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Divided by a Common Language


About the Book

Don't drop a clanger — make a big faux pas — when traveling in the U.K.! Some experts estimate that roughly four thousand words have one meaning in Britain and another meaning in the United States. From pubs to politics, television to travel, Divided by a Common Language (Houghton Mifflin, September 7, 2005) explains thousands of different idioms, expressions, word spellings, and definitions.

For instance, one rents a car in the U.S., but hires one in the U.K.; we eat takeout food, but they call it takeaway; I'll buy you a beer in the States, but you'll buy me a pint in Britain; my American grandma will knit you a sweater, but your British gran will make you a woolly.

This informative compendium is an outstanding cultural reference for both Anglophiles and American culture buffs and an ideal companion for international travelers to help them understand and be understood in the U.K. and the U.S. Helpful lists include:

Strange-sounding foods you may encounter in Britain (pages 29-30)
What will be on your plate if you order bangers and mash or spotted dick?

Hints to remember before shopping for clothes in the U.K. (pages 38-39)
What should you wear if the invitation says dinner jacket? Why would you take your mac out in the rain?

British car terminology (pages 60-63)
Make sure you know the bonnet from the boot in advance of your first drive on the left side of the road.

Words and terms to avoid (pages 101-107)
A Briton who calls your apartment homely means it as a compliment — and the American who announces I'm stuffed after a meal is not trying to be vulgar.

Whether you fancy a quick skim or a careful read, Divided by a Common Language helps suss out the differences between British and American English so you can swot up on customs, manners, and practical details of daily life on both sides of the pond. Cheers!


About the Author

Christopher Davies was born and raised in England and spent several years living in Australia and New Zealand. In 1980 Davies came to the United States; the unfamiliar expressions and pronunciations he encountered in American English led him to write this book. He lives in Sarasota, Florida.


What Not to Say

from Divided by a Common Language

With a little effort, Britons and Americans can usually understand each other very well. However, a few words and expressions have quite different meanings in the U.K. and the U.S.

What Not to Say in the U.S.

Give me a tinkle Could sound vulgar. Try "Give me a call" instead.
Knock me up A vulgar expression. Try "Wake me up."
Keep your pecker up Also vulgar. Try "Keep smiling."
Lay the table Use instead "Set the table."
Pot plant Means marijuana in the U.S. Try "house plant."


What Not to Say in the U.K.:

Bummer Use instead "disappointing."
Get a bang out of Possibly vulgar. Use "Get a kick out of."
I'm stuffed Possibly vulgar. Use "I'm full."
Pants Refers to undergarments. Use "trousers" instead.
Tramp Use only if you mean a hobo. In the U.K., "tramp" is never used to refer to a woman regarded as promiscuous.


Tips for the Tourist

from Divided by a Common Language

A few things to know while on holiday (or vacation) in the U.K. or the U.S.

In the U.S., say: In the U.K., say:
At a Hotel baggage cart
crib
comforter
dresser
elevator
first floor
front desk
garbage can
toll-free number
trolley
cot
eiderdown
chest of drawers
lift
ground floor
reception
dustbin
Freefone number
Transportation gasoline
rent a car
license plate
interstate/freeway
pedestrian crosswalk
divided highway
traffic circle/rotary
traffic jam
yellow light
parking lot
fender bender
railroad
car (on a train)
track (at a train station)
layover
one-way ticket
roundtrip ticket
coach
petrol
hire a car
number plate
motorway
zebra crossing
dual carriageway
roundabout
tailback
amber light
car park
prang
railway
carriage
platform
stopover
single ticket
return ticket
second class
Dining Out appetizer
entrée
dessert
check
grilled
napkin
silverware
takeout
starter
main course
sweet/pudding
bill
broiled
serviette
cutlery
takeaway
Shopping register
salesperson
sales tax
shopping cart
drugstore/pharmacy
acetaminophen/Tylenol
bobby pin
diaper
business suit
extra-large clothing
off-the-rack
pantyhose
sneakers
turtleneck
undershirt
till
shop assistant
value added tax (VAT)
shopping trolley
chemist
paracetamol
flat hairpin
nappy
lounge suit
outsize
off-the-peg
tights
trainers
polo-neck
vest
Food and Drink cilantro
cookie
corned beef
eggplant
French fries
granola
half-and-half
hot dog
pickle
potato chips
raisins
romaine lettuce
shrimp
zucchini
bartender
straight up
coriander
biscuit
salt beef
aubergine
chips
muesli
single cream
frankfurter
pickled gherkin
crisps
sultanas
cos lettuce
prawns
courgette
barman
neat


Some Other Words with Different Meanings

from Divided by a Common Language

Word/Expression American Meaning British Meaning
cordial liqueur concentrated fruit juice
cranky irritable eccentric
dresser chest of drawers china cabinet
homely ugly cozy/unpretentious
loft open, elevated space attic
mean nasty stingy
outhouse outdoor toilet shed near a house
pumps ladies' dress shoes canvas sneakers
ratty shabby irritable
rubber condom (informal) eraser
skivvies underwear a skivvy is a maid
slot machine gambling machine vending machine
social security government retirement pension welfare
twister tornado swindler
wash up wash oneself wash the dishes
yard lawn around a house paved area

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