Finding America

Me and Tarah

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In what is the third part in an ongoing series, here are 5 more British and American word differences you might not know. To start at the beginning of the series, click here.

1. "Just take an inch off the front"

If the inclination took me, I could probably write an entire book on terminological variances pertaining to hairstyles and accessories. But for now, I'll save them for lists like these. I have a distinct memory of telling my wife - early on in our marriage - that there was one aspect of her haircut I liked in particular: her fringe. Not only did she initially mistake my pronunciation of fringe for the word "French", but was utterly oblivious to its meaning. After I pointed awkwardly at the neatly trimmed line of hair on her forehead, a light bulb went off behind it. "Do you mean bangs?" I suppose I did.

2. "Don't pin all your hopes on British English"

Recently, at work, I was pinning a poster of Big Ben to my office wall (I'm a born-again Anglophile). Unfortunately, as is often the case, I happened upon a mathematical conundrum: I only had three pins for a poster that possessed four corners. In order to solve this equation, I turned to my colleague and asked her if she could spare any drawing pins. Now, bear in mind that in the American Midwest, the words pin and pen are quite often homophones (a word that is pronounced the same way as another word, but that has a different meaning). Not only do Americans not really use the term drawing pin, but my colleague, I like to think, thought I was asking for a drawing pen, which I can only surmise is some sort of arts supply. It turns out that Americans refer to this stationary item as a push pin or a thumb tack. 

3. "We're turning a corner at last... "

As evidenced in part 2 of this series, the automobile does indeed present a wide array of British and American word differences. While I don't myself have a driving licence (driver's license in the U.S.), I am, nonetheless, aware of the driving requirement to signal to other drivers when you are about to turn either. In Britain, we indicate this with what is known, quite appropriately, as an indicator - a flashing light on either the left or right side of the front and back of the car; however, in the U.S., this is known rather less prosaically as a turn signal.  

4. "Love your pets. But not like that... "

During the first year of my transplant to the U.S., my wife and I lived at her parents' house, where we cohabited with animals (I'm not referring to my in-laws). Since Britain and America already presented a sizable language barrier, it was nice to encounter life-forms that responded to the universal language of touching. Of course, little did I know that the British word for thisstrokingwould be met with both laughter and suspicion by the recipient's owners. On the other hand, I was equally amused/concerned to learn that the American equivalent is petting. In Britain, petting is often used as part of a swimming pool directive to mean kissing (as in no petting). Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with the people behind those two particular neologisms.  
5. "What's the name of the game?"
Board game aficionados will tell you of numerous differences between games on either side of the Pond. For example, a standard Monopoly board in the UK features London-based property, whereas its U.S. equivalent is based on street names in and around Atlantic City. But one of the most stand-out variations comes in the form a much simpler board game. The game, often played on an 8x8 checkered board and involving two sets of opposing pieces, is named—quite appropriatelycheckers in the U.S.; this is, of course, the very game that us Brits know quite lovingly as draughts.

Sometimes, it's better hearing me in a British accent. Click the red button below.

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.


  1. Enjoying this.. As pointed out in a recent response, I've been here 5 decades. I still use some Brit words ex: flannel as an example. I grew up with this in the UK and USA having a British mother. My spouse of 21 years simply knows what I mean and doesn't change it. It simply comes to mind before wash cloth. It's only been in the last ten years I began using vacuum instead of Hoover.. and washing up I now use washing the dishes as a couple of examples. It's not out of stubbornness, more a case of early learning. I changed looking at snaps vs photos/pictures years ago, but snaps it what first comes to mind. Hmmn, second long winded post; I believe I'm using your site as therapy.

  2. Turn signals are also commonly called blinkers in US.


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