Four American words and their British translations

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Last week, to celebrate Independence Day, we had a look at American English. Spellzone devotes a unit to the differences between British and American spellings, but there’s more to it than that. There are also cases where the two types of English use different terms to describe the same thing. With this in mind, today we’re going to take a look at four American words that might confuse us over here in Britain.


This word might make you imagine a plant that grows eggs – and you wouldn’t actually be too far off. Eggplants are a type of vegetable which, when grown in North America and Europe, are usually oval-shaped with a dark purple skin. In Britain they are referred to as aubergines. The purple variety, however, is not the only type of eggplant/aubergine there is. The term eggplant was originally used to refer to the white variety of the vegetable – which, if you look at the picture, looks rather a lot like growing eggs! The word eggplant is now used by Americans to refer to all varieties of the vegetable.


If someone is described to be wearing robes, we Brits think of Wizards: Merlin, Dumbledore – well you get the gist. And if not Wizards we think of monks. The word robe conjures up the image of a long garment with billowing sleeves, and if worn are usually reserved for traditional occasions such as graduation ceremonies. In America, though, the word is less associated with formality. A dressing gown, for example, is referred to as a robe or bathrobe.


Many a hungry traveller in either country will have encountered a mix up when asking for chips. In both Britain and America the term refers to a type of food made from either fried or baked potatoes. Whilst in America chips are a snack food, in Britain they make up a substantial portion of one’s dinner. ‘Fish and Chips’ is an iconic British meal – the chips part referring to what Americans call French fries. American potato chips, on the other hand, are known in Britain as crisps.


Say ‘bangs’ to a British person and perhaps they’ll imagine thunderstorms or fireworks - the word is used in the onomatopoeic sense to refer to a loud noise. In America, though, the term bangs refers to a shorter section of hair which is cut straight across the forehead – what is called a fringe in Britain. The word bangs first started being used in 1878 and is thought to have stemmed from the adverbial use of bang to mean ‘abruptly’ – the hair is cut bang off. When used adverbially in Britain, however, the word bang translates to ‘exactly’ or ‘directly’ – for example: ‘the train arrived bang on time’ or ‘I tripped bang in the middle of the road’.

Have you ever had any mix ups over the differences between British and American terminology? We’d love to hear your stories! Tweet us or leave a comment below this post. A fuller list of the differences between British and American terminology can be found here.



08 Jul 2013
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