Do You Put Hundreds and Thousands on Your Fairy Cake?

10 More British-American Language Differences

Do you put hundreds and thousands on your fairy cake? Or do you put sprinkles on your cupcake? Do you eat candy floss or cotton candy? If you said “Yes”‘ to the first choices, you are probably from the U.K. (or perhaps from Australia,) and if you said, “Yes,” to the second, you are likely from the U.S.

It is fun and sometimes practical to study the differences. If English is not your first language, and you plan to travel to either the U.K. or the U.S., it might be helpful to be aware of these language differences. Here is an American and British English words list with some explanation.

1. Arugula vs. Rocket

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I didn’t know about this difference until somewhat recently when I saw the British term “rocket” on an Australian food blogger’s site. I also had assumed until recently that arugula was an Italian term and that Americans borrowed it from the Italians. It’s not. The Italian term for arugula is “rucola.” Experts believe the word arugula comes from a mispronunciation of an Italian dialect for the word. The Calabrian dialect for the word is “aruculu.”

2. Bacon vs. Rashers

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Rashers is really more of a term for the slice of bacon, although I have read the term “rashers,” used alone, referring to bacon, rather than “rashers of bacon.” The best explanation I found online for the term is that “rasher” may come from a Middle English word, “rash,” meaning to cut. Sound-wise, rashers makes me think of “rations,” which, by association, makes me think of a stricter diet instead of feasting.

3. Like vs. Fancy

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As an American, I had to watch quite a bit of British TV before I picked up on this little language nuance. It seems British use this term for when someone has romantic interest in someone else. “He fancies her” or “She fancies him.” Americans don’t seem to have such a specific expression. Aside from wording it as, “He is interested in her,” we tend to say, “He likes her.” “Like,” of course, has more than one meaning and can be used to mean liking in friendship or liking as in romantic interest. This can lead to somewhat silly and awkward junior high expressions as in, “He doesn’t just like her. He like likes her.” Maybe, we Americans should borrow the British expression?

4. Nice vs. Lovely

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Both Americans and British use both terms, “lovely” and “nice.” The difference I’ve noticed is more relating to the frequency in which we use the words. I’ve noticed Brits use the word “lovely” in a lot of the contexts where Americans are more likely to use the word nice: a lovely day, lovely weather, a lovely person, etc. American men, I think, find the word “lovely” to be less than perfectly macho and rarely use it except to occasionally describe a special woman. American women say “lovely” a bit more but are still more likely to use the word “nice.”

5. Pants vs. Trousers

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Trousers is not an unfamiliar word for Americans, but we don’t use it much. We can buy pants at the store that are labelled by American clothing companies as trousers, but, in ordinary conversation, we usually call them pants. The British seem to prefer the term, “trousers.”

A graphic for American and British English words list, showing sprinkles/hundreds-and-thousands
American and British English words list

6. Checkers vs. Draughts

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Even some games go by different names in the U.S. and in the U.K., like checkers and draughts (pronounced like drafts.) American linguist, Lynne Murphy, says in her blog Separated by a Common Language, “The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that draughts is related to dragon and goes back to 1400.” Well, that is interesting, but that raises other questions for me. Maybe, if you combine the draughts/dragons with the queens, kings and knights of chess, you have the makings of some sort of fairy tale. The term “checkers” is related to chess, from the Middle English exchequer. From chessboard came “chequered,” meaning marked like a chessboard.

7. Attorney-at-law vs. Solicitor

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In the U.K., lawyers are barristers or solicitors. Barristers can plead a case in open court and appear at the bar. Solicitors may conduct litigation in court but are not permitted to plead cases in open court. Barristers deal with clients indirectly through a solicitor. The attorney-at-law is the U.S. equivalent for solicitor.

8. Pharmacist vs. Chemist

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I’m an American fan of British Golden Age mysteries, and the word chemist has come up a lot in that context. It took me a while to realize chemist was the British term for pharmacist. A pharmacist certainly is a kind of chemist, but there are other sorts of chemists in different fields of chemistry. This makes me wonder if this term causes any confusion for the Brits. Would a Brit in some other field of chemistry have to use some extra labels or terms to explain his profession so that he is not confused with a pharmacist? If you live in an area where British English is spoken, please, share your comment.

9. Cotton candy vs. Candyfloss

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Cotton candy and candy floss both seem like sensible terms for this interestingly textured sweet. The fluffy shape and texture of the candy, as a whole, is like cotton, but the fibrous threads of sugar which make up the candy are like floss. Take the word “candy” out of either name, and neither name seems appealing to the palate, does it?

10. Cupcake vs. Fairy cake

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American cupcakes and British fairy cakes are practically synonymous but there are a few differences. The two cultures have language differences and also some different food preferences and traditions. Fairy cakes are a bit smaller than cupcakes. They are lighter, spongier cakes and topped with a thin glace icing rather than buttercream or cream cheese frosting. The Brits call them fairy cakes, because, traditionally, the top was cut off and split, and the center was filled. The split top was placed on either side of the center, resembling fairy wings.

11. Sprinkles vs. Hundreds-and-Thousands

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Hundreds-and-thousands seems to refer to how uncountable these colored bits of sugar are. Sprinkles, are, well, sprinkled. As an American, I think hundreds-and-thousands seems like a lot of extra syllable-bles. I also wonder what sort of reaction I would get if I went to an ice cream parlor near me and asked for hundreds-and-thousands on my ice cream. The server might ask “Of what?” and think I’m very greedy. Actually, the owner of one ice cream parlor near me is from the U.K. I think that man would be charmed if I did this.

I hope you enjoyed this American and British English words list. Would you like to see more like this?

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

Blue Wood

  1. Hood vs. Bonnet
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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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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.


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5. Napkin vs. Serviette

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

10. Elevator vs. Lift

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

11. Apartment vs. Flat

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 futur