Lost in Translation




Communication between natives of these two countries should be simple, we speak the same language after all.

Well, not quite it would seem.

Not that I want to get into a pissing contest about it, but us Brits spoke the language first. Americans just bastardised it for their own use.

usbritI am joking of course. My dearest and closest friend is American and I would never knowingly say anything to upset or hurt her. Confusing her with my use of the English language is another matter entirely….

Kate and I Skype every fortnight and it has become something that I very much look forward to, especially as I know that I can bemuse her with some of the colloquialisms that come out of my mouth. It’s not just the mockney-cockney rhyming slang that leaves her questioning my sanity, it’s also the way I pronounce things.

I can be sitting there quite happily, recounting a jaunty memory from my youth when Kate interrupts my trip down memory lane mid-flow to ask, ‘What did you just say?’

Here are just a few of the words that Kate claims that I pronounce incorrectly:

  • Pasta – apparently it should be ‘paah-sta’
  • Zebra – this should be pronounced ‘zeeeebra’ whereas Brits would pronounce this ‘zeb-ra’ as in ‘Debra’
  • Bastard – pronounced ‘bas-tard’ not ‘baaaahstaaaard’
  • Nasty – apparently you’re not supposed to say ‘naaaaahsty’
  • Urinal – pronounced ‘urin-al’ and not ‘u-ri-naal’
  • Tuesday – ‘toos-day’ and not ‘tews-day’
  • Double Entendre – ‘dubble entendre’ and not ‘dooooblaay entendre’
  • Aluminium – this is my absolute favourite. This word should be pronounced ‘alloooominum’ and not ‘all-oo-mi-nee-um’

No, Kate. Just…..no….

confusion-sign1-300x300So it would appear that my pronunciation of my OWN language needs working on if I am to fit in when I visit the States next year. Not only that, apparently I need to be mindful of which words I use in general conversation.

Number one rule: When in America and someone compliments you on the size of your fanny, DO NOT assume that the person who complimented you is a complete pervert and a total douchebag. Apparently they mean your bottom….

So here is a list of things that I need to be mindful of in every day conversation:

  • It’s not a rubbish bin, it’s a trash can
  • It’s not a path, it’s a sidewalk
  • The boot of my car is a trunk
  • The bonnet of my car is a hood
  • My pants are not my pants, they are in fact my trousers
  • It’s not a handbag, it’s a purse
  • A sweet is a desert, not a chocolate bar – apparently that is a candy bar
  • If I ask for chips I can expect a bag of crisps
  • It’s not a toilet, it’s a bathroom – even if there is no bath…
  • If I see a pair of beautiful chickadees, I MUST NOT remark that I have just seen ‘a lovely pair of tits’
  • If I compliment a man on his lovely jumper I will have insulted him by saying that he’s wearing a dress.
  • Gas is something you put in your car and not your cooker/central heating
  • A garden is a yard, which is also a unit of measurement
  • An ass is a bottom and not another name for a donkey
  • American football is played mainly with ones hands, yet called FOOTball…..
  • Traditional football is soccer
  • Cricket is an insect and not a game between two teams of eleven men, some bits of wood and a very hard ball
  • If I ask for tea I will get a cup of it and not a mid-afternoon meal
  • Women’s shoes can be called heels, pumps or flats. Heels are at the rear end of your feet, pumps spray water etc. and flats are something that a British person can live in
  • One does not write ‘to’ someone. Apparently, you can forgo the ‘to’ and just write someone
  • A bill is a check. Heaven knows what a check is called (and we spell it ‘cheque’)
  • There is no ‘u’ after ‘o’. EVER (i.e. humour/humor; favourite/favorite; honour/honor etc.)
  • Americans NEVER take part in any sports in which there can be no winner
  • A beef burger is called a hamburger, even though it is made with beef and not pork
  • I can call anyone a ‘wanker’ because apparently it has no meaning in the States.

As if the thought of my cross-cultural blunderings isn’t enough to make you cower with fear, be aware that I will be packing my bags and visiting the wonderful Kate Loveton next August. Perhaps I should print my handy guide and keep it on my pocket for the duration of the trip so that I am less likely to be beaten/arrested/deported from the wonderful shores of the United States of America.

So if you see a blundering, pasty white British buffoon walking along with a harangued American, come and say hi to Kate and I and I’ll do my best not to offend you.

Be afraid, America. Be very afraid.

Heather B Costa is coming to get you….

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68 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. And the windshield is the wind screen!

