Don’t Get Your Knickers in a Twist

I’ve worked with several Americans over the years. One of the best things about that is the language differences. It’s there for all to see on these blog postings. People like to try and use phrases they think will resonate with those on the other side of the pond, right?

There – I just did it! Saying ‘right?’ at the end of a sentence is a classic Americanism. It’s a kind of passive-aggressive way of saying ‘challenge me or tell me I’m wrong’. But if you have an English accent it just sounds weird! Believe me I’ve tried.

For the Brit’s part we come out with some dreadful stuff. A mate of mine (there’s a good British phrase) went to live in California many years ago and was taken out to dinner by his new work team. After eating, drinking and making merry he stood up and announced in a loud British accent ‘Right, I’m off outside for a fag’. The restaurant stopped dead; 70 pairs of eyes fixed on him. He found out why pretty quick.

So if you ever visit Britain you might find this book handy:

Written by an LA-based Scotsman, this book presents the most common British phrases and translates them into American English (well kind of). Here are a few to whet your appetite:

  • Don’t mention that your fanny hurts – we don’t talk about fannies in the same way
  • Sound as a pound – meaning something is really stable and in good shape (refers back to the days when the British Pound was more reliable and sturdy than the American Dollar (oh for those glory days)
  • Maths – In Britain there is no such thing as ‘Math’. We don’t do mathematic. We do mathematics!
  • Codswallop – rubbish
  • Fillet Steak – If you ask for this juicy morsel in Britain pronounce the ‘t’ otherwise the waiter will think you are ‘taking the mickey’ (you can work that one out yourself)
  • A good innings – As in ‘He had a good innings’ meaning he led a long productive life. ‘Innings’ comes from cricket – you know, like rounders (Sorry I mean baseball) but it lasts 5 days!

Should you find yourself in the East End of London (which you will do if you come over for the Olympics next year) you might meet some of these:

They’re a Pearly King and Queen’ and they speak ‘Cockney Rhyming Slang’. God only knows why. A few choice gems:

  • ‘Butchers’ = Look. As in ‘I’m going to take a butchers at that’. Butchers Hook – Look!
  • ‘I’m Lee Marvin’ = Starvin(g).
  • Porkies = Lies. As in ‘You’ve been telling porkies again haven’t you? Pork pies – Lies!

Enough of this. I wonder if they do a reverse book – weird American phrases the British don’t get – eg what’s with ‘Close, but no cigar’?

Or ‘Going Postal’?

29 thoughts on “Don’t Get Your Knickers in a Twist

  1. very enjoyable! looking forward to reading more of your posts. have a look at mine if you get the chance! im new so im not sure what im doing! ‘special girls’ is going to lead into something big.

  2. That is so true!

    Despite knowing the difference, I still always pause at the way that Americans and Brits used the word “piss” differently.

    Also, whenever I am in Britain, I become hyper-conscious of the fact that I say, “Dude,” and “Right on,” a lot.

    “Whazz’up!” or even better, “”Zup, yo!” also gets a reaction and marks me instantly as one of “those” Americans!

  3. I grew up educated by the English, overseas (not in England, by-the-by) and I can tell you, that has created no end of problems. I “misspell” ‘everything’ according to Americans; I use phrases I then have to explain; I got a much more intensive education than American kids, and was two years ahead when we returned… I didn’t learn American history, I learned English history… and I love haggis. However, I have had to learn Americanisms and to try to fit in. It’s all a very odd, mixed-up world, and language is the way we express our uniquenesses and our differences.

    Thanks for liking the weird old stew I made last night. I have no idea what desperation would possibly drive you to do so, but I appreciate it. 😉

  4. Hi! Thanks for liking my post! This article was so much fun to read! As an Indian living in the US, I’ve found myself having to explain things I say to my American friends. They made fun of me for a week because I said,”Have you gone mad? Why did you break those spectacles?”
    The biscuits and gravy thing happened to me too 🙂 I also say Maths and then say, oh no I meant Math. Its also a constant annoyance changing my spellings here because I spell them one way and the computer tells me I’m wrong! And I know I’m not because my London born English teacher in India got her knickers in a twist because I spelled neighbour as neighbor!

  5. As an American, I love using the word “Codswallop”.
    Thanks for inventing it !!!!
    Back when I was about 12, (40 years ago) someone in my elementary class learned what “Fag” was in England and being juvenile boys a lot of them laughed themselves silly for a week with it.
    About the same time in my life, the Methodist church I attended did and “exchange” with a church in England and for about 9 months we had an authentic British pastor at our church. Good man he was!

    I started watching “Benny Hill”, “The Two Ronnies” and of course “Monty Python” when I was about 14 and learned a lot of proper English words !!!!!!

  6. My daughter’s husband is from the UK. This post reminded me that I had to text him a few weeks back when I wanted to make your chocolate torte to ask “what are digestive biscuits, where can I get them, and if I can’t, what are the American equivalent?” Too funny!

  7. Great post… I’d like to make it to your side of the pond now I know a few phrases that are safe, since everything I pick up from the BBC prolly isn’t 😀 And “going postal” refers to the postman years back that went loony and shot up the post office… there were a couple incidents of that so it became a joke that postman could go crazy at any time… then a saying that will never go away… and close but no cigar I believe is suppose to be from old fairgrounds giving out cigars as prizes

      • Drinking the Kool Aid refer to the Jones town mass suicide years ago. Jim Jones was the head of the cult, he made them drink the poison, that look liked Kool Aid. I played baseball for quite a few years, and anytime a player got hit in the head, we said he got cracked in the dome. Thus, when you messed with a player mentally, and you knew it was getting to him, we said, he needs to take his lid(cap) off, and let me out of his dome! Don’t get me started on sports jargon!

    • I know I love that – biscuits and gravy – when I first ordered it I was expecting digestives with like bisto or something and I got scones with white sauce that tasted of sausage

  8. Back in the day, we used to write with implements (just imagine that!) and I worked on a magazine in London with a friend from California. My constant mistake was to ask her for her rubber which used to have her in fits!

  9. Loved this! I always wanted to visit jolly old England 🙂 I had a tutor and a teacher from those parts and loved hearing them speak, brilliant! As for my fellow Americans, “Close, but no cigar?” Yeah, what the hell? I don’t get that one either haha though it is kind of fun to say.

  10. I love your blog already! I live in California, but not all of us speak the same. There are quite a few of us dudes and dudettes that have relatives that moved here in the 1930’s from the mid-west and south. I will give you a few of my favorite, often used phrases: “I have not had this much fun since the hogs ate my brother”. Use this when you are really having a blast at somebody’s expense. And if you want to give your buddy the business because he can’t find a date, i.e. not bumping uglies with the opposite sex, just say” Are you going to have another night of playing tug-o-way with cyclops!”

  11. I believe you could make a whole series of this kind. I am personally intrigued by our differences in Syntax and the “Maths” just made my day.
    Thanks for liking my recent post on Frasca and I look forward to many more tales from across the pond.


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