British English

There are a great many things that we’ve learned to say differently on this side of the Atlantic.  Sure, there are all the things everyone knows pretty well, like gas is petrol, apartments are flats, and so on.  But there’s a lot more to it than that, and it can get rather subtle.  In fact, there’s a new book about the whole thing if you really want to go deep into this.  But this post is just about our experiences.

Scottish talk

Wee

Before coming to Scotland, if anyone had asked me to imitate a Scottish accent, I could have done caricature of one.  I would certainly have thrown in the word “wee” just to overdramatize, because of course I’ve seen Mike Myers say it, so it must be accurate.  But it turns out that people here do actually use the word wee quite a bit!  In fact, Jesse shares the following quote from his math teacher:

Pi is three and a wee bit.

That same teacher is also fond of saying, “Don’t be a dafty!”

Hiya

If you walk past locals on the street and say “hello,” or “hi,” or any similar greeting, you might hear any of a variety of things in response.  Sometimes I get a response that I don’t understand at all.  But commonly, the response I get is “hiya.”

Yous

My parents say that all authentic waitresses in Northeast Pennsylvania address a table of guests as “yous” or “yous guys,” as in, “What can I get for yous?”  Scottish waitresses (with a different accent obviously) do the same thing.

Just now, just here

When we want to emphasize “now” or “here” in American English, we add the word “right” in front of it.

Get down here right now!

I’ll need your signature right here, sir.

Not so in Scotland!  It’s always “just here” and “just now.”

I’m going to wash the dishes just now.

Can you put the packages just here, please?

British talk

Pop

Nope, not soda.  If I were the checkout clerk at a store in America, I might say, “Please swipe your card here,” or “Stick your card in there, please,” or something similar.  If I were going into an American store very briefly, I might be just “hopping into the store” or “going in here real quick” or something similar.  In all of these situations in Britain, the verb is “pop.”

Here, let’s pop into the pub for a bit.

Pop your card in here, then sign just there.

I picture myself entering the pub with the sound of a bursting bubble, as if I’d just barely fit myself through the door.

Creche

This one is great.  Every week since we arrived in July, our pastor has done the announcements in church, and informed parents that there’s creche downstairs for the little ones.  My American friends surely understand that, in July, I was a bit taken aback by this.  Why in the world would there be a creche downstairs?  Turns out Google had my back; it says:

crèche /krɛʃ,kreɪʃ/ noun

  1. BRITISH
    a nursery where babies and young children are cared for during the working day.
  2. NORTH AMERICAN
    a representation of the nativity scene.

Ah.  That explains it.  (He still says it every week, of course.)

Also at church…

The after-church fellowship time at home involves most people having coffee and a small number having tea.  Here it’s reversed.  And they serve cookies, but call them biscuits instead.  If you want to help out by taking a turn serving the tea and coffee, you sign up for the “tea and coffee rota” (pronounced ROE-tuh).  This might require you to pop a kettle on the hob (the stove burner).

Cheers

My word, people say this all the time.  It means two things here.  It can mean the same thing as in the US and it sometimes seems to mean “goodbye,” but most commonly, it just means “thank you.”  If you hold the door for someone, you get “cheers.”  If you finish paying your bill at the store, you get “cheers.”  Just the other day I finally got up the courage to say “cheers” in place of thank you.  It seemed to work.

Pudding

In some parts of the US, “coke” means both Coca-cola specifically and the category of soda more broadly.

Waitress in Georgia:  You want a coke?

Patron:  Yes, please.

Waitress:  What kind?

Patron:  Sprite.

That’s how Britain is with pudding.  Pudding means pudding, and it also means dessert.  So for instance, you might order sticky toffee pudding, which is delicious and is also cake.  Or someone you’re visiting might ask you if you want pudding, and you say yes, and are then given cookies.  You know, for pudding.

Pants.  TROUSERS!

One that I’ve been very slow to learn is trousers.  In the US, this word sounds old fashioned or hoity-toity.  But this is an important one, because to the British, “pants” means what “underpants” means to an American, so you don’t typically want to say that.  Actual example:

Me, in a thrift store:  So you don’t have men’s pants?

Thrift store lady:  [pauses, blinks, realizes]  Trousers!  No, I’m afraid not.

