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Words with very different meanings in American and British English

Fred wore a warm sweater and his snugest sneakers and tossed some cookies and rubber for the kids in his car.

Which side of the pond did you grow up on? How you interpreted the sentence above gave the answer (unless you’re from Canada, where the words sometimes have both meanings, which leads to double misunderstandings).

According to the Internet, it was George Bernard Shaw who said, “The United States and the United Kingdom are two countries that are separated by a common language.” English connects – and too often separates – the United States and Great Britain. Here are 1

2 common culprits that cause confusion.

1. Homely

Describe an American as homely and you could get a punch in the nose if you described him as unattractive. In the UK, however, Homely has the same positive associations as Homey: simple but pleasant, reminiscent of Home.

2. Rubber

A rubber in the UK is an eraser that is commonly used to avoid unwanted writing. A rubber in the United States is a condom that is commonly used to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

3. Pants

It’s okay for a man to hike outside in America and only wear pants. In Britain? Not as much. In the United States, pants are worn over panties or underwear, which are referred to as pants in the United Kingdom. Britons wear pants over pants.

4. Jumper

If you’re American and you’re reading the British version of the Harry Potter series, you may have wondered why all the boys wore sweaters so often. In the UK, a sweater is a sweater, not a sleeveless dress that goes over a blouse (that’s an apron).

5. Braces

Braces hold pants up in the UK. In the United States, braces hold pants up. To make it even less clear, braces in the UK hold up stockings or socks. In both places, braces also get on your teeth – in the US far more often than in Great Britain, some observed snarkily.

6. Trainer

In the UK, wear a pair of overpriced sneakers on your feet when you train with your overpriced personal trainer. In the United States, however, wear overpriced sneakers during these overpriced workouts.

7. Carriage

In the United States, a trolley is an electric vehicle that drives on metal rails on the street, in the United Kingdom it is called a tram. In the UK, groceries are transported in a cart that is equivalent to the US equivalent of a shopping cart. To create even more confusion, the Canadians throw another word into the mix: buggy, for shopping carts or trolleys (but not the US type of trolley).

8. Plaster

In the UK, a plaster goes over a child’s skinned knee or other boo-boo, while in the United States it is referred to as a bandage (or a trademark of Band-Aid). In the UK, too, a broken arm goes into plaster, while in the US, a broken arm goes into plaster cast. In both countries, gypsum is used to cover holes in walls.


Children in the UK are happy about cookies because the sweet baked goods are cookies. Children in the U.S. are a little less excited about cookies, which are bread-like baked goods that are served with grandma at tea time.

10. Table

Submitting a topic in the UK means putting it up for discussion. However, submitting a topic in the United States means postponing the discussion until later. Pretty much the opposite.

11. Flannel

An American in flannel can be a lumberjack or a hipster wearing the soft, warm fabric. For a British person, however, flannel is a washcloth and not something to carry from a single source when felling trees or sipping Fairtrade coffee.

12. Not stunned

In both the UK and US, the traditional definition of unsurprised, confused, or perplexed. But in the United States, the word has been mistakenly used as unimpressed, undisturbed, or unimpressed so often that its meaning has now changed – and has effectively rendered the word unusable.

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