Finding America

Me and Tarah

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Guest post by Claire Bolden McGill: A list of 15 Words And Phrases I Never Used Before I Came to America

1. Fanny
Let’s start with this, because I had an incident when I was rubbing the backside of my friend’s ‘mom’s’ dog and the dog was having a smashing time. My friend’s mom looked pleased with the attention her dog was receiving and promptly declared: ‘She sure loves having her fanny rubbed!’ Well, I nearly spat out my Long Island Iced Tea. Of course, in the UK ‘fanny’ refers to a lady’s front bottom, and whilst I know this is a term regularly used by Americans (as in ‘fanny pack’), it still makes me giggle like a schoolgirl. I like to try using it every now and then, particularly when I teach in my fitness classes, just to see if I can pull off saying ‘fanny’ without sniggering. It turns out I can’t.

2. Awesome
I used to say ‘brilliant’ a lot in the UK – and I still do, but I kind of like saying ‘awesome’ if something is even above and beyond ‘brilliant’. But then, I begin to say it for almost everything. ‘Mummy, I’ve done a poo!’, to which I reply ‘Awesome!’; or ‘That movie was pretty awesome’; or ‘You must taste this pulled pork – it’s totally awesome!’

3. Great job
‘Great job’ did not feature in my phrase database at all in the UK. In 18 months I’ve probably used this more than any other phrase and it irritates the hell out of me. It’s like a ‘go-to’ phrase. ‘You just read that book all on your own – great job!’ or ‘Thirty squats, ladies, you did it – great job!’ It kind of loses any meaning whatsoever and my American friend noted that I do say this phrase a lot. Sigh. I think I will reinstate ‘fantastic’ again as my ‘go-to’.

4. Couch
It’s a sofa, isn’t it? Or is it a settee? I’m confused, because I think most Americans call it a couch. I don’t think I ever called it a couch before, so why do I say it now?

5. Hook up / hang out
‘Let’s hook up,’ I texted the other day. ‘Can’t wait to hang out.’ OMG, I’m texting like a teenager (though I am sure they actually have their own acronyms, which I refuse to use). I would never say that to another grown woman in England, even if she is my buddy (friend). ‘Let’s meet up,’ I would say. ‘I can’t wait to see you.’

6. Buddy
My son does not have friends here – he has buddies. But, interestingly, in school, they aren’t classmates, they are known as ‘friends’ (honestly, barf!). Anyhow, this is all very confusing for my son because my husband, being a Cockney, calls them all his ‘mates’.

7. Drunk driving
‘Drunk driving’ they call it here in America-land. ‘Drink driving’ we call it in the UK. Which one is correct? Is it possible that ‘drunk driving' is more grammatically correct? Whatever it’s called, there is bloody loads of it going on in my part of the USA – but that’s a whole other issue!

8. Check
‘Please may I have the check.’ I say this like a native now. My husband, not so. ‘Can we get the bill, please,’ he still says. Because he is Cockney I have to interpret what he says anyway, and I use ‘check’, just to clarify. Checks (as in the ones you write out in books) are also used a lot more in the States. I’m sure they are being phased out in the UK. It took me a while to work out what to write where (there is a little space for ‘subject matter’, which is always interesting – I like to be either creative in this area and get those bank staff thinking or write something profound), and it always seems so dramatic to write in dollars, for some reason.

9. Dates
I write dates like this in the USA: 21 Jan 2014. I have to because I get so confused about the month/date USA style and not the date/month UK style that I just write it out long hand so that I totally get it right!

10. What’s up?
Have I really started using this? Maybe just once, and I chastised myself endlessly for it. ‘How are you?’ is so much nicer, isn’t it? But you see, when I ask my American friends. ‘How are you?’ they look a bit shocked and are all ‘Yes, fine’ which makes me think that something is ‘up’ after all, and that they think I am being very nosey and trying to dig into their private lives. Look, if there really is something up, tell me, but when I say ‘How are you?’, I’m really just passing the time of day. If I ask a Brit that, they’ll pretty much end up telling me how ‘he left me with the kids all weekend and I can’t lose any weight’ and then I regret asking, to be honest.

11. Darn it
I really mean ‘Oh shit’, but cussing is not acceptable where I live, apparently. Except ‘crap’. You can say crap any which way you like, so I gather.

12. Trash
‘Can you put this in the bin, please?’ I do still say that, but I also occasionally say, ‘Please put this in the trash’ just for a bit of variety. I asked my son the other day if he could remember what we called ‘trash’ in England… ‘Garbage?’ he replied. I sighed, and thus just went and put the litter in the rubbish bin myself.

13. Rubber
Yup, we all know this one. Rubber = Johnny. ‘Say eraser at school, just to be on the safe side,’ I’ve suggested. That’s a note from the Principal I would be more than happy to explain, though.

14. Regular
Why don’t I say ‘normal’ anymore? Why is ‘regular’ now my normal/regular word? ‘Regular cheese’, ‘regular TV’, ‘regular gas’. Oh my word, I can’t figure out what’s normal anymore!

