English-to-American Dictionary

Chris Rae

Here's the complete English-to-American Dictionary in one big page.
This is up-to-date as of 22 July 2000; for the latest version go to

- A -

abseil v. Abseiling is the art of dangling onesself from a cliff at the end of a rope for "fun" - a pastime which escapes me entirely; give me Scrabble any day (oh, wait, that's clambering around rocks too, isn't it). Americans will know this particular form of sado-masochism better as rapell.

afters n. Pudding (dessert, to save you looking it up). And no, before you ask, we do not call appetizers befores. We call them starters, which now I think about it is just as bad.

anti-clockwise adv. As the phrase suggests, something which runs anti-clockwise is rotating in a direction which... err... isn't clockwise. Americans will know this better as counter-clockwise. Of course, anyone with half a brain could have worked this out themselves but never let it be said that I'm only paying lip-service to completeness.

arse n. What you sit on; very close in meaning to the American ass. The only real way in which they differ is that you could call someone an "arse" without any adjective - using "ass" in this fashion would imply that you quite unfairly thought s/he was a donkey of some sort.

artic n. An abbreviation for "articulated", this is (in American-speak) an F-off truck. The "articulated" part of it refers to the fact that it... bends in the middle. Can't remember the exact phrase... you know what I mean.

aubergine n. Not being very culinary-minded, I don't even know what one of these looks like but for what it's worth, we on this side of the Atlantic know as aubergines what North Americans will recognise as egg-plants.

aye expl. Yes. I'm told that this derives from the Norse ei, meaning "ever".

- B -

bagsie v. This is a tricky one to explain. To bagsie something is to stake your claim for it. As usual, when my hopeless grasp of the language fails me I shall resort to examples. You'd hear it in sentences like "I bagsie the back seat" or "Bagsie first go on the dodgems!". It's a rather childlike sentiment; you would be less likely to hear "I bagsie being Financial Director".

bairn n. Scottish. Baby. Has very much the same connotation as bubtion but is used in reference to a slightly younger age range. Bairns really are babies; bubtions could be just underdeveloped toddlers. Bairn is also used more often. I am told that it is derived from the Swedish word with the same meaning, "barn".

bampot n. Scottish. This is a wonderful word. Much as the sound suggests, a bampot is a person who is clumsily idiotic. As with a lot of our less-than-complimentary words, it isn't really offensive - it's used more in goading fun than anything else.

bash on expl. Okay, I know that this is another phrase sneaking in here. It's my dictionary, damnit. To "bash on" is to press on regardless - to keep struggling in the face of adversity. Nothing to do with hitting people.

bender n. 1. A big drinking session. 2. Be careful, because this word is also a rather derogatory term for a homosexual (I believe it derives from the phrase "gender-bender").

berk n. Another friendly UK "idiot" word and one which implies a degree of clumsiness. I always think (no doubt mistakenly) that these are best explained by example - "Look, you berk, I said to bend it, not bust it". In one of the most enlightening emails I've had since starting the dictionary, I am told that the word originally derives from the rhyming slang "Berkshire Hunt" - let's just say that, in the words of my contributor, "it doesn't mean punt".

Bill n. The Bill (also a popular UK television programme) refers to the police, in the same sort of a way as Plod. I am reliably informed that this is because the original proposal for a UK police service was put forward by a Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce. Never let it be said that this website doesn't provide a good quota of Culture.

bill n. A British bill is the total cost for something (typically in a restaraunt) - what the Americans call a check.

bin n. Bin is simply a contraction of dustbin (which means trashcan, to save you going and looking it up).

bint n. Woman, in the loosest sense of the word. One step short of a prostitute, a bint is a bird with less class, less selectivity, more makeup and even more skin. Blokes don't talk to bints unless they've had at least eight pints of beer, which is why bints turn up in free-for-students nightclubs at 2:45am with their faked student ID and dance around their Mochino rucksacks. I am told by a few contributors that the word derives from the Arabic for "daughter of".

bird n. pron. "beud" (London); "burd" (Scotland). Woman. Again. Well, not really. Bird is used when one is looking upon the fairer sex with a slightly more carnal eye. It's not quite at the stage of treating women as objects but the implication is certainly there. Likely to be used in the context "I shagged some random bird last night" (a popular usage) or "hey, Andy, I think those birds over there are looking at us". You'd never describe your grandmother as a bird. It's popular in Scotland to refer to one's girlfriend as "ma burd" but do it in front of her and you'll be choking teeth. About the only thing worse would be to call her "ma bint", which will warrant a foot in the testicles and a loose tongue concerning your sexual prowess. The nearest equivalent to bird in US English is probably chick.

biscuit n. What we Brits call a biscuit, Americans call a cookie. I am told that to yanks, a biscuit is a type of sugary scone and that Southern Americans eat their with milk gravy. Yeuch, frankly.

bleeding adj. This is similar to bloody and is really only used by Cockneys (i.e. in London). I have never in my life heard the trailing "g" actually being pronounced.

blighter adj. Rather outdated now, blighter is a more refined, more upper-class version of bugger.

blimey expl. A nice mild expletive, blimey is (in terms of rudeness) on a par with "wow" or "my goodness". It is apparently a contraction of "god blind me" which in turn is an abbreviated version of "may god blind me if it is not so". To prevent alarm, though, it's worth saying that I've used this word a number of times and so far god has made no attempt whatsoever to blind me, whether what I was saying was true or not.

bloke n. pron. "blowk" (English); "bloke" (the rest of us). The closest American equivalent is guy, and it is pretty close. A bloke is a joe public, a random punter - any old guy off the street. Where it differs from guy is that it can't apply to your friends. You can't walk up to a group of your mates and say "Hi blokes, what's up?", as they'd all peer at you as if you'd been reading some strange cross-channel dictionary. The most common usage of the word bloke is almost definitely in the phrase "some bloke in the pub".

bloody expl. Damn, another tricky word to define. Bloody is another great British multi-purpose swear word. Most well known as part of the phrase "Bloody hell!" which could best be described as an exclamation of surprise, shock or anger. Bloody can also be used in the middle of sentences for emphasis in a similar way to the ubiquitious f--- word ("And then he had the cheek to call me a bloody liar!") or even with particular audacity in the middle of words ("Who does she think she is, Cinde-bloody-rella?"). I am reliably informed by a contributor that bloody is in fact nothing to do with blood and actually a contraction of the phrase "by Our Lady". Sometimes I wonder whether it's worth putting in all these useful linguistic derivations when in actual fact you only got here because you were wondering what a poof was.

blooming adj. An extremely innocuous expletive, blooming could be seen as a reduced-strength version of bloody. Rather antiquated nowadays.

blow off v. Blowing off in the UK is not at all similar to blowing off in the US. While Americans know it as brushing someone off, British people use it as an alternative term for breaking wind.

bobbie n. A bobbie is a policeman. The word is a straight abbreviation of Robert, after Robert Peel, who was instrumental in creating the police force in the UK. It's a little antiquated these days, but still in use a little.

boffin n. A boffin is someone who is particularly knowledgeable about his/her subject. Slightly less friendly than expert, calling someone a boffin suggests (much like nerd) that they have body odour and are virgins. Boffins are invariably male.

bog n. One of our more... down-to-earth... words meaning toilet. More likely to be used in the context of "d'y'hear Fat Bob took a kicking in the bogs in Scruffy Murphy's?" rather than "I say, Mrs. Bryce-Waldergard, I'm awfully sorry to trouble you but I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of your bog?".

bollocks n. How do I put this delicately... bollocks are testicles. The word is in pretty common use in the UK (not in my house, of course!) and works well as a general "surprise" expletive in a similar way to bugger. The phrase "the dog's bollocks" is used to describe something particularly good (yes, good) - something like "see that car - it's the dog's bollocks, so it is". This in turn gives way to homonym phrases like "the pooch's privates" or "the mutt's nuts" which all generally mean the same thing. The word has also slipped through the the State of Florida's censors in the wonderful form of this registration plate (picture unavailable).

bonnet n. Now, let me try and remember this. Hood. Or was it trunk. No, it was definitely hood. This is the part of a car that covers the engine. Confusion arises in the UK when dealing with rear-engined cars; it's difficult to determine whether to call it a bonnet or, as seems perhaps more logical, a boot, on account of it being at the back. The trials of modern life.

boot n. Trunk. The boot of a car is the part you keep your belongings in. Don't even think of asking me why it's called a boot, because I haven't the faintest idea.

braces n. Suspenders. The device used to pull your teeth around the place is called a brace (singular) in the UK. Beware of the cross-definition, though - in the UK, suspenders are something else entirely.

brick n. To call someone a "brick" implies that they are dependable and will remain so in the face of adversity. A largely upper-class term, it is hardly in use nowadays.

brill adj. A popular abbreviation for brilliant.

brilliant adj. While the usual meanings (gifted or luminescent) are common to both the US and the UK, we in the UK also use brilliant to describe something which was particularly good. You might have a "brilliant holiday" or a "brilliant night out". It's a little bit childish - you'd be less likely to refer to a "brilliant board meeting" or a "brilliant shag". Popularly abbreviated to brill.

