10 American Speech Habits That Grate on British Ears

(Minden Pictures/AP Images)

“Do you like my ‘erb’ garden?” “Your what?” (Minden Pictures/AP Images)

I’m with the Americans on a lot of things—spellings in particular. Just think of all the valuable seconds you can save ordering doughnuts online when you drop the ‘ugh’ from the middle of the word and spell it donut. And if you ask me, taking the ‘U’ and ‘E’ off the end of catalog was an inspired move. Now imagine you’re ordering next season’s donut catalog… that’s the American Dream right there, baby.

But when it comes to verbal communication, there are certain Americanisms us Brits find intolerable.                     

Beginning sentences with “P.S.”
Aside from the fact it’s more annoying than crying kids on planes, it doesn’t make sense to say. P.S. comes from the Latin “post scriptum” meaning “written after,” not “spoken after.”

Ending sentences with “…or no?”
American: “Bro! Are we going to the game tonight… or no?”
Brit: “Err… ‘scuse me mate, I think you left a ‘T’ off the end of your sentence.”

Tan
Yes, I know technically it’s correct because “tan” is a color, but to British ears the following sentence sounds like it could use an “-ed” suffix: “I went to Antigua and got really tan.”  Whenever I hear this I always want to respond: “I can’t go to Antigua.  I’m ban.”

Overuse of the word “awesome”
The infinite cosmos is awesome. Taco Bell’s new buffalo burrito is not.

The silent ‘H’ on “herb.”
As far as I’m concerned, “vitamins” and “tomatoes” are fair game. All the letters are being acknowledged, they’re just being pronounced differently. But if you’re going to pronounce it “erb” then why isn’t the same logic being applied to every word beginning “Her…?”

“‘Er ‘erd of ‘ermits and ‘errings had ‘ereditary ‘erpes,” said the cheeky American cockney when asked to explain why his sister’s bizarre collection of animals had died.

Saying “Wait, what?” when they don’t quite catch something
Instead of saying “pardon me” or “I’m terribly sorry, but could you repeat that?” Americans prefer to ask you to wait a second before bluntly asking you what it was you said.

Describing things as “ghetto”
“Umm, like, why is my dog’s leash being so ghetto today?”
“I’m not going to that restaurant, Michael, it’s ghetto.”
“Ugh, my iPad Mini is so ghetto.”

Insisting you will perish should you dare to try a new food
“Oh my God I’m obsessed with their tiramisu!  You’re gonna die when you taste it.”  Conversely, no Brit could say this without it sounding like an actual threat.

The way they pronounce foreign places
“Edin-burrow” is where Scottish rabbits live.
“York-shy-err” is a suburb of Middle-earth.
“Sunder-land” is a theme park in Tyne and Wear.
“Mos-cow” is a rare breed of cattle.

Telling the time
The first time I asked an American for the time I was informed that it was “a quarter of eight.”  So there I was thinking it was 2p.m., when in actual fact it was 7:45p.m. That made me miss 16 trains. So, to exact revenge, when occasion arrived that an American asked me for the time, I told him it was “half eight”, duping him into believing it was 4p.m. That made him miss 13 trains, which wasn’t as many as I missed, but it was still pretty funny.

Which American speech habits grate your ears?  Tell us in the comments below:

See More:
10 Things Americans Do to Drive Brits Nuts
5 Practical Things Brits Need to Know Before Working in America
10 Things Brits Say … and What Americans Think We Mean

  • nyclouise

    When Americans say they’re excited “for” something, rather than “about” something. (Glossophilia looked at some other speech differences between Yanks and Brits here: http://www.glossophilia.org/?p=1724.) Also, when Americans often say that they “could care less” about something, when what they really mean is they “couldN’T care less” … They also use the expression “being on pins and needles” when Brits would describe themselves being “on tenterhooks” … Also, in the U.S. they take things “in stride” – it doesn’t seem to matter whose stride …

    • Lindsey

      I think “excited for” is usually used in anticipation of something. As in “I’m excited for Thanksgiving.” means that the person is excited that Thanksgiving is nearly here. “I’m excited about my promotion at work” – in this case, the person is excited about something that already happened.

      • Aurelas

        I’m an American who has never heard anyone say “excited for” unless it was in the sense of “I am excited for you!” i.e. “I am happy that this thing has happened to you!” Never have I heard “I am excited for Christmas!” except from very small children. It could be because I am from Northwest Florida (which is more Alabama than Florida in a lot of ways). I hate the “could care less” thing though–and the way people become very annoyed if you try to explain what they’re actually saying.

      • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

        Correct Lindsay, and I hear it used from time to time.

  • ladyguenivere

    Huh, never heard “quarter of” and actually, most Americans I know look at me like I’m speaking Latin when I say “quarter TO eight” meaning 7:45, of course. Seems to be more of a Canadian thing than American.

    • expatmum

      Where I am they say “quarter of” all the time, as well as “ten till”.
      The one I do which confuses everyone is to say 4.30 – 5 as “four thirty, (pause) five”. People think I’m being very very specific (4.35) whereas I’m giving them a 30 minute window. One of these days I”ll remember.

    • Paul Stonkus

      I hear and use plenty of “quarter to”, quarter past, and half after around here

  • maggie

    I agree with just about all the above especially ‘erb and the pronunciation of places.

  • Sasch

    And I am put out by having to put up with accents from Liverpool. The audacity to deal with those low u’s! Who am I kidding, I love you Brits. :D

  • GPS

    Your grammar: “All the letters…” should read, “All of the letters…”

  • expatmum

    I love some of these, especially “or no”. It’s simple and to the point, The other one they say (at least in the mid-west) like that is “Are you coming with?”

    And just as a point of info – I recently asked a Muscovite whether Moss-cow or Moss-co was correct and she said “It doesn’t matter. You can fight about it as much as you want, Russians don’t pronounce it either way.” Ok then.

  • dispacedbrit

    the use of the word momentarily… ie the train will move momentarily when you really mean it will move in a moment… I expect some momentary jerk of movement

    • expatmum

      I’m afraid that happens almost as often in the UK these days.

      • SuesEs123

        Ah yes but do you literally FEAR this?

        • expatmum

          Absolutely.

  • Lucas Rayala

    This is funny, and I chuckled straight through. And I know you’re having fun, but I would like to point out that a lot of Europeans don’t quite understand how BIG the US is. I know, you understand intellectually, but sometimes you just kind of… forget. And suddenly 50 states are all lumped together in your heads. I live in Minnesota, which is about the size of the entire UK. Visiting my relatives in Wisconsin is like driving to the South of France for you. We have one language that covers this HUGE land mass (yes, exceptions exist (we’re really big, exceptions always exist)). Because of this large land mass, our language is very regional. I’m from the Midwest and I can’t really understand people with a thick Boston accent. And the Deep South? Forget it. While it would be more accurate to think of us as 50 different countries, at the very least acknowledge the huge regional differences between the East, Midwest, South, and West.
    Oh, and P.S., using “ghetto” here is pretty crass. Just sayin’.

    • Ex-pat

      Fair play Lucas, not everyone over here in Europe acknowledges the the US as “America” however. I do admit that I get quite puzzled looks from Americans when I meet them over here in Europe and I can recognise roughly which area of the US they hail from (I’ve just met a lot of travelling US citizens and over the years noticed patterns of speech).

      I don’t think the size of the US geographically has much to do with the accent diversion take the United Kingdom and Ireland as prime examples. Probably a little bit bigger area wise than Minnesota combined however the sheer volume of diversion in accents is overwhelming for many visitors.

      The “British” accent in most Hollywood movies or received pronunciation as it’s officially named is amusing for people from the UK nowadays because it did exist but now no longer. It was a generic accent which was put on to hide which kind of class you were, and to give the impression you came from a good private educational background.

      When I hear my own students ask me to teach them how to talk like this, I jokingly admit to them unfortunately I can’t. I was born too far north and because I was born and raised on the west coast of Scotland I can only just about speak clearly but if provoked i’m afraid it might put me into Glaswegian gibberish and then I can no longer work as an English teacher.

      After showing them this video, they think its like some rare medical affliction I’ve cured myself of http://youtu.be/a0rgETg2Hoo

      • declan casey

        Minnesota is larger than England…if that doesn’t convince you that this country is huge, I don’t know what can.

    • Becky

      Yep, my family is from Minnesota and I grew up in California. I often had teachers in school not able to understand my accent when I said words like “root” or “roof,” and I spent a long time trying to explain what uff-da means before I just gave up. (And that’s not even counting the cultural use of language. Speaking “Minnesota Nice” is very ineffective when you live in a place where “No, thank you” actually means “no.”)

