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British - American translations

From an article in The Telegraph by Allison Pearson, these phrase translations from English English to American may be helpful for those about to travel in the UK for the first time.

Not bad = Good

Good idea = Bad idea

A very interesting suggestion = You’re clearly insane

We were a bit disappointed to hear... = You cannot be serious

I’ll bear that in mind = I’ve forgotten it already

Perhaps a few minor adjustments = Tear it up and start over

By the way… = The main topic I need to raise…

We should think about making a move = Get lost!

Sorry, is that your bag? = Move your stuff immediately

Bit nippy = Do not go outside

You really shouldn’t have = What the hell were you thinking?

Here is the source, FWIW. https://bit.ly/2sFS23v

Posted by
1939 posts

Love this and have sent it on to my traveling friends for next September’s trip to London and Scotland. First time visit for two of them! Thanks for today’s laugh, epltd.

Posted by
2746 posts

Andi, just make sure your friends realize (or should I say realise) that Scottish English has some subtle and not-so-subtle differences.

Posted by
17979 posts

The one I try to be conscious of, and I've had it confirmed by a speaker of English English, is "quite good".

When American's say something is "quite good" we mean it is pretty good.

When Brits hear "quite good", they think just barely good - not very good.

When American's say something is "quite good" we mean it is pretty
good. When Brits hear "quite good", they think just barely good - not
very good.

Oh yes, I’ve noticed this in trip reports by American visitors - they’ll describe a restaurant as “quite good” and I think, I won’t bother going there then. And then I remind myself it means pretty much the opposite of what I think it means.

Posted by
1939 posts

Uh oh.... care to explain some differences? Would not want to say the wrong thing!

Posted by
1352 posts

Makes me think of the typically southern phrase "bless your heart" which can mean anything from "you poor dear" to "you complete idiot".

Why don't people just say what they mean and when they have nothing nice to say just keep quiet!

Posted by
2746 posts

Andi, you ask a good question and I know I let myself in for it, but I'm not really much of an authority on the colloquialisms of one Great Britain governmental entity versus another. I'll probably generate tons of "au contraire!" responses, but here goes.

I would say that in general Scottish people are more direct, and more receptive of directness from Americans. So if you said "good idea" in Scotland, especially with a favorable tone of voice and facial expression, they'd take you at your word and not assume you meant it the English way. Scottish humor goes in for pointed sarcasm more than the backhanded compliment/insult subtleties often heard in England. But then there are vast variations by class, locale, and where the person comes from -- in Scottish hotels and restaurants we encountered many workers who came from various parts of Europe such as Hungary and the Baltics, not to mention the Indian subcontinent.

Of course you can never go too far wrong with "please" and "thank you."

Posted by
7474 posts

More of the 'two countries/people separated by a common language' theme

Posted by
4368 posts

Good idea = Bad idea

I'm not sure about this one, it can mean both but really needs the facial expression and mannerism to establish which one it is.

A "good idea" accompanied with raised eyebrows and a bemused look would signify it's actually a bad idea whereas a "good idea" accompanied by an encouraging expression would mean that it genuinely was a good idea.

Posted by
651 posts

Totally agree with the 'quite', have been told by a few people my Gallery was 'quite nice', and my reaction, was well 'really, no need for that'! I understand the 'quite' issue has cause a lot of big problem, Americans applying for jobs in Britain have not got it because their references say 'he is quite good at his job' which to us means he could be an awful lot better! Also it is something Diplomats are very away off.
Also what is this business of using the pass tense when talking to strangers??? Its very confusing, eg

me 'have you come to see the Gallery?'

American visitor 'yes I did'

me 'so you have been here before?'

AV 'No I have'

Result = total confusion!

Posted by
3465 posts

I think the tense issue depends on what part of the US you are originally from. If someone asks me "Have you come to visit the Gallery?" my response would be along the lines of "Yes, I am here to do that."

Also, the word "quite" doesn't appear in my vocabulary. It always sounds too English English.

Posted by
651 posts

Agree, it definitely seems to depend on what part of the States the visitor is from, but it happens 3 or 4 times a month, totally use to it now, but it did totally confuses me to start with!!!!