brolly n. Simply an abbreviation of umbrella.

brush n. This is our equivalent of a US broom. We use the word broom too (we don't talk about witches flying on brushsticks) but not as often.

bubtion n. Scottish. A rather quaint Scottish word for baby. Means exactly the same thing, but has a slightly more cosy, affable air to it. You'd never refer to your baby as a bubtion if it had lately been sick on your three-piece suit and drooled in your cornflakes.

bugger n. adj. v. Another superb multi-purpose Brit word. Buggery is sodomy but the word has far more uses than this. Calling someone a bugger is an inoffensive insult (in a similar way to git) and telling someone to bugger off is a friendlier alternative to the f-word. It can also be used as a stand-alone expletive in a similar way to bollocks - "Oh, bugger!"

bum n. This is the British version of butt. What the Americans call bums we call tramps.

busk v. To busk is to sit in the street playing an instrument and hoping people will give you money for it. I should imagine that it's a fairly unrewarding presuit although, having said that, a friend of mine made £200 (around $300) busking with a set of bagpipes over two days during the Edinburgh Festival. I think most of the money came from Americans who weren't quite sure what a ten-pound note was worth in dollars.

butt n. A butt in UK English is a stub, the end of something - we use it mainly in the context of cigarette butts or gun butts.

butty n. A butty is something served in a chippie inside a roll (or, I'm told, just a sandwich). To the best of my knowledge the most common application is a chip butty but you can also buy bacon or fish butties without seeming strange. I can only presume that the word derives from the fact that there is usually as much butter as roll, but I've no doubt someone will shed some more light on this.

- C -

camp adj. This is a tricky one to define. It basically described a man who is a stereotypically effeminate homosexual. If someone is being camp, you could tell their sexuality from the way they walk, talk, stand, gesture - it's very much on show. Sorry for being rather vague but without putting people forward as examples, it's a hard one to call.

car park n. The place where you park your vehicle while shopping, working, etc. As far as I am concerned, car park is a far better description than parking lot - the latter sounds as if your car is going to be auctioned while you're in Wal-Mart.

caravan n. A terrible device which attaches to the back of your car and allows you to take your whole family on holiday at minimal expense and with maximum irritability. I understand that these are known in the US as trailers.

chap n. A more upper-crust equivalent to "bloke". Nowadays only really seen in a tongue-in-cheek way or in 1950s Enid Blyton childrens books. It would read something along the lines of "I say chaps, let's go and visit that strange old man with the raincoat at Bog End Cottage and see if he has any more special surprises for us!". Jolly hockeysticks.

cheeky adj. To be cheeky is just short of being rude (in the sense of offensive, not dodgy). You're being cheeky if you make a joke that you can only just get away with without getting into trouble.

cheers expl. Although traditionally cheers is used as a toast, it has become a substitute for "thank you" in informal conversation.

chemist n. The chemist is where you'd go to buy pharmaceutical drugs. Americans call it a straight drugstore, which implies to Brits that you could just buy Class A narcotics over the counter.

chippie n. Ubiquitous abbreviation of fish-and-chip shop. Also a colloquial name for a carpenter - I can only presume that this derives from the word "chipboard". All a far cry from the US, where apparently a chippie is an attractive young woman for whom (I quote my source) "Intelligence is questionable, but not necessarily in a bad way. More naive than stupid." Strangely similar in a way to our own definition, but you're less likely to find that your husband has run off with a chippie in the UK. Unless he's a Member of Parliament.

chips n. Fries. However, it's lately been popular to call "thin" chips fries (I blame McDonalds) so Brits at least know what fries are these days. Classic chips can be obtained from a chip shop ("chippie") and are a great deal more unhealthy. They also vary quite creatively - if you buy them at nine o'clock in the evening they are hard, black and crunchy (because they've been cooking since 6:30pm when the dinner rush came through) but if you buy them at 3am you will find them very akin to raw potatoes, right down to the green bits in the middle (because they want all of these drunk punters out of the door so they can go home). Since writing this, I have been told by a contributor that British chips are in fact more healthy than fries - something to do with surface area and fat. Trust me, though... the British ones still look pretty gruesome.

chocolate drops n. Not being a culinary wizard I can't really comment on this one but I am reliably informed that what we Brits call chocolate drops, Americans call chocolate chips. Which is fortunate, because the idea of chocolate chips is enough to turn the stomach.

chuff v. To chuff is to fart. Entirely seperate to the word chuffed so use with care.

chuffed adj. Someone who describes themselves as being chuffed is generally happy with life. You can also get away with saying you are unchuffed or dischuffed if something gets your back up. Make sure you only use this word in the correct tense and familiarise yourself with the meaning of the word chuff too.

chum n. As well as being a popular make of dog food, your "chums" are your friends, your buddies. Wait, I seem to have just implied that your friends are pet food. Well, you know what I mean. Your friends should consider themselves flattered; I am told that, in the US, chum refers to chunks of meat thrown into the sea (forming a chum trail) to lure game fish.

coach n. A coach is very much the same as a bus. The word is generally used in the UK for longer-haul buses (50 miles plus). The difference between a coach and a bus is that a coach tends to have a loo, not so much chewing gum attached to the seats and fewer old ladies hacking up phlegm in the back. Coaches make up for these missing comforts ensuring that all travellers have set themselves up as comfortably as they can. This means that there are half as many seats (because everyone has a bag next to them) and all you can hear throughout the journey is a baby that needs burping and some twelve-year-old drug addict's Walkman.

cock-up n. v. To cock-up is to make a complete mess of something. You'd use it along the lines of "I went to a job interview today and cocked it up completely". It may look like another innocent little Brit phrase that's terribly rude for Americans but I suspec there's a little more to it than that because we also use the phrase "balls-up" meaning the same thing. Although, ironically enough, "balls-up" is seen as a lot less rude.

cooker n. The cooker is the machine which does the actual cooking of your food - while this is a peculiarly British term, the word oven is used both in the UK and the US to mean exactly the same thing.

cop off v. Copping off with someone is snogging them (usually for the first time). I have no idea what the derivation is, but I'm sufficiently convinced that it's nothing to do with cops.

copper n. Policeman. I was under the impression that this was due to the copper buttons they originally wore on their uniforms. However, another contributor has told me that the term is derived from the Latin "capere" which means simply "to capture". As both of these sources seem equally viable (and I certainly haven't a clue), I'm leaving them both in here. You would have thought that the American word "cop" derived from this, but I have been told by various different people that it is an acronym for "Constable on Patrol" or "Constable of the Police".

cotton buds n. These are the little plastic rods with blobs of cotton on either end. Known better in the US as Q-Tips, which I can only presume is a brand name.

cotton wool n. The little furry blobs that women use to remove makeup and men use to clean inlet manifolds. Cotton wool is known in the US simply as cotton ball.

courgette n. Although a rather pleasant word, our courgette is more than amply replaced by America's fantastic zucchini. I wonder if there's anything behind the fact that they both look like they ought to be sports cars. I'm sure someone's written a thesis on it somewhere.

crikey expl. A general (very British) expression of surprise. It's a rather elderly word and a little esoteric these days - you can most imagine it being used in a context something like "crikey, Eustace - it looks like Cambridge are going to win after all!"

crisps n. Chips. This particular confusion caused me no end of troubles in the US - I've never been so disappointed with a bag of chips in my life (I'd even have preferred the 3am green ones).

crumpet n. Coming from rhyming slang for strumpet (a woman adulterer), crumpet refers to women in a similar (although a little more old-fashioned) way to totty. Suffice to say that if you were out looking for some crumpet of an evening, you wouldn't be intending sleeping alone. In fact, you may not be intending to sleep at all.

curtains n. While we in the UK will call any cloth covering a window curtains, Americans tend to call longer ones drapes.

CV n. A CV is what we Brits call what Americans know as a resumé. CV stands for curriculum vitae and means "life's work" in Latin. And before any Americans mail me saying how ridiculous it is that we named our personal mini-biographies in Latin, I can only mention the fact that yours appear to be named in French. Actually, having put this description up on the site I've had a few mails from indignant Yanks saying that they do have CVs after all. As far as I can gather, an American CV is a list of published work or research done - a sort of more academic version of a resumé.

