15 British and American English Vocabulary Differences (Plus 5 Spelling Differences)

Blue Wood

  1. Hood vs. Bonnet
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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In the U.S., the part of the car that you lift to look at the engine is the hood while, in the U.K., it’s called a bonnet. Both terms make a similar type of sense. In other meanings, both a hood and a bonnet are items worn on the head. The hood or bonnet part of the car similarly seems to be at the head end of the vehicle.

2. Trunk vs. Boot

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That storage compartment at the opposite end, the place where you put your luggage or your shopping bags, is a trunk in the U.S. and a boot in the U.K. Boot seems to go with bonnet, more so than hood with trunk. After all, a bonnet goes on the head, and a boot goes on the opposite end of the body, plus it has that nice alliteration and all of that. The term trunk seems to be a reference to its purpose for storage, just like there are other sorts of storage trunks.

3. Truck vs. Lorry

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The American term truck probably comes from the word truckle wheel, while the British term lorry seems to derive from “lurry,” a Northern dialect word for hauling or pulling.

4. Biscuit or … 

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Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

In America, biscuits are small breads raised with baking soda or baking powder. In the American South, you can find these smothered in sausage gravy. They are definitely a savory and not a sweet food item.

In the U.K., a biscuit is a sweet item to dunk in your tea … a cookie, in other words.

Biscuit. 

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5. Napkin vs. Serviette

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The origin of the word “napkin” goes back to Middle English and the word for tablecloth. The British borrow the word, serviette, from the French. This brings us to number six in our list.

6. Diaper vs. Nappy

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Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

Napkin can have an entirely different meaning in British English. This sort of napkin (nappy) is definitely not the sort you want to use to wipe your mouth. In America, it’s called a diaper, and if you were to give a child a nappy, you’d probably just put them in bed.

7. Sweater vs. Jumper

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I’m not sure which of these terms is more sensible. Do you jump in a jumper or sweat in a sweater? It’s actually quite possible you might sweat in a sweater, but it doesn’t seem polite to mention it.

8. Eggplant vs. Aubergine

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Photo by Charles Deluvio PHCA on Unsplash

Again, the British borrowed a term from their French neighbors. In America, aubergine is just a color term. The word eggplant comes from the white variety of the vegetable that is more egg-shaped.

9. Zucchini vs. Courgette

 

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Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

The British borrow a word from the French once more, and the Americans from the Italians.

10. Elevator vs. Lift

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Photo by Michael Paz on Unsplash

A lift lifts, and an elevator elevates. It all makes perfect sense.

11. Apartment vs. Flat

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Photo by Vadim Sherbakov on Unsplash

The term flat might be derived from the Scottish word “flet” for a story or level of a building. In U.S. cities like San Francisco or New York, the word flat might be used for an apartment all on one floor. For the most part, the word apartment is preferred in the U.S.

12. Soccer vs. Football

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Photo by Al Aquino on Unsplash

In America, football refers to an entirely different sport than soccer, one that involves a pigskin, touch downs and goalposts. For the U.K. (and basically the rest of the world) what Americans call soccer is football. This name is very sensible since the sport is primarily played with kicks and footwork. This foot action doesn’t actually seem that central to American football.

Interestingly, the word soccer does have British origins and is derived from “association football,” distinguishing it from rugby. Over time, the two nations developed different term preferences.

13. Flashlight vs. Torch 

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Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

A flashlight may not look like the sort of flaming torch carried by Olympians, but the term “torch” does seem to suit it. It serves a similar purpose as the old style torch but has a different source of light and power. A flashlight is also a light that is flashed into dark nooks and crannies, so the American term seems equally sensible.

14. Cell Phone vs. Mobile

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Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

I’m sure both Americans and Brits know both terms for the small portable phones. Americans know cell phones are mobile, and Brits know that mobile phones are cellular. Somehow, we have come to prefer or habitually use different terminology.

15. Stove vs. Cooker

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Photo by Jen Johnson on Unsplash

The term “cooker” may seem strange to Americans, but the purpose of a cooker is pretty self-explanatory. A cooker cooks. A toaster toasts. A blender blends. Maybe all kitchen items should have these sorts of names. Knives can be cutters, and spoons can be scoopers. What would forks be? Stabbers? Maybe, I need to rethink this. Stove, by the way, comes from the Old English stofa or stofu, a heated room for bathing.

5 British and American English Spelling Differences

  1. Gray vs. Grey
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Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

The color of elephants and Eeyore is spelled gray in the U.S. and grey in the U.K. Occasionally, I’ve seen a confused American spell the color as “grey.” I suppose it can happen as people on both sides of the pond read publications from the other side. If you are ever confused about which is which, think about Earl Grey tea. What can be more British than tea named after an earl?

2. Judgment vs. Judgement

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Americans spell judgment without the E, but Brits us the E. Embarrassingly, Planet Fitness, an American gym, had a recent ad campaign about it being a “no judgement” zone.

3. Jewelry vs. Jewellery

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Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

So, Perry Mason or Nero Wolfe would stop a jewelry thief, where Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot would stop a jewellery thief.

4. Tire vs. Tyre

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Photo by Peter John Manlapig on Unsplash

Those round rubber wheel covers are tires in the U.S. and tyres in the U.K. Still, a Brit may still tire and need a nap or maybe a kip.

5. Aluminum vs. Aluminium

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Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash

This last one is not only a spelling difference but a pronunciation difference as well. Brits have a whole extra syllable in this word. It started with Sir Humphry Davis who named the element … several times, changing it from alumium to aluminum and then settling on aluminium in 1812. His British colleagues liked the classical sound of aluminium and its similarity to other elements ending in -ium. By 1828, the American Webster’s Dictionary still only had the “aluminum” spelling, which influenced how it was spelled in other American publications.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the language differences, so there may be a follow-up post in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

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