10 Common American Expressions That Baffle Brits

The mangling of the English language. (Photo via Rebecca of Tomorrow)

The mangling of the English language. (Photo via Rebecca of Tomorrow)

You’ve likely heard these bewildering utterances leave the mouths of your American acquaintances, but that doesn’t make them any less perplexing. (Note: many Americans are equally baffled by some of the atrocities below.)

“I feel like…”
If an American wants to soften an uncomfortably forthright statement, they might front-load it with this fluffy, passive-aggressive pronouncement. Whatever it is they really meant to say has had it’s had its edges rounded off and now sounds like something someone would say in couple’s therapy: “I feel like you’re being manipulative right now.”

“I could care less”
This monstrous idiom—where the opposite is in fact true—continues to perplex Brits. Would it be so hard or inefficient, America, to add an “n’t” onto your gratingly misleading “could”? Two little letters, plus a teeny tiny apostrophe, would improve our opinion of anyone uttering this phrase immeasurably.

“Often times”
Often times I wonder what “times” is doing in this sentence. What’s it for, exactly? “Often” on it’s own tells us everything we need to know. Perhaps the people who say it think it makes them sound quaint, melodious or smart. News flash: NO IT DOES NOT. Get it out of my sight, America.

“My bad”
Your bad what? English?

“You do the math”
Let’s get something straight. “Math” is not the name of that subject with the numbers taught mostly by gentlemen who wear corduroy trousers and have never had a girlfriend. That would be “maths.” I’m not sure what “math” is. Possibly an annoying way to shorten the name Matthew. So no, since you ask, I will not “do” it.

“I’m going to visit with…”

So, you’re not just visiting someone, you’re visiting “with” them. Did this person somehow accompany you to visit themselves? Thought not.

“Different than…”
No, no, no. And further more: no. This goes way beyond baffling and its utterance makes me, and I suspect many other Brits, want to funnel tile grout into our ears. It’s “different from,” people.

“Swap out”

Is this somehow different from simply swapping an item for another? If not, for the love of syntax, remove the extra word!

“Write me”
Here’s one that’s actually missing a word. You mean, “write to me,” surely. Actually, I don’t think an American person has never deployed this phrase to demand correspondence from me (I live in hope), but if they do I’m going to reply with one word: “me.” Yeah, that’ll learn ’em.

“Reach out”
It’s not just the “out” that’s baffling. It’s the whole thing. How has an ugly corporatism ended up being something real people say to each other in friendly conversation? Suggest to a Brit that they “reach out” to you for anything (except perhaps for the million dollars you’re inexplicably dangling in front of them) and they will most likely decline—not necessarily politely.

We’ll be discussing British vs. American language quirks in our #MindTheChat this Wednesday (December 4) at 2 pm ET. Follow @MindTheGap_BBCA to join in using the hashtag #MindTheChat.

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.
  • Mark Smith

    You might be being a mite pedantic with “write me”. After all, it’s just a continuation of the logic/grammar that produces “give it (to) me”, one that my American wife always mocks me for :-)

    As for visit(ing with) people, I couldn’t agree more!

    • gn

      Or indeed “ask me (a question)”, “tell me (a story)”, or “teach me (a lesson)”. They’re all OK in British English, so, if we’re trying to be “logical”, why not “write me (a letter)”?

      • WriteMe

        “Write a letter to/for me” is the way I’ve always known that phrase to be said. “Write me” on its own sounds silly. Similarly “sing me a song” would be OK but just “sing me” on its own would sound wrong.

        • Tini

          Well, the difference is that in “ask me” the “me” is a direct object whereas it’s indirect in “write to me”. This also has to do with the first one being an accusative and the second one a dative case. 😉

    • SullyVanDan

      “Write me” actually sounds fine to me. Don’t know if that’s weird or not.

      • chocoshatner

        It’s not. She’s being overly fussy about regional colloquialisms, even though the UK is full of them.

  • Val

    How about “off of”?

    • gn

      That one makes my teeth grate, but I’ve heard it in England, too.

  • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

    A lot of British English grammar rules were established (fairly arbitrarily) in the 18th century and later, after American English was being spoken over here. Phrases like “Different than” are fairly common and accepted here.
    The only Americanism that really pees me off is “like” – uttered ad nauseam, by most people under the age of about 30. I listened to a teen presentation this morning and it was pure torture. (Sadly “like” isn’t restricted to American English either.)

    • frozen01

      Trust me, it bothers us too. I have a co-worker who uses “like” so much that I once counted the number of times she said it during a brief conversation. She was shocked when I gave her the final count; she had no idea she was doing it.