- D -

daft adj. Someone who is described as daft is what we stoic Brits might call "not the full shilling". Daft can range from the absent-minded ("You've forgotten to put petrol in it, daft woman!") to the criminally insane ("Well, once we let him out of the boot he went completely daft!").

damper n. We're getting awfully technical now. As I'm not 100% sure what this is myself, I hand you across to John Ings, who says that a damper is "What the American calls a shock absorber. The Brit word is in this case is definitely more accurate, for this device does not absorb shocks in any manner. What it does do is dampen what would otherwise be the uncontrollable bouncing of a pneumatic tire." Wait... are they those rubber things on the suspension? I'm going to have to go and look under the car now.

dapper adj. Rather outdated nowadays (I know the feeling), dapper is used to describe someone who is very much the country squire - well-spoken, well-dressed and rather upper-class. Because of the unpopularity of the upper classes in the UK recently, this is almost a mild insult despite once being a complement.

demister n. Defroster. These are referred to as demisters in the UK because our devices have precious little chance of getting rid of mist, let alone frost.

dinner n. In the North of England, dinner is what the rest of us call lunch (the meal at mid-day).

divvy n. This is another one of our words for accusing people of being idiots. Nice and tame, calling someone a divvy is much on a par with telling them they are a pillock.

dodgy adj. If something or someone is described as dodgy, this means that they are either shady ("I bought it off some dodgy punter in the pub") or sexually suggestive ("The old bloke in the office keeps saying dodgy things to me at the coffee machine").

dog-end n. The stubbed-out end of a cigarette - I'm afraid I haven't the faintest idea from whence this comes.

dosh n. Money. This is a fairly London-based term but was popularised by Harry Enfield's song Loadsamoney.

dozy adj. Perhaps most kindly represented by the word slow. Someone described as dozy might be a little sluggish at picking things up.

dressing gown n. A dressing gown is what we Brits call a robe. Not the ceremonial type of robe - the one that you wear when you've come out of the bath to answer the door like attractive young ladies tend to do in coffee advertisements.

dual carriageway n. What we call a dual carriageway the Americans call a divided highway. There is often very little difference between a dual carriageway and a motorway except that learner drivers are not allowed onto motorways.

dummy n. As well as being an insult and a mannekin, in the UK a dummy is one of those teat-things you put in babies' mouths to stop them crying. I believe that Americans call them comforters or binkies.

Durex n. In the UK, Durex is a large (possibly the largest, I'm not sure) manufacurer of condoms. The word "Durex" has therefore slipped into the language (no pun intended) as yet another way for us repressed Brits to avoid actually saying "condom". A very similar thing happened in the US with "Trojan".

dustbin n. What we know as a dustbin, Americans will be more familiar with as a trashcan. How familiar you want to be with a dustbin is entirely up to you.

dustman n. I presume dustwoman is also appropriate in these heady days of sexual equality. Anyway, a dustman is the person who collects your rubbish from outside your house - Americans call them garbage collectors.

- E -

engaged adj. Busy. Well, that is to say engaged in a telephone call. Many sit-coms have for years sustained plot lines built around the truly hilarious "engaged in a phone call/engaged to be married" mix-up.

estate n., adj. While most uses of this word are transatlantically the same, we call an estate car what Americans call a station wagon.

- F -

faff v. To faff is to bumble about doing things that aren't quite relevant to the task in hand. You'll often find it used when men are complaining about women faffing around trying on different sets of clothes before going out, using up valuable drinking time.

fag n. Be exceedingly careful with this one. A fag is a very common (probably the most common) word meaning cigarette. One of the most amusing e-mails I've had concerning this page was from an American who had arrived at her company's UK offices to be told that the person she was looking for was "outside blowing a fag".

faggot n. In the UK, a faggot is a meatball. In the US, a faggot is a male homosexual. In reality, the American definition is known (if not really used) UK-wide, so most of the jokes involving "faggots in brine" have already been made.

fancy v. As well as the standard meaning, Brits use the word fancy to refer to being keen on a particular member of the opposite sex. Seen in the contexts of "I really fancy that chap from the coffee shop" or "Hey, Stu, I think that bird over there fancies you!"

fanny n. This is another word which could leave you abroad and in dire straits. In the US, your fanny is your posterior and a fanny pack translates directly to what we Brits call a bum bag. In the UK, however, your fanny is - well, let's just say you only have a fanny if you're a girl; this is a family dictionary. Which does beg the question: what is a fanny pack?

filth n. I ought to mention at this juncture that just because words are in this fine tome doesn't mean to say that I use them regularly. That said... filth is used in the UK as a slightly-less-than-complimentary monicker for our fine police force.

fit adj. To describe someone as fit is very similar to describing them as tidy. A fit bird is a fine specimen of the fairer sex.

flat n. A flat is an appartment. Having been enlightened by a contributor, I can tell you that it derives from the Germanic Old English word "flet", meaning "floor" (a flat occupies only one floor of a building).

flatmate n. British flatmates are American roommates.

flutter v. A brief, low-stake foray into gambling. Many people have a flutter on the Grand National once a year or the odd boxing match. Anything more regular, and it's just straight gambling.

football n. What we call football Americans call soccer. The game that the Americans have the nerve to call football we call American Football. How anyone could watch a sport that has more players than audience and was designed with commercial breaks in mind is beyond me. I'm not too keen on soccer either, mind you.

fortnight n. A fortnight is a well-used word in the UK meaning two weeks. The word does exist in the US but is not in common use; I am told that using it there would have a similar response to using "a score" to represent twenty.

French bean n. More often used in the plural (primarily because one French bean is of little use to anybody), Americans will recognise French beans as snow peas. Sounds more like something you'd have on the way home from the pub in the middle of winter, if you ask me.

fringe n. The usual meaning of this word (the edge of something) applies on both sides of the continent but here in the UK we call the bits of hair coming down over your forehead a fringe, whilst Americans generally call them bangs.

full stop n. The little dot at the end of a sentence - Americans will know it better as a period.

- G -

gaff n. Rather a London word, your gaff is your home, your place. Not sure of the derivation - any help appreciated.

gander n. To have a gander is just to have a look - I'm pretty sure it's derived from Cockney Rhyming Slang (as everything else here seems to be) but I'm not sure how. Any thoughts, anyone?

gear lever n. Haha! Finally, a British term that better describes itself than an American one! A gear lever is what you change gear on a car with, better known to our US cousins as the stick of a stick-shift (manual transmission) car. I'm sure you'll agree that, as ever, ours is a far more appropriate term. Stick shift sounds more like a type of boomerang or a keyboard problem.

gearbox n. This is the box of gears that sits between the engine and the prop shaft. While understood by Americans, most call it the transmission which technically includes all sorts of sundries as well as the gearbox itself.

get off v. In the UK, getting off with someone involves snogging them - in the US it means something rather more. Over here, people quite regularly get off with one another in nightclubs, which might prove rather tricky using the American definition.

gherkin n. This is a small green vegetable-thing, almost always sold pickled in vinegar. Which probably explains why Americans call them simply pickles.

git n. Tricky one to define. What it doesn't mean is what The Waltons meant when they said it (as in "git outta here, John-Boy"). Git is technically an insult but has a twinge of jealousy to it. You'd call someone a git if they'd won the Readers' Digest Prize Draw, outsmarted you in a battle of wits or been named in Bill Gates' Last Will and Testament because of a spelling mistake. Like sod, it has a friendly tone to it. I'm told it derives from Arabic, where it describes a pregnant female camel, of all things. I'm also told that it is a contraction of the word "illegitimate" - you be the judge.

give over expl. This is a very close British English equivalent to the American "give me a break". I believe that its origins lie in Northern England but I'm not sure.

gob n., v. Your gob is a rather vulgar definition of your mouth. Almost always used in the context of "shut your gob" or, to be a little more gramatically specific, "shut yer gob". Equally savoury is the verb "gob" which means to spit. I am told by a contributor that it slipped into the language from Gaelic, where it means a bird's beak.

gobsmacked adj. Nothing to do with punching people in the face (although I'm sure that's where it derives from originally), to describe someone as being gobsmacked means they're very surprised or taken aback.

gormless adj. A person who is gormless is someone slightly lacking in the brain department; a bit daft. I understand that the word (as "gaumless") also exists in Scots-derived American English with the same meaning but that it is not in common use.

grammar n. Textbook. Textbook is in my humble opinion a far better choice of word, because not only is calling it a grammar bad grammar, it also opens opportunities for a terrible line of jokes involving the word "grandmother". Thanks to somebody for pointing out that I had put these in the dictionary the wrong way around…

grass n., v. An informer (or the act of informing on someone). Normally used in the context of criminals grassing on each other to the police, but I certainly remember being grassed up at school for going to MacDonalds instead of Modern Studies. If I could remember who it was who squealed, I'd name and shame him but right at this very minute I can't recall.

guff v. To guff is to break wind - this word is presumably some sort of derivation of chuff or vice versa. Not to be confused with gaff.

