American-British English

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There are many curious lists of differences that can be prepared. There are American words and phrases not known outside the United States and British words and phrases not known inside the United States. There are reciprocal pairs of words or phrases where American English will use one expression whereas British English will use another, but both share the same meaning. A particularly fascinating subset of these are the words and phrases which are known in both the U.S. and the U.K., but which have distinctly different meanings in each nation, English language "false friends" as it were.

Here are some American/British differences based on information from the Collins English Dictionary (1979):

A

  • absorbent cotton (American) = cotton wool (British)
  • ad [Tennis] (American) = van [Tennis] (British)
  • adhesive tape (American) = sticking plaster (British)
  • aerial ladder (American) = turntable ladder (British)
  • American Revolution (American) = War of American Independence (British)
  • anesthesiologist (American) = anaesthetist (British)
  • anesthesiology (American) = anaesthetics (British)
  • anklet (American) = ankle sock (British)
  • apartment (American) = flat (British)
  • ash can (American) = dustbin (British)
  • ass (American) = arse (British)

B

  • baby carriage (American) = pram (British)
  • backpack (American) = rucksack (British)
  • baggage car (American) = luggage van (British)
  • barrette (American) = slide (British)
  • baseboard (American) = skirting board (British)
  • bathing suit (American) = swimming costume (British)
  • benefit association (American) = friendly society (British)
  • benefit society (American) = friendly society (British)
  • billfold (American) = wallet (British)
  • billion (American) = gillion (British)
  • billion (American) = milliard (British)
  • biotechnology (American) = ergonomics (British)
  • bird's-eye speedwell (American) = germander speedwell (British)
  • blind (American) = hide (British)
  • blinders [Horses,etc.] (American) = blinkers [Horses,etc.] (British)
  • blood sausage (American) = black pudding (British)
  • blowgun (American) = blowpipe (British)
  • blowtorch (American) = blowlamp (British)
  • bookmobile (American) = mobile library (British)
  • Boston ivy (American) = Virginia creeper (British)
  • boutonniere (American) = buttonhole (British)
  • broad jump (American) = long jump (British)
  • broil (American) = grill (British)
  • buck (American) = sawhorse (British)
  • bulletin board (American) = notice board (British)
  • bullhorn (American) = loud-hailer (British)
  • busy signal (American) = engaged tone (British)

C

  • caballero (American) = horseman (British)
  • caboose (American) = brake van (British)
  • caboose (American) = guard's van (British)
  • calling card (American) = visiting card (British)
  • calliope (American) = steam organ (British)
  • Canada thistle (American) = creeping thistle (British)
  • cancel [Music] (American) = natural [Music] (British)
  • candy store (American) = sweet shop (British)
  • carom (American) = cannon (British)
  • carryall (American) = holdall (British)
  • catch basin (American) = catch pit (British)
  • chalkboard (American) = blackboard (British)
  • check (American) = bill (British)
  • check (American) = tick (British)
  • checker (American) = draught (British)
  • checker (American) = draughtsman (British)
  • checkers (American) = draughts (British)
  • checking account (American) = current account (British)
  • checkrein (American) = bearing rein (British)
  • checkroom (American) = left-luggage office (British)
  • city planning (American) = town planning (British)
  • clamworm (American) = ragworm (British)
  • clothespin (American) = peg (British)
  • collect on delivery (American) = cash on delivery (British)
  • comic strip (American) = cartoon (British)
  • common stock (American) = ordinary shares (British)
  • confectioners' sugar (American) = icing sugar (British)
  • cookie (American) = biscuit (British)
  • cord (American) = flex (British)
  • corn (American) = maize (British)
  • cornstarch (American) = cornflour (British)
  • cotton candy (American) = candyfloss (British)
  • counterclockwise (American) = anticlockwise (British)
  • county seat (American) = county town (British)
  • coupler [Electronics] (American) = coupling [Electronics] (British)
  • court tennis (American) = real tennis (British)
  • crisscross (American) = noughts and crosses (British)
  • crosswalk (American) = pedestrian crossing (British)
  • cuff (American) = turn up (British)
  • cusk (American) = torsk (British)
  • cutlass fish (American) = hairtail (British)

