In what is the first part in an ongoing series, here are 5 British and American word differences you might not know.
1. "Stereo must be twice as bad"
For so many reasons, the 17-year-old version of myself would not have imagined he'd one day be typing the sentence immediately following this one. Shortly after I moved to the US, an American friend of mine was diagnosed with a mysterious-sounding viral disease.
"The doctor says I have mono," she'd reported at the time. "It's causing the lymph nodes in my neck to swell."
Aside from imagining how horrible mono must have been, I couldn't help considering the following two things:
1) Mono must be very rare; I've never heard of it.
2) Stereo must be twice as bad.
As it turns out, mono is not only pretty common but it's precisely what the British refer to as glandular fever. So all the fears for my friend's health could have been considerably alleviated if someone had simply told me, "your friend is going to be fine; she just kissed the wrong boy."
2. "Not to be confused with the 1984 super group"
I must have discovered all of the health-related word differences early on. After all, I was in and out of hospital so much during my first two years in the U.S. (don't ask! No, really—don't ask; I have an annoying habit of completely exaggerating everything). But despite my many brushes with the waiting room, nothing could prepare me for one person's reaction to the question, "do you have any plasters in the house?"
"All of the walls are plastered," the person said, with a look of utter bemusement. The person must have thought I held genuine concerns about the structural integrity of the building (I did).
"No, no," I explained, "plasters! You know, to stop my arm from bleeding off!"
The penny dropped. "Ah, what you're looking for is called a Band-Aid." Now, at this point, the linguistic divide could have been widened severely had I referenced the 1984 charity super group led by Bob Geldof. But I didn't.
3. "Time to clean up the confusion"
Of course, even as I tried to stop the blood gushing from my severed arm (did I mention I exaggerate?), the person suggested I run it under hot water before putting on a
"Good idea!" I said. "Where's the flannel?"
It was then correctly pointed out that the temperature outside was 92 degrees and that winter clothes were not necessary (in America, flannel is commonly used to make plaid shirts. Kurt Cobain wore a lot of them).
"Oh, and you'll probably need to dab your wound with a washcloth," the person added.
"Thanks!," I said, finally understanding the confusion.
4. "Those dishes won't dry themselves"
Any sort of cloth is a double-edge sword (not literally; that wouldn't work). On the one hand, cloths remind us that household chores are a thing. On the other, they highlight the true meaning of the phrase "two places separated by a common language."
Responsible for those aforementioned household chores when I first moved to the U.S. (one of the many "perks" of waiting on your work visa), it didn't take me long to discover that Americans don't use the term tea towel. This, of course, did not compute. How on earth does American society function with tea towel absent from its vernacular? Actually, don't answer that.
As with a lot of American words and phrases, Americans opt for the more literal variant: dish towel. Only history will decide America's fate at this point.
5. "Mind your french"
Sticking with the theme of cleanliness, Americans don't typically use the word launderette. This perhaps accounts for why, upon uttering the word around Americans for the first time, it was largely agreed upon that I had made up a new word. While I am prone to doing this (e.g. Bringlish), I am fairly certain I didn't coin launderette. That's because America did in 1945. Time, obviously, has washed away (pun intended) that memory for most Americans, who almost always opt for laundromat instead.
Sometimes, it's better hearing me in a British accent. Click the red button below.