English: British to American

Last week while we were discussing the possibility of our works being translated into other languages, I said that  I would like to bring up translating English to English, that is to say, “British” to “American”.

I have read books written by English writers all of my life. I watch English movies and some TV shows, so I am fairly well versed in ‘English English’.

Although my mother’s English was impeccable, with no sign of an accent, English was not her first language.The only tell-tale sign of this was that, with the exception of those with Italian or Spanish, Mom  had real trouble understanding anyone with an accent, no matter how well they spoke the English, and that included most British accents.

So, I learned to translate “English” early on to the woman who insisted that we all speak “English” to perfection.

In my foray through movies, TV and literature, I have gained knowledge of many differences in phraseology, idioms and common terms. I think that most of us also know that “crisps” there are “chips” here and over there, their “chips” we know as “fries”. but there are some that still confuse both Americans and English folk. I knew all but one of these, in fact, we sometimes use the terms interchagably in America, ( yet I could see how an ‘eraser’ in England might give some Americans a jolt!)

One English writer, a friend to most of us here, was upset years ago that they changed some of the wording in the original Harry Potter books when publishing  American versions. Her one real peeve was that they changed the term to “Sweater” from “Jumper” in the American books and she could not understand why. I told her that in America, a ‘jumper’ was a sleeveless dress which is worn with a blouse under it, and American kids would have been shaking their heads over why Mrs. Weasley would be knitting them for her sons. She said, “Oh, I didn’t know. I just call them ‘Sleeveless dresses that I wear blouses under”. 

I’m still laughing.

I will also have a guest in soon who is Australian, but there are only a few differences in terminology between us.  However, I wrote recently here of a very charming book written by an English woman and boy, is it in “British English”! 

I had to really stop and think about a few, and she had me running to look up others.

You must know me by now, so you know that I won’t by-pass references to food,  so when  the children in the story had a birthday party and they ate  cake and “jelly”, it wasn’t:

but, as shown in the chart above:

I got very excited when the main character and her sister were eating “custard creams”, as I thought of:

or another favorite:

however, they were only:

(they seem basically like blonde Oreos, but I hope are better).

I was at a total loss over “Jammy Dodgers”, which I found to be what I would call ‘Linzer cookies”, but since the British eschew everything German and  even call German Shepherds “Alsatians”, I guess these needed another name there.

Let’s see if you know these or how long it took you to figure out what the protagonist did or meant:

1). She consulted her “SATNAV”.

2). She placed things on the ‘hob’.

3). She put her clothes in the ‘linen basket’. (Clue: not as obvious as you would think.)

4).Someone lived in an “Identikit” house.

5).Something looked like it came from a ‘lucky bag’.

6).They looked for a ‘car park’.

7). Her handbag was ‘nicked’, (they used to use that here, long ago).

8). Several times the phrase, “Needs must”, came into play.

9).The hairdresser made a ‘pig’s ear’ of someone’s hair.

10). She walked in, and “the place was a tip”.

11). Did someone want a “top-up?”

12). There were “half-eaten takeaways”

I had to actually look up a couple of those, if not, at least, they gave me pause. How about you? I will leave ‘translations’ in the comments if you aren’t sure.

Please comment and let me know or if any others have confused you.

If you are English/British, please join in.  How have we confused you?


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
This entry was posted in America, authors, Books, characters, dialogue, food, foreign publications, imagination, Life, Lists, Miscellaneous, movies, novels, phrases, protagonists, publishing, Random thoughts, reading, Tonette Joyce, translations, TV, writers, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to English: British to American