D

  • dangling participle (American) = misplaced modifier (British)
  • Den Mother (American) = Akela (British)
  • derby (American) = bowler (British)
  • diaper (American) = nappy (British)
  • dim (American) = dip (British)
  • dim [Lighting] (American) = dip [Lighting] (British)
  • direct distance dialing (American) = subscriber trunk dialling (British)
  • dishtowel (American) = tea towel (British)
  • divided highway (American) = dual carriageway (British)
  • doghouse (American) = kennel (British)
  • double-clutch (American) = double-declutch (British)
  • double boiler (American) = double saucepan (British)
  • downspout (American) = downpipe (British)
  • druggist (American) = pharmacist (British)
  • drunkometer (American) = Breathalyzer (British)
  • dust cloth (American) = duster (British)
  • duster (American) = dust coat (British)
  • Dutch door (American) = stable door (British)

E

  • Eagle Scout (American) = King's Scout (British)
  • Eagle Scout (American) = Queen's Scout (British)
  • eggplant (American) = aubergine (British)
  • eighth note (American) = quaver (British)
  • elementary school (American) = grammar school (British)
  • elevator (American) = lift (British)
  • english [Billiards] (American) = side [Billiards] (British)
  • epinephrine (American) = adrenaline (British)
  • Explorer (American) = Venture Scout (British)
  • exurbia (American) = stockbroker belt (British)

F

  • face card (American) = court card (British)
  • fair-haired boy (American) = blue-eyed boy (British)
  • fair trade (American) = resale price maintenance (British)
  • faucet (American) = tap (British)
  • fender (American) = mudguard (British)
  • fender (American) = wing (British)
  • fire boss (American) = fireman (British)
  • fiscal year (American) = financial year (British)
  • flag stop (American) = request stop (British)
  • flashlight (American) = torch (British)
  • flat (American) = apartment(British)
  • flat (vb.) [Music] (American) = flatten (vb.) [Music] (British)
  • floorwalker (American) = shopwalker (British)
  • flophouse (American) = dosshouse (British)
  • flutterboard (American) = float (British)
  • follow-the-leader (American) = follow-my-leader (British)
  • four-cycle (American) = four-stroke (British)
  • French doors (American) = French windows (British)
  • French fries (American) = chips (British)
  • French fries (American) = French fried potatoes (British)
  • friction tape (American) = insulating tape (British)
  • funeral home (American) = funeral parlour (British)

G

  • gad (American West) = spur (British)
  • garbage can (American) = dustbin (British)
  • garbage truck (American) = dustcart (British)
  • garter (American) = suspender (British)
  • garter belt (American) = suspender belt (British)
  • gas (American) = petrol (British)
  • gas station (American) = filling station (British)
  • gasoline (American) = petrol (British)
  • German shepherd (American) = Alsatian (British)
  • gimpy (American) = gammy (British)
  • Girl Scout (American) = Guide (British)
  • glaze (American) = glaze ice (British)
  • go-cart (American) = Baby-walker [TM] (British)
  • goatfish (American) = red mullet (British)
  • grade crossing (American) = level crossing (British)
  • green thumb (American) = green fingers (British)
  • ground (n.) [Electrical] (American) = earth (n.) [Electrical] (British)
  • ground (vb.) [Aircraft/Pilot/etc.] (American) = earth (vb.) [Aircraft/pilot/etc.] (British)

H

  • half-note (American) = minim (British)
  • hardware dealer (American) = ironmonger (British)
  • have a cow (American) = kitten (British)
  • herder (American) = herdsman (British)
  • highboy (American) = tallboy (British)
  • hike out (vb.) [Sailing] (American) = sit out (vb.) [Sailing] (British)
  • hip-huggers (American) = hipsters (British)
  • hog cholera (American) = swine fever (British)
  • Holstein (American) = Friesian (British)
  • hop up (American slang) = hot up (British)
  • hope chest (American) = bottom drawer (British)
  • horn (American) = blow one's own trumpet (British)
  • horseweed (American) = fleabane (British)
  • hot seat (American slang) = electric chair (British)

I

  • in the cards (American) = on the cards (British)
  • Inc. (American) = Ltd. (British)
  • industrial park (American) = industrial estate (British)
  • installment buying (American) = hire-purchase (British)
  • instant replay (American) = action replay (British)
  • intern (American) = houseman (British)
  • Internal Revenue (American) = Inland Revenue (British)

J

  • jacket (American) = sleeve (British)
  • jello (American) = jelly (British)
  • Jello [TM] brand gelatin = jelly (British)
  • jimson weed (American) = thorn apple (British)
  • juicer (American) = juice extractor (British)
  • jumper (American) = pinafore dress (British)
  • jumper cables (American) = jump leads (British)
  • junkman (American) = rag-and-bone man (British)

