Two Cultures, United by a Common Language

Every day I feel as if I am participating in a social and linguistic experiment, whereby I say what sounds to me like a normal sentence, and I see whether or not the (British) person to whom I’m speaking can understand me.  Conversely, when (British) use certain expressions / voice lilts / words, I note where our common language diverges.  Other than the new words that Americans learn very quickly (cookie = biscuit, french fries = chips, chips = crisps, pants = underwear, NOT “trousers”), I have learnt a few other things about the curious British tongue:

1. Brits do not use the term “neighborhood”.  They know what a neighborhood is, but using this word is a marker (along with accent, of course) of American foreign-ness.  Instead, they use the more generic term, “area” or, name the area outright (Fulham, Kensington, Westminster, etc.)

2. Brits would never use the expression, “ride the bus”.  “To ride” for the British, connotes swinging your leg across something, like a horse or a motorcycle or a bicycle, and actively transporting yourself.  More passive modes of transportation, such as by car, bus and plane are simply given the verb, “to take”.

3. Brits do not naturally bandy about the adjective, “awesome”.  Maybe this is a more obvious observation, but “awesome” seems to be the quintessential American expression (at least according to the British).  If they were to do an impression of American youth, you’d probably hear something half-way between a terrible southern drawl and a terrible Brooklyn accent saying, “maaaan, that’s awwwwesome.”  It’s funny.

4. A very normal and mundane greeting of friends, or in shops from a shop person to a browser is, “are you alright?”  This question, meant to be a form of “hey, what’s up” or “can I help you” still catches me off guard, even though I know the intent of the expression.  My instinct is to wonder self-consciously about whether or not I look in desperate need of some help– don’t I look alright?  I’m fine! Does there look like there’s something wrong with me?  Something caught in my teeth?

5. Brits will almost never use the word “store”.  It’s a “shop”.

6.  I, along with other Americans, love the excessive use of “jolly” brilliant” and “lovely” in the British vocabulary.  In circumstances where Americans would reach for the platitude, “that’s great”, Brits use these decidedly more colorful adjectives.  To an offer of a cup of tea, a Brit might say, “lovely, thanks”.  Or they might describe a particularly delicious looking roast chicken as “gorgeous”.  Such compliments of beauteousness, flung about with such glee!  It paints language with a prettier brush.

7.  Along the same vein as number 6, above, a good meal might be described as “nice”.  As in, “that broccoli and stilton soup was quite nice, I think I might go for a second bowl”.  In that sentence, Americans would certainly replace “nice” with “good” (and “quite” with “really”).


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