20 British Expressions You Will Never Hear in the US

20 British Expressions You Will Never Hear in the USFollowing on from my last post on Brit-speak, here are some more helpful phrases.

1 Zebra crossing – so named because of its black and white stripes, but better known as a crosswalk here in the US.

2. Whinge – to whine or complain, usually about things seen as trivial by someone else. If someone calls you a whinger it is not a good thing.

3. Welly – as in give it some welly. A good old Brit expression that’s the equivalent of elbow grease here in the US.

4. Trainers – you might think that this is a word for people who coach other people, but no, it’s Brit-speak for sneakers. And if you’re talking about tennis shoes, then the Brits say plimsolls.

5. Subway – this is a walkway that runs under a road, not to be confused either with the sandwich chain or a mode of transport (in London, what Americans call the subway is known as the Tube (or the Underground).

6. Sarky – Brit-speak for sarcastic where Americans would say snarky.

7. Rubber – this isn’t what you think, but what Americans call an eraser. Misuse of the term can lead to confusion, obviously.

8. Recce – in this case the same word reconnoitre/reconnaissance (both of French origin) have produced two diferent abbreviations on each side of the pond. In America, we’d say recon.

9. The off-licence is where you’d go to buy an alcoholic drink. Known affectionately as the offie, we’d call it a liquor store.

10. Their motorway is our freeway.

11. Want that ice-cream with a few sprinkles? You’ll have to ask for hundreds and thousands in the UK.

12. Our billboard is their hoarding.

13. Fortnight – this means two weeks, whereas we just take it one week at a time. ;)

14. Even on the phone there are major differences. That tone you hear when you can’t get through is called the engaged tone in the UK, where we would say busy signal.

15. Got a personal bank account in the UK? you will probably call it a current account, the equivalent of the US checking (or check) account.

16. Our cop is their bobby, and the cops in general are sometimes called the Old Bill.

17. A ballpoint pen is a biro in the UK, after the last name of the inventor.

18. If you’re watching TV (or telly), then chances are you’ll take a look at the BBC, also known as the Beeb or Auntie.

19. The presenters there will use an autocue and not a teleprompter.

20. Is your boss a great guy? You’d call him a top bloke in the UK.

Check out an even longer list of uncommon British expressions here.

Other resources:

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  1. Nicole Fende Says:

    Totally forgot about whinge. I think that is a great word. Also I’ve discovered that most Brits don’t know what a Stud Finder is (as in finding the stud to hang things on behind your drywall).
    Nicole Fende´s last post ..Are You Stealing from Your Profitability (and don’t even know it)? by @StephCalahan

  2. Sharon Hurley Hall Says:

    I don’t think they have those at all, Nicole (at least I never came across them) – and that wall material is called plasterboard there ;)

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  4. Judith Staffford Says:

    As a Brit these are hilarous and quite informative as I didnt know they were different in American English. We dont tend to call our police ‘bobbys’ anymore your more likely to hear ‘cops’ or ‘fuzz’.

  5. Sharon Hurley Hall Says:

    You’re right, Judith, there are all sorts of other names for the police officers these days, though my old aunt still uses ‘bobby’ :) Glad you enjoyed the article.

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