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American English in Britain

Just when I thought I had figured out British accents, I encountered yet another linguistic challenge in the UK: the abundant lexicological differences between the American English that I grew up with, and the vocabulary that Brits actually use in their day-to-day lives.

Most commonplace words are fairly easy to figure out: lift, loo, biscuit, rubbish, parcel, jam… no problem there. But some might be a a bit trickier. So, without further ado, here are some book illustrations depicting memorable awkward situations 1 . Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

For instance, Brits refer to pants as “trousers”. If you find yourself in a clothing store and indicate that you don’t wear pants, they’ll think that you are THAT weirdo who goes through life without ever using underwear.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

There was also the time when a colleague invited me to a party after work, and immediately thereafter asked if I had a rubber. Of course he meant eraser, not the birth control item. I’m glad someone clarified this to me and no one had to be reported to human resources…

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc comics, language comics, British English, American English, language learning, Britain

If someone offers you a meal from their boot, don’t be grossed out. They mean their car trunk 2.

Truth be told, learning these lexical differences turned out to be an amusing experience. What I didn’t find that amusing was the self-righteous attitude of linguistic supremacy that some Brits hold towards British English.

My colleagues, polite as they might have been, always felt the need to point out my spelling “mistakes”. An acquaintance gave me a list of British shows in the hope that I would “get rid of that horrifying American accent”. Some even told me that, whenever they heard someone speaking American English, they automatically deem them to be uneducated folks 3.

But here’s the thing: thinking that your version of the language is the quintessence, the most lustrous and the only one acceptable is like saying that X is the best food or Y is the best book ever written. There are tons of delicious meals, thousands of inspiring books and multiple versions of any given language, each as fascinating and enriching as the next. Diversity is key.

I wonder if it’s an island thing.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, British Isles, United Kingdom, Britain, Drawing map, I love maps, living abroad comics,

Do you have a preferred version of English? Do certain accents have positive or negative connotations for you? Leave a comment!


If you liked this article, click here to decipher the cultural enigma of British politeness.


    • tXc

      Hey Janet, thanks for stopping by.

      I thought of the same comparison when I was writing the article, but in my experience Spaniards have a much more receptive and appreciative attitude towards the Spanish spoken in Latin American countries (as opposed to Brits towards AE), at least I’ve never heard Spaniards claiming that their version of the language is “better”.

      I’m a native speaker of Peninsular Spanish who happens to love the Argentinian accent and the vocabulary and idioms used in Chile. :D

  1. Frank Harr

    I think it’s complicated. It’s got the empire not being very long dead. It’s got the, let’s be honest about it, the national smugness of the U.S about it. It’s got some of the internal linguistic squabbles about it. It’s just complicated and not everyone is like that, and no everyone who is is British (a Russian once told be about her English teacher who had such opinions).

  2. Marianne

    First of all, I really had to laugh when I saw the joke about the pants. My sons went to an international school for a while and a British girl came home and told her mum that her American teacher wore no underwear. Of course, she’d said she never wears pants. LOL Mind you, as a teacher in an international school, she should have seen it coming.

    Having said that, I have also come across Americans who wouldn’t read a “British” book but insisted on the American edition because they didn’t want to get confused etc. And I’ve been “corrected” by Americans with my British spelling, even though our official language was supposed to be British English.

    I guess, you get weird people everywhere.

      • tXc

        Hello, Marianne!

        I’m glad to know I’m not the only falling into cross-linguistic traps! :D

        I have set up a feature today so that people can subscribe to posts, yey! The box is clicked by default when you write a comment and you’ll receive a notification via email every time a new comment is added to the discussion (you can also unsubscribe later on or manage your subscriptions).

        Let me know how this new subscription feature works, if it’s easy to operate, etc.

        You won’t receive a notification of this comment, since the plugin was installed today, but it will work with any new comments you post. I hope you read this comment though. ^^”

        Best regards :)

  3. Leo

    Es increible las diferentes palabras que usamos para describir una sola idea o una cosa o una accion, en español nos gusta decirlo de forma clara pero muchas veces resulta dificil para los que no estan acostumbrados al termino , por ejemplo niño=chico=morro=peque=chino …

    • tXc

      ¡Hola, Leo!

      Ciertamente, hay muchísima variedad. ¿De dónde eres? En español peninsular decimos niño, chico, muchacho, joven. Morro y chino nunca las escuché. :)

  4. Frank Harr

    I think it’s a Western European thing. Get some Parisian to talk about Quebec French some day.

    And I AM uneducated. I only have a Bachelar’s.

    My favorite English is Western New York. It’s what I grew up with. It’s what SHE speaks. :D

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