10 Things Brits Say…and What Americans Think We Mean

This is a pretty bird but “fit bird” has an entirely different meaning. (Photo/AP)

We may have invented the English language but that doesn’t mean our version is always understood by those who share our mother tongue.

1. What we say: “Sorry”
What Americans hear: “I sincerely apologize.”

Saying sorry is like a national tic, which means we Brits rarely use the word to convey a heartfelt apology. This is baffling to Americans who will, on occasion, reply with something like, “Why, exactly, are you sorry?” “I’m not,” you’ll say, confused. “Sorry.”

2. What we say: “How do you do?”
What Americans hear: “Please provide a rundown of your most recent medical.”

Despite how it sounds, this is a formal greeting and not an invitation for commentary on a person’s quality of life. But Americans sometimes take it literally and have no problem replying truthfully, with a list of ailments.

3. What we say: “Cheers”
What Americans hear: “To your good health”

In the U.S., this is what people say when they clink glasses in the pub. We do this too but Brits have other uses for this word, all of which will flummox your American friends. Like when we say “cheers” instead of “thank you.” Signing off a phone call or an email this way will leave U.S. folk wondering why you’re toasting them.

4. What we say: “You know what I mean?”
What Americans hear: “Did you comprehend what I just said?”

This British conversation filler isn’t even weighty enough to count as a rhetorical question. Nonetheless, Americans will take it at face value and seek to reassure you that they did indeed understand your last statement.

5. What we say: “I’ve got the right hump.”
What Americans hear: “I have a hunchback.” 

Sometime Brits see fit to borrow camels’ dominant physical attribute to help explain that they’re annoyed or frustrated. We’re not, in fact, opening up about a crippling disfigurement.    

6. What we say: “It’s a bit dear.”
What Americans hear: “It’s slightly adorable.”

When we Brits want to politely say something is too expensive, we might roll out this quaint old expression. Not a good idea if you’re trying to haggle with an American: they’ll take it as a compliment.   

7. What we say: “I got off with this fit bird.”
What Americans hear: “I disembarked with an athletic pigeon.”

Don’t expect Americans to even attempt a translation here. But if they do manage to guess that “got off with” means “made out with”, be sure to clarify that what you mean by “bird.”

8. What we say: “I went to public school.”
What Americans hear: “I went to a school my parents didn’t pay for.”

Americans with a snobbish bent will lap up tales of posh British schooling. However, your use of the word “public” may well throw them off. Begin by explaining that, in the U.K., public school is the same as private school. Or, decide not to have this conversation in the first place because it’ll make you sound like a twit.

9. What we say: “I’m easy.”
What Americans hear: “I always have sex on the first date.”

Even the ultra laidback Brits who use this expression might still take issue with the American translation. To avoid misinterpretation, plump for something more on the nose like, “I don’t mind.”

10. What we say: “All right, darling?”
What Americans hear: “How are you, love of my life?”

Save prudish Americans’ blushes by not directing this informal version of “How do you do?” at them. Worse still is the West Country version, which substitutes “darling” for the infinitely more bewildering and inappropriate “my lover.”

Have you had any issues with Americans not understanding your lingo?

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • rose

    oh come on. we’re not all that daft you know. i’m not going to be confused if you say “cheers” and i know you haven’t got a hunchback. this article is ridiculously moronic.

    • TaylorN

      Well it’s not all about you is it, I know a lot of people who these are all spot on for. The assumed translations really aren’t all that far fetched

      • Jo

        I think what Rose (and most others on this post) is saying… they are far fetched.

        • TaylorN

          Well gosh thank you for clearing that up love, and here I thought everyone was just trying to talk me out of the turquoise pumps for this saturday. Silver it is then

          • Gary

            I think this article must have be written after the author encountered some Amurrricans with no social skills, or the intelligence to assess body language within the context of a particular conversation. Either that, or she is so uptight and has no social skills herself. Clearly, the solution (for all of us and not just the author) is to get away from the computer for bit and get to know one another. We could all stand to be a little less prudish.

  • Angela

    You must converse with Americans who just fell off the turnip truck yesterday, because most of these aren’t even mildly confusing. It’s been less than a week since the last time a friendly cashier in a store called me honey or sweetie when I was paying–I certainly didn’t take it as anything romantic! And I can’t imagine anyone misinterpreting “you know what I mean?” as it’s common in the US and has been for years.

    • http://www.facebook.com/christina.r.perez.7 Christina R. Perez

      Exactly. Where is this supposed confusion coming from? The majority of these have an American version.

    • MoodyFoodie

      EXACTLY. These things get on my t!ts!! 😉
      I guess it’s meant as a bit of fun but some of these are so bleedin’ obvious! As satire it doesn’t quite make the mark imho. It’s like BBC America will never learn that its audience is either British Ex-pats or Americans who bother to expand their horizons a little. But they always aim low.