  • Bea

    “Reach out” must be laid at the feet of an egregiously long-running ad campaign for the old Bell System landline telephone system (now AT&T): http://polysyllabicprofundities.com/2013/09/17/reach-out-and-touch-someone/

    That’s likely why most Americans use it, and why they don’t even notice that it’s inaccurate grammar.

    • frozen01

      I’ve only ever heard one person use it, and that’s my boss. Perhaps it’s more popular with the older crowd (which would make sense if it is an old ad)?

  • gn

    My goodness, Ruth; please chill out! I refuse to believe that you are actually “baffled” by any of these expressions. Be honest: you just don’t like them. Fair enough; I dislike some of them myself. But projecting paroxysms of rage in all-caps isn’t going to do much to advance the cause of transatlantic understanding.

    If you really want to know more about these differences between American and British English (rather than just vent about them) then I recommend the excellent Separated by a Common Language blog. It has already covered several of your peeves:

    * math(s)
    * visiting
    * different from/than/to
    * write (to) someone

    I’d add that “oftentimes” was in my (very British) school song, and has been found in English since the fourteenth century. It’s the Brits who have abandoned that, rather than the Yanks inventing it.

  • MontanaRed

    Okay, I completely agree with “the could/couldn’t care less” peeve. I correct that mentally every time I hear it.

    However, some of the rest are colloquialisms often (times!) employed for emphasis. This is a technique common in many languages and isn’t technically redundancy.

    Southwestern Minnesota (where my husband hails from) has an idiomatic usage that has bewildered me for decades. Instead of being “at” someone’s home or somewhere, they say “over to,” as in “I’m over to John’s house.” I’ve never heard that outside of this particular region.

    Of course, examples like this are endless wherever English is spoken.

    • SullyVanDan

      Over to? Never heard that one. Though, I live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, and sometime’s I’ll say “over at” or “over by” in the same context. Sometimes it gets more extensive, like. “We’re down over by the pond.”

      • frozen01

        I also live in the NW ‘burbs of the land that is Chicago 😉
        I’ve used “over to” but always in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way, in the manner someone might use another region’s colloquialisms to add emphasis or added meaning. “Welp, I guess that means I’m over to the hardware store” – if a shelf breaks, for example. It indicates I’m not really all that happy about going. And is also the only time I’d use “welp”, coincidentally 😉

        • Vir_Modestus

          My in-laws from NE Wisconsin, go “by” someone’s house. “I’ll be by Mary’s tonight.” Never understood that. Not “at” Mary’s? No. By.

  • Sharon Stroud Broussard

    This from someone whose country says “going to hospital.” English grammar, on both sides of the Atlantic, is full of weird formations. Let’s stop throwing stones, shall we? Then, of course, that’d cut your blog content in more than half…ha ha!

    • GoldenGirl

      Ha! Exactly. What would she write about?

    • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

      Genuine question here but how is going “to hospital” any different from going “to school”? I know Americans say “the hospital” as in “She was in the hospital” and Brits say “She was in hospital”, but when it’s “going to”, why is one wrong and the other ok?

      • gn
      • Bree

        “Going to” forces us to put a ‘the’ before a noun. “Going to… [the hospital, the lake, the bank]”. We only say “going to school” when we mean that we are there to attend classes. Usually if we are there for any other purpose, it becomes “going to the school [for a concert, meeting, etc]”.

        • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

          Actually that’s quite a good example of British usage in hospital as well as school situations. When we use the “the” as in, I’m going to the hospital, the understanding would probably be that you weren’t going for surgery. “I’m going to the hospital to visit my uncle”.

          • Bree

            Yeah, we don’t really differentiate between causes for going to the hospital unless you say “I’m visiting [so-and-so] at the hospital” or “I’m going into surgery”. If you just say “I’m going to the hospital” it usually means that you are there for the Emergency Room and further information will always be requested.

          • Neith J

            Why do people go to a hospital if not for serious reasons (emergencies, surgeries, childbirth, or exams that require special equipment)? Where I live, in the US, we rarely go to the actual hospital for other things, instead most people I know have doctor’s offices that are not in formal large hospitals or laboratories outside of a hospital or at least separate from the main areas.

            So I’d say things like “I’m going to the doctor’s office,” “I’m getting an MRI,” or “I’m getting lab work done.”

            If I said “I’m going to the hospital” it basically means that either someone is very ill/injured or there’s a new baby involved.

            Now… the only other times I usually hear people saying “I’m going to the hospital” are from friends who work in a hospital. Friends who work in a school would also say “I’m going to the school” (or “my school”)…

            I’m guessing that the UK has more general healthcare business conducted in hospitals versus medical office buildings and smaller private practices like we do where I live?