Posted by
3895 posts

http://www.verybritishproblems.com/

They have some funny stuff on facebook, and if you do Twitter, always good for a laugh - as a Canadian, I can relate to a lot of these.

"Look, let's just forget it" - Translation: I will remember this until my dying day

Having to say “hello?” in at least four different styles when you can’t hear someone on the phone

How to exit a window seat:
- Lean forward
- Gently touch headrest or bag
- Whisper "sorry"
- If procedure fails, stay on train forever

Posted by
1838 posts

If a Scottish person says ‘we’ - they usually ‘small’. If they say ‘Aye’ they mean ‘yes’.

In the north of England, they are known to miss out words from sentences - especially the word ‘the’.

If a young person says ‘wicked’, they really mean that is ‘cool’ - not as in cool temperature.

Posted by
1939 posts

Ha.... Thanks very much for the clarification, epltd. This is a fun (and informative) thread!

A couple of tourist-related differences:

The word “docent” is pretty much unknown in UK English. There’s not really a specific word we’d use instead - possibly guide or room guide or museum attendant or something.

And “exhibit” in UK English means one item in an exhibition. So you would go to see an “exhibition” to look at lots of exhibits.

Posted by
2746 posts

Also, on the train the "guard" is the employee who takes your tickets and answers questions about where the train is headed and where you may need to get off to change for your destination; in American English it's what we call a conductor.

Posted by
1063 posts

"in American English it's what we call a conductor."

We used to have those on the buses.

Posted by
336 posts

In some parts of England (or Ireland) we are sometimes greeted with "Are you all right?" when we walk into a pub or a shop.
I've learned that it means (roughly) "May I help you?" but I always immediately wonder if I look pale or something. :)

Posted by
4368 posts

It's more "you alright?" Which is definitely a greeting, an equivalent American greeting would be "Hi, how are you?".

Posted by
3173 posts

British - American?

This is Boston. This is New York. This is very much American! LOL

Posted by
865 posts

"In the north of England, they are known to miss out words from sentences - especially the word ‘the’."

I noticed this while watching Peter Kay's "Car Share" on YouTube. I also liked the charming use of "our" when referring to a family member: "our Mandy's new boyfriend" or "our Rob is taking us to concert at weekend."

(Tangent: All of "Car Share" is available on YouTube except the finale. I've been left hanging!)

Posted by
623 posts

Aw, this makes me think of my late aunt (by marriage), a Brit expat. She's been gone a few years now. Nobody else refers to me as "our Suz." I miss that.

Posted by
865 posts

"Did you know you can get the Forever FM sound track on Spotify and Amazon Prime?"

I'll have to ask Alexa about it tonight. Thanks, Emma!

Posted by
3533 posts

"Hello, love" equals "Hello faceless customer".

George Bernard Shaw defined Britain and America as two countries separated by a common language. Some think the witticism belongs to Oscar Wilde. It certainly wasn't the two of them together.

Canada speaks both languages at once, without realizing it.

Posted by
8889 posts

These 3 words have become totally scrambled in crossing the Atlantic:

  • A bill is a piece of paper detailing the amount owed for goods or services
  • A cheque is a written instruction to a bank to pay some money from the account f the person who wrote the cheque, to another person.
  • A note (or banknote) is a printed piece of paper with monetary value.

In a restaurant you ask for a bill and pay with notes (or plastic). You get a bill in the post and pay with a cheque (or online banking).
Getting a "check" and paying with "bills" is totally back-to-front.

And of course:
A toilet is where you go if you need the toilet.
A restroom is where you go to lie down if you are tired, or for a work break.
A bathroom is a room with a bath in it. You never ever get bathrooms in trains, buses or restaurants. In the first two cases because the water would splash out when the train or bus went around the corner.

Posted by
2746 posts

Here's one that really stumped me for a while: kitchen rolls. It turns out kitchen rolls are not something to eat, like dinner rolls or Parker House rolls. They are paper towels. Now can you guess what toilet rolls are?