  • EGC

    Yeah, sorry, this is ridiculously condescending, far worse than its counterpart post (10 Things Americans Say…), which was also cringe worthy. And at least in the Northeast in the US, numbers one, two, and four are used in exactly the way described as “British.”

  • Z

    The author has no idea what she is talking about. Considering half of these expressions are common among many English accents (including American), you can tell there was less research done here than on whether or not there were actually WMDs in Iraq, pre-invasion.

    How is it Americans get the bad wrap for being ignorant? Because of Alabama? It’s one state, and they’ve wanted to succeed since the US became a nation.

    • Dumbingitdown Foryou

      I think you mean “secede,” not “succeed.” You know, since we’re busy not being ignorant.

      • maingray

        They are clearly from Alabama.

      • Bubba Gump

        Dumbingitdown, you know, it’s interesting…I’ve lived in Alabama my entire life and I didn’t know we wanted to “succeed” over 40 years before we even became a state (1776-1819 for those counting at home).

      • MoodyFoodie

        *facepalm* :)

      • Katie


    • TaylorN

      No where in there did it say Americans were ignorant- this was just supposed to be a light fun article to help people that maybe do have these misconceptions and Alabama has nothing to do with it

    • PaulaK

      Why do Americans get a bad RAP for being ignorant? These expressions are common in many English DIALECTS. Don’t we all want to succeed? But, I thought southerners wanted to SECEDE? Why DO people think Americans are stupid?

      • Anon

        *SOME southerners, thanks kindly!

      • Katie

        The South shall rise again b*tches! lol.

    • Beej

      I think if you read back over your statement you see how Americans are getting a bad wrap for being ignorant. .Closed minded may be better.

  • AJ

    What dumb American (who is obviously not American) have you been speaking with??? Many of these things listed are not even “misinterpreted” even to the most sheltered American from the boonies (look that one up). There are far more baffling things Brits say than the ones listed here. By far the most disappointing Mind The Gap article.

  • A Canadian in the Carolinas

    These are all pretty straightforward, actually. She didn’t mention “aubergine”, “fanny”, “yorkshire pudding”, “afternoon tea” which I think can be seen as confusing to Americans.

    • JR48

      Got all but aubergine, which is a color to me.

      • Alex

        Americans call them eggplants :)

        • JR48

          Cute. Aubergine to me is a shade of purple.

          • Skip

            And the color of an eggplant is…… Aubergine!!! Lol

    • MoodyFoodie

      Oh yes…fanny, especially. :)

    • Katie

      I think most americans know what Yorkshire pudding is unless it has another meaning I’m not aware of….

  • Jae the American

    This is absurd and wholly inaccurate. We say some of those same things with the same meaning. Written by someone who only meets the occasional American tourist, it seems.

    • ZUmber

      Joe you need to get to grips with British humour. Personally I think they’re very funny.

      • Katie

        I thought I liked British humor but these simply aren’t that funny….Now if they used some other words and phrases such as “rubber” or “fanny”, etc. That would’ve been funny. But we know what most of these are and even use many of them ourselves. How is that funny?

  • Char

    Of course those who read this will understand most of the expressions. We watch BBC America.

    • Katie

      I don’t and even I understand them….

  • Aurelas

    As an American Anglophile who watches as much BBC as possible and reads as much British lit as possible, the only one I am unfamiliar with is number 5. I wonder how that one got started? I can also say that after spending only two weeks in England I had completely picked up the different usages of “sorry” and “cheers,” which allow me to be even more confusing than I was before. I actually do think that this list is appropriate because I’m always having to “translate” British shows and movies for my family. Maybe up north people are better educated, but here in northwest Florida (the very same area that Top Gear went through with such disastrous results!) most of this might as well be Sanskrit for the average person. I think one that would have been good to include on here is “ta” because it just sounds like jibberish to the uninitiated.

    • Kitty_Wampus

      Hey! I’m an American Anglophile who lives in the same area. Neat :)

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      When I hear “ta” on British TV shows my brain ***EXPECTS the speaker to FINISH his or her sentence!*** In the Midwest “to” as in “to do something” or an infinitive of a verb is pronounced “ta” because of the vowel shift. (eg I’m going to go to the store sounds like “I’m goin’ ta go to the store.”) I know from watching British TV it means “thanks” or “thank you” but every time Bodie says this on *Pros* my brain keeps waiting for the rest of the sentence like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop (ta’drop).