L

  • ladybug (American) = ladybird (British)
  • lazy Susan (American) = dumbwaiter (British)
  • leading article (American) = leader (British)
  • leading article [Journalism] (American) = leader [Journalism] (British)
  • legal holiday (American) = bank holiday (British)
  • license plate (American) = numberplate (British)
  • lidocaine (American) = lignocaine (British)
  • line (American) = queue (British)
  • lineman (American) = linesman (British)
  • local government (American) = local authority (British)
  • longshoreman (American) = docker (British)
  • loon (American) = diver (British)
  • lumber (American) = timber (British)
  • lumberjack (American) = lumberjacket (British)
  • lumberyard (American) = timberyard (British)

M

  • mail (American) = post (British)
  • mariner (American) = sea ranger (British)
  • meal ticket (American) = luncheon voucher (British)
  • median strip (American) = central reserve (British)
  • mopboard (American) = skirting board (British)
  • motion picture (American) = film (British)
  • mourning cloak (American) = Camberwell beauty (British)
  • movie camera (American) = cine camera (British)
  • movie film (American) = cine film (British)
  • muffler (American) = silencer (British)
  • mullet (American) = grey mullet (British)
  • muntin (American) = glazing-bar (British)

N

  • napoleon (American) = millefeuille (British)
  • necktie (American) = tie (British)
  • newsstand (American) = bookstall (British)
  • nonillion (American) = quintillion (British)
  • norepinephrine (American) = noradrenaline (British)

O

  • oarlock (American) = rowlock (British)
  • oddball (American) = odd fish (British)
  • odometer (American) = mileometer (British)
  • one-way ticket (American) = single ticket (British)
  • opaque projector (American) = episcope (British)
  • open house (American) = open day (British)
  • ordinary (American) = penny-farthing (British)
  • outlet (American) = socket (British)

P

  • pacifier (American) = dummy (British)
  • package [Container] (American) = packet [Container] (British)
  • package store (American) = off-licence (British)
  • panel truck (American) = delivery van (British)
  • pantsuit (American) = trouser suit (British)
  • parking lot (American) = car park (British)
  • parlay (American) = double up (British)
  • part (American) = parting (British)
  • part [Hair] (American) = parting [Hair] (British)
  • patrol wagon (American) = Black Maria (British)
  • peppergrass (American) = pepperwort (British)
  • period (American) = full stop (British)
  • persnickety (American) = pernickety (British)
  • phonograph (American) = gramophone (British)
  • photocompose (American) = filmset (British)
  • photocomposition (American) = filmsetting (British)
  • pinwheel (American) = windmill (British)
  • pitcher (American) = jug (British)
  • plurality (American) = relative majority (British)
  • poison hemlock (American) = hemlock (British)
  • potato chip (American) = crisp (British)
  • preferred stock (American) = preference shares (British)
  • proctor (American) = invigilate (British)
  • pry (American) = prise (British)
  • PT boat (American) = MTB (British)
  • push-up (American) = press-up (British)
  • put over (American) = put off (British)

Q

  • quarter note (American) = crotchet (British)
  • quinacrine (American) = mepacrine (British)
  • quint (American) = quin (British)
  • quintillion (American) = trillion (British)
  • Quonset hut (American) = Nissen hut (British)

R

  • racetrack (American) = racecourse (British)
  • rack (American) = frame (British)
  • railroad (American) = railway (British)
  • rained out (American) = rain (British)
  • raise (American) = rise (British)
  • ranger (American) = warden (British)
  • razor clam (American) = razor-shell (British)
  • realtor (American) = estate agent (British)
  • recess (American) = break (British)
  • red beet (American) = beetroot (British)
  • right triangle (American) = right-angled triangle (British)
  • rod (American) = staff (British)
  • romaine (American) = cos (British)
  • round-trip ticket (American) = return ticket (British)
  • row house (American) = terraced house (British)
  • rowboat (American) = rowing boat (British)
  • rumble seat (American) = dicky (British)
  • rummage sale (American) = jumble sale (British)
  • rutabaga (American) = swede (British)