- H -

haggis n. The Haggis is a small Scottish mammal, unfortunately known better for the unpleasant-tasting dish it is often made into. There has been a lot of concern here lately that over-farming may endanger the remaining population - if you want to help, please voice your concerns to The World-Wide Fund for Nature.

halfpint n. A halfpint is an affectionate name for someone who is shorter than average - see pint for the derivation.

handbrake n. A handbrake is similar to the American Parking Brake or Emergency Brake. They differ in that a handbrake operates like a normal brake pedal (but only on the rear wheels) and a parking brake is a physical lock on the transmission. In practical terms this means that if you try and use your parking brake to stop the car you're in for an interesting surprise. Before the days of speed-cameras, Brits used to use the handbrake to slow down when they passed police cars because the brake lights don't go on and it's not so obvious you were speeding.

haver v. Scottish. To haver is to ramble incoherently. I reckon I've had more mail about this one word than any others because it features in the Proclaimers' song I'm Gonna Be (500 miles).

hen-night n. A hen-night is the girls-only night out, centering on the bride, before a wedding. It seems to be a legal requirement that the bride is wearing a wedding dress, some traffic cones and L-plates and that everybody but the bride ends up sleeping with some random bloke, just to annoy her.

hickey n. This is one of those curious injuries that people feel the need to inflict in moments of passion - Americans (and probably the rest of the world) will know a hickey better as a love-bite.

holiday n. I've always wondered about this word and was enlightened by one of my trustworthy contributors. A holiday for a person in the UK is any time taken off work. For Americans, a vacation is time taken off specifically for yourself and a holiday is time that everyone gets off and they're paid for (Christmas, New Year, Easter, etc.). What Americans call holidays, we call public holidays.

homely adj. To describe something as homely in the UK means that it's pleasant and comfortable, like home is supposed to be. Apparently, calling something homely in the US is tantamount to labelling it, in the words of my contributor, "butt-ugly".

hoover n. v. Vacuum cleaner. Short and simple. Although hoover is fairly common in the US too I'm including it for the sake of completeness. We had it first! This is a good example of a the glorious nonsensical aspect of the Queen's English. The Americans have a phrase which quickly and simply describes the function of the appliance and we have a single word which suggests nothing but a dead president. Actually, it's the name of a vacuum-cleaner manufacturer who had the clever idea of making everyone use their title as a generic term so that buyers were under the impression theirs was the "standard" vacuum cleaner. This technique was also used by IBM, and was the only reason they ever managed to sell any computers which cost double the price of the nearest rival.

- I -

ickle n. One of the few rather sickly British "cutesy" words, ickle just means "very small". It would usually be seen in use regarding "sweet" things i.e. "what an ickle puppy!" rather than "dad - I've just had an ickle accident in your car".

- J -

jam n. This is one of these words I wish I'd never mentioned. Having suggested that British jam is American jelly, I was hit by a deluge of mail saying quite the opposite. As I (now) understand it, what Americans call jelly (the jam without fruity-bits in it), we still call jam. What Americans call jello, we call jelly.

jam-sandwich n. Also jam-butty - a police car. So called because they are white, with a red stripe down the middle. If you half-close your eyes, squint, stand on your head and recite the Lord's Prayer backwards, they could in some ways be seen as not dissimilar to a jam sandwich.

jelly n. A gelatin flavoured desert; I know that this word is in use in the 'States but many Americans know it better as jello - a brand name we don't have over here.

jugs n. We in the UK use the word jug in the context that an American will use pitcher. Note that we also use it to describe breasts, which I believe is the more regular American definition.

jumper n. Over here a jumper is what Americans call a sweater. I'm told that in the US, a jumper is a "set of overalls with a skirt instead of trousers". I am also told that it is police slang for someone who leaps to their death from a high building or bridge but I suspect this is not related to the British translation...

- K -

kazi n. I've almost inevitably spelled this completely incorrectly (it's pronounced "kah-zee") but it's a rather... err... coarse word for the toilet. Would be more likely to be seen in the context of "I'm away to the kazi to drain the lizard" rather than "Excuse me, madam - could you direct me to the kazi?"

kip n. "A kip" or "some kip" is just some sleep - I'm not very sure of the derivation.

kit n. A sports kit (rugby kit, football kit, etc.) is what the Americans call a uniform - it's what you wear while you're playing.

knackered adj. To describe yourself as "knackered" means that you are really tired - something along the lines of "beat". However, as usual it has a slightly more dodgy meaning as it technically describes being exhausted after sex. You can get away with it in everyday conversation but bear in mind that everyone knows the true meaning too.

knickers n. Knickers are underpants, specifically women's underpants.

knob n. Popular misspelling. See nob.

knock up v. Okay, okay, I know I'm trying to restrict this to words rather than phrases but I've had a lot of mail about this one and as it's potentially dangerous I'm making an exception for it. In UK English, knocking someone up involves banging on their door, generally to get them out of bed. In US English, knocking someone up is getting someone pregnant. However, although most Brits will feign innocence, most of us do know the US connotations of the phrase and it adds greatly to the enjoyment of using it.

- L -

ladder n. In most circumstances, this word means exactly the same in the UK as it does in the US. However, what we in the UK would refer to as a ladder in tights, Americans would know better as a run in pantyhose. Not something I personally experience very often, I hasten to add.

lead n. What the Americans call a leash, we Brits call a lead (pronounced like "knead" rather than "dead").

Left Luggage n. A slightly esoteric British term for what is usually now known as lost property.

lemonade n. In the UK, lemonade is a clear, carbonated drink very similar to Sprite or 7-Up, but with only lemons instead of limes and what have you. In the US, lemonade is just lemon-juice, sugar and water, which if you ask me sounds pretty revolting.

lift n. 1. I thought that we Brits called lifts what the Americans called elevators. I'm reminded by a contributor that the terminology for floor numbering is different between the UK and the US. In the UK, the first level of a building is called the "ground floor" - the one on the ground. The next one up is the first floor. In the US, the level you walk into off the street is the first floor. This conjures up the image of an American high-powered executive, hungry and listless, trapped forever on the first floor of a British office looking for the door. Well, it does for me. 2. To take someone to their destination in your car - Americans use the word ride for the same purpose.

light n. You thought you knew what this was, didn't you? So did I. Well, it's also a largely obsolete British word describing a car window. Apparently, certain cars used to be called "five lights" on account of their having five windows. Not to be confused with a sparsely equipped Christmas tree. The story doesn't end there, of course. I am told that light is in fact used in the US architecturally to refer to the individual panes of a split window.

loo n. What we call the loo is what Americans very politely call the restroom. I believe that the derivation of this word is from a long time ago when people used to shout "gardez l'eau" (the French equivalent of "look out for the water") and throw their human waste out of the window onto gutters in the street. More amusingly, a contributor tells me that his history professor informed the class that loo was an abbreviation for Louis XIV, one-time king of France. It was, he says, adopted by the British so that every time they went to the bathroom they were symbolically "pissing on France". True or not, it's an interesting thought.

lorry n. A lorry is the nearest eqivalent we have to a truck. I say "nearest equivalent" because lorries aren't generally as big as trucks. This has less to do with linguistic differences and more to do with the fact that our roads generally only have lane numbers in single figures.

luvvie n. A luvvie is a rather overexuberant (and almost invariably gay) thespian. Referring to actors as luvvies or luvvie darlings is rather scornful and demeaning - it's true, though, that a few of the older, camper actors do indeed refer to each other as "luvvie".

- M -

Mac n. An abbreviation for "Macintosh", the Mac is a light waterproof jacket which can usually be squashed up into an impressively small size for packing away. I used to have one that folded into its own pocket and I kept folding it up the wrong way around so the zip didn't close. I digress. I am told that the word is derived from the name of the gentleman who worked out how to infuse rubber and cloth and pointed at a website which provides some further elaboration.

manky adj. Describing something as manky is similar (but perhaps not quite as forceful) to describing it as gross or disgusting. I've had most of my wardrobe described as manky at some point in time.

Marmite n. I knew this should be in here because it exists in the UK (and Australia as Vegemite) and doesn't exist in the US. I did not, however, know exactly what it was until enlightened by a contributor who described it as "the plebian's version of gentleman's relish". It is apparently a spread made from yeast extract and is sharper in taste than Australia's similar Vegemite. It is like a vegetarian version of Bovril, which is made with beef extract.

mate n. Your mates are your good friends; your buddies. I don't know about everyone else but in my case they're probably the last people I'd consider mating with.

mobile phone n. What we Brits call a mobile phone, Americans know better as a cell phone (or... yeugh... cellie), which to me seems to suggest anything but mobility.

momentarily adj. This is quite a small discrepancy, but could be an important one... in the US, momentarily means "in a moment". In the UK, it means "for a moment". I am alerted to this by a British contributor who heard a station announcement in Chicago that his train would be "stopping momentarily at platform 6".

moose n. We don't have wild mooses (meese?) over here; moose is instead put to use in describing rather unattractive women. You'd probably hear it in post-drinking assessments, like: "Yeah, was a great night - we all got completely pissed and Bob ended up snogging a complete moose!"

moreish adj. You will never find this word in a dictionary (although every time I say that someone proves me wrong) but it means something (usually food) which leads you to want more - Jaffa Cakes, Jelly Babies or peanuts would be some good personal examples. It's rather light-hearted; you wouldn't go around describing cocaine as moreish, whether it is or not.

motor n. A motor is an automobile - it's a slightly slang word though. I can only presume that it derives from the time when all cars were known as "motor-cars".

motorway n. A motorway is a freeway. Except that motorways tend to be no more than three lanes to each side and as far as I can tell freeways are often wider than they are long.

mum n. Mom. Among the derivations are mater (very 1920s public-school) and ma (rather Scottish).