  • BritOhio

    This article is rather pathetic, if you know what I mean. How about something a little harder hitting, e.g., conveying the various uses of the word ‘bollocks’…as in dogs bollocks, it’s bollocks, it’s bollocksed, you’re talking bollocks, etc.,per a recent conversation I had here with a Yank who loves British TV but was clueless on the nuances of our various word usage. Cheers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mike.goodenough.5 Mike Goodenough

      Having talked with some Friends from Liverpool on Facebook I have added Scouse, and Chav (sp?) to my knowledge of British slang. also I kind of wonder why the Brits pronounce Z as Zed?

      • KimNZ

        Yes they do, as do we Kiwi’s and Aussies.

  • Jennifer Buckery Myers

    I knew what they all meant, and I’m American. Although I do have a thing for their culture and words.

  • Mom2Ian03

    I am sure there are just as many things we Americans say that the Brits have no clue about either. Ask them about baby showers, had a roommate from Manchester that actually thought it meant to give the baby a shower (aka bath).

    • Elli

      We Brits do know what a baby shower is ..

  • Alison Toon

    I guess some of the folks who commented here just don’t have our perverse British sense of humour 😉

  • redtail

    This is a load of hogwash. Half of these terms are used regularly by Americans. I’m surprised the author didn’t mention that “fag” means cigarette…

  • countrycat

    Guess I’m one of the few people not grumbly, grim, & humorless this morning. I thought this was cute.

    And I would have had no idea how to interpret “I got off with this fit bird,” so thanks for that one!

  • mcski

    Are you taking the Piss??

    • MoodyFoodie

      Yes it seems to me that they are transporting the urine. 😉

    • DelcoLady

      That is one that most Americans definitely do NOT know!

  • BeccaP

    Most of these are common (if antiquated) sayings in America, and not the least bit confusing. I read this article expecting a chuckle at our silly miscommunications only to find my intelligence insulted and no evidence of wit … disappointing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1790786461 Helen Adara Ballard

    Oh please. Americans are not as stupid as you may think. We actually say “You know what I mean?” and several other phrases you have listed here. Please get off your high horse.

  • Brit_Tan

    C’mon yanks, get a bloody sense of humour, the article is only meant to poke fun, flaming heckers!!!!

    • http://twitter.com/onthatthought OnThatThought

      I agree wholeheartedly. My homeland doesn’t know how to take a joke unfortunately. I found this informative even if it was satirical.

    • JR48

      LOL, I have a sense of humor but what is a hecker, let alone a flaming one?

  • aaron


    • Katie

      lol yah basically

  • Chenoa Miller

    I guess I am lucky. My Mother was born in England so even though I am an American I have less confusion with British English than some others do

  • Werewolfling

    Number 7 – What? Seriously? Where the ding-dong would anyone get the funky idea that some brit was riding on a little bird? Oh wait, my nephew would, but he’s FOUR and has an insanely wild imagination (his best friend is a t-rex after all, kinda of a Calvin&Hobbes-ish relationship . . . They make chocolate peanut butter cookies for ninjas)

    I get it, it’s supposed to poke fun and we should all have thick-skins and laugh along. But you know what? I never laughed along with the bullies at school either and I don’t like my supposed inability to comprehend other cultures being the butt of a joke. Especially when it’s so grossly untrue.

    • Katie

      Ok lighten up a little dude. I’m American and I thought it was a little dense but I wasn’t offended or anything geez.

  • Chenoa Miller

    I have read down through some of the comments and even though you people say you understand British sayings you clearly don’t understand British humor. This was supposed to be funny not a condemnation of all Americans as being dumb.

  • Jessy M

    If you have seen any british show on american TV…Monty Python, Benny Hill, Faulty Towers, Are You Being Served, Red Dwarf, Black Adder, Dr Who, Torchwood, Ab Fab .. just to name a few.. these are all common place terms… this is the 2nd type of article I’ve read like this and its kinda sad ….it seems .. they phoned this one in…

  • Ewen

    This pretty spot on. Working in Manhattan I’ve tried to stop saying “sorry” to folks after THEY’VE bumped into ME but, as the article says, it’s “a national tic”. The public/private school thing also causes a lot of confusion. Why are American’s so pissed by these articles? If you were clued up on the British, you’d realise that this article also pokes fun at the idiosyncrasy of the Brits too…I mean, it’s dumb that we call private schools “public” and really why do we say “sorry” when it’s not our fault? Lighten up folks.

    • Will

      Honestly this is one of the most confusing things for my friends, they don’t get the sorry.

      • Kim Morgan

        I always get the response “it’s not your fault” and I’ve started spouting my coined phrase “I sympathize with the situation.”

    • Anna

      I’m a New Yorker born and raised and I knew most of these…it’s not that hard to comprehend the only one that threw me off was “You know what I mean.”
      Also, most people in Manhattan don’t say “excuse me” or “sorry” if they bump into you, they tend to keep going on their merry way.

