UK English vs US English Words

Over the past few weeks on the Bespeaking blog, we’ve discussed the differences between British and American spellings and pronunciations. To finish up with this series, we’ll finally talk about UK English vs US English words.

This one is particularly interesting to me as I find myself using more and more British English vocabulary words the longer I’ve lived in…Germany? I know that sounds strange, but as I’ve said before, most of my friends here in Berlin are British, so I’ve been picking up on a lot of their vocabulary over the past year. Between that and the funny Denglish I speak, you can bet that sometimes my family and friends back home think I talk a little funny now!

If you’re curious how to distinguish between UK English vs US English words, and maybe find out some of the words I use now just to be understood by my British friends, check out these 5 words to distinguish once and for all which word is used where! (If you aren’t a native speaker, don’t think that all Americans know the British equivalent for “cookies” or “truck”, or vice versa! Some of these are brand new for us, too!)

Fries / Chips

I say fries when I mean those delicious, heavenly wedges of fried potato, but in British English it’s chips. Whatever word you use, they’re absolutely delectable, and even I will ask for fish and chips. (Have you ever heard anyone asking for “fish and fries??”)

Fun fact! Up until World War I, fries in the States were called “German fries” before we called them “French fries.” Because we were fighting against the Germans, a lot of things having to do with Germany (such as the language, names, German newspapers, etc.) were expunged from the language. “Sauerkraut” was changed to “liberty cabbage” and “Frankfurters” were changed to…”hot dogs”. Who knew?

Similarly in 2003, some anti-French sentiments started to emerge in Congress due to France’s opposition to the Iraq war. And just like with the anti-German sentiment years earlier, instead of ordering “French fries” with your hamburger, we started calling them “Freedom fries”. Things really do move in cycles, don’t they?

Trunk / Boot

As typical as it gets, this is one of the most famous UK English vs US English words I know. If a British person asks you to put something in the boot, don’t worry – they’re not asking you to put it in a shoe. What they’re asking instead is for you to put it in (what Americans call) the trunk of the car.

The trunk or the boot of a car is the back area where you can store your luggage when you’re traveling, or your groceries on the way home from the supermarket, so it’s a good thing that the boot is bigger than a shoe!

In the old days of early cars, an actual trunk was strapped on to the automobile, so it makes sense for the word to have been maintained. In German, the room is also “Kofferraum” or “trunk space”, and in Italian, Spanish, and French, the respective words for trunk is also used.

Apartment / Flat

Since I’ve lived in Germany, I’ve started using the British English word flat instead of my native apartment- another French loan word– much more often. Flat is used in reference to the fact that the whole apartment is on one flat floor, not terraced. In my opinion, I like the sound of flat better and I’ve noticed that most of my German friends say flat as well.

No matter what word you use, I hope you feel very at home in your apartment.

Pants / Trousers

One of the first times a friend of mine came to hang out for a relaxing evening in my….flat…and I said I wanted to change my pants, she gave me a very funny look! What I meant was that I wanted to change out of my jeans into a pair of sweatpants so that I was more comfortable!

In British English, underpants are what we in the US would call underwear. Trousers actually comes from Middle Irish “triubhas”, whereas pants comes from the French fashion of “pantaloons”.

So, where I say pantsmy English friends say trousers (which to me has always sounded more formal).

Since the pants/pants/trousers confusion, we’ve started joking around about it more. Whenever the topic of pants and/or trousers comes up, there is usually a raised eyebrow or two, mostly to check which kind of pants I actually mean.

Wellington Boots / Rain Boots

One of my friends went to Glastonbury this past summer and when he came back, he said he was very glad that he had packed his Wellies. I think this is the absolute cutest word for rain boots. The name comes from the famous Arthur, Duke of Wellington. He commissioned his shoemaker to modify the Hessian boot with calf-skin, a fitted-leg, mid-rise, and style chic enough to double as appropriate evening footwear!

There’s just something about calling rain boots Wellies that puts in my mind thoughts of jumping in puddles and Paddington Bear. Oh, childhood!

Do you use rain boots for those extra soggy days? They sure are good at keeping your feet nice and dry when you want to walk (or splash) through that particularly deep-looking puddle!

Have you noticed any differences between UK English vs US English words? Do you prefer British or American vocabulary? Share with us in the comments below!

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Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and wishes it would rain more often so she had a reason to buy some Wellies!