- N -

naff adj. To describe something as "naff" is fairly insulting. It implies that the subject is rather tacky, ineffectual and generally crap. This could be a part of the reason why the French clothing firm Naf Naf recently pulled out of the UK.

nan n. A less formal replacement for grandmother.

nappy n. A "nappy" is the UK equivalent of a diaper. I'd exercise some degree of caution when using this word because so far I've heard it defined in US English as a napkin, a tablecloth, unkempt clothing or hair, general dirtiness or a derogatory term for an African-American baby.

narked adj. Someone who is narked about something is a bit annoyed, rather grumpy. What we Scots might call "pit oot". Americans use the word to refer to narcotics informers but despite receiving quite a lot of mail about this I'm not convinced that there's a link.

natter n. To have a natter is to engage in idle banter, to chatter. It's a gossipy and rather girly thing - girls phone up their friends for endless hours just nattering while blokes tend to pretend to themselves that their conversations are far more constructive.

nick v. 1. Steal. To nick something is to steal it. Likewise, something you buy from a dodgy bloke over a pint has quite probably been nicked. In a strange paradox, if a person is described as nicked, it means they've been arrested and if a person is in the nick, they're in prison. 2. Condition. Commonly used in the phrase "in good nick", the nick of something is the sort of state of repair it's in. Seen in contexts like "Think I'll buy that car; it seems in pretty good nick".

nob n., v. Your nob (presuming that you're male, of course) is... how could I best describe this... your one-eyed trouser snake. Comprenez? Consequently, to describe someone as a nob is not overly flattering. Using the word as a verb implies active use of said penis and could be be equated to the American slang "bone" or British shag. Amusingly, nob is also used to describe members of the aristocracy or people of importance (a contraction of "nobility"). I'm not making this up. Just in case you thought this word was in use in the 'States, a contributor sent me this photograph of a sign outside an appartment block in Dallas, Texas (picture unavailable). There is a Nob Hill in San Francisco and even worse, perhaps, is the fact that there is a town sixty miles south of St. Louis, Missouri, called Knob Lick.

nosey parker n. Someone who takes a little bit too much interest in other people's goings on. I have not the faintest idea of the derivation - perhaps someone would like to enlighten me.

nought n. pron. "nawt". The digit zero. I am told by contributors that it is also occasionally used in the US (although it "may be an old Southern thing") and is an Old English word meaning "nothing" still used in northern regional English.

- O -

och expl. Scottish. A very Scottish word of exclamation. Very Scottish. Groundskeep Willie Scottish. Used in a context like "Och, you're joking me!"

off-licence n. In the UK, an off-license is what Americans call a liquor store. The term comes from the fact that the alcohol can be sold on the condition that it may only be drunk off the premises.

omnibus n. This is a quaint word, dating back to the times when buses were open at the rear and had a conductor ready to meet you. An omnibus is generally one step technologically forward of a tram. I'm told the word itself is Latin for "by/with/from/to/for everyone". It has another rather curious use; extended versions of television or radio programmes (typically soap operas) are known as "omnibus editions" - if anyone can enlighten me on the source of this I'd be much obliged.

- P -

pants n. Be exceedingly careful again. Pants as far as us Brits are concerned are underpants, not trousers at all. This word will cause similar misunderstandings to knickers. Pants can also be used as a general "derogatory word" in a similar but more polite way to crap.

pastie n. This is another one to watch out for. While pasties (pronounced with a long "a", as in "cat") are meat or vegetable-filled pastries in the UK, they would appear to be nothing like this in the US. Americans (well, those with less than savoury backgrounds) will know them as the tassles that strippers put on their nipples and waggle around. This information, I hasten to add, came from an unnamed contributor rather than firsthand.

pavement n. What we call the pavement, Americans call the sidewalk. Interestingly, I am told by a contributor that sidewalk is in fact an old, now-unused English word meaning exactly what the Americans take it to mean.

pecker n. A common misconception is that, to Brits, your pecker is your chin - hence the phrase "keep your pecker up". Sorry folks, but over here pecker means exactly the same thing as it does in the US. The phrase "keep your pecker up" is derived, I am told, from a time when pecker was simply a reference to a bird's beak and encouraged keeping your head held high. When the idea of pecker as a euphamism for "penis" turned up, I'm not sure.

peckish adj. Absolutely nothing to do with peckers, a person described as peckish is a little hungry. Only a little hungry, mind, not ravenous - you wouldn't hear people on the news talking about refugees who'd tramped across mountains for two weeks and were as a result a little peckish.

pensioner n. Quite simply someone who is drawing their pension, i.e. over the age of 65. We also use the acronym OAP, meaning "Old-Aged Pensioner". With characteristic political correctness, Americans tend to call them seniors.

petrol n. What we Brits call petrol (petroleum), Americans call gas (gasoline).

pillock n. Idiot. You could almost decide having read this dictionary that any unknown British word is most likely to mean "idiot". And you could almost be right. We have so many because different ones sound better in different sentences. On the subject of the word in hand, I am told by a contributor (who admits to not being completely sure) that this may be a male animal with one lone testicle and derived from "bullock". It's funny, even if it's not true...

pint n. The standard UK measure of beer - apparently equivalent to 0.568 litres in new money. It is possible to buy a half-pint instead but doing so will marr you for life in the eyes of your peers. Drinking half-pints of beer is generally seen as the liquid equivalent of painting your fingernails and mincing. However, it's not quite as bad as drinking American pints of beer. Whilst pretending that a pint really is a pint, Americans managed to get away with putting 16 fluid ounces in theirs while ours contain 20. My source tells me that the issue is compounded further by the fact that a fluid ounce is also 4% smaller.

pissed adj. Drunk. We do not use it alone as a contraction of "pissed off", which means that Americans saying things like "I was really pissed with my boss at work today" leaves Brits wide-eyed. To go out on the piss is to venture out drinking. In what may well be a throwback to the US' use of the word, we use the phrase taking the piss to mean poking fun at someone.

plaster n. A British plaster is an American bandage or Band-Aid. In both British and American English, to describe onesself as plastered implies that you are wildly under the influence of alcohol. See? We do share the odd word, after all.

Plod n. The Police in general. You'd find it used in a context like "you climb over the fence and I'll keep an eye out for Plod". That's a made-up context, by the way - I'm not drawing from personal experience here. I am told that the word derives from a character in Enid Blyton's Noddy books named PC Plod.

plonker adj. Yet another word for calling someone an idiot. I'm tempted to write a Dictionary of British Insults. This is also (rarely) used to refer to one's penis (or someone else's, if you don't have one). I'm tempted to also write a Dictionary of British Words For Penis. A future bestseller; keep an eye out.

po-faced adj. To describe someone as po-faced means that they're somewhat glum - in many ways similar to long-faced. I have been informed that this is because po is an abbreviation for chamber pot (an old-fashioned bed-pan).

ponce n. A ponce is a man who is pretentious in an effeminite manner. Ponces (quite often referred to using the phrase perfume ponce) tend to grown their hair quite long and talk loudly into their mobile phone while sitting at the traffic lights in their convertible Porsche.

poof n. This is a mildly derogatory term for a homosexual (I say mildly primarily because the rest are even worse).

poofter n. A simple derivation of poof, with exactly the same meaning.

post n., v. This is the UK equivalent of the American word mail. We don't mail things, we post them; we wait for the post in the morning when it's delivered by the postman (one word). The main difference in practical use is that while Americans would say "mail me sometime" (I'm a bit guilty of this on my web pages), we wouldn't. We certainly wouldn't say "post me" as this would be exceedingly uncomfortable and probably result in an amusing Fatal Accident Enquiry (and possible a Darwin Award). We really don't have a short equivalent - we'd probably say "write to me sometime".

potholing v. This is a sport better known in the USA as caving or spelunking - simply put it involves leaping down holes in the ground. I have no idea where the name comes from or whether it's supposed to be hyphenated - if anyone would like to enlighten me then please feel free.

pram n. An abbreviation for the esoteric "perambulator", this is the rather old-fashioned wheeled device used to carry one's offspring around - known in the US as a baby carriage, baby buggy or stroller (which is oddly similar to perambulator).

prat n. To call somebody a prat is rather similar to calling them an idiot. It's often meant to mean someone's general attitude than concerning one particular incident - "I met my sister's boyfriend the other day and he seems like a complete prat".

pub n. This is an abbrevation for "public house" and best equates to what Americans call a bar. However, in my experience, British pubs are generally far more sociable than American bars. While you would go into a pub to have a pleasant lunch with your family or one or two sociable beers with a couple of friends, you'd only go into a bar in order to get blind drunk and start a fight.

pudding n. This is an interesting one. While we still use the word pudding in the same sense as Americans do (Christmas pudding, rice pudding, etc) it is also treated here as an equivalent to the rarely-used dessert. To complicate things further, we have main meal dishes which are described as pudding - black pudding and white pudding. Some time ago I asked if anyone knew exactly what was in these dishes, but I almost regret it. Apparently, "a black or white pudding is made with offal, ground oatmeal, dried pork and general kitchen slops". Lovely. Even worse, the difference is that "the black one is blackened by soaking it in the pig's blood before it is either fried or grilled". Something to steer clear of, if you ask me.

pull v. The art of distracting the opposite sex. Pulling is conceptually very similar to hooking up. To be on the pull is a less proactive version of sharking. Single males and females are almost all on the pull but will deny it fervently and pretend to be terribly surprised when eventually it pays off.

puncture n. The normal meaning of this word (i.e. an infarction) applies on both sides of the pond, but here in the UK we describe a flat tyre as a puncture. Americans simply call it a flat.

punter n. The nearest equivalent to an omnisex version of bloke. A punter is usually a customer of some sort, but this need not be the case. I believe that originally a punter was someone placing bets at a racecourse. However, as the language developed natural progression decreed that, as the greater proportion of the British public were susceptible to a flutter, it described almost all of us. However, because of the word's gambling roots, punters are regarded slightly warily and shouldn't be taken at face value.