      • John Cowan

        Not my experience after 30+ years in New York at all. I get plenty of sorries (and give them, too) when people bump into me. Big guys like me tend to bend over backwards to be apologetic so as to avoid being stabbed by defensive short people who are out of our sightlines. :-)

        • Katie

          you gotta watch those short people lol. They tend to be a bit touchy.

    • Gretchen

      This is also common in the Southern United States, I’m from North Carolina and find myself saying “Sorry” after someone bumps into ME even. As for the rest of the article, I agree that British humor is very different (read: better) than most American humor. (And I must disclose, I am from the American South!)

      • Suzanna

        I’m with you, Gretchen!

      • Katie

        I’m from the south and there are several of these that I hear all the time from southerners.

    • reddit

      I’ve never seen anybody get upset over this article.

  • Skip Cooper

    Seems to be some hypersensitive Americans commenting here…as an American who’s interested in language, syntax, and regional dialects, I enjoyed this article. By the way, my favorite (or favourite) British expression is “Bob’s your uncle.”

  • Li

    Oh wow that’s actually really true. I’m a Brit that studies in America, and me American flatmate initially had no clue what I was saying!

  • Sherlock

    What is with the author bashing on Americans…. saying that Americans are arrogant or snobby. Americans understand what Brits are saying!

  • Bert

    The thing Americans REALLY don’t understand is sardonic British wit. Case in point: the number of yanks with their panties in a twist (not literal, btw) over this tongue-in-cheek article!

    • Will

      Sadly the ones that are upset of this, very obviously satirical article, and part of what is wrong with the U.S. general public.

    • Tammy

      I was going to post that a lot of these expressions are ones I hear or use regularly. But you sum it up better, Bert. And I suspect for some people, the twisted panties ARE literal! Also, many Americans don’t understand other Americans simply because they don’t actually listen to what’s being said. It’s easy to figure out the gist of the meaning by context – most of the time.

    • Ernie

      If an American made similar comments about Brits? They would all laugh and say “It’s true, we are all rude wankers!”.

      • David Cunningham

        Laughing my socks off at all the comments, did the same reading the American comments. At the end of the day it’s only friendly banter, you say potato we say spud.

  • http://vbartilucci.tumblr.com/ VBartilucci

    A British exchange student surprised a friend when she dropped by his father’s room and asked if he could come knock her up in the morning.

    • me

      Had she already told him she’s “easy”?
      See, he should have responded, “All right darling, Cheers!”
      This would have went over well. :)

      • Emmanuel Bidi

        “This would have went over well. :)”
        Really? Would have WENT. Thank you.

    • BostonKaren

      David Niven made that joke back in the 1960s in his book, “The Moon is a Balloon.” And he was referring to an incident that happened to him in the 1920s. That’s a pretty old joke….

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Yeah — that’s a good one!

  • Tom JustTom

    English is a German dialect so you didn’t exactly invent it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language#History

    • Treia

      English is definitely not a German dialect. It’s a Germanic language, which is a wildly different thing. To say that it’s a German dialect is to indicate that it’s a different variety of German spoken in a particular geographical region, community, etc.

  • Alyssa Bean

    I agree with everyone else. I’m American, and these aren’t confusing. The only one I could see causing a slight awkward confusion is number 7, since in America the slang “got off” means something a whole lot more explicit than “made out with.”

  • me

    Some of these are correct. Others are out of date, funny or incomprehensible.
    If I heard anyone say, “It’s a bit dear.”, I would think they were talking about something that that was dear to their heart and just shortened the phrase. I wouldn’t have guessed they were referring to the price of something.
    I wouldn’t recommend young British women who come over here to say, “I’m easy.” You might get the impression that all American men are far more foward than they are.
    I haven’t heard of a women referred to a “bird” except in movies from back in the 60s or earlier. The same for birdie, broad, dame, etc.
    “I’ve got the right hump.”, Yea. I’d have no clue as to what you meant here, if I heard this from someone. I wouldn’t have thought of “annoyed or frustrated”, so I suppose this is good to know.

    • Katie

      hmmm I’m an American woman and say “I’m easy” all the time and no one takes it the wrong way. I guess it’s all in the context.

  • Elaine Golding

    I’m a Btit living in the US. I once asked someone if I could borrow a rubber. I meant an eraser. He heard something completely different

    • Will

      Yeah that’s a really confusing one for most Americans. Sorry about that. :)

    • nancy

      lol! THAT. IS. AWESOME!! You can have one if I’ve got one but I don’t want it back… 😉

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      He heard “condom” right? I had a Scottish teacher of Spanish in college, and this cultural-linguistic misunderstanding set the whole class into pales of laughter. What was worse was his finishing sentences in Spanish with “eh” – Scottish accented Spanish *didn’t* help. OTOH – guy was a brilliant linguist who spoke like 20 languages, just all of them with a Scottish accent.