Posted by
8889 posts

Toilet roll? - obvious - click here. I am now intrigued by what else you can call it, apart from "loo roll" or other such phrases.

My sister tells the story of when she took her then very young daughters to Florida on holiday. She needed to rent a pushchair to transport them. Neither the hotel nor anybody else she asked knew what she wanted. In the end she had to describe one. see here: https://www.mothercare.com/pushchairs/prams-and-pushchairs/

Posted by
571 posts

And what is a Parker House roll? Who was Parker, and where is his house?

Posted by
2746 posts

We call it toilet paper or toilet tissue or bathroom tissue -- not a roll.

Ah yes, pushchair. I first saw that word in a sign on a London bus indicating that pushchairs must be folded and stowed. I thought, how on earth would a disabled person in a wheelchair fold up his/her own wheelchair and stow it and walk onto the bus???

Posted by
1352 posts

Just had to google push chair. Never heard a stroller called push chair before:)

Posted by
623 posts

I have spent (wasted?) uncounted hours my life reading British fiction (especially crime fiction; I'm current revisiting Inspector Wexford). Therefore, I have heard of push chairs, kitchen rolls, and even washing-up gloves (not sure if that's an old-fashioned term these days). I know that you may puzzle the waitstaff in a restaurant if you ask for the "check" instead of the "bill." I even know that "pavement" means "sidewalk" and isn't a general term for any kind of asphalt/concrete covered surface. Between reading and travel I learned that a "lift" is an elevator, not a ride in a car, and the ironmonger's is a hardware store. From my late expat Brit aunt I figured out that "over the road" means "across the street" and as mentioned above "our Suz" is a member of the family.

Now I've gained more knowledge from the info posted by the OP that started this, and the discussion so far. The "quite" thing in particular is good to know.

Posted by
3478 posts

And what is a Parker House roll? Who was Parker, and where is his house?

According to legend, and I wouldn't bet lunch with or without the rolls, they originated in Boston at the Parker House Hotel in the late 1800s. Also according to legend, Ho Chi Minh worked in the bakery there in the early 1900s.

Posted by
2746 posts

Bob, a Parker House roll is a dinner roll (bread roll) very often served in restaurants and sold in grocery stores. It was named for the Parker House, a very nice hotel in Boston that originally opened in 1855 (now owned by the Omni chain).

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omni_Parker_House

and https://www.marthastewart.com/1040415/parker-house-rolls

Oh, and I learned from reading Jane Austen that "nice" in her day meant "persnickety," particular, overly fussy, as in "perhaps I'm being nice, but I don't care for..."

Posted by
712 posts

When travelling outside of my own locale I have to concentrate on not using my usual standard greeting of 'Now then'. It's sort of a question in the vein of 'Alright?', but slightly gruffer - sounds more like a statement of fact. I also realise that to many people it literally makes no sense whatsoever.

However I can confirm that Nigel has not been afflicted with some sort of Internet Tourette's Syndrome but is merely offering a polite greeting, the word 'duck' suggestive of his midland locale. My own response would be 'Ey up our kid' despite the fact that I am in no way related to Nigel. I hope that clears a few things up!

Ian

Posted by
4368 posts

I'm with Emma on the 'quite' thing (it's becoming a bit of a habit recently!), to me the use of the word 'quite' has never had negative connotations, quite the opposite. So if someone says, "that's quite nice" it's meant in a positive way but as is often the case, intonation means everything.

I also don't get the "ya'll" when it's written. I fully understand when it's used vocally but when I read it written in a sentence I can't help but cringe.

Posted by
3173 posts

One I find odd on this site is people using "ya'll" when writing. I
totally understand it in spoken American English but when it is
written it seems a bit "comedy rural" to me. It's a colloquial term
that just looks strange written down to foreign eyes.

It looks strange to domestic eyes too, Emma. :-)

My mother-in-law is from Bensonhurt (Brooklyn) and says "youse" all of the time - ie "When are youse (pronounced you-s) coming to dinner"? She never puts her vernacular into writing however.

Posted by
5972 posts

Of course you know the plural of "y'all" is "all y'all". In some parts of the US, its "you-uns" (second person), or "uns" (third person) as in "thur's uns that'll set rye cheer if'n you ask 'em to."

