Divided by a common language

As George Bernard Shaw famously noted, “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.” Most of the time we know exactly what our friends across the sea (or ocean) mean, and our vocabulary, grammar and phraseology are sensibly in synch with each other. But every now and then, our innocent comments or statements can cause confusion or amusement — or at worst, offense — to those on the other side of the Atlantic, often because of a simple, tiny word. A Brit complaining that his roommate can be “a complete twat” will undoubtedly raise a Yankee’s eyebrows. (Br. Eng.: fool, idiot; Am. Eng.: vulgar slang for vulva). The British Prime Minister and I have both regretted joking publicly about the word being the past tense of “tweet”, little realizing how smutty we sounded at the time.

Here are some expressions and basic vocabulary that can seem a little weird, stilted, silly, or downright rude and smutty to the ears of our friends across the pond.


I live in that street.      I live on that street.

I quite like it.    I quite like it.

I’m having faggots for tea   I’m eating meatballs for dinner.

Tea or coffee? I don’t mind.    I don’t care.


She has a new lease of life.   She has a new lease on life.

I’m getting the lie of the land.      I’m getting the lay of the land.


We’re visiting her in hospital in a fortnight.  We’re visiting with her in the hospital in two weeks.


No fear!     No way!

I’m meeting my husband tomorrow.  I’m meeting with my husband tomorrow.

I borrowed my teacher’s rubber.     I borrowed my teacher’s eraser.

I’m taking my bum-bag when I go on holiday.   I’m taking my fanny-pack when I go on vacation.

He has his dog on a lead He has his dog on a leash.

He went to public school.      He went to public school.


I take it in my stride.   I take it in stride.

The dog is definitely on heat.     The dog is definitely in heat.


I’d like to talk to him.    I’d like to talk with him.




1 thought on “Divided by a common language

  1. Pingback: 20 words that haven’t crossed the pond « Words, Phrases & Expressions « Glossophilia

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