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This is similar to this question, but not quite the same. There are quite a few words which have totally different meanings in American and British English and which are likely to cause confusion when heard by non-local speakers. What are they?

We are looking for the same word with different meanings (for example jumper), and not words which are different between the two dialects (for example truck and lorry).


locked by RegDwigнt Jan 5 '12 at 23:03

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converted to CW as requested. I'm still not quite sure what the difference to that other question is... I mean, fanny and pants got mentioned in it, too. (Though the latter subsequently got deleted.) – RegDwigнt Apr 12 '11 at 16:16
A "different meaning" is less critical than an "opposite meaning", which can be much more hazardous to the user. Consequential, there are more words with "different meanings" than with "opposite meanings". – Danny Apr 12 '11 at 18:40

12 Answers 12

Fanny: buttocks (AE); vagina (BE)

Not an insignificant distinction. Bless the soul who confuses the two in practice.



British: undershirt

American: waistcoat -- a sleeveless article of clothing for the upper body



British: underwear

American: slacks, trousers, or jeans

Hah! The very word I was reaching for! – FumbleFingers Apr 12 '11 at 15:57

pissed - drunk (British), pissed - angry (American); overheard a conversation where this made all the difference :)

  • AmE pants = BrE trousers; BrE pants = AmE underpants
  • BrE football ≠ AmE football

Not sure if this is current, but "fag" used to mean cigarette or homosexual depending on which side of the Atlantic one uttered it.

Fag / faggot has an interesting origin, as to how it became slang for homosexual. Since faggot meant bundle of sticks, how fag came to mean cigarette is obvious. A good explanation can be found here: hotforwords.com/2008/01/16/faggot-a-bundle-of-sticks-right – Matt E. Эллен May 9 '11 at 18:55

Also watch out for thong. In US English, this is a piece of intimate underwear, usually for females. In Australian English, it is a piece of footwear.

(Aussies are usually aware of the difference but Americans often do not.)

Americans should be aware of it since the 'footwear' meaning is used in AmE as well--though it's much less common than the 'underwear' meaning. – Charles May 9 '11 at 20:14
You'd think so, but it was a popular game in comedy circles a few years ago for Aussie comedians to bait unaware Americans. – staticsan May 10 '11 at 0:21
Sure, there are plenty of ways to bait people by judicious choice of wording. But when used normally it doesn't cause confusion. – Charles May 10 '11 at 12:46


British - Rubber boots (or pencil eraser)

American - Male birth control device

Rubber in BrE would normally mean a pencil eraser (usually a separate one, rather than the one on the top of the pencil). Rubber overshoes are "galoshes", rubber boots are "wellington boots" or "wellies". – Richard Gadsden Sep 1 '11 at 12:55

This one could go on forever, especially when we start including slang meanings which may be more prevalent one side of the pond than the other. So I'm afraid I think the question is pants.

Which by the way are nether region undergarments (usually for males) in UK, but trousers in US.

Unless you're from certain parts of the north of england (esp. Manchester and Lancashire) where pants is used to mean trousers, too. – Matt Jan 5 '12 at 10:07
@Matt: I don't get that far north very often (up in the badlands, as they say). I always thought they had to make do with just pants because northerners are too poor to afford trousers - like Scots are too poor to afford pants under their kilts (or is that because they're too tight? :) – FumbleFingers Jan 5 '12 at 16:54


British:someone who sodomizes
American:someone who bugs


American:someone who bends, a lovable robot perhaps.

Bender in American English refers to a drinking binge. Nobody says bugger at all. – Kevin Apr 12 '11 at 18:30
Bugger is used in (British) English. Another meaning for bugger, is someone who writes bugs (which later on are found and corrected using a debugger, although, the correction of those bugs may cause other bugs, so essentially, all programmers are buggers). – Danny Apr 12 '11 at 18:37
@Kevin: Bender has that meaning in the UK too :) – psmears Apr 12 '11 at 22:12
@Danny, I wasn't clear but I meant nobody in America. – Kevin Apr 13 '11 at 1:43


British English: A specific crumbly biscuit, e.g. this is a cookie http://tanyaross.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/chocolate-chip-cookies.jpg but this is not http://www.flickr.com/photos/mudricky/2582442470/

American Engish (I think): any form of biscuit.

Apparently "biscuit" has different meanings as well. In the US, biscuits are soft and flaky bread products that are especially tasty smothered with sausage gravy. – oosterwal Aug 17 '11 at 0:42

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