- Q -

queue n. v. pron. "cue". A queue is a line. This doesn't really help the definition at all, as a line could be any number of things. A pencil line? A railway line? A line of Charlie? A line dancer? As a result of this potentially dangerous confusion, a word was developed to separate this particular line from all the others and the Americans decided not to use it. A queue is a line of people. A line of blokes, birds and bubtions if you will. To queue is to be one of those queueing in the queue; I am told that the word itself is derived from the French for tail.

quid n. A "quid" is British slang for one unit of our own currency, the Pound. Very similar in use to the American "buck", the word is very widely recognised and quite socially acceptable but not formal - you could quite easily say "well, they offered me 10,000 quid for the car" but you wouldn't hear any BBC announcers reporting "the government today authorised a ten million quid increase in health service funding". This perhaps says more about the BBC than this one particular word, but I digress.

- R -

randy adj. One way of ensuring that Brits laugh at American sitcoms is to put someone in the program called Randy. This is because randy in UK English translates very well as horny in US English and, because we all have such a simple sense of humour, sentences such as "Hello, I'm Randy" have us doubled up on the sofa.

rawl plug n. I wish I'd never gotten into this. This particular definition has caused me no end of headaches. I was assured by one of my contributors that a rawl plug was actually a moly bolt. I mistakenly made some joke along the lines of "what the hell's a rawl plug anyway?" A few days later I received mail from one David Henry. "As I recall it, a rawlplug was a trade name for a wooden plug you bash into a hole you just drilled into cement, concrete or brick so you could then insert a screw to fasten something to the wall with. Later they developed the same things made out of plastic, with sprigs sticking out of them so they really stayed in place. After that came ones made of soft metal, like lead, for heavier loadings. None of these is to be confused with a moly bolt, which is designed to provide a fixing point on wallboard (plasterboard in the UK). It works in a clever way such that once you screwed in the screw, you deform the back of the moly so that it can't be pulled out of the hole. Ingenious gadgets." I then got another e-mail telling me that a rawl plug was lead, not wood. This was followed by yet another telling me that wallboard was in fact more commonly known as sheetrock. I DON'T CARE! However, never let it be said that this isn't a comprehensive language guide.

return adj. Don't worry - this means the same worldwide in most contexts. However, what we in the UK call a return ticket is known in North America as a round-trip ticket. As you probably know, it just means that you're planning on coming home again.

reverse charges n. v. Call Collect. Nothing to do with cars.

ring v. To phone someone up. Translates nicely into American as call. A relic from the days when telephones actually rang and didn't bleep, vibrate or send you e-mail.

rodger v. Yes, verb. And I know it's a name, but then so's Randy. As this is a family dictionary and I'm a repressed Brit I'm going to tread gingerly around the meaning. To rodger someone is to... erm... surprise them from behind, shall we say. One who indulges in rodgering might be referred to as an uphill gardener, pillow biter, fudge packer, chutney ferret, etc, etc. Am I making myself clear? Apparently this equates very well to the rather amusing word cornhole.

roundabout n. Roundabouts are devices put into the road as a snare for learner drivers and foreigners. Everyone has to drive around in a circle until they see their selected exit road, at which point they must fight through the other traffic on the roundabout in a vague attempt to leave it. While you're far more likely to see a four-way-stop than a roundabout In the US, there are some on the east coast and they're known either as traffic circles or rotaries.

rozzer n. Policeman. Even more esoteric than the good old English bobby, most British people will never have heard of this term. It says a lot that the contributor who suggested it mentioned that it had come from a P. G. Wodehouse book.

rubber n. Be very, very careful. I got in more trouble using this word in the States than any other. A rubber is an eraser. If you are a Limey and you are called upon to visit the United States, write this on the back of your hand and don't wash until you leave.

rubbish n. Everyday waste - better known in the US as trash or garbage (neither of which are used in this context in the UK).

- S -

sack v. Here in the UK, sacking someone is dismissing them from their job. In the US, I believe that sacking a person involves getting them into bed. I suppose the two could be oddly related.

samey adj. As you might guess, to describe something as "samey" means that it's pretty similar to a lot of other things.

schtum adj. Only really used in the context "keep schtum", this means "keep your mouth shut" in the UK.

scone n. Pron. "skawn". A quintessentially British foodstuff, scones are somewhere between a cake and a subsistence food. The closest US equivalent is biscuit.

scotch n. Scotch is whisky. To our friends across the pond, listen up: we are not Scotch people. We are Scottish people. If we were Scotch people, we would be made primarily from whisky. Oh, wait...

scrummy adj. I believe that this is an amalgamation of "yummy" and "scrumptious". It's a fairly childlike way of describing something as delicious ("This jelly and ice-cream is scrummy!").

Scrumpy n. While traditionally the word refers to strong home-brewed cider, it has more recently become associated with a high-alcohol brand named Scrumpy Jack. Don't go near the stuff. I haven't drunk it for four years, following a nasty vomiting incident.

Sellotape n. Ironically enough, what we call sellotape (derived from "cellophane tape"), Americans call Scotch tape (a brand name of 3M Corporation). The company Sellotape is (unless I am very much mistaken) the largest manufacturer of sticky tape in the UK. Would you believe that, to exacerbate the cross-culture confusion, Australians call it Durex...

shag v. Used in very similar contexts to the US term lay, shagging usually refers to the act of intercourse itself, except when used by a bloke giving his mates the details about what happened with that tidy bird he pulled in the club the night before. In this instance, shag can be interpreted to mean anything between a peck on the cheek and a punch in the face. As American readers will know, the Carolina Shag is a dance and this amusing contradiction provides endless hours of simplistic amusement to us Brits. I am referred by one of my contributors to the site at which provides plenty of information for the curious. Even more amusing for UK residents, I am told that running for catches on the sports field is commonly known in the US as shagging balls and that the phrase "go shag some balls" is not uncommon. And yes, we in the UK do have "shag carpet". And I'm pretty sure that all available jokes have already been made.

shark v. Although the word is shark, the usage is more often sharking. A person who is Sharking is a person actively seeking the intimate company of a member of the opposite sex - probably any member of the opposite sex. The easiest way to spot someone who is sharking is to watch their friends, who will every so often hold one hand just above their head like a fin just to make the point. The difference between sharking and being on the pull is that sharking is slightly more proactive. If you're on the pull you won't say no; if you're sharking you won't take no for an answer. I am told that shark in US slang has some unfortunate racial consequences - white women who prefer black men are apparently known as mud-sharks. Forewarned is forearmed!

shirty adj. Testy or irritable - I'm not exactly sure of the origin of this one.

shite n. Exactly the same in meaning as shit. The only plausible reason I can think of for this word's existence at all is that it has more rhyming potential for football songs. And it's nice and short, too, so they can all remember it.

shop n. A shop in UK English is a store in US English. We call the shops where you get your car fixed garages.

skanky adj. Disgusting. Describing something or someone as skanky would imply that they haven't been cleaned in quite some time.

skint adj. The position of having no money. I often find myself completely skint, which puzzles me. I spent a lot of my own time writing this dictionary primarily for Americans who, as the rest of the world knows, have money positively dripping off them. However, at the time of writing, nobody has offered me even a small motor-vehicle in reward. Don't believe what you read about dot-coms.

skip n. The noun, not the verb. A skip is more commonly known in the US as a dumpster or a trash bin. It's odd that something as revolting should develop such a pleasant name; there must be a story behind it.

skive v.,n. Unauthorised absence - this is a slang term equivalent to the American phrase "playing hookie". Skivers are those who mysteriously appear never to be somewhere they're obliged to be and something regarded as time well wasted might be seen as a skive.

slag v. To slag someone (or in more common usage, to slag them off) is to "have a go" or pick on them. This is in pretty wide usage in the UK.

slapper n. British equivalents of American "ho"s, Slappers are people who are on the pull for anything they can get. Anything. The word is applied more often to females (arguably because it is a built-in function of blokes and doesn't deserve a separate word). Slappers wander around the dance floor looking for the drunkest blokes and then, when they've found them, woo them by dancing backwards into them "accidentally". The are invariably spotted at the end of an evening telling the bouncer how lonely they are and trying to sit on his knee.

slash v. Nothing to do with violence at all, having a slash is the art of urinating. Its usage is more appropriate to punters in the pub than middle-aged ladies at a Tupperware party.

sleeping policeman n. This is an odd one. A sleeping policeman is, would you believe, a speed-bump. I sincerely hope that its name is not derived from someone's keenness to flatten members of the constabulary.

smarmy adj. Describing someone as smarmy is very similar to calling them slimy or sleazy (and not just in terms of how they all sound, before I get some smart-ass email). A smarmy individual is one who is a little too well-dressed, complimentary and over-familiar with, no doubt, some sort of hidden agenda in mind.

