This tag is for questions related to English as spoken in the isles of Britain and sometimes Ireland.

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105
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3answers
4k views

Where were “should”, “shall”, and “must” in the 18th Century?

According to the following Google Ngram, in the U.K. the modals should, shall, and must were virtually missing from English writing during the 18th Century (I've added will for a comparison modal ...
66
votes
28answers
7k views

Is there an American English equivalent of the British idiom “carrying coals to Newcastle”?

I'm an American living in the Netherlands who is learning Dutch. There's an idiom in Dutch that describes performing a needless/futile activity, "water naar de zee dragen," which literally translates ...
56
votes
6answers
2k views

How come 'ou' was reduced to 'o' in the US?

Americans write color and favorite, when others say colour and favourite. How/why did this happen?
43
votes
8answers
13k views

Is there a reason the British omit the article when they “go to hospital”?

Why do British speakers omit the article in constructions like "go to hospital" or "go on holiday"? Pretty much all American speakers would rephrase those as "go to the hospital" and "go on a ...
40
votes
7answers
2k views

Which variant of English should I use when my target audience is the world?

I know that all variants of English (American English, British English, etc.) can be generally understood by everybody who knows any of the English variants. However, there are some regionalisms that ...
31
votes
15answers
5k views

Words with opposite meanings in different regions

I can't recall it, but there is a word in American English which now means the opposite of itself in British English. What words are there that have opposite (not just different) meanings in different ...
29
votes
8answers
17k views

“Toilet”, “lavatory” or “loo” for polite society

My friend is trying so hard to fit into polite society, and is raising her child to say loo rather than toilet. I know it should be lavatory (and I would not say lav) but we are in the 21st century ...
29
votes
8answers
5k views

Why do Americans add “The” in front of a team name, but the British do not?

I'm not certain that there is an answer to this one: Americans refer to our teams as The Example: The New York Yankees The British in my experience do not. Example: Manchester United I ...
29
votes
12answers
5k views

Is there a difference between “cheers” and “thanks” in colloquial British English?

In colloquial British English today you hear "Cheers" (to mean "thank you") more often than "Thanks." Is the choice of one or the other determined by regional, class, or education differences, or is ...
28
votes
6answers
37k views

“Oriented” vs. “orientated”

What are the origins of the word orientated? As far as I know, the correct spelling is oriented and orientated is not an alternative spelling but an error that is in common use. Is it for example ...
28
votes
5answers
2k views

Why do Americans go 'downtown' whilst people in the UK go 'up town'?

People in London, who live in the suburbs, may tell you they work 'up town', meaning in the City or the West End. In other large cities in Britain, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds etc., I think people ...
27
votes
6answers
44k views

What is the difference between dialogue and dialog?

I am American, and I always thought the difference between dialogue and dialog was one of meaning, the way Merriam-Webster has them listed: 2 entries found: dialogue (noun) dialog box ...
26
votes
3answers
2k views

Why is “math” always pluralized in British English and singular in American English?

In the U.S. I would study math. In Britain, I would study maths. What gives?
25
votes
5answers
16k views

Is there a difference between “arse” and “ass”?

From a comment here, in frequent usage, arse and ass are often interchangeable when used to refer to buttocks or to a person of dubious charms. However, although “to arse about” has a vague connection ...
23
votes
7answers
2k views

Does “gay” still include the meaning “merry”?

Dictionary.com lists eight meanings of gay, with “merry, lively” as the first entry. Microsoft banned an Xbox user for listing Fort Gay (a real place) as his hometown: Xbox Live considered the ...
23
votes
3answers
3k views

Do accents still play a role in British class distinctions to the present day? How have things changed since the 1960s and Received Pronunciation?

An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him. The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him. If you spoke as she does, sir, Instead of the way you do, ...
22
votes
2answers
4k views

When do you use “learnt” and when “learned”?

Is learnt UK English and learned US? Is it that simple? I’m used to using learnt, but my US spellchecker says it is wrong.
21
votes
9answers
33k views

What is the difference between “English” and “British”?