In our house, whenever I say pants, Adeline just immediately interjects, “TROUSERS!”

So many more

I could go on.  The checkout lane or register is the “till,” and a company that provides electronic checkout devices calls itself Cybertill.

They say “bits” or “bits and pieces” all the time.  You or I might say, “I have to get a bunch of little things done,” but they would say they have to get a bunch of bits and pieces done.

They use “sorted” to mean “organized” or “solved.”  The recycling bins use this as a joke, saying on them, “Let’s get it sorted.”  To Americans, it doesn’t even seem like a joke.

Half the time signs say “entrance” and “exit” and the other half they just say “way in” and “way out.”

American talk

This post wouldn’t be complete unless I confessed to some of the funny things that Americans say, too.

Awesome

First, we say “awesome” when we mean “nice.”

Joe:  Can you bring me that thing?

Jane:  Sure.

Joe:  Awesome.

This sounds ludicrous to Brits.  Like, really, that was awesome?  She just brought him that thing!  It’s not awesome, it’s mundane.

In our defense, they use the word “brilliant” the same way.  They use it just to mean “great,” whereas Americans use it to refer only to people like Einstein.

If you could get back to me before the end of the day, that would be brilliant.

To an American, this sounds like absurd flattery.  Probably like how it would sound to a Scot or English person if you stuck “awesome” in instead.

Sure

This one comes from my pastor, Paul, who told me that he is always amused with how ready Americans are to say “sure.”

In Britain, “sure” means “okay, I’ll do you that favor.”

Alicia:  Would you stop and pick up dishwasher soap on your way home?

Kristie:  Sure.

In America, it can mean that, or it can also mean, “yeah, why not?”

Alicia:  I’m making tea.  Do you want a cup?

Kristie:  Sure.

Paul says that whenever that latter conversation happens to him, he always feels like replying, “No, you’re not doing me any favors by drinking the tea.  Do you actually want tea or are you just being nice?”

All Together Now

🇺🇸 American Alex:  Hi.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 English Eddie:  Hello.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scottish Susan:  Hiya.

🇺🇸 Alex:  Nice pants.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Susan:  What? You can’t see my pants just now!

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Eddie:  Careful, Alex.

🇺🇸 Alex:  Sorry, I meant trousers!  I mix that up all the time.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Susan:  Oh, good.  I was blushing a wee bit there.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Eddie:  Right, then, that’s sorted.  Susan and I were just about to pop over to the pub.

🇺🇸 Alex:  I’m afraid I can’t join you, I’m late for something.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Eddie:  Brillia—er, next time, then.

🇺🇸 Alex:  Awesome.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Susan:  Cheers.

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5 Comments

  1. Mary Pat Dixon | | Reply

    A brilliant or awesome observation of language. I’m also fond of cheerio, which means about the same as cheers or good-bye.

  2. Lydia | | Reply

    Don’t forget “ta” for thank you. My new favorite is “hen”, which is like lass. A workman came to check our gas line and I offered him a pen to replace his, which had died. He said, “No, hen, I’ve got another one in the truck.”

  3. Adeline | | Reply

    1 ) I always accidentally say “you’re welcome” to a “cheers” when I hold the door for someone and then mentally beat myself up because I’m not sure if I’ve said the right thing.
    2) Sometimes when I leave the house after being home all day or arrive at school and take out my earbuds to listen to actual humans (ha) I hear an accent and get startled because I’ve been in my home of Americans for a while. It’s pretty funny, especially when I get a full-on extreme Scottish sentence right in the face when walking into school. I usually blink a lot and look confused. It amuses people. 😉

  4. Alison Biggs | | Reply

    Hiya Addy (ok, I read the previous post too, haha),
    I loved your blog about friendship. And I wrote a response but it didn’t post so am trying again. I think you’re all so brave to start new schools and hang in there until friendships develop. Yay for you! And I totally understand about wanting to stay in Scotland. Maybe you can point towards the University of Edinburgh in a few years? In the meantime, I hope you enjoy every minute with your new friends!
    Hugs to you and your family,
    and cheers, perhaps I should say 🙂
    Alison

  5. Timothy Soria | | Reply

    That is so funny. As I was reading this my dad was trying on pants (American pants), and I corrected him by accident and everyone looked at my like I was weird. 🙂

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