        • DC Carter

          Excellent explanation. You saved me the trouble. 😉

          • Hurst

            Another thought here, but the British seem to use “hospital” as if it were a condition and not a destination or a place. “She’s in hospital.” “I’m at hospital.” etc. That sounds more like a condition than a location.

      • Hurst

        Sharon, for Americans there is a big difference. We say “go to school” because we’re being taught or “schooled”. We wouldn’t say “go to hospital” because I don’t know of anyone who would like to be “hospital’d”. We may need to be “hospitalized” but I don’t think that warrants “go to hospital” for us. It sounds completely ridiculous. I can’t even type “go to hospital” without thinking of it being said in that ridiculous accent.

  • Mike Schupbach

    Well that’s sommat to think about, innit?

    • Pat Evans

      If you’re in London’s East End, that would be sommat to fink about….. Love those EastEnders!

  • GoldenGirl

    I have my own pet-peeves such as the use of “irregardless” which isn’t a word and “anyways” which makes the person using it sound uneducated. However, I’m not baffled by it nor will I lose sleep over it. Move on.

  • Alexi

    >>>“Write me”
    …. but if they do I’m going to reply with one word: “me.” Yeah, that’ll learn ‘em<<<
    You mean, "yeah, that'll teach 'em"

    • Learn ’em

      A deliberate joke and you fell for it!

  • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

    The one that my great-grandmother-in-law (a feisty Texan grade school principal) used to get mad about was “Where you at?” Her answer was always “Between the A and the T”.

  • Bernd

    Often on it’s (!!) own? How about “on its own”?

    • Bree

      We just can’t decide when the apostrophe is appropriate. More the fault of our education system than anything else, since I never had any consistent teaching on this across the several states and schools I attended. In the end, I suppose many of us just stopped caring since the meaning is still understood.

      • Simon Byrne

        There is only EVER an apostrophe if you are contracting ‘it is’. It’s is never possessive.

      • Anon Y. Mous

        You must have had some very stupid teachers.

      • chocoshatner

        This was a stupid reply to a stupid comment. Again, only people using poor grammar can’t differentiate between a contraction and a possessive. Since there is many a missive devoted to how to tell the difference, only the stupid or lazy fail to tell the difference.

  • Brittany

    English is a fascinating language. I love learning about it. Many British phrases were changed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so it’s Americans who are keeping the old phrases alive.

  • Jane

    It gets rather tiring to read how British English is always correct and American English is always wrong. At a minimum this author (and other critics) could simply accept that there are differences and move on. Another option is to read the informative books and blogs mentioned in these comments and I would also suggest listening to A Way with Words, a podcast on National Public Radio. http://www.waywordradio.org

    • Ann B

      Still wouldn’t make “I could care less” make ANY sense whatsoever in the context in which it’s used.

      • Jane

        That’s true. When I hear someone say that I simply correct it in my head and and get on with the conversation.

        • http://expatmum.blogspot.com/ Toni Hargis

          There is a theory that it’s irony in the same vein as “Like I Care?”. Not sure I buy it though.

      • Neith J

        I’m from the US and I cringe every time I hear or see that. My kids never use either version and it’s probably from hearing me correct them! If I ever say it I say “I could NOT care less” but I think I’ve only said it maybe twice in my life!

      • chocoshatner

        That’s not an Americanism. There isn’t a grammatically adept American who would use that terminology. It was the one item in a particularly stupid article that annoyed me the most.

        • Nicole Elizabeth

          I was annoyed by “my bad.” I believe “my bad” was invented by the writers of the movie Clueless, which was about dopey (but mostly goodhearted) teens with too much money and not enough “book smarts.” It’s not a baffling everyday American phrase – at least not commonly used by anyone I know – it’s a silly bit of slang that is SUPPOSED to sound stupid (much like “as if!” “going postal,” and “way harsh,” other slang created for or popularized by the film).

          • Alexandra Weitershausen

            I agree, “my bad” is simply popular slang. It’s not even an Americanism anymore – I’ve heard it on several British shows that feature teenage characters.

          • Jwb52z

            “Going postal” is slightly different because it’s something that was originated by real people to describe the high instance of postal workers in the US going insane and shooting people or otherwise causing harm.

          • Nicole Elizabeth

            According to what I read, the phrase “going postal” was not widely used or widely known and had only been in documented existence for a couple of years before the movie came out, popularizing it, as I said. In one article it says that the film’s writer had to explain the phrase to the actors, none of whom had ever heard it before.

          • chocoshatner

            Actually “my bad” goes back way before Clueless.

