Lost in Translation

26 Jul

America is an English-speaking country, but anyone who’s spent a reasonable amount of time here should know that Americans don’t speak English. Whether you like it or not – my good (American) friend Nick likened American English as OS X Leopard to British English’s Tiger (I tend to lean more towards American being the Vista to British’s XP – if it ain’t broke…) – but it is there. Some translations are impossible, as my British friend Ellie directed me to the brick wall that is reached when asking about certain food items in menus: we don’t have a clue what arugula is, and on the other side of the pond, they only know rocket as a medium for sending people into orbit, or raining fire down on threats to world peace.

So, foodstuffs are the worst, as they’re often difficult to explain as well. Arugula/rocket is a leafy vegetable. Cabbage? No, more of a salad vegetable. Lettuce? No, it has more of a bitter taste. You get the idea. And there is a long list: cilantro/coriander, eggplant/aubergine, zucchini/courgette, oatmeal/porridge, frosting/icing, meatball/faggot (that was fun to try and describe), graham cracker/digestive biscuit, chips/crisps, fries/chips, bap/bun, clingfilm/saran wrap. The list is by no means exhaustive. Some translations can land you in trouble, for instance asking an American if he can bum you a fag (procure for you one of his cigarettes) may get you nothing but an odd look. In a similar vein, asking for a biscuit won’t get you anything closely resembling a cookie, but a scone.

So here goes. My attempt at an American English/British English dictionary.




Potato Chips/Crisps

French Fries/Chips

Fag/Poof (not that either should be used in common currency)

Clingfilm/Saran Wrap







Aluminium/Aluminum (please note that as per Linnaean classification, -ium is the correct suffix. Britain is correct.)





Frying Pan/Skillet





You get the idea. Next week, the pertinacious American exemption of the letter ‘U’ (armour, clamour), use of the letter ‘Z’ (apologize, realize), the switched letters ‘E’ and ‘R’ (theatre, center) and the ‘S’ (defense, offense). I jest.


2 Responses to “Lost in Translation”

  1. John Bottomley July 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    Tom, you have quite a talent for writing, i enjoyed this post, it being the first i have read. I will read more.

  2. Anne August 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Enjoyed reading this Tom! Looking forward to the next post.

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