  1. Translations, British =American:
    2). Hob=Stove, in past days, it would have meant ‘hearth’, but now, “on the hob” means, “on the burner”.
    3). Linen basket=well, linen basket, not ‘laundry basket’. It is a basket where linens are kept. I have one that I used for tablecloths, runners and the like, daily and seasonal, (I just didn’t know that I was being “British”.)
    4). Identikit house=tract house, houses in a neighborhood that look just like the others
    5). Lucky bag=grab bag; it was something that looked cheap. We would have said years ago, “Looks like you got it out of a box of Cracker Jacks”.
    6). Carpark=parking lot. That should be easy, but still, I could not help picturing cars frolicking on grass like dogs.
    7).Nicked=stolen, quickly snatched
    8).”Needs must”= something unpleasant you must do because it is necessary. It’s only odd because that’s all they say. We’d probably say. “I hate to have to do this but…”
    9).Pig’s ear=the butchered the woman’s hair so that she was ashamed to be seen
    10). “a tip”= rummaged; everything tipped-over and gone through
    11). Top up= refill/top off, as in filling up a wine glass that you haven’t quite finished
    12). “half-eaten takeaways”= carry-out containers half-full of leftovers


  2. It seems like I only watch Brit shows now, from Broadchurch to Last Tango in Halifax. It makes my Brit DIL laugh because she likes American shows.”Needs must” is one of my faves. Hope you’re doing well!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeff Salter says:

    I recognized terms # 6 & # 7 because they come up a lot in the Brit detective shows that my wife watches — sometimes with me.
    I love that chart you located. It will help me with a story I started years ago — and hope to finish one day — which has several British characters “accidentally” in America.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Having had correspondence with my English author-friend Alan for more years than I can remember, I was familiar with those terms. However, I still made a monumental mistake when I first started writing.

    Alan taught at the university in England. When I first started writing, I knew NOTHING! I desperately needed help but couldn’t afford a professional editor at the time. He offered to proofread my ms for me. To me, this was a huge sacrifice on his part, and I so appreciated it. I still do appreciate all the work he did on my first three books. However…I now realize that it was not the best situation, since my main audience was American. LOL Yep, you guessed it. The grammar rules for “English” are just as different from “American” as are those terms above.

    People still loved my stories, but they have all been rewritten since then with an American editor doing the final work (by then I could afford one).

    Lesson learned. But I still love the English, the REAL English, language.

    Here’s a little story that you might find humorous. At my last job before retiring, I worked in a doctor’s office. We had a PA working there. One day she was so frustrated when she came out of an examine room, I asked her what was wrong. She said the following.

    “Why can’t we all speak the same language. Why can’t these people from England who come here to America to live learn to speak English.”

    I stared at her (I’m sure with my mouth dropped open). When I came to my senses, I said, “Laura, they do speak English. We speak American, loosely referred to as “English.”

    She stared at me with her brows wrinkled. “Oh, yeah.”

    Then we had a good laugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, and there are a lot of words and phrases we normally use here that are considered offensive in England and vice verse. Not going into those.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I recognized a few of your British terms. Lately, I’ve been confused when reading books by British authors Jeff and I remember from Clean Reads, but published in England. One was set at a vacation bed and breakfast, and the client insisted on having a marquee at her family gathering. I couldn’t figure out why they would want a gaudy theater sign, until I figured out later on that she was talking about a tent.
    Last week, I read another story in which a character took a sachet from his wife’s purse, dumped the contents into a glass of water, and drank it. When the character died, my reaction was, “OF COURSE he died after drinking a glass full of potpourri!” But then I found out the word sachet in that case referred to an individual packet of something.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Again, I have no idea where my reply went. Thank Heaven for the quick look-up via the internet, but the problem is WHEN do we look it up? Here we think that we know what they are talking about, but we’re mistaken. I am soooo amused by the ‘marquee’ for a wedding! FLASH- “Congratulations John and Mary!” FLASH


  7. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I knew about four of those, but in a book I can usually make out what is meant from context clues.


    • Often, one can make things out by context, but it is an old habit to look things up. Sometimes I am surprised,(like the types of cookies), and the ‘linen basket’, which I would have assumed to be a ‘laundry basket’, but not so.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s