Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chips and Other Confusing Words

During the discussion that followed my recent interview on Cindy's Country Corner, Cindy asked me, "Graham, I have heard that most Brits love their fish and chips! And, you obviously do! So, here’s my question. Are the chips more like french fries, home fries, potato chips or none of the above?"

I thought most American people knew what British "chips" were, but it is not the first time I have been asked this question, so I thought I would clarify this. British chips are American french fries (I hope we have got past the embarrassing term "freedom fries" now), but unlike most fries, which are usually quite thin, British chips are generally fatter.

What Americans call potato chips, Brits call crisps.

For the benefit of my non-American friends, home fries are par-cooked potatoes, diced or otherwise cut into chunks, then shallow-fried.

There are so many of these little differences, I think an entire series is warranted. Let us go on for a while:

What we Brits call pants, Americans call underwear. In Britain, the word underwear is often used to describe any undergarments, such as underpants, bras, undershirts (US undershirts are UK vests, while a US vest is what a Brit would call a waistcoat). An American calls them pants, while a Brit calls them trousers. My four-year-old daughter always bursts into fits of giggling when I tell her about pants and trousers and so on.

While we are on the subject of anatomy and accessories, if you have not already checked it out, you might enjoy an earlier post here, Don't say 'fannypack' around me.

Finally (for now anyway), you might enjoy The Very Best of British - The American's Guide to Speaking British, a website which is full of these little differences and makes a very entertaining read.

Confused? Do you have some more differences or questions about language differences? Please post a comment and let me know.

18 comments:

Dog Dharma said...

Explain LOO.

Linda Hemerik said...

As a dutchie living in NJ (as well) I can relate very much to the language differences. The Dutch have many words in their vocabulary that are english but have a completely different meaning than what a native English speaker would think. Would you not at least raise your eyebrow if you heard Dutch mothers put their newborn babies in a box?! The 'box' is a kind of wooden playpen that is a major piece of baby equipment along the stroller (pram for the brits) and the bouncy chair.
Another word that can cause hilarious situations is 'panty'. Only in the Netherlands we use that word to refer to tights. You can imagine the reaction when my 4 year old daughter on a hot early spring day announced she was going to take off her panties!
Language is a funny thing!

Cindy said...

I hear a lot of Brits say CRIKEY, BLIMEY and BUGGER! Are there times when one word is more appropriate to use than another? I usually say HOLY COW or HELLS BELLS in American English!

Traci said...

As a Brit living in Colorado, I was joking the other day with my supervisor and told her I could be a 'moody old cow' - she thought it was hilarious! We Brits can use 'cow' as an insult but apparently it's not well-known over here. I find the differences in language fascinating, and regularly find myself getting into trouble ...

Just read your blog re 'fanny pack' too - a colleague (co-worker) of mine discovered its British meaning and from then on, proceeded to shout it at me whenever I came near her!

There are so many small difference, such as Americans say 'in a half hour' and we Brits say 'in half an hour'. Oh, and a bathroom to me has a bath in it - otherwise (@Dog Dharma) it's a 'loo'!

Traci said...

@ Cindy, 'Crikey' is a little old-fashioned these days. 'Crikey' and 'Blimey' are expressions of surprise and 'Bugger' is more of a frustration (as in 'oh bugger it'). Hope that helps!

Cindy said...

Thanks, Traci! You know, I really like "Oh, bugger it!" Is it inappropriate for me to steal it and use it for my own?

Graham said...

@Dog Dharma - As @Traci says, "Loo" is British slang for the bathroom. I think bathroom euphemisms could be an entire blog post - I think I may just do that!

@Linda Hemerik - "Babies in a Box" has quite a ring to it! Actually to Brits, a Pram is mostly a bigger, carriage-styled baby conveyancing device. To me, a stroller was always called a "pusher."

And I guess "panty" comes from the same place as "pantyhose"

Thanks for sharing your Dutch take on these linguistic laughs.

@Cindy - again, @Traci has hit the nail on the head. Quite mild expletives and Crikey is a little old-fashioned. "Blimey" is short for "Blind Me" - again, you don't here it much.

I use "Bugger" quite often.

@Traci - thanks so much for your input. I hope to hear more from you!

Talking of time - here's another one I hear all the time: "ten of two," where we Brits would say "ten to two." I'd never heard that before moving to the US, and I can't bring myself to say it.

While I comfortably say "bathroom," it took a long time before I was comfortable with it - I'm not going to take a bath! Conversely, my (American) wife was shocked when she first heard Brits talking about "going to the toilet."

Graham said...

@Cindy - of course you can borrow "Bugger It" - always a pleasure to award an "Honorary Brit" title!

You can also say that something is "Buggered Up" or "Buggered" to mean it's broken.

Graham said...

You can also call someone "A Bugger" - meaning someone who is annoying or doing something naughty. "Bugger Off" is another way of using it.

Quite a versatile word, bugger!

Traci said...

And what about 'sod'? Can be used like 'bugger' as in 'sod off' which is quite a nice gentle way of saying 'go away'! Or 'oh sod it' for frustrations. Sorry, I'll try to lay off the expletives for a while!

Graham, I've heard 'ten of two' as well and I have to think hard about what it means! Am I right in thinking Americans say 'ten after two' as well (where Brits would say 'ten past two')?

My co-workers love hearing British slang, especially ones like 'legless', meaning very drunk ('he got legless last night')!

Graham said...

@Traci - people will be thinking we all swear like sailors! ;)

Yep, Ten after Two gets used quite a bit. I always say "ten past" and "ten to" and people seem to understand me (or they're too polite to say anything!)

And how about "pissed" - that's one that gets the natives confused! ;)

Linda Hemerik said...

I came back to read the rest of the comments and I had a great laugh. Great post. Will be thinking of more linguistic confusions.

thebalcony said...

There's so many others too... like, pretty much any part of a car. People get confused over here when I refer to the boot (trunk) or bonnet (hood), not to mention wheelarches (fenders), HT leads (sparkplug wires), or spell "tyres" with a "y".

And then there's all the spelling differences (which I see you've adopted) - personally, I think Noah Webster was dyslexic. :D

Yet another Brit in NJ here... but this one wants to go home!

Graham said...

@thebalcony - thanks for your comments! You're absolutely spot on about cars - although I don't know the trunk from the hood, or the boot from the bonnet!

I was in a quandary as far as using American vs. British spellings. As I work as an educator for an online learning company, I've had to adopt American spellings, so I'm pretty used to them now. I do get tripped up occasionally though.

What brought you to NJ? Why do you want to go back?

RussInNJ said...

Well, the missus is American, we were living in the UK, but we figured, we had the opportunity to try things out over here, so we took it.

It's OK here, but we've both come to the conclusion we prefer it back home, so we're aiming to go back before the end of the year.

There's lots of reasons for us wanting to go back... proper pubs, no food full of HFCS, Sainsbury's, the NHS, different lifestyle, different opportunities. I will miss the space out here though.

RussInNJ said...

By the way, just to avoid confusion, I changed my posting name! :)

Graham said...

@RussinNJ - I hear ya! You do have to weigh these things up and make your decision. But, I've come to the conclusion that there are good and bad things in both places - we are kind of caught between two places, and that can be both a blessing and a curse, as we experience the best and worst of both worlds!

I hope the US comes to its senses over the use of High-Fructose Corn syrup, though!

Good luck with your planned move, and please stay in touch - it might be very interesting to get your perspective on a few things in the future.

Tarot cards said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.