There’s nothing funny about “fanny packs”…

If you’re an American in the United Kingdom or a Brit in America, you’ve likely seen that truly special look of confusion, as you realize the person you’re speaking has taken something entirely the wrong way. Yes, even though you theoretically speak the same “English” language, there are a few words which may get you slapped, laughed out the bar or feeling very awkward. Before you hop on the plane for your next transatlantic chat, use this UK/US translation guide to ensure you don’t tell your friend about your underwear, when you meant to talk about your jeans…

“Pants” In The USA Is “Trousers” In The UK…

In the U.K, pants means underwear, so having wet pants for example could take on a completely different meaning. Best to smarten up the vocab with trousers instead of accidentally telling people about your undies.

“Check” In The USA Is “Bill” In The UK…

Best to use the word “bill”, along with the international hand signal for signing the credit card receipt when asking to pay in a restaurant, just to make sure everyone understands.

“Chips” In The USA Is “Crisps” In The UK…

Don’t worry, your British fish and chips will come with the nice soft warm potatoes you can dip in ketchup, not a packet of “potato chips” as you know them in the USA.

“Fries” In The USA Is “Chips” In The UK…

If you want fries in the U.K., ask for chips. “Fries” probably won’t get you very far.

“Fanny Pack” In The USA Is “Bum Bag” In The UK…

Unfortunately, these have made a bit of a comeback recently, but if you talk about your fanny pack in Britain and it receives a giggle, it’s likely because fanny means lady private parts in the UK, and not just because these fashion accessories look terrible.

“Happy” In The USA May Be “Chuffed” In the UK…

If someone in the UK say’s they’re “well chuffed” it means they’re very pleased or happy with something. It’s a good thing, so just smile.

“Dinner” In The USA May Be “Tea” In Northern UK…

Though it makes absolutely no logical sense, Northern parts of the UK often refer to dinner as “tea” so if you get invited over for “tea” be sure to clarify if it’s liquid – or multi course.

“Line” In The USA Is “Queue” In The UK…

Being in one is never good, whichever word you use, but if you try to jump one of these in the UK, you may get jumped, and by jumped we don’t mean the good kind.

“Double Fisting” In The USA Should Never Be Said In The UK…

Best not to use this one in Britain! No matter how many drinks you’re carrying, you’re going to get a look you’ll never forget if you accidentally let it slip…

“Soccer” In The USA Is “Football” Literally Everywhere Else…

In Britain football is everything and is played with a round ball – if you’re trying to talk about the prolate spheroid shaped ball sport played in America you must put American first: American Football.

“Wasted” In The USA Is “Pissed” In The UK….

If someone is pissed in America, they’re angry. If they’re pissed in Britain, they’re drunk. If they’re pissed off in Britain, then they are angry. You with us?

“Hot Beverage” In The USA May Be “Cuppa” In The UK…

If someone says “cuppa”, they’re looking for tea, and by tea we do mean the warm liquid kind where you steep dried leaves in a cup of warm water. They’re just shortening the obvious.

“Zucchini” In The USA Is “Courgette” In The UK…

Just so you don’t have to ask your waiter. God forbid they earn their tips by answering fair questions from customers.

“Eraser” In The USA Is “Rubber” In The UK, But…

A rubber in the USA is a condom. If you’re British and you ask for a “rubber”, you’re going to get a strange glare, and then a condom. If you want something to erase pencil marks, it’s eraser…

“Costume” In The USA Is “Fancy Dress” In The UK…

A fancy dress party in Britain means you need to wear a costume, not just put on a fancy dress. This is a mistake you definitely don’t want to make. Costume party is what it says on the tin.

“Vacation” In The USA Is “Holiday” In The UK…

If you’re British you’re going on ‘holiday’, if you’re American you’re going on ‘vacation’. ‘The Holidays’ you will hear people say in the U.S. are Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day or any national celebrations.

“Cigarette” In The USA Is “Fag” In The UK…

If you’re an American in the U.K, and someone says they’re “stepping out for a fag”, don’t look shocked at their derogatory remarks, they’re just going out for a cigarette.

