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post #1 of 62 (permalink) Old Apr 21st, 2012, 01:55 AM Thread Starter
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An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

As George Bernard Shaw once observed, England and America are two countries divided by a common language. That trans-Atlantic linguistic divide will be magnified by Olympic proportions this summer when an estimated 250,000 Americans come to town for the London Games.

Yes, the Internet, television, movies, global travel and business have blurred language differences, and many people in the U.S. and U.K. are familiar with those bizarre figures of speech from both sides of the pond.

Yet important differences remain, prompting this rough guide to just a few of the potential colloquial conundrums that await baffled American visitors to the old country. (A caveat: This is not a definitive, all-inclusive list and doesn't take into account different spelling, accents, Cockney rhyming slang or expletives!)

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FOOD AND DRINK

Those are "chips" that go with your burger, instead of fries. You'd like some potato chips? Those are "crisps."

A soft drink or soda? That would be a "fizzy drink." A soft drink can refer to any nonalcoholic beverage. If you want the hard stuff, go to the "off-license" rather than a liquor store.

If the waiter asks if you'd like "pudding," he's referring to dessert in general, not necessarily the soft treat that Bill Cosby once pitched in TV ads. By the way, if you see "black pudding" or "blood pudding" on the menu — well, that's not dessert at all. It's sausage.

A "cracker" isn't only what you put cheese on. It's also a very good thing, as in "That goal was a cracker!" It can be an adjective, too: "London will put on a cracking opening ceremony."

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OLYMPIC LINGO

Let's talk "sport." That's singular in Britain, not like sports in the U.S.

Those "blokes" (guys) hawking 100-meter final tickets? They're not scalpers, they're "ticket touts." Incidentally, if you can't get any tickets, you can always watch on "telly" where the commercials are called "adverts."

You'll definitely do a lot of "queuing" (waiting in line), especially at Olympic venues for security checks. Whatever you do, don't "jump the queue."

Going to watch the finish of the marathon or cycling road race? Yes, the venue is the "Mall." No, that's not a shopping center. It's that iconic boulevard leading from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. And, it's pronounced the "mal."

Headed to the Olympic Stadium to watch track and field? The preferred term in England is "athletics."

Of course, soccer is "football." The sport is played on a pitch, rather than a field. A player might kick the ball into the "stand," rather than stands — and there definitely are no bleachers. Players wear "shirts," not jerseys, and "boots," not cleats, and their uniform is called their "kit."

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TRAVEL TALK

Londoners don't walk on the sidewalk. They walk on the "pavement."

That crosswalk? It's a "zebra crossing" (pronounced zeh-bra, not zee-bra).

The best way to travel around the city during the Olympics will be by the "Underground," the rail network commonly known as the "Tube." It's not the "subway" — that's a pedestrian underpass.

Tube trains have "carriages," not cars. When you get on or off the Tube, don't forget to "mind the gap" between the platform and the train.

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ON THE ROAD

Anything to do with cars can be oh-so confusing — and not just because you drive on the left side of the road here.

London's roads are full of maddening traffic "roundabouts," not circles or rotaries.

The hood and the trunk? No, no. That's the "bonnet" and the "boot." The windshield is the "windscreen," side-view mirrors are "wing mirrors," the stick shift is the "gear stick."

A highway is a "motorway." You park in the "car park."

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RANDOMLY SPEAKING

You take "the lift," not the elevator.

That little corner store where you can buy newspapers and magazines and snacks? It's usually called a "newsagent."

Looking for a trash can? Try a "rubbish bin" instead.

Thumbtacks don't exist; they're "drawing pins."

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EXPRESS YOURSELF

If someone is feeling "chuffed," don't worry. That means they're delighted, as in, "I'm chuffed to bits that I got tickets for the closing ceremony."

If someone says they're "gutted," it has nothing to do with fish. They're just bitterly disappointed, as in the British Olympic sprinter who's "gutted" after failing to qualify for the 200-meter final. By contrast, he'll be "over the moon" if he makes it.

You'll hear "Cheers" a lot, and not just in the pub. It's a term for thank you. So is "Ta."

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ON THE OTHER HAND

Some words take on a totally different, even opposite, meaning in the two countries.

"Torrid" is a prime example — positive in American sports, negative in Britain.

In the U.S., if Kobe Bryant goes on a torrid run in the fourth quarter, he's scoring a bunch of points. In England, if Chelsea striker Fernando Torres is having a torrid season, he can't put the ball in the net.

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DRESSING DOWN

The lexicon for clothing can be a minefield.

Be particularly careful when you talk about "pants." In Britain, that refers to underwear. Trousers is the more appropriate term. (Pants can also be an adjective, meaning bad or lousy, as in "That film was pants.")

Suspenders don't hold up trousers; "braces" do. In British English, "suspenders" are what Americans call a garter belt.