Snakes and Ladders n. This is a pretty simple board game in which you roll dice and, depending on which square you land on, you can go whizzing further up the board on ladders or slide down the board on snakes. Americans (not Canadians, note) call it chutes and ladders, no doubt because some toy-shop thought that involving snakes in a board game was far too nasty for children.

snapper n. Overe here, a snapper could be some sort of fastening device or a photographer. I believe that in some way it may refer to a child (perhaps deriving from the old-fashioned phrase "whipper-snapper", meaning a young child). I'm told that in the US, a snapper or red snapper is, in the words of a contributor, "a lady's front bottom". I am also told by others that this is nonsense. In many ways, I sometimes feel that this dictionary serves to confuse people rather than help them at all.

snog v. This may or may not be a verb, depending on who you are snogging. The closest equivalent to snogging is making out, which is a terrible phrase and as far as I can see describes anything on the sexual scale which can be performed on a couch. Snogging translates to playground-speak as kissing-with-tongues and I suppose is French-kissing, which is another appalling phrase.

sod n. v. adj. And just about any other use. Sod is a glorious word. Attached to any word or phrase it has the immediate effect of making it derogatory. Prime examples include "Sod off" (get lost), "sod you" (nearest US equivalent is probably "bite me"), "sod it" (damn/forget it), "old sod" (old git), etc, etc. Use at will - it has a friendly tone to it and is unlikely to get you into trouble. Were you to look in a proper dictionary, you'd discover that sod is also a lump of turf - I'm told that there is a road in Halifax (Yorkshire, not Nova Scotia) called Sod House Green.

solicitor n. Beware! In the UK, a solicitor is a lawyer. It has nothing (well, on one level at least) to do with prostitutes.

spanner n. 1. Monkey wrench. 2. adj. A very mild friendly insult. If you've seen Only Fools and Horses, it's the kind of thing Del Boy would say to Rodney. Of course, if you haven't seen Only Fools and Horses, it's still the kind of thing Del Boy would say to Rodney but you won't know what I'm talking about. It's a good programme, rent the video.

spare adj. Somebody who is described as spare is at their wits end, tearing their hair out. You'd probably find it in a context like "I've been trying to get this working all morning and it's driving me spare!".

spew v. I was almost loathed at one point to put "puking" euphamisms in here because there seem to be so many of them. However, now that the dictionary has grown to a decent size, consider yourselves privileged. To spew is indeed to vomit - Californians please note, as I'm told that you interpret it as to ejaculate. Likewise if you're a Brit and go on holiday to California, don't announce to anybody that you got blind drunk the night before and spewed all down your front and all over your bedroom floor before you managed to get to the bog. They might be impressed, but they really might not.

sprog n. Another affectionate word for a small child. My father used to refer to myself and my brothers as "Sprog One", "Sprog Two" and "Sprog Three". Perhaps that says more about my family than the English language. At least I got to be Sprog One.

squash n., v. In the UK, squash is either the act of being squeezed, or a diluted fruit drink. As with many of the words listed here, it's a bit outdated - you'd be more likely to find your grandmother offering you "lemon squash" than you would your children. In the US, a squash is what we in the civillised world call a marrow.

stabilisers n. I realise that this word refers to all sorts of things, but one specific use differs between the US and the UK. Here in the UK, stabilisers are the little extra set of wheels that your parents put on your bicycle to stop you from falling off all the time when you're learning to ride - known much better to Americans as training wheels. My parents never got any... I think they secretly enjoyed watching me injure myself in the name of learning.

stalagmite n. Stalagmites are those things which grow up from the ground in caves - I believe they're made of accumulated drips of limestone deposits which might give a pointer to their slightly more understandable American name, flowstone. Some of you may know that I initially got stalagmites and stalactites muddled up - I had no less than eight e-mails pointing it out. Not like you're all pedantic or anything.

starter n. The dish you eat prior to your main meal - known in the US as an appetizer. In my experience, they only really turn up in restaurants - if you came to dinner at my house you'd be lucky to get a main course, let alone a starter.

steady on expl. Almost always followed by an exclamation mark, "steady on!" equates to something like "whoa!" or "hold your horses!" or the like.

stilettos n. Pumps/high heels. Shoes that are designed with a glorious disregard for practicality and, thank goodness, female buyers in mind.

stroppy adj. A person who is being stroppy is someone who is being unreasonable and unfairly grumpy. Stroppy people shout at shop assistants who don't know where the tomato puree is and, because they're being paid £2/hr, ought not to be expected to.

supper n. Scottish. When food is served in a chip shop with chips, it becomes a supper. What the English call fish and chips, we Scots call a fish supper.

suspenders n. In the UK, suspenders are things used by women to hold up their stockings. They are not used by men to hold up their trousers.

suss v. This is a difficult word to define, not least because I don't really know what it means. To suss is to realise (e.g. "I was going to try and put it back without him noticing but he sussed") and to suss out is very similar to the American English check out (e.g. "that guy over there is sussing you out"). Where I get these examples from I don't know. Sometimes I surprise myself. As if this weren't enough, to describe something as suss is similar to describing it as dodgy - I can only presume that in this instance it's an abbreviation of suspicious.

sweet n. What Americans call candy, we call sweets. Desserts are also commonly known as sweets, particularly in restaurants.

swizz n. This is a small-scale swindle or con. If you opened your eight-pack of KitKats and there were only seven, you might mutter "that's a bloody swizz". If you discovered that your cleaning lady had been making out large cheques to herself over a ten year period, you'd be inclined to use stronger wording.

- T -

ta expl. Possibly the most concise abbreviation of "thank you" one is likely to come across. Often regarded as rather slovenly, it's the sort of thing that you used to say as a child as your mother slapped you over the head and told you to mind your manners.

tap n. Faucet. The word stems from the concept of "tapping into" something to gain access to whatever it carries (in this case, a water pipe). For what it's worth, faucet is Middle English (derived from Old French) meaning something similar.

Tarmac n. The stuff that covers roads - Americans will know it better as asphalt although it used to be known as Macadam in the US, for reasons which will become clear. For your cultural edification, I can tell you that it was invented by a Scotsman from Ayr (on the west coast) called John Loudon Macadam and known initially in the UK as tar-Macadam.

tart n. A tart is much the same as a slapper, but is slightly less extreme and a little more omnisexual. Tarts spend hours perfecting make-up, hair, clothes, etc. before going out and waiting at the side of the dance floor to be pulled. Be warned, though - at the end of the evening, tarts tend to turn into slappers, just to make sure all that lip gloss doesn't go to waste.

tea c Ah, yes, you thought you knew what this meant too, didn't you. Well, throughout the UK, your evening meal is known as your tea (at the risk of sounding terrible, it's just a little "working class").

tea-break n. To add to the general "tea" confusion, a tea-break is a break away from work, ostensibly to have a cup of tea. Americans (and most Brits these days) have coffee-breaks instead.

telly n. The device known as a TV in the US is more commonly referred to over here as a telly. TV is well used and understood, though.

tidy adj. A fine example of his/her gender. 99% of the time, though, it applies to females rather than males. Tidy is a fantastic word and, unlike almost any other adjective used by males, is regarded by females as a compliment. It's never used directly in conversation; the way a female will discover she is tidy is through her best friend who was told by a bloke who knew she'd pass it on. Blokes rather like this word because it has a definite subtext suggesting dusting and hoovering.

tights n. I'm getting rather out of my depth here but I understand (from other people!) that what we call tights Americans generally call panty-hose. Apparently tights in the US are more like child's coloured thin leggings and rarely worn. Makes little difference to me because the only reason I'd ever think about buying either would be if I was considering a career in armed robbery.

