How to Talk British Part 1


People sometimes say that America and England are 2 countries separated by a common language, and I would have to agree. Moving over here I soon discovered that what I said was often misunderstood, and it had less to do with my broad Yankee accent and more to do with word choice.  It didn’t matter I had lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line since I was 9 and that my actual accent was where Missouri married Texas.  From the British perspective, Americans – northern or southern – are Yanks.

In any case, on this side of the pond there are a few verbal clangers you suss out straight away and avoid like the plague. I’ll never forget the story of another American wife over here who, having arrived from Houston just in time to attend a ritzy business dinner with her husband, made the following announcement to a table of 20 British businessmen: “Ah just arrahved this mornin’… and Mannn! Mah FANNY is just soooooo tired!”

*the waiter drops a tray… cue crickets, one or 2 very uncomfortable coughs, and her husband smacking his palm to his forehead*

Fanny in America is a rather polite expression for one’s derriere.

In England, it is a rather un-polite expression for – ahem – lady parts. Quite literally. Lit-er-al-ly.

That hideous contraption the American tourist clips around their waist to hold passport, camera and train passes while visiting London becomes a BUM BAG once you enter international waters. Never forget this, my American friends. You may be forgiven for your white tennis shoes (called trainers over here) and for wearing any color other than regulation gray, black or brown while riding the Underground, but you will never be forgiven for crying out, “Honey, your camera is stuck in my fannypack!” across a crowded restaurant.

Moving right along…

A few more clangers: The term “bloody.” In America, this is one of those clever Monty Python sounding words that gets dropped into conversation when one wants to sound like a Londoner. Even Muppet Treasure Island featured the word – how bad can it be, really? (Actually I watched this in a theatre over here in England with a load of mums and their children… you should have heard the collective gasp when they started dropping the B-bomb! Oh my)


Muppet Treasure Island was made by Americans for Americans, and Tim Curry, Billy Connelly and Jennifer Saunders (all Brits) SHOULD have known better and advised the writers that “bloody” is a rude term, not quite on par with the F-bomb, but not many degrees below it. Sure, it got used in Monty Python. But then, so did the Lumberjack Song… so let’s stop taking our cues on acceptable Brit-speak from Monty Python shall we?

Here are a few more for your perusal:
American suspenders are the same as British braces.
British suspenders are what an American calls a garter belt.
American braces are called retainers in Britain, whether or not they are removable.

American pants are what the British call trousers.
British pants are underwear! Always. No exceptions, though British pants may also be called “knickers” if referring to ladies’ undies. (Hence, “knickers in a knot” and “panties in a wad” are synonymous terms.)

Try to remember all of this next time you standing in Picadilly Circus and are tempted to shout, “Goodness, Ralph, you have GOT to start wearing suspenders with those pants!”

Yes, my friends – now you begin to see the value of lessons like these!

An American jumper is what a Brit would call a pinafore.
A British jumper is what the American calls a sweater.
A hoodie is universal for what you wear to hold up the corner shop.

An American facecloth is a British flannel.
American flannel is a type of cloth invented for lumberjacks and cowboys.
American cowboys are awesome! (can I just say that?)
British cowboys are dodgy builders, plumbers, electricians, etc. (Way less romantic, and they would look so stupid on horseback.)

An American overpass is a British flyover.
An American flyover is what happens at football games – we never stopped being in love with Top Gun, so hey – what can we say? But a football game is a great excuse to shake the dust off your local fighter jets. That is tax money WELL SPENT!

Speaking of which: American sales tax is British VAT (value added tax). Huge difference here. Most American sales taxes run around 8% or so, and are added to your bill at purchase. British VAT is 20% flat rate, and it is included in the price of pretty much everything. So when you are paying £12 ($20) for that burger in London, just know that £2.40 ($4) is going to the British government. Yay.

So there you have it. A rudimentary list of words to avoid and potentials for confusion. Don’t let any of this put you off visiting England… it is so worth the journey! Just remember: When trying to “talk British,” think Downton Abbey… not Monty Python!

Strap on your bum bags, tighten your braces and have a wonderful day, all…

Mother Hen

feature photo: shutterstock

© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved

54 replies »

  1. Very good, and humorous education, here.

    However, here in the States, old time country folk–as I recall from my grandmother many years ago–always referred to trousers and “trousers,” never “pants.” Language certainly evolves. All languages do except for those old, dead ones that only scientists use. Still, shards of the bones of old language is always embedded in modern lingo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True that! 🙂 And these days, with texting and acronyms everywhere, it is evolving all over again. Not sure it is evolving for the better, though. Glad you enjoyed this post! there are 5 more out there if you search, and another to come next week. xx MH

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this. For the longest time, I just said jeans when emailing British acquaintances. I couldn’t get used to the idea of Dockers being called trousers. They probably thought I lived on a pig farm somewhere. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I laughed at the error in a Muppets movie of thinking “bloody” was acceptable to children. This was sad how our languages don’t match up. I liked the refresher coursed to improve my British English, Doreen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Robin! So pleased you enjoyed this – and I agree! There are so very many times when it all went horribly wrong for me… in the early days, anyway. I like to think I’ve about nailed BritSpeak these days! 😀 xx MH


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