As an American, I naively think of British and English as exact synonyms. I know I'm wrong, but I just don't know in what way. I am vaguely aware that people in the UK hold strong opinions about one ...
21
votes
6answers
5k views

Are the endings “-zation” and “-sation” interchangeable?

What is with words that have forms that end both in -zation and -sation, such as localization and localisation? Many spell checkers recommend -zation.
20
votes
4answers
4k views

Why does “corn” mean “maize” in American English?

I keep hearing "corn" as a synonym of "maize". This is widely popularized worldwide by popcorn. However, this is American English! In British English, "corn" can mean any type of "grain", especially ...
20
votes
5answers
1k views

What Indian words appear in cricket's vocabulary?

One of the things I find surprising is that India seems to have had little influence on the vocabulary of cricket. Notwithstanding India being arguably the world's greatest cricketing nation, I can't ...
20
votes
4answers
10k views

Capitalisation of nouns in English in the 17th and 18th centuries

It seems to have been common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries in Britain to capitalise the first letters of nouns in English, e.g. At which Time he prov'd himself the Noah's Dove, that ...
19
votes
5answers
9k views

What is the pronunciation of “the”?

I read that the definite article is pronounced differently depending on the word that follows it. Which is the exact pronunciation of the?
19
votes
9answers
12k views

Why is 'c*nt' so much more derogatory in the US than the UK?

What accounts for the strong disapproval of anyone using the word 'cunt' in the US, when the sentiment doesn't exist to the same extent in the UK? To be clear, it's still a strong word to use in the ...
19
votes
6answers
3k views

“Knocked up” to mean “woken up”

I'm reading some Sherlock Holmes stories (don't judge - it's good vacation reading) and Conan Doyle has Holmes saying things like "Sorry to knock you up, Watson..." which I'm finding very... odd. ...
19
votes
5answers
6k views

Reason for different pronunciations of “lieutenant”

While Americans (and possibly others) pronounce this as "loo-tenant", folks from the UK pronounce it as "lef-tenant". Why?
18
votes
7answers
2k views

Does British English have a word for dry, starchy savoury snacks that are not fried slices of potato?

Everyone, the world over, enjoys savoury snacks, particularly dry, starchy ones. Far and away the most popular kind in the Anglosphere are the ones made from deep-fried (sometimes baked) thinly-sliced ...
18
votes
5answers
1k views

Do Brits understand rhyming slang or are they sometimes puzzled by it too?

Most people know that rhyming slang is a colorful addition to British English, where someone says something that is not the intended word but rhymes with it. For example, He was brown bread. ...
18
votes
9answers
2k views

How can I translate the words for the two types of bathrooms found in Russia into English?

I work in real estate, and sometimes I have to translate respective inscriptions from my native Russian into English. I get stuck in some cases where not only linguistic, but cultural differences have ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

How and when did American spelling supersede British spelling in the US?

Considering that Webster published his first dictionary in 1806, is there a recognised tipping point (year, decade, etc.) that marked the move from traditional British spelling to Webster's American? ...
18
votes
4answers
33k views

What do Americans think of using 'cheers' to sign off an email?

I've suspected before that "Cheers" as an email sign-off is a bit of an English (or possibly Commonwealth) thing, but being English it's natural to me and I use it as the mood takes me to end an ...
17
votes
8answers
9k views

Is “used in anger” a Britishism for something?

On a different board, someone referred to a computer language that had achieved popularity beyond the academic world as "used in anger", the way a shot fired in combat instead of on the practice range ...
17
votes
5answers
862 views

Etymology of “nick” in, in the nick of time?

We have the nick meaning prison, as in "he served time in the nick", then we have the verb to nick, meaning to steal; but if the police catch you red-handed, then "you've been nicked". And if you led ...
17
votes
4answers
3k views

ON an American street, but IN a British one. Do the twain ever meet?