  • Texas Rogue

    Southern women use “darling” in the same manner as y’all.

    • Katie

      Oh god, my aunt calls everyone darling, except pronounced like daaaahling. She’s from Virginia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.m.scarry James M. Scarry

    I suppose it could be due to my British grandmother although I suspect its more likely due to watching too much British TV but I actually understood most of these Britishisms.

  • Hoodlum

    Hey I’m an American and I’ll willingly admit that I had never heard of a “fit bird” until I started watching The Inbetweeners.I don’t think the author meant to say that you wouldn’t be able to figure out the subtle differences in slang, just that there ARE subtle differences in slang. I think what British people might not realize is that Americans have a lot of practice picking up on slang. If you travel more than 2 or 3 states away in any direction our own slang is completely different. Some areas of the country actually use some of this British slang, some areas speak Spanglish, etc. It’s a big country and the author generalized a bit, but his point holds.

    • Mel

      I strongly suspect that if the author had said “could be taken as” instead of “what Americans hear”, this would have gone over a lot better overall. And thrown in some “most”s or “some”s here and there (“Don’t expect *most* Americans…etc.), too. Otherwise the implication is that all Americans are the same, and that they’re also all too stupid to make very simple cognitive leaps. Now, the author is just as all-inclusive of Brits, and the whole thing is clearly intended to be funny, not offensive, so it’s a little silly to get TOO worked up over it, but I think a few simple edits would have done wonders. C’est la vie…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1805087051 June Heidemann

    I think this article was helpful and not at all insulting to either Americans or Brits. I watch a fairly hefty amount of British television and I still didn’t know all of these expressions. Trust me, a piece on American slang would be a good follow up to this. Cheers!

  • Kihontekini

    I understood most of what was said but I can see how people would get confused. There are a TON of people I know who would get lost because they have never heard those phrases before. Even though most people don’t think the literal translation of what was said, it makes it more amusing to think about them actually thinking it.

    I think most Americans are getting upset because it makes us sound a bit stupid and although I don’t agree with everything the author says, the articles poke fun at both sides.

  • Anna

    I laughed while watching NBC’s coverage of the Olympic opening ceremony where they described the Duke of Edinburgh as looking quite fit!

    • MoodyFoodie

      LOL well to each his own..! 😉

  • Thomas

    I guess I am like American 2.0 or something because none of those confused me, I got all those quotes.

  • lindsey

    I’m American and I say a few of these things myself. I always catch myself saying “you know what I mean?” except in my South Jersey accent it comes off as sort of one word “yaknowhadimean?” 😛 Also “How do you do?” is pretty much the same as “How’re you doin’?” and I always thought “sorry” was a male/female difference. Guys tend to take it more literally while women tend to use the word for a bunch of different meanings.

  • Ethelwynne

    I am a Brit who lives in America. As a college Speech Communication instructor, I take issue with #4. I find that Americans, especially teenagers and twenty-somethings use “You know what I mean” as a hesitation filler. You only have to listen to talk shows to hear some teens say it so often that you really don’t know what they mean unless you are a mind reader.

  • Roger W. Ross

    Thankfully, I know few Americans who are this stupid! We use most of those phrases, with the very same meanings.

  • erny325

    This is brilliant. As an American Anglophile I love dropping British phrases into the conversation just to ‘mix it up.’ The only one I would have included in the list is “Knock them up.” Totally different meaning here than in the UK! And while I’m at it – to our British cousins I must say “Jolly good show!” on the 2012 Olympics!!

  • Michael Clarke

    Americans get angry (well, not all, but some of us) at reading such articles as this, because we’re all too aware of the degree of illiteracy that we have in our otherwise proud country. But that’s not all to the bad. Some of we Americans have even made out really well financially, pointing out the lack of conversational education in our friends and neighbors as well as in ourselves as compared to those of you who speak the King’s English and a multitude of bastardizations thereof. Some have even gained a bit of celebrity. We, also, have satire, though it usually comes in so outlandish a form as to figuratively slap someone in the face. Conversely, you Brits and your physical slapstick and stiff-upper lip verbal repartee, sometimes, crack me right the Hell up! I say this without the slightest bit of chagrin. Sometimes, being “proper” can be an absolute drag (that’s “bore”, to you)! And the sound of your speech, accents and dialects and PoV on the world are all a great source of entertainment to we your American cousins across the pond You should know this by the sheer number of Brits, who speak with a pseudo-American accents on our television sit-com’s and dramas. Mind you, the more of you Brits come over to appear or even star in our television (ie, Hugh Laurie,Russell Brand, Craig Ferguson) programming and motion pictures (ie,Daniel Craig), the less likely that you’re apt to find such cultural confusion in us as the hands of time turn. Inasmuch as our confusion serves to entertain you Brits, your outwardly calm demeanor and seeming unflappability in the midst of chaos that transpires in our televisions shows and movies, is a endless source of frivolity and social education for me and my American friends and neighbors. God Bless BBC America!