I'm hoping Meghan Markle is coping.

Posted by
2746 posts

Meghan Markle, like me, grew up in Los Angeles County, where the 2nd person plural is "you guys." This plural has gained wide acceptance all over the non-Southern U.S., as witness the Allstate commercial in which the teenager tells his parents that having an insurance policy with accident forgiveness is "so smart on your guys's part."

The usage of "you all" / "y'all" / "all y'all" is emphatically not recommended outside of the South.

Posted by
389 posts

If you head over to Wales there are a few oddities there:
- Bizarre inclusion of the word 'to' - "Where to are you?" means "where are you?"
- "See you after" means "See you later".

Affectionate /generic terms include calling someone Bud or Mun

Posted by
571 posts

The addition of a seemingly superfluous "to" is also common in Somerset and the West Country generally. "Where's ee to?" is the question asked. Also note that many people in Bristol and the surrounding area add a terminal "l" to words ending in "a". Many people posting here live in Americal.

Posted by
571 posts

The addition of a seemingly superfluous "to" is also common in Somerset and the West Country generally. "Where's ee to?" is the question asked. Also note that many people in Bristol and the surrounding area add a terminal "l" to words ending in "a". Many people posting here live in Americal. Again, this is only in speech, not when writing.

Posted by
25742 posts

lush is very popular here in the East as well. 'Specially with regards to nibble and nosh.

Posted by
378 posts

"Oi! 'e's a right little pisser then, innit 'e, Mum?" == "Why, what a lovely corgi, your Majesty."

Posted by
1249 posts

Stupid question, but what is a "docent"?

Posted by
3465 posts

docent |ˈdōsənt|
noun
1 a person who acts as a guide, typically on a voluntary basis, in a museum, art gallery, or zoo.
2 (in certain universities and colleges) a member of the teaching staff immediately below professorial rank.
ORIGIN
late 19th cent.: via German from Latin docent- ‘teaching,’ from docere ‘teach.’

Posted by
167 posts

I had to laugh at Emma’s comment about “sorry.” My wife and I have just returned from our first visit to England and Scotland. One thing I noticed early was the use of the word sorry. It was used to mean “please get out of my way” as someone practically ran you over in a crowded place.

Also different names for thing baffled my wife a bit. While having a pint and pizza at BrewDog in Dundee, I went up to the bar and asked for some additional napkins. Later when one of the servers walked by our table, my wife asked him “excuse me, what do you call these?” The server looked puzzled and replied “uh napkins? What do you call them?”

Posted by
1217 posts

I’ve lived in the US South and South-adjacent long enough to appreciate y’all as a useful way of distinguishing second person plural from second person singular, which standard English doesn’t do terribly well.

I have instructed family members to elbow me if I ever say I am ‘fixing to’ do something since that folksy going too far

Posted by
21 posts

The hardest thing for me will always be asking where the bathroom is in Europe. I am scared I will slip up and ask for the toilet when I am back home in the US. When my brother was young we were in a mall in South Africa. He had a bathroom emergency and asked a store clerk where the restroom was. The man took the opportunity to joke and asked "Why do you need a room to rest?" When my desperate brother then asked for a bathroom, the man asked if he needed a bath. After much nagging the situation finally got sorted, but needless to say I always learn language differences such as these to avoid issues. Although it does make for good stories doesn't it...

Posted by
2785 posts

Emma and Continental, I'm sorry "y'all"(short for "you all") is a problem for you. But when we and everyone around us have said it all our lives, we don't always remember to edit our communications, whether they are verbal or written.

Posted by
2746 posts

@Justasplashof that is so funny, though I'm sure your brother didn't think so at the time. Leave it to the Canadians to solve it pretty well by calling it a washroom.

In England one might hear it called a toilet, the ladies/gents, the loo, or a W.C. Which word to use in which situation probably depends on region and class, the distinctions of which are above my pay grade.

Posted by
4528 posts

Do current Steves' books still suggest using the term 'bog' in the UK/England? Always thought this at best to be odd advice.