___

WEATHER OR NOT

For those cool evenings, pack a "jumper," as opposed to a sweater. Or a jacket called an "anorak." But note: "anorak" is also a somewhat derogatory term for a nerdy, obsessive person.

And, finally, with London's rainy reputation in mind, don't forget to carry an umbrella.

Yes, if there's one phrase worth remembering, it's this:

Bring a brolly.

____
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post #2 of 62 (permalink) Old Apr 21st, 2012, 02:39 AM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Nice read!
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post #3 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 08:13 AM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Here in Japan, American English is the dominant form. But I'm trying to change that!

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post #4 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 08:48 AM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Gutted and Cheers are used in American English.






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post #5 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 08:57 AM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

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Originally Posted by Vartan View Post
Gutted and Cheers are used in American English.
I saw several things in the list that you can hear normal American say, or at least are widely known by Americans even if they aren't widely used. I've noticed many people try to exaggerate the difference in American English and British English. I think this is especially true on the British side, probably to make British English seem more romantic and special.
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post #6 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 10:27 AM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

^ On the other hand, I went travelling with some American students last summer & some of the things I said would be met with blank stares.



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post #7 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 10:33 AM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Quote:
Originally Posted by dybbuk View Post
I saw several things in the list that you can hear normal American say, or at least are widely known by Americans even if they aren't widely used. I've noticed many people try to exaggerate the difference in American English and British English. I think this is especially true on the British side, probably to make British English seem more romantic and special.
to the bolded section.

There are differences but they are only superficial. The good thing about English is that there are usually multiple mutually comprehensible options for whatever it is you are trying to express. With a little patience it's possible to make yourself understood.

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post #8 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 10:41 AM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alizé Molik View Post
to the bolded section.
Agreed, that was a bit unfair. It's more often the other way around, with Americans romanticising British culture!



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post #9 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 04:04 PM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

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Originally Posted by Sean. View Post
Agreed, that was a bit unfair. It's more often the other way around, with Americans romanticising British culture!
That's my experience too, with Brits usually bemused by the very notion.
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post #10 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 04:07 PM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean. View Post
Agreed, that was a bit unfair. It's more often the other way around, with Americans romanticising British culture!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave. View Post
That's my experience too, with Brits usually bemused by the very notion.
+1
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post #11 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 04:31 PM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Well none of you get the Irish colloquialisms, so bow down bitches.
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post #12 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 04:46 PM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

I've always found the differences fascinating!

Here in Australia we have no problems understanding either version of English as we have had a lot of influence from both the UK and US over the years. We're basically a mix of UK, US and a little of our own culture these days. The only problems come from the opposite direction, when people from either the UK or US (more so the US) try to understand some Australian English. Really though it's only a few things most people wouldn't understand. Like for example how we shorten words and add an 'O' onto the end. Like "sarvo" and "servo" for "this afternoon" and "service station". People from overseas often give me WTF stares when I accidentally mentioned these, forgetting they probably have no idea what I'm going on about.
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post #13 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 05:46 PM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alizé Molik View Post
to the bolded section.

There are differences but they are only superficial. The good thing about English is that there are usually multiple mutually comprehensible options for whatever it is you are trying to express. With a little patience it's possible to make yourself understood.
I find rolling your eyes to be a really impressive comeback, myself. I have so many British friends and I can't tell you how many times they've tried to break down slang like I there was no way Americans could understand them. Then not to mention how there are instances of British television shows and movies SUBTITLING their programming for American audiences. Like the English spoken in Skins is much too foreign for America. There's a definite idea amongst some Brits that their English is too different from American English for Americans to properly understand it. When in reality a large majority of what they say is perfectly understandable, and the rest will usually make sense in context.
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post #14 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 06:26 PM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

Quote:
Originally Posted by dybbuk View Post
I find rolling your eyes to be a really impressive comeback, myself. I have so many British friends and I can't tell you how many times they've tried to break down slang like I there was no way Americans could understand them. Then not to mention how there are instances of British television shows and movies SUBTITLING their programming for American audiences. Like the English spoken in Skins is much too foreign for America. There's a definite idea amongst some Brits that their English is too different from American English for Americans to properly understand it. When in reality a large majority of what they say is perfectly understandable, and the rest will usually make sense in context.
It will be the American network station adding the subtitles, not the British producers. Besides, I think subtitles are used more to help the viewer understand accents, not because we think you're not able to understand our slang.

I can only speak from personal experience, but I've never encountered that feeling of superiority here. We understand that people don't always understand our humour, but that's different.



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post #15 of 62 (permalink) Old May 7th, 2012, 06:31 PM
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Re: An American guide to British English for the London Olympics

The channel that does it is BBC, which may have Americans high up in for the American version of it, but I'm sure there are Brits controlling most of it.
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