Thursday, November 06, 2014

11 British Clothing Words they Don't Use in America

There's no getting around it—clothes are just an important part of everyday life. We put them on when we wake up, we change into new ones before a night out and sometimes, when we're desperate, we even wear them to bed (just me then). And so there's a fair bet that, in some way or another, clothes are going to come up quite routinely in conversation. For U.K. expats such as myself, this can be a source of confusion and hilarity when the conversation's other participant is American. This is because, as you might have guessed from the title, there are a number of U.K. clothing words that are either not used stateside or are, at the very least, not very common. Here are 11 such words.
   
1. Anorak
In the U.K., an anorak actually has two meanings: 1. a hooded jacket. 2. a socially inept person. In the case of the first meaning, the word anorak didn't in fact enter the English language until 1924. Before this time, coats of this nature may have been referred to as a parka—a word still used in both British and American English.

2. Bowler
Popular during the Victorian age and popularised further by Charlie Chaplin, the bowler hat sits with pride in the annuls of British fashion history. It is uncertain where its name derives from, but some theories suggest that it might be linked with a John Bowler of Surrey, who operated a hat manufacturers in the early 19th century. Be that as it may, in the U.S. such a hat is typically referred to as a derby—most likely from the horse racing events taking place in England during the 1800s.

3. Cagoule
This French-derived word (from cagoule, meaning hood) describes a lightweight hooded, water-resistant coat, usually reserved for rainy days. In the U.S. such a coat is often referred to as a poncho.

4. Jumper
This is one of those words I truly took for granted when I first moved to the U.S.; never in a million years did I imagine that the word jumper would in fact sound alien to the majority of Americans. I have since learned the hard way that on this side of the pond the preferred terminology is sweater.

5. Kecks
This word, on the other hand, is one of those I intuitively reconciled would not have much of a presence in the U.S.—mainly because of its identity as a slang expression.  For those not in-the-know, kecks is an informal word for trousers. It should be noted, of course, that Americans will very often use the word pants (which means underwear in the U.K.) as their own equivalent.

6. Knickers
Speaking of underwear, while many Americans understand the meaning of this entry, it is nonetheless not widely used in the U.S. Knickers—another word for female underpants—equates to panties in American English. Hence, the phrase "don't get your knickers in a twist" becomes "don't get your panties in a bunch".

7. Nappy
Moving on to baby fashion, this is one of the more well-known U.K./U.S. differences; what people in the U.K. call a nappy, Americans call a diaper.

8. Plimsolls
Plimsolls were the shoe of choice in P.E. classes when I was growing up; they're essentially slip-on shoes (some have laces) with a rubber sole. In the U.S., the equivalent might be known as tennis shoes or sneakers.

9. Trainers
The same equivalents used in entry number 8 could also be applied here. Trainers—those shoes one might wear to go running—are usually known in the U.S. as sneakers.

10. Wellington boots/wellies
Staying on the subject of footwear, it is perhaps hardly surprising that Wellington boots didn't catch on in the U.S.; after all, the name comes from a most famous British soldier—Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. In the U.S., the term Wellingtons (or wellies) are known variably as any of the following: rain boots, rubber boots, billy boots, or gum-boots.

11. Y-fronts
Those rather old fashioned form of underpants—recognisable from the presence of an inverted y-shape on the front—are known by several names in the U.S. These include jockey shorts, jockey briefs and, less formally, tighty whities.

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Laurence Brown is a British man writing his way through the truly bizarre world of America - a place he sometimes accidentally calls home and a place he still hasn't quite figured out after seven years. Thankfully, his journey is made 12% easier by the fact that his accent makes him sound much smarter than he is. For evidence of this, subscribe to his popular Lost in the Pond web series over on YouTube.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some of these clothing names are used in the U.S., but not in the same way:

Anorak: Usually describes a pull-over outwear item (often with a kangaroo pocket in the front) that's made of nylon, GoreTex, etc., and usually rain-proof. See REI, L.L. Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports and the like for examples. A parka is a cold-weather jacket that zips in the front.

Jumper: A type of girls' or women's dress that pulls down over the head.

Knickers: (Short for "knickerbockers') Short pants that end just below the knee (fastened with elastic or buttons), usually worn with long socks. Used to be standard wear for young boys until WW2 (getting "long pants" was a rite of passage). Also fashionable among girls and women in the 1970s. Seldom seen these days.

Anonymous said...

The way these words are used in my neck of the woods (East Coast) is:

Anorak - a parka with an entirely useless drawstring waist.

Jumper - a collarless, sleeveless woman's dress meant to be worn with a blouse or shirt.

Knickers - short pants that button below the knee; usually seen on young boys in turn-of-the-century photos.

Nappies, plimsolls, y-fronts - words known to us through British television programs.

Klecks - did you make this up? Seriously?

Sneakers, Tennis Shoes, Trainers - all three are used depending on the type of rubber soled shoe we're talking about. Sneakers might be a simple Classic Keds shoe; Tennis Shoes are "improved" sneakers with strategically placed enforcement in the sole and upper, designed for the specialized purpose of playing tennis and more expensive than sneakers (see also Running Shoes, Basketball Shoes, et. al.; Trainers refer to shoes designed for cross-training.






Bowler - used to refer to the type of hat worn by Chaplin or John Steed.

Cagoule - never heard of this but, unless it looks like a blanket with a slit in the center, it's probably not the equivalent of a poncho. Ponchos have neither hoods nor sleeves.




Larke98 said...

Nappies is starting to pick up over here, though. It's what the "trendy" Moms are starting to call them now. You know, one problem we terminal Anglophiles have is that we mostly know these terms because we're freaks of Nature who glom onto any tidbit of British culture, language, television, literature, etc, that we possibly can. So then, the extension of that is forgetting which term is used HERE, because I'm willing to wager that most people who have transfixed themselves on the British Isles all these years (speaking from experience here) think in "BRITISH". It's like being bi-lingual, and forgetting at times which language you are meant to be using.

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