          • Nicole Elizabeth

            If you count the fact that Shakespeare once used “my bad” within a sentence, then sure, okay, but it “came into widespread popular use in the mid to late-1990s in the USA via the 1995 movie “Clueless”. This starred Alicia Silverstone and contains what seems to have been the first use of the phrase in the mainstream media.”


          • Mike Schupbach

            “My bad” was in use way before Clueless came out. It came from sports… particularly basketball.

          • Nicole Elizabeth

            Mike, see my response below. It includes a link explaining the background behind the phrase and saying that it was mainstreamed and popularized by the film, even thought it can be found as long ago as in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

          • Cory

            My bad is very popular and wasn’t not started in Clueless. My bad though has grown in popularity and is used in the UK, Australia, Canada so on and so forth. It is a very popular and well known slang.

          • Tiffany Souza

            We use my bad here in Cali from time to time. I think it’s funny!

      • http://conthis.blogspot.com Joe Sewell

        The phrase started correctly with “couldn’t.” Unfortunately the attention deficiency of too many people, combined with the too-noisy environments in which we find them, makes the “unt” sound hard to hear. As a result, people hear “could care less” and continue it on.

        It also could be part of the problem of communication by autocorrecting smartphones, but being too important to correct manually the mistakes they make.

        • Tokumei Yamada

          No, it didn’t start with “Couldn’t”, it started with “could” as an idiom. Even if you changed it to “couldn’t” it would be hyperbolic, because if you were to take it literally, you would NOT BE MAKING THE COMMENT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

          • http://conthis.blogspot.com Joe Sewell

            The first time I heard it, it was “couldn’t.” It made sense when used as a response to someone asking about a particular topic, although I suppose the responder could’ve cared slightly less at that moment simply because he cared to respond.

          • gn

            That is not correct.

            Google Ngram here.

  • Clive Roberts

    ‘I have a ways to go with this’. That one really irritates.

  • bill reeves

    What does it mean that the list of baffling ‘British’ (in itself a baffling confusion of geography with culture) phrases composed almost solely of code phrases not meant to be understood by outsiders while the American bafflers tend to be grammatical shortenings intended to speed communication? ‘Bob’s your uncle’ makes no sense unless you know the code, whereas ‘Reach out’ not only makes sense but conveys a rather powerful image consistent with the phrase’s meaning. It sustains the cliche of the obscure and particular English, oops, I mean ‘British’ vs the sloppy, too much in a hurry Americans.

  • Lapis Morningsong

    I found it interesting to note that when explaining British idioms to Americans the tact was to simply explain what was meant, but when it came to explaining Americanisms to the British, what was done was to tear apart the American way of speaking. Yes, sometimes idioms are grammatically incorrect, but that is no excuse for resorting to snarky jibes. Most of us know it is proper to say we “Couldn’t care less” rather than “could care less”, and “different from” rather than “different than”. Shame on you for highlighting the least common denominator in your “lesson” and jumping on the opportunity to indulge in American Bashing.

    • Thomas Barnidge

      No Brit worth his salt ever went broke playing on the self consciousness of the Americans. Say something with a British accent, even if it is drivel and you will get a large number of Americans fawning at it’s profundity.

    • http://www.anthonyjrapino.com/ Anthony Rapino

      I noticed this as well (having read the two articles back to back). I wonder why British slang is quirky and fun while American slang is baffling and irritating.

    • Skywine

      I suspect it’s because the Brits had the language first and the Yanks were the ones to muck it up a bit.

  • Inaname

    Never understood the outrage against “I could care less.” It’s a construction utilizing damning with faint praise. I prefer this to the hyperbole riddled constructs used by many people today. There are, like, a billion of those.

    • jane

      Ha! Love it. :)

    • Tokumei Yamada

      Agreed. Actually, the altered phrase “I couldn’t care less” is hyperbolic as well.

      Also, I see what you did there.

  • Athena

    …but it’s all right to say “SinJin” when you mean “Saint John?” Please don’t throw stones when you yourself live in a glass house. Learn to adapt to different cultures; it opens up the mind.
    USNavy, Ret.

    • Jandora

      I am 73 and English, but I have never heard of SinJin!

      • gn

        When “St John” is used as part of a person’s name, the British pronunciation is homophonous with the first two words of the phrase “singe an eyebrow”.

        The only example I can think of is Norman St John-Stevas. He used to be on TV discussing politics and stuff.

  • chocoshatner

    Ruth, I’m going to offer you a suggestion: If you are actually looking to survive in America, you should take the condescension down a notch or ten. Only a few of these are actual American expressions, most are grammar mistakes. It only takes a quick visit over to the Sun’s website to see that those type of errors happen on both sides of the Atlantic.