  • Michele

    I think fewer Americans would feel less insulted if the writer poked equal fun at the Brits. I mean where the heck does “snog” come from? It sounds like more like a disease than “making out”. Women haven’t worn knickers in a hundred years and “shag” sounds like you have a carpet fetish.

  • Aura

    This is great! I would also like to point out that I’m American and it doesn’t bother me. After all, we have plenty of phrases that we use here that they don’t there. Take it easy people.

  • http://www.buzzmaven.com/ Scott Clark

    Made me chuckle – I’ve personally experienced a few of these. Could a US->UK list be created? Or are our national tics already mostly understood due to web, movies, and such? (cheers from Kentucky)

    • MoodyFoodie

      Think there is one already.

  • MIC

    As a Brit living in America for 25 years, I can say you were spot on with “sorry”, but the rest of you analysis is simplistic, cheap, and surprisingly inaccurate. Like the last one, it’s not that its offensive, it just isn’t funny or insightful.

    • Katie

      Right?! I’m not offended at all by it. I just don’t think it’s that funny. Most Americans would know what these mean.

  • jennibee

    Sorry, I guess I’m easy, because I’m an American who thought this article was fun and actually informative. I wonder if Brits are ever baffled by some of the phrases we use. :)

  • Will

    Hey folks, from the U.S. here. Aside from “I’ve got the right hump”, that one is new to me, I actually use all of these sayings regularly. And I agree very few of my fellow Americans have any idea what I am saying half the time.

  • Jenn

    Wow! People need to lighten up and learn to take a joke! I’m from America, and I thought this article was funny. I didn’t feel like the author was putting us down or calling us dumb. It was just a quirky little article. Learn to have a little fun once in a while.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzette.deveraux Suzette Deveraux

    I so got it, considering I do quite a few of these myself.

  • Kat

    I’m as American as they come, and I use many of these phrases (in the proper British context) all the time. But here’s a new one: When I say “you twit!” what does the author think I mean?

  • Michael Clarke

    American “English” and British English are not , at all, the same languages. I, for one, can appreciate, and enjoy our cultural differences. How ghastly boring it would be, if we all dressed, acted, and spoke the same way as everyone else!

    • ZUmber

      I whole heartedly agree. But due to globalisation we’re going have more and more of the same thing. McDonalds and Burger King being prime examples. There’s even a Krispy Kreme near where I live and a Taco Bell opened recently in Manchester.

  • Tim

    After 15 years of living in the USA, I feel qualified to observe that this article is complete bollocks.

    • trynee

      I see what you did there.

    • camberwell

      after 42 years Tim, I will say absolutely this is a double lot of bollocks! Read my posts…..not my lips!!

  • Kitty

    LOL…loved it. I was asked for a ‘rubber’ by a classmate at one time too and I just looked at him. When he explained I giggled because he didn’t understand my confusion either. So we both learned something new that day. BBC rocks!

  • Caleb

    Is it at all strange that, being an American, I know what these all mean?

    • Mel

      Nope – I think a lot of us are the exact same way. No surprise there, really – this IS the BBC America website, after all! :)

  • Aaron

    As an anglophile living in America, I love this post, I use alot of these phrases. Never heard number 5 though. London is a wonderful city, i hope to live in England some day. great post all in good fun.

  • cenzie

    i love brit-isms! i’m always up for a shag and a fag and back-to-back eastenders! :)

  • Sysiphus

    I must admit, the firt time I heard a friend say he was going to “step out and puff a fag” I was taken aback. He explained he meant a cigarette. LOL

    • MoodyFoodie

      LOL! That’s the kind of thing that they could/should have put in this article.

      • Katie

        agreed. Things like that would’ve made it funny.

    • ZUmber

      Actually Sys using the word fag for a cigarette is very regional based. It’s a southern thing. Up here in the north east we’d say tab. As in “I’m going to have a tab”.

  • Robert Severn

    If your family background is British – even from a couple of generations back – you use these expressions, or at least know them. There ARE probably some that are less understood, but these were clear.

  • marilynsp

    I had to laugh at this. I’m a bit of an Anglophile so a lot of this was already known to me, but at the same time, I appreciated the humor. Some people need to loosen up, methinks.