In the United States, we say that someone lives on a street, whereas I've noticed that British people say in. For instance: Bubba lives on Washington Street. Colin lives in Cavendish Avenue. I ...
16
votes
7answers
10k views

British usage of “cha”, “char” or “chai” to mean “tea”

By happenstance, I stumbled upon the words cha, char and chai in the dictionary today, all defined as meaning tea in informal British English. I lived and worked in London for some time, but never ...
16
votes
7answers
2k views

Why are you a plonker?

The idiom, plonk (something/someone) down means to slap something down; to plop something down to sit or lie down on something in a careless or noisy way to leave someone somewhere to do ...
16
votes
2answers
2k views

“I'm on the brew”

A conversation between two Scots: — What do you do for a living? — I'm on the brew. Assuming that I have the phrase right, what exactly does "on the brew" mean here? Based on the context, I ...
16
votes
4answers
13k views

When did Greenwich begin to be pronounced as “Gren-ich”?

I just read an interesting question here on Greenwich Mean Time. I'm interested to know when Greenwich received its peculiar pronunciation. Has it always been pronounced as "GREN-ich" (/ˈɡrɛnɪtʃ/), ...
16
votes
3answers
3k views

Why is “can I get” replacing “could I have”?

I noticed the other day when serving the public that when asking for something, people were saying "Can I get an xyz, please". The previous time I had such a job it was "Could I have an xyz", or "May ...
15
votes
4answers
3k views

Is it awkward to use the word “aubergine” instead of “eggplant”?

According to Google Ngrams eggplant is far more common (although in British English aubergine seems to have a small advantage over eggplant). So, not being a native speaker of English I wonder ...
15
votes
7answers
3k views

Another meaning of the vulgar word “slut”

I guess people who speak American and Philippine English will unanimously agree that the word "slut" is a very offensive term referring to a promiscuous woman. However, Merriam-Webster and Oxford ...
15
votes
4answers
11k views

Is “wot wot” or “what-what” an authentic British expression? If it's supposed to be mocking, what is it mocking?

Some background first: As I was reading some past answers on English L&U, I came across this old question, where the top accepted answer maintained there were distinct class differences in the use ...
15
votes
4answers
7k views

“right” vs “correct”

Except when we use right to denote direction, what is the difference between these two terms? Also, which one is the preferred construction between these two Am I right? or Am I correct?
15
votes
4answers
1k views

How do you proceed from pronouncing “t” in the regular way to t-glottalization, as found in various English accents?

It's just strange to me because "t" is pronounced with the front teeth, while the glottalized "t" is produced with the back of the throat; that seems like quite a noticeable journey that couldn't have ...
15
votes
3answers
701 views

Billion and other large numbers

Traditionally a billion in American English means 109 (1,000,000,000, a thousand million) while in British English it means 1012 (a million million) with milliard meaning 109. Is this still the case ...
15
votes
1answer
8k views

I'm British, so should I take a rain cheque?

I want to write the phrase "take a rain cheque" and am British. Should I therefore use the British spelling of the word cheque, or respect the baseball origin of the phrase "rain check" and use the ...
14
votes
10answers
5k views

American vs. British English: meaning of “One hundred and fifty”

I've noticed that Americans do not say "and" when speaking numbers: for example, 150 would be pronounced "one hundred fifty". I and most other British-English speakers would pronounce it "one hundred ...
14
votes
3answers
687 views

Difference between styles of English in technical communication

I have a collaborative software project with two other users. Nearly every technical report and documentation written goes through the following editorial changes to some of the sentences (examples ...
14
votes
4answers
4k views

What's the difference between “rent” and “hire” in British and American English?

The tip I used to teach was the verb, hire, should be used for things which are transportable hence, you hire a car, sports equipment, a boat, a bike etc. Rent, on the other hand, is primarily used ...
14
votes
8answers
10k views

Is it proper to omit periods after honorifics (Mr, Mrs, Dr)?

I've been reading the Economist lately and they apparently don't punctuate honorifics like "Mr.", "Mrs.", e.g. The popular rejection of Mr Mubarak offers the Middle East’s best chance for reform ...