  • colinmeister

    Ruth, you missed the horrible word “Gotten”. The word “Got” is not really useful, since it can usually be left out without changing the meaning of what is being said, but the word “Gotten” just grates.

  • Kate Brunetti

    I am annoyed by those who can’t tell the difference between “then” and “than.” E.g. Rather then, further then, etc. Also “would/could/should of.” It’s “would/could/should have.” I believe this is all due to people not reading very often, they say what they hear rather than what they have seen written in books. I was taught to read before I started school, and never stopped. Consequently I was consistently top of the class for spelling and grammar.

  • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

    Most of what I had to say about the article other have beaten me to it. However, there is one thing I thought rather odd and that is math v maths. If you asked a woman her age and she gives you the year she was born, telling you to “do the math” isn’t there just one arithmetic problem to solve? Now I will admit to being a born and raised in the U.S., but it seems to me that maths would be plural, but then again, I’m not accustom the proper use of British English, more commonly known as “The Queen’s English” here in the States, of which I think there is history behind that label. I never thought about it until now, so I’ll have to research the actual historical meaning behind that label of British English, which I’ve often heard.

    However, the author of this blog, as others mentioned, the correct words to “Could care less” is really “Couldn’t care less” of which I often had a “beef with” myself and when I truly could not care less about something, I use “couldn’t”, otherwise it sounds as though it is possible I could care less about a given issue/topic/subject. However, I do care about the English language, in particularly American English, since it’s what I know, and I hate it when people butcher it.

  • Julia

    It’s interesting that you write a piece about bad grammar while peppering your words with apostrophe faults, i.e., ““Often” on it’s own” should be “its.” “it’s” is a contraction, “it is.”

  • Deborah Lehman

    well, dear Lapis Morningsong, you need a crash course in English. As I have told my daughters teachers/professors, “What course do you teach?” and in reply they state “English” well, then we have a problem, as they do not or ever have! The language in America is……drum roll please….AMERICAN! Do not EVER confuse them both. The language here is, for a better word, deplorable, but understandable, when you have a country that has to spell many words phonetically as they would NEVER get the kids in school to ever be able to spell it.
    My beef is with people who “lited” their Christmas tree!!!
    Or, even better, “Are you coming with me or NO?” Should that be “or not?”

    • Sylvia

      Jeepers creepers, Deborah! I think you need to get laid more often. Chillax, woman!

    • Hurst

      What we have here is an apologist.

  • Bubbydobber

    Well, having read both stories on both sides and probably every comment attached to each. The majority find that, hey we all have strange sayings all over the English speaking world. I have lived in many English speaking countries and also non English speaking countries and I have learned that every place has saying that make since to their area but are strange to most other places.

    The problem I see with these stories are that the person writing them is very one sided and must convey their distaste for America. All this “writer,” and I use that word loosely, did was explain British phrases and bash the way Americans speak. Shame on you!! Yes, many of the American phrases you use are strange even to Americans but at least with our strange if not just grammatically incorrect phrases the simple context clues with those are very clear on what the speaker is saying and meaning. I can say as a teacher of English that most are just grammatically incorrect but are in some part understandable. I have lived in England and was never given a clear definition for half of the Brit phrases you used.

    To cover most of your rambling on how there logical concepts for the British phrases and the everything American is just simply wrong. I believe that you the “writer” are possibly suffering for some sort of delusions of grandeur. It’s not that either are write or wrong. It is simply an evolution of a language be it making it completely either unable to understand with out Little Orphan Annie’s decoder ring or simplified and dumbed down.

    My suggestion about when writing a story such as the two you have, think before you speak. Make it an educational story as you portray it with the headline instead of garbage that is just intended to degrade.

    • Samantha Kisor

      Dear lawd-YOU are an English teacher?!? “Sense,” not “since.” “Right,” not “write.” I’d have to type out a novel to address your other grammatical mistakes. I agree with your points, but your execution is so far off as to be the subject of this author’s disdain for the American treatment of English!

  • Evelyn Marie

    I could care less what Brits think about how we speak. How about the phrase, get a grip.

  • Tokumei Yamada

    What a joke. Another Brit who thinks Americans ruined the language. If I wanted this, I’d just read Facebook comments on news articles and Youtube comments, or go to an expat bar. It’s cool to explain the meaning of certain phrases or words, but if you’re going to take a position of elitism about it, you should really read this blog:


    It’s written by a linguist. It’s someone whose job it is to study language and how it changes and diverges, rather than get upset that it’s spoken differently in places other than its place of origin. It is corpus backed, and traces usage historically. There is even a video about the “Math” vs “Maths” thing.