15. Figure out
By this, I mean ‘work out’, but I‘m sure you figured that out ;)

About the author: I'm Claire and I'm a British housewife writing about American bits and bobs. I've lived in Columbia, Maryland for 18 months and I like to write about all the things that confuse, amuse and bemuse me about being in the USA. I like to observe and compare our quirky traits, personalities and oddities because there are many and they are endlessly fascinating. From breaking into mailboxes, to choosing the Spanish option at the checkouts; from polarised poverty and wealth, to getting my head round guns and the glamour of politics; from my mission to crush stink bugs, to the American obsession with pulled pork; and from the wonder that is the PTA, to American attitudes to nudity - I write about it all! You can find my blog at


  1. Actually, I think your image above should say "Good job, buddy." "Good job" is used far more than 'great job."

  2. "Regular gas" is different than saying "normal gas." Regular is a type of petrol (leaded), contrary to unleaded petrol. So, back in the day when full service stations were still around, the gas attendant would ask "Regular or unleaded?" That's where the term "regular gas" came from. What the hell is "regular cheese?" Never heard that one. Not sure why someone would say "regular TV " either. Is that opposed to cable? Which these days everything is cable. Not sure about that one. For us teens in the 80's 'awesome' was the go to word and it stuck around. My pet-peeve is the over-use of 'amazing!' No, your child is not 'amazing.' The sun is 4.5 billion years old - that is amazing!

    1. I couldn't agree with you more, Melissa. Amazing is very overused.

      So, too, is "you did great out there, honey." Not only is this grammatically incorrect, it is often used to inflate the ego of someone whose efforts were mediocre.

  3. You're right - GOOD JOB!!! ;)

  4. I hear great job fairly often too, though.

  5. How about "Fag" having a different meaning in the U.S., and it appears, like, you, like - TOTALLY have gor the word 'like' up to pat!

    I hear American & British English around me all the time at school - it can get confusing. Great piece! Would love to feature you on my site one day

  6. Oh no! I've used all of these since I moved here. They also say "That's hilarious" without actually laughing.

  7. Back here we use "Proper Job" or "Job's a Good'un." now. sparingly of course... As far as phrases I picked up while living in San Francisco...Gnarley, totally, dude, and bitchin. . Still catch myself saying them from time to time.

  8. I too fall victim to the American words to the extent I forget some of the words I used back home I sometimes feel like I am losing a part of myself :( my biggest hate is when someone says " where are you at " ugh seriously I cant stand it even supposedly intelligent people use the phrase on CNN they should know better.

  9. "Awesome" really gets on my nerves the way its used- I have banned the word in my house (and I have two american daughters) !!

  10. Trash and garbage are both Elizabethan English. Both are sub-sets of rubbish: garbage is wet rubbish (such as food scraps); trash is dry rubbish. I find the Month-Day-Year system very confusing and anti-intuitive, but again it's old English usage. Look at any British Victorian newspaper and they use Month-Day-Year in their headers.

  11. It's true, cheques are being phased out in the UK. I can't remember the last time I saw someone ask to pay by cheque, and I know many shops now won't take them at all. My bank doesn't issue a chequebook as a matter of course, you have to specifically request one. I don't think it's a bad thing, really.

  12. It's amazing how fast you pick up using the American words. Laundry is another one. I'd never say I'm doing my laundry in UK but was using it within a few weeks of moving to America.

    Saying 'that's hilarious' without laughing is something I picked up on too. Made me wonder if it was amusing them or they were being sarcastic!

  13. Regarding "couch" - (1) I alternate between "sofa" and "couch." (2) I think I'm fairly typical for Americans in not knowing the distinction between a "sofa" and a "settee." In fact, it might be more accurate to say that I'm *a*typical for Americans, at least Midwestern ones, in that I've heard the word "settee." I have certainly never heard anyone use it in person. :-)

    Also, you're best avoiding "hook up." Confusingly, it's used in the US both for the generic sense of "get together with," and in the specific sense of "pair up romantically," and also in the even more specific sense of "have a sexual encounter with."

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  16. Hi Claire,
    Ive just read some of your stuffs and well, I used to live in Columbia, Md. This place, is by far one of the most unAmerican places in the USA. Not to mention, the weirdest and most odd city that was ever created. I mean created literally, because instead of people just settling in this place, they "created it" Jim Rouse did, specifically.
    I am so sorry you havent got the REAL AMERICAN experience unless youve lived somewhere other than Columbia, Md.
    I lived in the UK for a while back some 15 plus years ago.
    And I was in Columbia for many years. It is not by any means your typical American city.
    I think to really get the real experience you must live in a genuine American town.
    Columbia is such a mixed pot of wierdos!
    sorry, no offence. But the real American experience can not be had if that is the only place you lived whilst here.
    Did you happen to live anywhere else in the states?
    God Bless,
    M. Howard


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