    • Jazzyness

      scuse mate I think you left the “g” off saying. Just saying.

  • Angela Stimson

    people who say “my bad”
    makes my skin crawl, don’t why but it does

    • mrv

      literal translation of the Latin “mea culpa.”

  • Irené Colthurst

    The first two have an element of informal, convivial facetiousness to them. Which suggests that that is what grates on your ears, not the linguistic construction as such.

    Where did “/erb/” come from? Whatever its origin, it is simply a dialectal pronunciation difference.

    And finally, catalogue, dialogue, monologue, and all other “logues” are alive and well in AmE. Contrary to the (widespread?) misconception, they were words whose Websterian re-spellings didn’t catch on.

  • vxxrr

    People from any country mispronounce foreign words, place names or otherwise. Even educated Brits seem to have a tough time with Spanish words, “Tack-oh” makes my skin crawl. Then again, most Spanish place names in the US southwest have been similarly bastardized by Americans and hearing the British mispronunciation of “Los Angeles” grates, even though I know the American mispronunciation is just as bad. I think people- myself included- must feel that if something is a proper name, its pronunciation should somehow be immune from the effects of accent and dialect.

    And even for locations within the US, there are regional differences in how place names are pronounced– for example, locals say “Oregn” whereas many midwesterners say “Ore-gone.” Missouri, Nevada… “Nawlins.”

    • Ory-Gun

      Good points, except for the “Oregn”. I’m from Oregon and it’s pronounced “Ory-gun”. People who aren’t from here always mispronounce “Willamette”, “Yaquina”, “Luckiamutte” and tons of other cities or rivers. Life is way to short to let such silly things grate on one’s nerves, so I just go with the flow and if they ask how to pronounce it, I tell them. If one becomes embarrassed when they mispronounce place names, just look up the correct pronunciation before you visit somewhere new. Easy peasy.

  • grasor

    How far it it to LA? about 3 hours away?????? Huh? 3 hours at 20 mph or 3 hours at 70 mph?

    • Paul Stonkus

      simple- three hours at the speed limit……..

  • wayneluke11

    Living in California, it is interesting to hear place names. All of a sudden the Spanish name places are butchered. The letter J isn’t pronounced like H or silent as it should be and so forth. Though sometimes it is difficult to tell if the name is Spanish or English. Then again we have a town name Los Banos as well. Means “The Bathrooms”.

    • Milkeebar

      Isn’t the Spanish J different from the Portuguese J in pronunciation?

  • Alexandra

    Oh, I am so guilty of overusing the word ‘awesome’. I wonder how much that has annoyed Rob and Hannah during our weekly Skype chats. I should probably start changing up my vocabulary more: “I had the most splendiferous lunch an hour ago.”

  • BlueVibe

    What, because no Brit ever dropped an “h”? I’ve heard Yorkshire accents; I know better. Why you continue to obsess about this particular silent “h” while overlooking all your own, homegrown, missing h’s is simply nitpicking.

    • Paul Stonkus

      and what about “Eric the ‘alf-a-bee?”

      • Aurelas

        lol I hadn’t thought about that in ages and now the song is stuck in my ‘ead.

  • stargazer1682

    I have never heard someone in the states describe something as “of the hour” It’s either to, or past. I had to re-read that part, as it sounded more like an English expression, and thought maybe the author was stating what they thought it should be.
    Many of these are exaggerated, either in how broadly it’s used, or interpretation. The “die” expression is an example of the author missing the point. In the example given, they’re saying they like a certain food so much, that for someone else to try it would be an experience like dying and going to heaven. It’s a hyperbolic expression of ecstasy. Are you telling me people in the UK don’t have expressions like that?

    • therealguyfaux

      “Quarter OF” is definitely in use in the US. Maybe not in YOUR neck of the woods.

      • YourWeirdUncle

        I had teachers in elementary school say “quarter of” all the time, but half of them used it to mean “15 minutes before” and half of them used it to mean “15 minutes after” and all of them got angry if you didn’t know which one they meant. I was so happy when digital watches and clocks became the norm because then it wasn’t a quarter of six anymore, it was 5:45, which everyone understands.

  • theaccringtoniann

    The Texans I live around all seem to have been blessed with precognition. “I forgot my coat at home.” One might tell me. What they actually mean is that they left it at home.

    • Aurelas

      lol we say that here in Northwest Florida too. I actually never realized what a strange turn of phrase it is until reading your post!

