thing here, only with words.
          I think most of us in the UK would know what a ‘restroom’ was. We would not have any problems with the word on the telly or in films. But, ask for the restroom in my house and you might get a momentary blank look. A ‘rest room’ ought to have comfy reclining chairs and thick curtains, and be the perfect place to sleep off a heavy lunch.  Give us a second or two, and we’ll get what you are at. Explain that it is the same as the “heads” and we won’t.

          PS: “loo” would have been fine.

    3. There’s a few examples in this thread of non-British speakers using words they just found in that list, the exact use of of slang is quite subtle, and varies according to region.  Eg calling something bobbins (meaning bad), is not that widely used.  Also note that it implies something that’s quite bad, or a bit crap, and not something that’s completely fucked up (which in the uk we would refer to as being fucked up, some things are universal).

  10. “It was quite a bit of a hoo-ha, and he had his hand on the hooter to demonstrate his frustration.”

  11. I can’t help feeling it’s missing a few key slang words for drunkenness like “pissed”, “bladdered”, “hanging” etc. These aren’t in common usage in the US are they? “Pissed” means cross/angry in the states doesn’t it?

    1. Correct. In the States, ‘pissed’ is generally irritated or outright angry (ex: “he’s pissed off”), but depending on the locale you may occasionally hear it used like the British version. I hear it used for drunkenness here and there in the Northeast.

    2. Drunkenness has a very wide variety of slang words in both dialects.  But “pissed” isn’t there because it’s in the other list, words that are different in US vs. UK, as opposed to the words that aren’t used at all in the US.  “Rat-arsed” is there :-)

    3. Wonderfully though, almost any swear can be adapted to mean drunk, eg. wankered, fucked, cunted, twatted, arseholed, etc.

  12. Not that I think “loo” is an idiotic word, but since I knew full well that my only understanding of the English/Irish dialect was from tv, I might just be asking the equivalent of “where is the garderobe?”

  13. Fans of “Round the Horne” might also enjoy this explanation of Polari, archaic British slang used by entertainers, carnival workers and the like, mainly derived from Romany and Yiddish, some examples of which are still in common use.

    1. Haha! Yes! There was a time when all the omi-palones were vardering each other’s eeks and lallies and luring them back to their latties! Bona!

  14. From watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus I’ve inferred that “gumby” means someone of very low intelligence but I’ve never seen the word defined or used anywhere else–not even in the OED.

    1. Gumby was actually a character invented by the Pythons, which was then adopted as a perjorative by the teens of my generation, but I think it’s largely gone to ground now.

      1. Gumby long predates the Pythons – he was a claymation character from US television in the 1950s. I haven’t seen that Python character, so I don’t know if they’re related, but the green clay dude is the Gumby that’s known in the US.

  15. Disagree with your first translation. Agree with your second translation, and furthermore: so?

  16. At least in the US, we’d use “gypsy” instead of “pikey”; different ethnic origin, but pretty similar stereotypes (and “gyp” for “cheat”).  It’s not always used negatively; young people especially can get away with being itinerant and disregarding authority.

    1. ‘Gyp’ is still heard in the UK, but the whole ‘gypsy’ as a slur thing has had the ‘fun’ sucked out of it as Europeans belatedly come to terms with the fact that the Roma were packed off to death camps in a pretty comprehensive manner.

      I think that slurs like this should be ridiculed and devalued, but I also feel that the right should be reserved for those that were traditionally on the receiving end to declare if a word is insult or kosher.

    2. I have heard people say that they were “gyped” in the US when they got ripped off.  Without exception, every time I have pointed out that it was a reference to gypsy, they expressed horror at having never connected the two, and never use it again.

      It is amazing what a little distance can do to alter cultural perceptions.  Say “gypsy” in the US, and the image it conjures up are colorful and slightly mystical people who embody all of the positive aspects of roguishness and travel.  If a hero meets them on their heroes quest, they are going to give cryptic advice that turns out to be true or a one off magical something-or-another to be used at the right time.  Occasional the interaction is negative, but mostly it is neutral or positive.  They are basically Tolken elves without the tree hugger aspect.  Say the same thing in Europe and you get a wildly different reaction.

  17. I used to loath the way that Americans called bacon ‘pig strips’, seeing it as typical linguistic laziness. Then I read Alastair Cookes’ ‘American Journey: Life on the Home Front in WW2′, which in part outlines the amazing practical ingenuity of the USA. Rightly or wrongly I now link the two, and have gotten off my high horse.

    1. Uh, where on earth have you heard Americans calling bacon pig strips?  I have never heard that in my life.  If someone said that I would be able to puzzle it out after a moments pause, but if that is common usage anywhere, it isn’t in any northern region of the US.

  18. After going all around the Wrekin in this discussion, I am left with a face as long as Livery Street.  Indeed you are all Yampy. 

  19. Kinda reminds me of an entertaining scene in “Torchwood: Miracle Day”, maybe two episodes in? The team had just reached L.A. and Gwen is recounting her day, with Esther helpfully translating to American English. Having dealt with some of that in Australia, I was amused.

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