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  3. maspring37 says:

    My sister moved to America years ago, and at first ,when she wrote home , she wrote things like “I went for a walk on the sidewalk (pavement) or garbage (rubbish). One of the earlier Daily Prompts on WordPress was to write a letter to the New York Times and my blog was about the differences between our ‘English’ words. One I moan about is Maths and their Math. As the subject is Mathematics covering several forms it should be plural. Really enjoyed your blog.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Oh, I just had a huge chuckle over your comment. Several weeks ago, I actually brought the ‘maths’ matter up in a Skype session with Heather! To Americans, it is always rather jarring to hear an English person say they are studying maths (plural). In the US, we consider the singular word ‘math’ to cover all forms of mathematics. Even so, I think the English have the right idea. I’m not certain why we pluralize mathematics and yet use the singular version of math. Strange, isn’t it? 🙂

      • It’s an Americanism of epic proportions isn’t it? 🙂

        I think that, if we were sit down and try to apply logic to the differences between British English and American English, we would likely drive ourselves mad…. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for commenting, I am delighted to hear that you enjoyed my post as it was a lot of fun to write and written with a lot of affection for Kate and all American folks who read our blogs.

      I still don’t get the math/maths thing either! 🙂

  4. Kate Loveton says:

    I want to thank my dear pal, Heather B. Costa, for stepping into the breech the week I was away and writing such a jolly good post! Well done, Heather! I must admit, I had a few tears of laughter as I read this post. It was entertaining and very much spot on. Thank you! ❤

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  6. stacilys says:

    Haha Heather. Let’s see how well you do in the US 🙂
    Us Canadians are kind of in between you Brits and the Americans with language. We spell the same way (colour, not color), but pants are not our knickers, but our ‘trousers’. 🙂
    I think you and Kate will have a blast together.

  7. gpeynon says:

    This is an awesome post! … erm… I mean, this is jolly good post. Us Brits know when to use our hyperbole too, don’t we? 😉

  8. Other Australian/English confusion includes thongs (footwear vs underwear) and Durex (sticky tape vs condoms) – does this confusion extend to the States? By the way, an Australian friend living in America also tells me the term “fortnight” does not work in the States.

    • Oh wow, thongs and Durex have very different meanings in England! 😆

      I’m not sure about the ‘fortnight’ thing though, I’ll have to ask Kate when we Skype this weekend! 🙂

      • My first time in London was 1978. The employment agency sent me to be a receptionist at a family planning clinic. I was fresh off the plane. You can imagine my confusion when one of the clients said, “I don’t want this Durex, my husband won’t use it”. teehee

      • Kate Loveton says:

        We do not use the term ‘fortnight’ in the US… unless we’re reading ‘Jane Eyre’ or ‘Wuthering Heights’ – it would seem old fashioned. 😀 Actually, I wonder if the average American on the street would know what the term means. We would say ‘two weeks.’

        Heather hasn’t even covered the differences in punctuation! Oh my! 😀 I have to say, that I think the punctuation as used by the English more sensible.

  9. That was such a cute post! With a British hubby, it hit very close to home! I loved it! Thank you for that!

  10. M. C. Dulac says:

    And then there is Australian English….! That’s a great list to keep in mind. Is elevator the American English for elevator? In Australia it’s a lift!

  11. Reblogged this on Trials of a wanna-be-published writer and commented:

    Kate Loveton rather foolishly left me in charge of her blog this week and this is the end result of what happens when you let a highly-caffeinated, smut-inclined Brit loose on your unsuspecting blog readership….

  12. Cathy says:

    Great post, Heather 😀

  13. This is great! In the story I’m main character is from England. (specifically 1940s) And since I’m American, this will be good stuff to keep in mind!

  14. markbialczak says:

    You mean if you invited me for tea, Heather B., I would get a whole freaking meal?!

    Your way beats our way on that one, for sure!

    Would I be able to wander way down near Kate’s come next August, I wonder? 🙂

  15. This is funny and entertaining, and you both must be sooooo excited. What a wonderful opportunity to share our differences and celebrate. ❤

  16. sknicholls says:

    Lovely post…bringing us together. 🙂 You can catch a trolley in San Francisco, but you will only find shopping carts in our stores. Squash is a vegetable, not a drink. Gee, don’t get me started.

  17. You know the Word Mafia loves this, esp as a former linguistics major. Very fun. I linked to you in the post on shame/guilt . =)

  18. Rococopay says:

    Its amazing how one language can have so many different forms or dialects. That’s the power of language and culture

    • I totally agree! 🙂

      Even in Britain, we all speak English, yet there are so many different forms of the same language with words only used in certain areas of the county that the rest of us don’t really understand. I’m having a hard time keeping up with it all! 🙂

  19. My son is marred to an Italian New Yorker, living in Florida, who frequently fails to understand very much of what I say.
    Some years ago, we were ‘riding the elevator’ to the top of the Empire State Building, talking with a man who sounded like a stand-in for one of the Sopranos. In the conversation, he said, “Youse guys from England or summat?” (I think). When I replied in the affirmative, he said, “Thought so, cos youse sure talk funny.”

    • LOL, I know, Keith, especially when we spoke the language first! 🙂

      There are so many differences between English and American English that it is often very hard to keep up with it all without actually inadvertently offending anyone! 🙂

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