    • camberwell

      I was getting my knickers in a twist, as they would say in Eng. in my comment above. But as an ex-pat I have come to know both sides of the Atlantic, and most Brits have no idea about regular, everyday Americans….so I just get a little defensive about my adopted home and its people. There’s always this little back stabbing superiority of the Brits that’s gone on for years, and it’s really time it stopped. Most Americans I know can run circles around a lot of Brits re: their education, etc…..and just read most of the American posts, so much better constructed…..Ha!

  • JerseyGirl

    I’m an American who watches a fair amount of British TV. I understood most of the phrases in this article. I was once startled by an Englishman who came into the library where I work, asking if we had a guillotine. I was reasonably sure he didn’t want to behead any French aristocrats, but I had never heard any other meaning for that word. It turned out that he wanted what I call a paper-cutter.

  • Noel

    Really glad I’m an Anglophile and have never misinterpreted any of these.

  • Harper

    I wish people didn’t assume that being an American makes an individual stupid or incapable of comprehending dialects other than our own. It’s not true, by the way, and the assertions above (the “You say ____, Americans hear _______) are ridiculous because taken in context these misunderstandings would be highly unlikely.
    Another offense, sayings like, “You know what I mean?”, “Cheers” and the insincere “sorry” are used by Americans in the same way this article says Brits use them, all the time. So you can all stop having smug jollies about how stupid and behind the times the Americans are, because I guarantee you that if you plopped a middle-class English man down in Nebraska or Alabama he’d be pretty incredibly confused as well.

  • Jane

    I’m also a Brit living in the USA, we have great fun where I work, as it works both ways. I learn American sayings & my counter parts learn British sayings, we always ask each other what we mean & are often laughing at each other. Strange but I am saying things more the America way & my American colleagues have even been know to take home a UK saying and confuse their family.

  • http://twitter.com/Jamin_jimmy Jimmy Olson

    how many americans here read this article in a british accent in their head?

  • Mairi Campbell

    knew numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9. The descriptions that they are
    giving of what Americans would think is just more proof of how they
    stereo-type Americans. Sad really that the author of this was not a bit
    more well informed.

  • cjb

    I don’t think I would be confused with any of these… especially the conversation fillers. Americans have that, and yes, sometimes dumb people take it literally, but that isn’t confined to our borders.

  • Austin Robinson

    i understood all of them completely. my dad’s from london and my mum’s from here. i use more british english than american english. and i love confusing people who don’t understand it.

  • foxuk

    Oh dear…… I’m Welsh (no that isn’t part of England) and have a Californian wife.
    You have missed the different understandings of ‘Nasty’.
    This can be very confusing.
    Communicating with a person who doesn’t even know that the game ‘Snap’ exists can be ‘odd’ when you say the same thing at the same time……. ‘Why are you snapping at me……?’
    Getting ‘Pissed’ has entirely different meanings…..
    There are many many others and they still crop up after 12 years of marriage.

  • Scott Reeves

    This article borders on insulting. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and conversation skills will have no problems navigating these British phrases. What a silly article, stop contributing to the sterotyping of our cultures.

  • Tara Brown

    people that get pissed off by these articles need to get a hobby. we all know every country has their own sayings that can cause a chuckle because it means something else in another country. the rubber one is pretty funny @ Elaine

  • lisa

    Two thoughts:
    We Americans aren’t so simple that we can’t understand context in conversation.
    You can’t begin to compete in the area of colloquialisms compared with the United States. I don’t even understand people when I travel to places like Texas or Jersey!

  • Keath Rhymer

    I guess I am lucky having ben stationed in England in the 80s and having many british friends I have no problem with the differences in language meanings. Yea I find some a bit amusing as I know to the Brits some of ours are amusing as well

  • MoodyFoodie

    One thing I think they’ve got backwards is 2. Americans also say “How are you?” all the time just as a standard greeting, interchangeably with ‘Hello’ and it’s very common to be greeted with this without the other person even pausing to allow you to respond about your condition, because they didn’t really want to know! It would have been nice to see some of the more obscure or potentially embarrassing expressions in this list instead, you know what I mean?

  • John

    I get issues all the the time I work for a large company in the U.S. and most of the time the Americans can’t understand the accent.


    Having had some British friends, I learned their English
    language and they learned my American English. All languages have different meanings. This is no big deal.
    Hey! Do you know what this means?

  • Caitlyn

    Gotta correct you on point 7 (Boy did you biff this one!!): If you say “I got off on a fit bird”, we hear “I had an orgasm with an athletic fowl”. You REALLY don’t want to use ” to get off” in polite conversation!! For the less dirty minded, it doesn’t even go as far as snogging. It means someone really digs something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noelle.lawing Noelle Lawing

    I’m a colonial that longs to come home…. I think Henry Higgins said it best about American English when he said “In America they haven’t used it for years.”