“Truck” In The USA Is “Lorry” In The UK…

The big vehicles that drive slowly on motorways (or highways if you’re American).

“Eggplant” In The USA Is “Aubergine” In The UK…

It’s hard enough to get an order in at a good restaurant these days, so skip the “sorry, what’s this” question and get straight to the good stuff…

“Drunk” In The USA Is “Lairy” In the UK…

If someone says they were “Lairy”, they aren’t referring to a past spirit animal, they’re just telling you they were loud and inebriated recently.

“Fall” In The USA Is “Autumn” In The UK…

The season after summer. Yes, the one where leaves fall and sometimes turn pretty colors, errr colours if you’re in the UK.

“Diaper” In the USA Is “Nappy” In the UK…

Necessary for anyone with babies. If someone says “nappy” to you in the UK, they’re not talking hair – they’re talking diapers.

“Trash” In The USA Is “Rubbish” In the UK…

‘Rubbish’ is what goes in the ‘bin’ or ‘trash can’, but is also an excellent word to describe anything that’s just plain bad, like “that T.V. show was rubbish”. Just like “that team is trash” works in the USA.

“Purse” In The USA Is “Handbag” In The UK…

If someone in America asks you to pass the purse, it doesn’t mean you need to pull money out of your pocket, it just means they want theirs.

“Sweater” In The USA Is “Jumper” In The UK…

Something to wear when we’re cold, not someone who performs jumps as a type of exercise, or life ending activity. With English weather, it’s always good to pack one.

“Arugula” In The USA is “Rocket” In The UK…

Ah yes, the nice, peppery leaves found in a salad or next to something fried. They’re one in the same and always good with a nice Italian dressing, unless of course the context is outer space.

“Daring” In The USA Is “Cheeky” In The UK…

In the UK, if someone tells you you’re cheeky, they’re not talking about your butt. They’re telling you that you made a bit of a “daring” or amusingly devilish comment, and it may have passed.

“Nap” In The USA Is “Kip” In the UK…

A short sleep usually sometime during the day, which translates perfectly to “siesta” in Spain, just in case you’re taking your laziness across borders.

“Cilantro” In The USA Is “Coriander” In The UK…

For understanding on menus and in recipes. It’s the same thing, and does make everything taste better. It’s that lovely thing found in curry’s, guacamole’s and all that good stuff.

“Tired” In The USA Is “Knackered” In The UK…

When a Brit says they’re knackered, it’s usually met with a quizzical look from most Americans. They’re just trying to tell you they (or it) is very tired, in any shape or form. Yep, even a car can be “knackered”.

Have you had any transatlantic “lost in translation” moments?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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15 Comments

  1. “knocked up” …. as in “do you want me to knock you up in the morning?”

    does NOT mean get you pregnant… it simply means WAKE you up. the offer has taken more than one American by surprise….(especially my 75 year old mother)

  2. From the food department – takeout is takeaway. Don’t forget to get mushy peas with your fish and chips.
    From the baby department – a stroller is a push chair.

  3. And if one of us Brits says your place is “homely” it is a complement. If you tell us our place is “homey” that literally doesn’t mean anything.

  4. The one I find most amusing is the soccer/football phrasing. The Brits were the ones who came up with the term soccer, then got seriously annoyed that the Yanks dared use their term, so changed to calling it football.

  5. This post brought a smile in my face, I went to school in England before I moved to the US and it has been over 20yrs now and I still get mixed up with some of these terms 🙂 🙂
    When I moved here my 1st trip to restaurant I asked for tomato sauce and chili sauce to go with my food. I received weird looks from the server and she even giggled…..luckily one of her colleagues did understand me that I meant “ketchup” and “hot sauce”

  6. Take the “elevator” in the USA. Take the “lift” in the UK.

    “Watch your step” in the USA. “Mind the gap” in the UK.

    If you’re feeling “pekish” in the UK you are feeling “hungry” in the USA.

    “Alight” in the UK but “exit” in the USA.

  7. Nice article. But just to confuse things a little more, ‘pants’ in parts of Northern England means ‘trousers’, as in the US. Fag & fanny are definitely ones to be careful with though….

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