      • frozen01

        I’m originally from northern Florida, myself.
        You can leave a coat at home on purpose or by accident. Saying “you forgot” leaves no doubt, so I would think it’s pretty useful and not strange at all.

  • Autumn

    Ok, something you Brits seem to forget is that although the Brits played a very large part in the formation of our country. You were NOT the only influence upon our culture and language. I blame our arrogance on the French. After all, nobody is as arrogant as the French. They haven’t won a single conflict in over a hundred years in which they weren’t hiding behind the Brits and or Uncle Sam’s pant legs. But, that is a conversation for another day. Large portions of our country use the term parish rather than county. Herb is pronounced similarly to the French pronunciation. There are also many words within our language that were influenced by German, therefore our pronunciation of these words remain closer to their original origin rather than to the way in which the Brits chose to pronounce the word. I remember asking my 5th grade teacher why the “k” in knife and knight were not pronounced. We don’t say K-nife, or K-night. Or do you Brits pronounce the “K”? The letter “C” in the English language is redundant, why did the Brits ever bother with it in the 1st place? The letter “C” is bipolar, it can’t decide if it wants to sound like a “K” or an “S”. Quite silly, yet it has infected U.S. english as well. Perhaps one of you Brits would be so kind as to explain why Brits in general seem have an aversion to the use of definite articles? Example: Last night I went to hospital. Which hospital? Is there something about the word “the” that frightens you? Beyond pronunciation and syntax differences I agree with every other example provided. The main reason for most if not all of these language errors is the fact that our public education system has become so concerned with making everyone feel good about themselves that they no longer correct children when they mispronounce a word or make a grammatical error. Example: If a child were to say “I want “dat” toy.”, instead of “that” it is no longer acceptable to correct the child’s pronunciation as it may hurt the child’s self-esteem. Many a public school teacher would be unable form a proper sentence to save their life.

    • Milkeebar

      The whole of the English language has influences from French (ever heard of the Normans?) as well as old Germanic (Angles, Saxons) Nordic (Vikings) etc etc.
      We have Parish (Parish Councils).
      The issue with ‘silent letters’ etc is not because people sat down & decided upon them but because the language evolved from many other language influences, written & spoken.
      The issue with ‘erb’ is that it is not just a spoken dropping of the ‘H’ but is written as such.
      Languages evolve, that’s fine, you talk how you want, it’s just pointing out that these particular words & speech patterns grate on the English more so than most.
      My hate is ‘could care less’ rather than ‘couldn’t care less’ because it means the opposite of what it’s intended to mean.

  • ExBobby

    “I did it on accident” Ack!

    • expatmum

      Actually, when you think about it – if you do something “on purpose” why shouldn’t it be “on accident”? I’ve never really understood that.

  • DrDespicable

    And as we all know, the fine citizens of the UK *NEVER* drop their T’s or any other letters…

  • stevenwmatt

    I live in the States and we do not say a quarter of 8? I say: seven forty-five or fifteen ’til eight or a quarter ’til eight. I never say “OF” when telling the time….

    • Ex-expat

      It’s very common, though.

      • Adam Carlson

        I’ve never heard it, and I’m just a BIT of a pop-culture junkie. It’s always either a quarter TO eight, or a quarter PAST eight. As in a quarter of an hour. Pretty simple.

        • Marsha Smith

          When I was taught to tell time, it was the prehistoric era, before digital watches were invented. So if the time was 7:45, it was also a quarter to eight. I’m 57 yrs old so I just can’t help it. It was the way it was taught then.

        • alikhat

          No idea where you are, but I live in CA and I hear both “a quarter of” and “a quarter to” interchangeably all the time.

          • mandy

            ditto here in central Pennsylvania seven forty-five = quarter ’til/quarter to/quarter of eight

      • dm10003

        Relatives from NY State Finger Lakes and my family in Michigan learned “quarter of” as much as til or to. My London friend complained he can’t remember that “of” means “before” when he visits me in NYC today, so it’s common and widespread.

    • littlebirdhouse92

      We say it all the time around here (NY Metro CT). I remember being taught to do so in elementary school, along with other forms too. I think it’s ridiculous to think that someone would use a fraction to say, “2″. LOL!

    • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

      I’m American and indeed know people who say ‘a quarter of eight.”

  • stevenwmatt

    Also, this is a generalization. Many Americans pick and choose between supposedly British or American ways of saying things. I pronounce “Herb” like erb, but my best friend likes to say “Herb”. However in the United States it seems as if “erb” is the preferred way to say it.

