divided by a common language

I started teaching English while living in Poznań in 1999. I only knew two other native speakers there at the time, Peter and Peter, who were both from the East Coast of the US. And sometimes, we simply didn’t understand each other. It mystified my students and our friends: “Don’t you speak the same language?” No we didn’t. Meeting a lush jock for a brew and chips and a natter about the IRA through lunch meant something very different to me and to them.
For Presidents’ Day, here’s an alphabet of false friends that muddy the waters of that pond between us. It’s far from exhaustive – you can find lots more here – but please remember, I don’t speak American fluently…

Term  British English American English
A&E accident and emergency arts & entertainment (TV channel)
Brew tea coffee or beer
Chips fried potatoes (hot e.g. with fish) fried potatoes (cold in a packet)
Duff poor quality vegetable matter on the forest floor
Entrée starter main meal
Fancy dress character costume e.g. a witch for Halloween formal wear
Graft hard work bribery
Homely cosy plain, ugly
IRA Irish Republican Army Individual Retirement Account
Jock Scottish person (slang) athlete (slang)
Keeper person who protects something e.g. goal-keeper someone worth keeping e.g. a good partner
Lush attractive alcoholic
Middle class richer than working class but not very wealthy ordinary, not rich but not extremely poor
Natter pleasant chatter annoying chatter
Outside lane the lane furthest from the centre of the road the lane nearest the centre of the road
Pavement paved side of the road where people walk road surface where cars drive
Quart 1.1 litres – ¼ UK gallon 0.9 liters – ¼ US gallon
Run-up period preceding an event sudden increase in price
Scrappy unfinished, poor quality argumentative, determined
Through (time) during (through lunch = open at lunch time) up until (through lunch= closed at lunch time)
Undercoat first coat of paint before the top coat rustproofing paint under a car
Vet veterinary surgeon = animal doctor veteran = soldier who served in a war
Wash up wash the dishes (e.g. after a meal) wash yourself (e.g. before a meal)
Xerox — meaning not clear, name of a company which makes photocopiers to photocopy, a photocopy
Yard no grass – functional space also garden or campus
Zebra crossing for pedestrians – black-and-white striped referee – wearing black-and-white striped uniform
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Posted in international, language, President's Day, translation
One comment on “divided by a common language
  1. […] only problem is that you have to have Facebook set in U.S. English for it to work. They’re working on the translations – which sounds like a lot of fun. So if, […]

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