Posted by
5972 posts

We can live with all these differences and smile at them. Except for this one: its "a-lu-min-um". Not "a-lu-min-i-um." Get this right, people. I am expecting Meghan Markle to work on this when she's in charge.

(humor disclaimer)

Posted by
133 posts

I was just in London, and I used Y'all a couple of times. No one blinked and they understood. I generally tried not to use it, but sometimes your native speech just slips out!

Posted by
11262 posts

"Do current Steves' books still suggest using the term 'bog' in the UK/England? Always thought this at best to be odd advice."

I just looked at his London 2018 book, and this term is NOT in his "British-Yankee Vocabulary" section.

Posted by
4368 posts

We can live with all these differences and smile at them. Except for this one: its "a-lu-min-um". Not "a-lu-min-i-um." Get this right, people.

It's only Americans that spell it 'aluminum'. Everyone else spells it 'aluminium' and quite rightly so ; ). As it was discovered and named by a British scientist you'll have to accept defeat.

http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/aluminium.htm

Posted by
5972 posts

JC, I believe the imposition of unnecessary syllables without representation was one of the original points in the Declaration of Independence, omitted in the final draft as being too obvious.

Posted by
2746 posts

Are you sure it wasn't the omission of unnecessary syllables? viz pronunciation of Cholmondeley?

Posted by
3895 posts

Canadian here...I know we spell aluminium with the extra ‘i’...but I’d never heard it pronounced with the extra syllable until we stayed with some folks in the UK. I always heard it pronounced aluminum.

Posted by
8889 posts

"Are you sure it wasn't the omission of unnecessary syllables?" - what about transportation communistic gotten and many more?

Posted by
4368 posts

And what is it with 'herb'? Why drop the 'H'?

Posted by
14324 posts

How do you pronounce honor? I'll pronounce the H in herb, when anyone explains what the rule is.

Posted by
1063 posts

Another one is "solder", in the US it's pronounced "sodder"...............Sounds sexually dodgy to me. :-)

Posted by
4368 posts

Silent 'h' in herb but pronounced 'h' in herbaceous, herbal, herbivore and herbicide!

Posted by
4666 posts

Yes, "bog" for toilet is pretty coarse in spoken English, and I wouldn't recommend a tourist use it.

One that just came up on another thread - "launderette" instead of "laundromat".

Posted by
2746 posts

Launderette is a generic word, a synonym for coin laundry. Originally, Laundromat was a trademarked name like Kleenex and Xerox. Through widespread conversational use, these have all gotten to be viewed as generic. But these are not British-American distinctions.

I remember in the 1980s a British (English) work colleague cracked up when we mentioned Scotch tape (another trademarked name). In Britain they called it sticky tape.

Oh, and on the subject of brand names, I believe Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal is branded in the Commonwealth as Rice Bubbles.

Posted by
1790 posts

Rick always tells us to ask if they speak English is the local language yet nobody here has posted how to do this in the U.K.?

Posted by
1063 posts

"In Britain they called it sticky tape."
It's generally called Sellotape.

Posted by
5972 posts

Rick always tells us to ask if they speak English is the local language yet nobody here has posted how to do this in the U.K.?

Richard, you may have posted this in jest, but have you been to Scotland?

Posted by
57 posts

I always thought John Lennon was just repeating himself when he said "All you need is love, love", but after visiting England learned that he was speaking to the listener, "All you need is love, Love". As in, "All you need is tea, Love". This changes everything!

Posted by
4368 posts

Oh, and on the subject of brand names, I believe Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal is branded in the Commonwealth as Rice Bubbles.

It's Rice Krispies in the UK, I couldn't tell you what it's named in the rest of the Commonwealth other than Canada where they're also named Rice Krispies.

Posted by
651 posts

Why do you call Yorkshire Puddings Pop Overs, So wrong!!!!
From a half Yorkshire Lady 😊

Posted by
2746 posts

Well, I stand corrected on sticky tape and Rice Bubbles. They were Rice Bubbles in New Zealand ca. 1970, that I can swear to. The same box design, with the Kellogg's name and the Snap Crackle Pop characters.