American English versus British English Vocabulary

What’s in a Name?

American English versus British English: what are the vocabulary differences? I had a hard time not spilling my cup of tea as I watched this hilarious clip about vocabulary differences! In the video (check it out below!), Gabby and Anna talk about how American English and British English have different names for the same things. The funny video starts with a funny example about an old-but-new fashion accesory: is it called a fanny pack or a bum bag? Do those words have another meaning in the other dialect?

One of my favorite movies, “Sense and Sensibility” starring Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson, is based on Jane Austen’s popular book. If you’ve read or watched the story, you’ll know that one of the secondary characters’ name is Fanny Dashwood. Fanny can be a nickname for someone named Frances, and it could also mean a person’s backside in the U.S. (like bum), but I think that British writer Jane Austen might have been having a little fun with her readers!

American English versus British English

If you’re visiting the United Kingdom, or other European countries, you will see the letters W.C. often (especially in larger cities). A teacher told me once that it became a standard way of identifying restrooms, so that tourists and visitors who might not speak the local language could travel anywhere in Europe and never have to worry about locating a restroom, or learning the correct local vocabulary.

I once paid 3€ to use the bathroom in Italy, and I was shocked by this practice. In America, a public restroom (“Restroom” is the word you will most likely see used across the U.S., or often just a picture symbol of a woman or man) is open to the public – meaning, it’s free! Other places, like retail stores and restaurants, might only allow customers who pay at their establishments to use their restrooms. Since we don’t use the generic “W.C.” in the United States (and toilet is indeed a bit of a crude word to use), it would be a good idea to remember to look for a restroom, or ask where the bathroom is. These are the different words you can use in America.

Don’t Get Lost in Translation

The elevator and floor-naming rule is funny to me, because the elevator in my building here in Massachusetts does in fact have a “G,” except it stands for garage! Most ground-level floors in buildings that have elevators will be called the lobby, and you will usually see an “L” button to access it. Similarly, many buildings will also place a symbol of a star in front of the letter or number of the floor that exits to the ground level or street. Thankfully, we don’t have different names for relative directions! I could imagine a lot of lost tourists!

The Vocabulary Voyage

So much of the English vocabulary and pronunciation traveled from the United Kingdom and got jumbled on its way to the United States, whether that was because of all the other languages that became a part of the American English dialect, or because the original vocabulary simply got lost in “translation” along the way. Many of these funny differences would be good ice breakers (meaning good topics to start a conversation with) if you already speak (or are more familiar with) British English, and you are looking to visit the United States (or brush up on your American accent)!

Check out more of the different vocabulary words between American English and British English here:

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