US and UK – Mind Your Language!

Emma, who was born in England but now lives in Ottawa, writes:

I know what will brighten your day – these English words than mean completely different things in different parts of the world

The very fact that English has different uses across the globe is not news to anybody, or at least it shouldn’t be, but for some words in particular one would wonder why there is such a different meaning. Being from an English background yet living in Canada, it still astounds me as to the differences of words that I am used to hearing one way, not making any sense in the same context over here. Here are just a few examples of ones that have come to plague me regularly.

1. Pissed In the UK, piss is used for so many reasons: She’s pissed (she’s really drunk). It’s pissing it down (it’s raining hard). He’s pissed off (he’s angry). I need a piss (I need to relive myself). You pissed me off (You made me really angry) However in North America it’s only really used for one reason: She’s pissed (she’s really angry). Perhaps we should just stop using it to avoid all confusion.

2. Knob A knob in both parts of the world means a doorknob, but in the UK it is also used to refer to male genitalia, and unfortunately also as a derogatory term, for example: “He’s such a knob!”

3. Pants In the UK, pants are what we might choose to refer to our underwear, but in North America, this word is used to describe the item of clothing that we wear over the top of our underwear, which in the UK is called trousers. A potentially embarrassing statement might be “I’m just going to iron my pants for tomorrow!” which to a British person would seem awfully neurotic (perhaps not to all!)

4. Fag A classic here. In the UK, a cigarette. In North America, a derogatory way of talking about a homosexual person. Potentially embarrassing declaration: “I really need to have a fag before bed.”

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