  • musoka03

    I am American and I wasn’t quite as offended or even taken aback by this article as other people seemed to be, that is until I came to the one about math(s). I’ve always wondered why this subject is plural. I suppose I could see if you mean this is a class about different concepts of math, called maths (implying the many concepts). But then we would have to call the rest of them with multiple concepts the same: sciences, histories, grammars. Then I thought, well maybe its because there are different kinds of math and the Brits don’t separate them out like we do so they just call them all maths instead of geometry, algebra, calculus, etc. Still, you’re really only studying one at any given time so its still just the one math… further research is needed… but bottom line is its just fun to think about how we have such a different way of speaking the same language. Nothing about idioms really irritates me…except when people say irregardless, which is not a word and cancels itself out… its just about being heard, getting out your message, and being understood. The use of the internet and our global technology centered culture creates new ways to do that every day. So, in conclusion, omg tht rox, kthxbai.

    • musoka03

      OH!!! It’s because math and maths are short for mathematics! So we just shortened it a little shorter than the Brits. Fair enough.

  • Wingborn

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll make sure to use these expressions extensively on my trip to London. 😉

  • Melody Pond

    I always love reading articles here, because I consider myself an Anglophile. But I did not enjoy this article, nor the authors’s cynical and negative comments. Most of these are sayings and idioms…they aren’t trying to be gramatically correct! — Furthermore, if I were writing the article for Americans living in the UK, I would include a couple of these myself, that is if I were trying to be hateful, like mathS. MATHS??? — Please go back to nice articles that “reach out” to both Brits and curious Americans. :)

    • furzicle

      I, too, am having a huge problem with the author whining about math vs. maths. Really? “Maths” just always sounded weird to me. But I can accept gracefully that things are different there vs. here (US) Such arrogance!

      • Hurst

        I find it amusing that Americans rarely complain about British sayings, grammar, the mispronunciation of “aluminum”, etc. But the British complain a LOT about almost anything American which is different from the “British way”. Maybe they’re still angry that our forefathers left them to come here and create a better place and kicked their “arses” when they tried to come take over. Or maybe they’re angry at the rest of the world because at one time they controlled a full 1/3 of the world and now they’re relegated to their little island and can’t even keep Canada and Australia under control. Also, they may be angry that they drive on the wrong side of the road. But despite the petty British complaints and judgement, I still love them because my ancestors hailed from there.

  • Andi

    Wow. Our (American) English is totally wrong because we don’t use certain words or use some words differently? Why can’t you just explain the phrases like they did for British idioms? Pick better phrases that people use and explain them instead… Most Brits don’t know what a bucket list is. Explain stuff like that!

  • jenisedai

    When I lived in the UK I adopted many Britishisms, but ‘maths’ was not one of them. Do you say sciences? Histories? Englishes? Biologies? It never made sense to make a single subject into a plural for no apparent reason. Plus, when you say it you sound like you have a lisp.

    • Allen Taylor Garvin

      Plus, Google N Grams comparing “math” and “maths”, searching just British publications, shows the former was far more popular than “maths” until very recently–the last 20 years. “Maths” was almost unknown until post-WWII. It occurs almost not at all in the 19th century.

      That makes me think that it was probably invented in some post-war curriculum, and after several decades eventually replaced the previous “math”.

    • Luigie

      I agree. Thank you so much!

  • Rob Grier

    Explanations (since you saw fit to omit them):

    “I feel like…” comes from American psycho babble. If you say you have a feeling, you can’t be told you are wrong; it’s improper to invalidate someone elses feelings.

    “I could care less” Most of us know it is “couldn’t”; that’s just evidence of sloppy, careless, speakers.

    “Often times” means “many times.”

    “My bad” is Ebonics for “I did something bad; it’s my fault.”

    “You do the math” Math IS the name of the subject here, unless you want to say Mathematics.

    “I’m going to visit with…” In this context, “visit” means “go chat with”. You might say “have a chin wag.”

    “Different than…” Just more sloppiness.

    “Swap out” This is from World War II military slang. The “out” is to imply that you have to take one part out of the machine before you can swap it for another one.

    “Write me” This is the written corollary to “Call me.”

    “Reach out” Picture a small child reaching for their parent. From the child’s perspective, the direction of the reach is “out.”

    • Hurst

      Bravo, Mr. Grier. Well said.

  • David

    Heh. Os our version of English that different than yours? Wow. I feel like doing some math right now, don’t you? Oh, My bad, I just used 3 of the things in the list above. I could care less…

    • David


    • David


  • Kris

    Maths is what you would say if you didn’t know how to properly abbreviate the word mathematics. There is no reason at all to keep the s. Its not plural.