Tippex n. Another brand name, what is Tippex to us Brits is whiteout to Americans. You know, the stuff that you use to paint over mistakes you've made on bits of paper. The stuff that smells goooooood, mmmmmm... sorry; lost my track there briefly.

toff n. Although itself a rather esoteric upper-class term, a toff is a member of the upper classes - someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth, you might say.

torch n. Flashlight. The word originally referred to real burning torches and so has also developed into a verb meaning "to set fire to".

toss v. "Tossing" in the UK is masturbating. Coincidentally, to call someone a "tosser" is to suggest that they have an overly intimate relationship with Pam and her five sisters. The word was originally in use as "tosser" or "toss-pot" to describe a drunk (tossing one-too-many drinks back) but, as with most things, has become more gloriously sordid.

totty n. I'm not very sure whether this is a collective noun or not. Totty is really a word referring to fit birds in general - you'd catch it in a phrase like "Well, I'm definitely going there again. Wall-to-wall totty." Not said by me, of course.

trainers n. Training shoes - the equivalent of the American sneakers.

tram n. A tram is very much like a train except it generally runs on tracks built on top of normal roads (the traffic has to be careful to avoid them) and is often powered electrically by high-strung cables (I mean ones on poles, not ones of an excitable dispisition). Trams were very big earlier this century but as far as I know the only ones left in the UK now are in Blackpool, which is tacky enough to get away with it, and Manchester, where they can't afford anything newer. Strangely, there are still trams dotted around in the US (notably San Francisco), where they call them streetcars.

treacle n. What we in the UK call treacle, Americans call molasses. I prefer "treacle" - "molasses" makes it sound as if the stuff is made out of the rear ends of small animals.

trolley n. A trolley is the device in which you put your shopping while going around the supermarket. Americans call it a shopping cart, which sounds a lot more fun.

trousers n. Pants. In the UK, pants are underpants. Here, being "caught with your pants down" has even more graphic connotations.

truncheon n. The baton used by policemen to... umm... quieten people down a little. This reminds me of a story (which might be an urban myth) told to me - at exactly the same time as one US police force lost the nightstick because it was regarded as overly violent, they were all issued with full-sie MagLite torches.

twat adj., n. This is a fairly offensive insult and a synonym for... err... female genitalia. Not to be used in overly-polite company.

twig v. To catch on; realise that something is up. Used in a context like "Bob just poured the contents of the ashtray into Fred's pint but he's so pissed I doubt he'll twig".

twonk n. Yet another of our friendly words meaning something like idiot. There seem to be more ways of politely describing your friends as mentally deficient in British English than anything else.

- U -

umbrella n. abbrev. "brolly" I'm told that this word is in common use in the States, but I'm leaving it in. Why? Because the two most fantastic words I've had as UK-to-US translations are bumpershoot and humblebootch. The word "umbrella" is strange enough, but "humblebootch" takes the biscuit. I am told that umbrella is derived from the Italian word for shade. The word is often abbreviated to just brolly.

underlay n. Some of the greatest enjoyment I have derived from this dictionary is learning of words which I shall probably never, ever have to use. What we in the UK call underlay, Americans call a carpet pad. Which sounds, if you ask me, more like some sort of cleaning device. As far as Americans are concerned, the underlay is the wood that lies underneath the carpet pad.

- V -

vest n. The vest is worn under your shirt, hence the somewhat sensible American name undershirt. In the US, a vest is what we in the UK call a waistcoat. Confused? So am I... I'm sure I got at least one of those definitions muddled up.

vet v. It's quite a tricky word to define but in the UK, to vet is to inspect something or (more often) someone with a view to filtering out undesirables. You might see it in the context of a school headmaster vetting pupils or your mother vetting your girlfriends (a practice which would have undoubtedly left me celibate). Not content with all of this, we also use the word in the standard context to mean a doctor for animals.

- W -

waistcoat n. A waistcoat is an odd sort of article of clothing worn over your shirt but under your jacket, usually with a bow-tie. In the US this is known as a vest but be careful - in the UK, vest means something else, as usual.

wally n. A wally is somewhere between an idiot and a dunce. It's used in a friendly sort of a way, though. You'd never leap out of your car after someone's smashed into the back of it and shout "you complete wally!".

wanker n. To wank is to masturbate and to call someone a wanker is not, as you might expect, altogether complimentary. It's really pretty rude in the UK which made me rather surprised when Adam Clayton of U2 said it at the end of a Simpsons episode. If you don't believe me, listen up (.wav file unavailable)..

wazzack n. After I originally spelled this "wazzak", I received emails variously informing me that it was spelled "wazzock" or "wuzzock". However, I then received one from a chap who claimed to have invented the word in South Somerset when he was seven and that "wazzack" was in fact the correct spelling. Who am I to argue. Anyway, in a similar way to prat, pillock and wally, describing someone as a wazzack is a friendly way of telling them they're an idiot.

WC n. Not to be confused with a WPC (Woman Police Constable), A WC are toilets. It stands for "water closet" in a rather antiquated fashion.

wean n. Scottish. Child. Derived, I am told, from the colloquial Scots "wee 'un" (little one).

wee adj. Scottish. This is a wonderful light-hearted Scottish word (but usable throughout the UK) meaning "small". In a loose sense it could also be interpreted as meaning "cute" in the "cute and cuddly" sense. You could tell someone they had a "nice wee dog", but might meet with more curious glances if you used it in a more serious scenario e.g. "well, Mrs. Brown, I'm sad to tell you that you have a wee tumour on your cerebral cortex". It is (the word, that is, not Mrs. Brown's cerebral cortex), used UK-wide meaning urinate.

wellingtons n. More correctly referred to as Wellington boots (and more often as wellies), Americans will know these as rubber boots or galoshes. Named after the Duke of the same name (you know, the one with the smelly feet).

wheat n. Corn. I must say I never knew about this one until someone pointed it out - soon enough I'm going to be a world authority on British/US differences. Perhaps I'll get on the telly.

whinge v. To whinge can best be described as to whine. Likewise, someone particularly partial to whinging is known as a whinger.

whip round n. A whip round is a collection of money - usually a somewhat impromptu and informal one. You might have a whip round for Big Mike's bus-fare home but you probably wouldn't have one for his triple heart bypass.

whoops-a-daisy expl. This is one of those odd terms that could only really be translated as an ever-so-refined and rather camp equivalent of "oops!". A contributor tells me that it dates from the days of the Black Death - flowers would be put around the bodies of those who had recently died in order to keep the smell away and a daisy became something to steer clear of.

willie n. In the UK, willie is a rather childlike word for penis. The film Free Willie no doubt attracted large optimistic female audiences when it was released over here.

windscreen n. Windshield. Windscreen also means one of those things that you put up on a beach that stops the sand from blowing in and stops those inside from noticing that the tide is coming in. Mercifully, any potential problem with this particular dual meaning is becoming steadily more unlikely as our beaches become steadily more uninhabitable.

wizard adj. I have to emphasise here that just because words are in the dictionary doesn't mean to say I use them on a regular basis. Wizard, usually used on its own and followed by an exclamation mark, could best be equated to "cool", "neat" or "awesome". However, as far as I'm concerned it has a similar aura to "Bitchin'!".

wonky adj. Possibly best described as a lighthearted way of saying "not quite right". You might say "My plans for the evening went a bit wonky"; you would not say "I'm sorry to tell you, Mr. Jones, but your wife's cardiac operation has gone a bit wonky".

- Y -

yank n., adj. A Yank is anyone of American descent. It's not altogether complimentary (particularly when directed toward southerners) and conjures up an image of Stetsons, oil wells, Cadillacs and overweight children. It was once popular to call large American automobiles Yank tanks - a description one might regard as unfair to the humble tank. I'm told by a contributor that the word is derived from Yankee and I'm told by another that, among other things, Yankee was an Indian word referring to those from Connecticut and, later, New England. You'd think that this was plenty to say about one fairly short word, but no. I am told by yet another of my little elves that yankee was a derogatory term for northerners dating back to the American Civil War and is in fact an amalgamation of two common Dutch names - "Jan" and "Kees". Pick a definition and run with it, that's what I say.

yobbo n. A yobbo is a hooligan or general "bad egg" - the word is usually seen in the context of upper-middle-class people referring to working-class ones - you might hear it in a situation like "Well, yes, Mildred - my Jeremy used to be such a sensible boy but now he's got mixed up with this awful crowd of yobbos!" The derivation of the word is apparently modified back-slang - the monicker "boyo" became "yobbo".

yonks n. Quite simply, a long time. Not a specific length of time at all; it could be minutes or decades. Good examples would be "Where have you been? I've been waiting here for yonks!" or "Met a friend from school the other day who I haven't seen for yonks."

- Z -

zed n. The letter that the Americans pronounce "zee", we pronounce "zed". Products with the super-snappy prefix "EZ" added to their names don't tend do quite so well here.

Zimmer n. A Zimmer (or Zimmer frame) is one of those four-legged devices that the elderly use in order to help them get around the place. Americans know them better as a walker. I am told that Zimmer is the brand name of a manufacturer of these things.

That's it!  An up-to-date copy is available at If you have any comments (I'm most fond of pleasant ones) then please e-mail me at

This text is all copyright (C) Chris Rae, 1997-2000; feel free to distribute it in other ways but please leave the copyright.  Should you be a bloke (or bird) from a large publisher, I am of course willing to accept a lucrative deal.

Return to Tools menu