S

  • second floor (American) = first floor (British)
  • secretary of state (American) = foreign minister (British)
  • sedan (American) = saloon (British)
  • septillion (American) = quadrillion (British)
  • sharp (vb.) [Music] (American) = sharpen (vb.) [Music] (British)
  • shinleaf (American) = wintergreen (British)
  • shopworn (American) = shopsoiled (British)
  • shorts (American) = pants (British)
  • sideburns (American) = sideboards (British)
  • sidewalk (American) = pavement (British)
  • sixteenth note (American) = semiquaver (British)
  • sixty-fourth note (American) = hemidemisemiquaver (British)
  • slam-bang (American) = slap-bang (British)
  • slingshot (American) = catapult (British)
  • slipcover (American) = loose cover (British)
  • slowdown (American) = go-slow (British)
  • slowpoke (American) = slowcoach (British)
  • smithsonite (American) = calamine (British)
  • soda (American) = mineral (British)
  • solitaire (American) = patience (British)
  • sorbet (American) = sherbet (British)
  • sound truck (American) = loudspeaker van (British)
  • spaghetti (American) = sleeving (British)
  • spit curl (American) = kiss curl (British)
  • splotch (American) = splodge (British)
  • spokeshave (American) = drawknife (British)
  • spool (American) = reel (British)
  • state's evidence (American) = queen's evidence (British)
  • state department (American) = foreign office (British)
  • stenographer (American) = shorthand typist (British)
  • stock car (American) = cattle truck (British)
  • stock certificate (American) = share certificate (British)
  • stock company (American) = repertory company (British)
  • stone-broke (American) = stony-broke (British)
  • straight razor (American) = cutthroat (British)
  • straightaway (American) = straight (British)
  • stroller (American) = pushchair (British)
  • stub (American) = counterfoil (British)
  • subway (American) = tube (British)
  • subway (American) = underground (British)
  • sunburst pleats (American) = sunray pleats (British)
  • superhighway (American) = motorway (British)
  • suspenders (American) = braces (British)
  • swan dive (American) = swallow dive (British)
  • switch (American) = point (British)
  • switchblade (American) = flick knife (British)
  • switchman (American) = pointsman (British)

T

  • T-shirt, undershirt (American) = vest (British)
  • takeout (American) = takeaway (British)
  • tap (American) = tapping (British)
  • tea cart (American) = tea trolley (British)
  • teletypewriter (American) = teleprinter (British)
  • teller (American) = bank clerk (British)
  • tempest in a teapot (American) = storm (British)
  • the Big Dipper (American) = Plough (British)
  • third floor (American) = second floor (British)
  • thirty-second note (American) = demisemiquaver (British)
  • tick-tack-toe (American) = noughts and crosses (British)
  • ticker (American) = tape machine (British)
  • tie (American) = sleeper (British)
  • Tiffany setting (American) = claw setting (British)
  • trackman (American) = platelayer (British)
  • traffic circle (American) = roundabout (British)
  • trailer (American) = caravan (British)
  • trailer truck (American) = articulated lorry (British)
  • trapezoid (American) = trapezium (British)
  • trillion (American) = billion (British)
  • truck (American) = lorry (British)
  • trucking (American) = market gardening (British)
  • trunk (American) = boot (British)
  • tuxedo (American) = dinner jacket (British)
  • two-cycle (American) = two-stroke (British)

U

  • undercoat (American) = underseal (British)
  • undershirt (American) = vest (British)
  • union suit (American) = combinations (British)
  • unlisted (American) = ex-directory (British)
  • upset price (American) = reserve price (British)

V

  • vacation (American) = holiday (British)
  • vacuum tube (American) = valve (British)
  • valve-in-head engine (American) = overhead-valve engine (British)
  • vaudeville (American) = music hall (British)
  • vertical stabilizer (American) = fin (British)
  • vest (American) = waistcoat (British)
  • Veterans Day (American) = Armistice Day (British)
  • veterinarian (American) = veterinary surgeon (British)
  • virgin wool (American) = new wool (British)

W

  • walking stick (American) = stick insect (British)
  • washboard (American) = skirting board (British)
  • washcloth (American) = flannel (British)
  • wastebasket (American) = wastepaper basket (British)
  • watchband (American) = watchstrap (British)
  • water back (American) = back boiler (British)
  • waterfinder (American) = water diviner (British)
  • waybill (American) = bill of lading (British)
  • wear the pants (American) = trousers (British)
  • whole-wheat (American) = wholemeal (British)
  • whole note (American) = semibreve (British)
  • wildcat (American) = light engine (British)
  • windshield (American) = windscreen (British)
  • windshield wiper (American) = windscreen wiper (British)
  • workday (American) = working day (British)
  • wrist pin (American) = gudgeon pin (British)

Y

  • yard (American) = garden (British)

Z

  • zee (American) = zed (British)
  • zip code (American) = postcode (British)
  • zipper (American) = zip (British)
  • zucchini (American) = courgette (British)