  • dw

    Not this again!

  • M.

    The telling time one is my favorite! I actually laughed out loud in a public place where everyone thought I was crazy. But it never occurred to me that telling time was different outside the US.

  • darex

    Ridiculous!

    Or no = In’nit

    Awesome=Brilliant, which is also misused and over-used.

    ‘Erbs is regional, in’nit ‘Enry ‘iggins?

    Lastly, who taught you to call L.A., “Los Ahn-je-Lees” ?

    While I’m on it, “you could have done ” … WHAT?

    Also, stop adding an Es to Drug Test, and Math, but please do add an Es to “Sport” for goodness sake!

    You see? It cuts both ways!

  • Brittany

    You keep repeating that the UK has many regional dialects. Guess what? So does the US.

    Many things you insist Americans say are only from one dialect. Not all of us live in California or the South.

  • Mimi

    Saying that someone will be here ‘momentarily’ instead of ‘in a moment’ as though there would only be present for a fleeting timespan. Also, ‘are you done?’ instead of ‘have you finished?’ Lived here 15 years and love so much of this country but it’s good to laugh at the little things :)

  • Rob C

    Funny article, but it should read, “But when it comes to verbal communication, there are certain Americanisms WE Brits find intolerable”, not “us Brits find intolerable.”

    • zante

      Thank you for your comment. When one is being snooty, he should make sure is grammar is perfect.

  • Gilbert

    My American wife’s voice is normally fine, but when she goes through the drive-thru she gets very loud and overwhelmingly American when ordering.

    • Debbie Mills-Kelly

      HAHA

    • YourWeirdUncle

      If you grow up around American drive-thrus, you learn very early on that you have to shout because the microphones and speakers universally don’t work very well because the company spent $5 on the entire system. If you speak at a normal volume you will constantly have to repeat yourself or wind up with a Big Mac when you ordered coffee.

  • alikhat

    I will be happy to tell you what happened to the “h” in herb when you can show me the location of the “f” in lieutenant.

    • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

      Ha! Nice one.

  • TC

    My British husband hates it when I say, “I need to itch _insert body part here_.” Whenever I say this, he almost immediately says, “scratch.”

    • Nelson

      I’m American, and I agree with your husband.

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  • Erik

    Like…like…like it was like totally like awesome – surprised that did not make the cut, but perhaps it is more of a West coast annoyace.

  • Tricia

    The “herb” one made me laugh- as it is amusing to me to get teased about not pronouncing the “h” – when there are *how* many words that many Brits forget all about those poor “r”s? ;)

    • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

      And “t”s.

  • http://www.smittenbybritain.com/ SmittenbyBritain

    Yes, tan is technically correct, so there goes your argument!

  • zante

    One thing I hate about Brits is the way they pronounce cappuccino.

  • Jwb52z

    The reason I would never pronounce the H in “herb” when meaning the vegetation is because when it’s pronounced, it’s a name.

  • deboola

    If you told me ( an American) it was half eight I would ask if you mean 7:30 or 8:30. 4 o’clock would not cross my mind.

    • Debbie Mills-Kelly

      That’s what I said… I would have thought it was 8:30..lol

  • Debbie Mills-Kelly

    I love this Article… I think it’s really funny…I’m from Philadelphia so even most American ask me to repeat myself…LOL

  • deboola

    I rarely hear the word herb used and even more rare is hearing it with the H pronounced but when I do, I cringe.

  • Marie Shanahan

    You are too funny! I visited England once about 20 years ago and the language barrier, at least in Northampton, was vast. My mother’s family immigrated from Italy to America in the 60′s, most of the them only speak English outside of their homes and being there felt like being with a roomful of Italians refusing to speak, wait for it…..English!! LOL We just have different ways of putting things. If we were as well mannered as our cousins, the Brits, half of us would be handled “rather roughly” for not getting to the point! I think we’d like to, we’re just….”scared.” ;)

  • TMarius

    If you guys don’t like “ghetto”, how does “thugnificent” sound? …or no?

  • Blake Selph

    I believe the h in herb is probably on the bottom of the river Thames alongside its h :P

  • Marli

    As far as silent “h” goes, there’s a silent “h” at the beginning of the word “hour”, but not at the beginning of the word “house”, “how”, or “hound”. How is that any different than herb vs. herd?