  • RobGinNC

    The problem with this article is that it is hackneyed, recycled and boring. Oh wait, that’s three problems. My bad.

    I’m even learning to live with “on accident” which my (US-born) kids use.

    • Luigie

      My children use ‘on accident’ and I never have. (All of us born in California, and we all still live in California.) Not sure how that happened – I gave up correcting them after 10 years!

  • Jesse C.

    As an American, I would like to make three points:

    1: I always thought that “different than” was British. I most commonly encounter it in a UK based magazine called New Scientist and on BBC America programs – and I always find it a bit jarring. No American I know ever uses it.

    2: The subjects I was taught in school was Mathematics, not math and certainly not maths. To do the math is to solve a single (simple) problem and therefore is not plural.

    3: The long form of “I could care less” is “I could care less, but it would take more effort than it’s worth.”

  • Jwb52z

    Why is “maths” acceptable in British English when the addition of an S to a word means that it is plural? As far as I know,most people don’t study or teach more than one area of the subject at the same exact time.

  • Bet

    Wow, some of these are a little strange… I agree. But thats just part of the American dialect. All dialects are different and they all make sense to the people who grew up with them. That doesn’t make one dialect more ‘idiotic’ than the other. There is really no need for some of this obvious hostility.

  • Jesse C.

    On the subject of different from/than: the variant that I find most jarring is the British “different to” – that one makes no sense at all

  • Barbara

    I’m an American and this article made me laugh, but then again I like The Onion…Now if you really want to “go there” (where? who knows.), let’s talk about the fading difference between “fewer” and “less”. Now THAT’S a first-world problem worthy of intense debate!
    : )

    • $7425157

      Absolutely. Fewer means numbers, less means amount. When I went to school, it was ‘different from’, then TV commercials began using different than, and it became common. A great many grammatical errors come from TV and movie usage.

  • maggie

    We Americans know that it’s “couldn’t care less,” and most people I know use the correct phrase. I don’t know anyone who uses “times” after “often, “with” after “visit” or “out” after “swap.” I’ve only heard the term “swap out” on a TV commercial. “My Bad” is slang introduced by the movie “Clueless,” and not something commonly heard in conversation in the last decade.

    I live in New York, and perhaps these things are used in other parts of the country. But, except for “Math,” they are not universally used by Americans. We vary in our language usage by region just as much as people in the UK do.

  • stkittsperky

    Look up “snark.”

  • Allen Taylor Garvin

    Why is “often times” assumed to be American? In Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament into English, written nearly a century before any Englishman journeyed to the new world:

    “For often times he caught him, and he was bound with chains, and kept with fetters: and he brake the bonds, and was carried of the fiend, into wilderness.”

    Or Thomas Hobbes, in the Leviathan: “The Vaine-glory which consisteth in the feigning or supposing of abilities in ourselves, which we know are not, is most incident to young men, and nourished by the Histories or Fictions of Gallant Persons; and is corrected often times by Age, and Employment.”

    Or Milton? “Which often times may succeed, so as perhaps Shall grieve him”

  • http://tonylayne.blogspot.com/ Anthony S. Layne

    Sometimes, from the way some British speak about Americans, you get the impression that they didn’t get the memo about the Revolution.

  • Kinaya Brown

    “(Note: many Americans are equally baffled by some of the atrocities below.)” Wow more stereotypes how lovely.

  • Piper

    I don’t think I have heard anyone say, ” my bad ” in at least 5 years.

  • Rj Arpin

    My Bad, is like “My mistake” so if spellcheck changes your word to something else, and you send it without noticing your response back might be; “My bad, I mean’t ——

  • Rj Arpin

    You do the math is like: In an interview with Nathan Lane, they asked him about his sexual orientation, and he said “Im 40 years old, single, and do most of my work in the musical theatre, you do the math” Its the equivalent of ‘you figure it out’.

  • Rj Arpin

    As for, “I’m going to visit with” the only context I’ve heard it in is at a family party, where my Mum said to someone, “Oh ——- just got here, I am going to visit with them” I means, I’m going to talk to them…

  • Rj Arpin

    Swap out, is literally swapping something gout for another thing.

  • Rj Arpin

    Reach out is to like, try harder to connect with people, and talk to more people. So if you are really shy, someone might tell you to reach out and talk to someone.

