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"America and England are two nations divided by a common language." -Winston Churchill
It is widely known that there are differences between American and British English, but it is also important to remember that there are differences between American English and, well, American English. Accents vary greatly between regions of the US even within states or cities. For example, in the south a toboggan is a winter hat, but in the north it is a sled. Imagine the fun of asking a southerner to go down a hill on their toboggan.
Below is a list of some common American terms and phrases that you may encounter and their British translations.
Please note that we also provide Academic Terminology Differences.
|Take Out or To Go*
* Take out or To Go boxes, also known as "doggie bags", are very common in the US. At almost any kind of restaurant, you can ask for a box to take home the food you did not eat.
|Costume Party||Fancy Dress|
|Bathroom/Restroom||Toilet*, WC, Loo|
|Trash, Garbage||Rubbish, Litter|
|First Floor (etc.)||Ground Floor (etc.)|
*Toilet carries a crude connotation and is not commonly used in the US.
|January 2, 2016||2 January 2016|
|Zip Code||Postal Code|
One of the common greetings in the UK is to say to someone, “Hey, you alright?” or “Hey, you ok?” These terms are not socially used in America and can be perceived as asking whether there is something wrong with their health or suggesting that there is an obvious reason why they may not be ok. Instead try “What’s going on?” or a simple “How are you?”
Americans have the tendency to exaggerate much more than the British, using numerous superlatives and vivid descriptions even in an average situation. Many Americans also tend to be highly positive and downplay negative things. This may be confusing because, in an effort to be polite, an American may not tell you directly their opinions.
Beyond vocabulary differences are differences in body language. Body language contributes to conversation and interaction as much as verbal communication. Generally speaking, Americans prefer a greater amount of personal space during conversation; one arm’s length is a good estimate. They tend to shake hands (firmly) with people they meet. That said, some Americans can be more touchy-feely than Brits and may be inclined to hug you as a greeting (maybe before you feel close enough to them to merit hugging!)
It is common for Americans to maintain direct eye contact with the speaker and to smile during the conversation, as this is indicative of attentiveness and an interest in the conversation. Many also “speak with their hands,” expressing themselves through a wide range of gestures.