  • camberwell

    does any other Country other than the USA have to somehow apologise to the UK for their little “weird bits”: in their language or possibly not understanding UK’s weird bits? Just asking! If a Brit asked for a “jumper” in Australia, would someone give him a Kangaroo!?

    As is usual, all a bit superior & condescendingly polite witticisms from the author! (by the way, I am an ex-pat) and recent trips “home” …..well…. let’s say that the “superior” attitude is no longer warranted or valid!

  • camberwell

    and….what about when Brits say “I’ll knock you up in the morning” No wonder Americans drop down in a dead faint!

  • Barbara Berman

    we know that you say sorry all the time, it’s also condolences. i don’t feel a need to tell you my medical issues. cheers, we’re more likely to think let’s have a good time not the old health thing. number 4 is common here the same as yours. #5 never heard it, wouldn’t try to translate, ask “what?” 6 is right never would have thought too expensive. i know what bird means but our translation of got off would go farther than that. number 9 is right. we know about your penchant for calling anyone love so don’t worry, it’s a nice thing to hear. this had me laughing don’t know why any one is complaining.

    • http://www.facebook.com/terence.lee.37853 Terence Lee

      Being British, but expat since 1961, and now living in Toronto after 40 years in Chile, I thought the constant use of SORRY! was Canadian.

  • DelcoLady

    I’m an American and was confused the first time I heard someone mention sitting on their “bonnet.” I thought they meant that they sat on their hat. But, alas, they were referring to the hood of their car!

  • DelcoLady

    I’m an American who spent a summer living outisde London. Most Americans (and other non-Brits for that matter) don’t realize the negative meaning of the two-fingered peace sign when the hand is turned backwards. To Americans, peace is peace, no matter which way your hand faces.
    Fringe is another confusing term. In America, fringe is used to describe the outer edge of something (usually the frilly trim on a pillow or blanket). And the fringes of society are oddballs. The short pieces of hair above one’s forehead are called bangs in the US. And don’t get me started with lorrie… (Who’s she?)

    • Katie

      Strange. When you mentioned “fringe” the first thing that popped into my had was bangs. And I’m American. I’m pretty sure that’s not normal though…

  • WF

    As an American who’s spent time in Britain, and had a father who used to live there, you’re dead on with #’s 1 and 9. However, you’re not quite right with #’s 1,3, and 4. Best not to generalize on those and cut this list a bit short, although that may ruin your perfect 10, wouldn’t it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Lee-Bingham/1361253581 John Lee Bingham

    No one mentioned that here in the States, when we are “pissed” we are angry, where as in the UK, I found out the hard way that it means one is drunk! I made the mistake of talking about my boss as being constantly pissed at work… you can imagine the impression I was creating…

  • PMM

    My Brit friends thought it was funny that we say “spendy” when something is “a bit dear”. I thought an obvious miss from this article was shag, because in the US, the uninitiated would assume you’re talking about carpet from the 70’s. 😉

  • Katie

    Some of these phrases must be regional in the U.S. I hear several of these on a regular basis as well as use them myself. The “sorry”, “i’m easy”, and “you know what I mean” ones in particular. I live in Virginia.

  • Jacqueline O. Moleski

    This is brilliant! One thing I didn’t get on trips to the UK and Ireland was *why* everyone always apologised about the weather. It’s not your fault, and I’m from the Midwest – I’ve driven through much worse, trust me.

  • jonny fart knocker

    english is the true spoken language and america has only a small dictionary of pointless made up words to make it there own, and its prenounced aluminium not the way u yanks or hill billys say it it :)

  • Newsjunkie

    So true! I uses to work at Walt Disney World and we had a lot of English guests. They were always saying “cheers” to me and I never could figure out what it meant (as they were obviously not toasting me!). Fortunately, I had an English manager who cleared it up for me. He also explained treacle tarts, something I only read about in the Harry Potter books. :)

  • Kanna-Chan

    I don’t know about Northern or Western states, but here in the South if someone asks “How do you do?” most people reply “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” “I’m fine” “That’s good”. Then we end with “Have a nice day” and they reply “You too”.

  • AboveAverageAmerican

    Really awful list. A lot of these are shared by Americans (1, 2, 3, 4, and 10 being the most egregious).

  • Brian

    I never thought that’s what any of the expressions mean nor has any other American I’ve met.

  • no,wedon’t thinkwe’rebetter

    I got off with this fit bird…… I made out with a attractive girl…we’re not all that daft. -people of the united states

  • no,wedon’t thinkwe’rebetter

    I got off with this fit bird…… I made out with a attractive girl…we’re not all that daft. -people of the united states

  • An American

    A lot of these are American idioms as well. “How do you do” is a common greeting here as well, for example, not a genuine request for health status.

    This article should probably be called “10 things Brits say…and what we think Americans think we mean”.