  • Rj Arpin

    I have never heard different than, or write me, so I can’t tell you those, and I don’t know how to explain the others

  • Holly Wells

    This from a place that calls dish soap “washing-up liquid” and vacuuming the carpets “hoovering,” as though everyone on the planet owned a Hoover. Whatever. I love England and I will always love England… I’m flying in on New Years’ Eve, and I plan to celebrate every moment of my visit. To Ms. Margolis: So there, you daft bint. To the rest of England: I freaking LOVE you, man. All my love, Dr. Wells. 😉

  • Gillian Weathers

    Some of them are just incorrect usage. Some do have a distinctive meaning to me. Swapping out means that the item is part of a group of things that you use interchangeably. Visit is also a verb in my history used as in ‘we sat down and had a visit’ so equal to conversation but usually ‘catching up’ with events in each ones lives. There are as many differences in idiom among Americans. I use ‘graduate from college’ while others say ‘graduate college’. It amounts to my thinking my way is right and your’s wrong. That is nonsense. Language changes.

  • Rebecca Speer Oltman

    I’m American, and I absolutely hate all these phrases. Like nails on a chalkboard!!

  • Ken

    I am american and I don’t use any of the phases listed above

  • PrincessJones

    My boss uses “reach out” and unfortunately I’ve begun to pick it up. It means “I’m going to either email this person or call when I know they’re not around so I can leave a voicemail. Please don’t ask me later what was said because I neither expect nor want to have an actual conversation with them.”

  • Apollo

    I feel the need to point out that “could care less” is NOT an American expression. The expression is “couldn’t care less,” and unfortunately the term has been misheard enough times that people regularly get the term incorrect. There are plenty of Americans (this one included) who know and understand the contradictory implications of “could care less” and find it incredibly annoying when others say the phrase incorrectly.

  • MFlick

    I’m a huge Anglophile, have lived in London, and taught British English in Africa for two years. I love you people more than you know, or more than is reciprocated. So when I say this, please know it comes with all the respect I can muster: the word “maths” is more rediculous than the “y” in “tyre”.

    • Hurst

      Baaahahaha. That is funny, even though you spelled “ridiculous” incorrectly. Sorry but I had to make mention of it because “rediculous” grates me. But you are so right. I love the Brits far more than is reciprocated, as well.

  • Stars and Stripes forever

    You British can say whatever you like cause if it was not for us silly coarse Americans you would be saluting the fuhrer and speaking German right along with the damn French. All kidding aside most Americans know when foreigners are being condescending with us we just choose to ignore it both out of respect and also cause we’re Americans and much to the chagrin of the rest of the world we don’t give a jolly good crap what you all think. To all British citizens living in the states welcome to America all we ask is you embrace and cherish freedom and work hard to chase your dreams.

    • Hurst

      ^ love this post.

    • Adam Pack

      Oh, yeah, you came into the Second World War near the end, didn’t you? I keep forgetting. Of course, if it weren’t for the French, you’d still be speaking proper English, but heigh ho.

  • Mike

    The Brits are correct on all points EXCEPT “maths”. Not only is “maths” hard to pronounce without lisping like a fool, but “math”, as it is correctly known, is short for “mathematics” and placing an “s” on the end is just bloody wrong!

  • therealguyfaux

    “I could care less” would actually make sense were the order inverted, as in “Could I care less,” i.e., a rhetorical question implying that the subject oughtn’t have been brought up in the first place, as being too boring/offensive even to discuss/consider.

    I suspect that what happened was that the simple declarative “I couldn’t care less” was considered a bit brusque, some thought it sounded better as the rhetorical question above, but then the word order went back to the form of the original, though making nonsense of the original concept in the doing.

  • Adam Powell

    I loved the article on British idioms but why is this one so full of hatred and snide remarks against the US slang? It’s only natural both sides of the pond are going to use different colloquialisms and idioms but such bias is very unwelcome from a BBC writer.

  • sandy

    and hence begins the English era! where people are grumbling over going to ” and going to the “phrase …..British accent or American! after all its English!; )

  • MeiTow

    Last I checked a singular subject was not pluralized. Sorry Brits but “math” is correct. You wouldn’t say a car lot with 100 cars on it is a “cars” lot…the lot is singular, just like math is singular and happens to encompass many forms of itself. Do you say you are attending a Lits class because in it you read literature from different authors/nationalities? It’s the same with sciences. You don’t go to sciences class, you go to science class. 😛

  • http://aol.com/ Lenny Le Clerc

    Ah, whatever the words, idioms, etc,,we Americans love you Brits, your entertainment is the best,,mysteries, Downton, Sherlock, etc, the absolute best,,

  • Brinlee

    Maths and math are the same thing. In America, it’s Math. In Britain it’s Maths. Also the phrase means pretty much means “figure it out yourself.”