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 a bar or left feeling incredibly awkward.

Before you hop on the plane for your next transatlantic adventure, 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.

“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. And yes, the emoji has the same meaning.

“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.

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

Don’t get too excited if you’re an American in the UK and someone says they’re going to grab a rubber. Brits, a rubber in the USA is a condom. Americans, in the UK,a rubber is an eraser.

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

“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.

“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. And btw Brits, it means carrying two drinks at once in America. Like, “ah long week, I’ll be double fisting the mezcal cocktails tonight”.

“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.

“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.

“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).

“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.

Image by Pierre Blaché from Pixabay

“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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35 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….

  8. You forgot pavement and sidewalk. I remember when I first came over here I was shocked when someone who worked for me reminder her son on the phone to play on the pavement. I thought she was being a terrible mother for letting her child play in the road. Also remember getting into quite an argument with a British friend at university over the definition of revise and review when it comes to exams. Also just found out after 20 years of being here that porch means something entirely different (in Scotland at least) than it would be in America. It’s almost like a mud room but attached to the front of the house in front of the main door

          1. Well I’m a Brit from birth and of more years than I wish to think about and I have never heard of the term double parked in that context. Caining it is the term I’m most familiar with (and indeed practised) in that sense 😀

  9. In the 70’s during my first visit to the US I developed a mouth ulcer. My visit to the chemist (pharmacy) after describing my problem resulted in the horrified question “You have an ulcer, – IN YOUR MOUTH??” I soon learnt in the US they are called canker sores.

  10. I remember watching Miami Vice in the 80s with Phil Collins making a guest appearance. One of his lines was something like “they’re just a bunch of wankers” as it had no real meaning in the US.

  11. If your name is “Randy”, you’ll be “stuffed” in the UK. “Randy” means horny, “stuffed” means screwed.
    Then there’s “shag”. Let’s just say that if you’re “randy”, you’d probably benefit from a good “shag”

    You got Lorry, but missed Lift (elevator), Loo (toilet), and Petrol (gasoline).
    Finally, and particularly close to any water: “Chippy” is a takeout place that sells “fish and chips”, most authentically served using newsprint paper (un printed)

  12. I used to coach at the soccer camps in the US and one day I asked the players to pick up the bibs and none of them knew what I was referring to. I then was told that they are Pinnies.

  13. Why not add ‘Australian in to the comparison and make it really interesting!. For example. Sidewalk American, pavement English, footpath Australian. Or appetiser, starter and entree.

  14. Absolutely love this article. Had me in stitches, I could think that all the American versions of the same British expressions are so much more rude. I don’t think there are any that are rude the other round……double fisting, Fanny pack and pants

  15. “Why not add ‘Australian in to the comparison and make it really interesting!

    . For example. Sidewalk American, pavement English, footpath Australian. Or appetiser, starter and entree.

    I’m an aussie living in London. My cousin came to visit me in Summer and she came for a gathering in a park with a group of my brit friends. We were in summer attire. Her footwear was a pair of ‘flip flops’ to the brits or ‘thongs’ as the aussies call them. A ‘thong’ to the brits is a G-string type of underwear.

    My cousin trod in a piece of dog turd and screamed ‘I’VE GOT SH*T ALL OVER MY THONG’ to the shock of all the brits thinking her ‘thong’ was something else.

  16. I recently watched an old British film from the 1930s. filmed in the UK with UK actors. One of the British characters mentioned that he and his wife were about to go to the continent for their vacation. I wonder when it changed to holidays in the UK.

  17. In the UK the word “willy” is slang for a man’s private area. So you can imagine the surprised look people gave you when they heard about a movie in the US called “Free Willy”!

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