I was wondering if any American writers could give me some advice as to whether the following expressions/vocab are used and understood in the US:

(words in bold are the ones I'm asking about. Some words are also in inverted commas)

  1. The living room of a house -- is this expression ok? Do you ever say "front room" or "sitting room"? If it's a massive house with a huge entertainment area, can you say "living area"?

  2. I was tickled -- is this expression ok? It means happy.

  3. "My college mate wants to hang out at my digs" - meaning my place, or college dorm. Would digs be used? Is college mate an ok expression for someone you go to college with?

  4. In the real world, do people stop on the shoulder or the hard shoulder of a highway or is either fine?

  5. Is median strip used for the partition between 2 lanes of a highway going in different directions?

  6. "He takes the piss out of every banker he meets" -- meaning he mocks them. Is this used?

  7. Can you say "I'm pissed off at him" (angry) or does it have to be: "I'm pissed at him."

  8. "I called my parents' landline (fixed home phone)." Is landline ok?

  9. "I tried on the jeans in the changing room." Is this ok or does it have to be fitting room or something else?

  10. Is the word "thingamajig" used in American English?

  11. "I can't walk on my ropey leg" -- meaning damaged or injured or tired. Can ropey be used?

  12. Security guards are surveilling the place. This verb is showing up as misspelt but I see it sometimes. Is there another spelling or verb?

13.In the real world, do people in the US use MPH or KPH as the unit of speed when driving?

  1. Is the expression "Calm my jitters" acceptable? (calm my nerves)

  2. If you pull up to a mansion surrounded by a fence with very thick metal bars all around it, is the word "fence" appropriate or is there a better word. I think that gate would only be for a door in a fence or something?

  3. Is the expression "It cost a pretty penny" ever used in the US?

  4. Is the expression "It took every ounce of strength" used in the US?

  5. Can the word "skiff" be used in the US for a sort of flat-bottomed row boat?

Thank you so much to anyone willing to give advice about these points. Though I appreciate any input, I think it would be most useful to hear from actual American writers to avoid possible confusion.

Many thanks!

Follow up questions:

Thanks to all those who gave their very useful opinions. I have a couple more questions for anyone willing to give advice:

  1. What do you call the area (let's say on the 10th floor) in front of an elevator door? Is there a specific word like "the landing"?

  2. When you enter a house (without a mud room), there is a space just past the front door which is not really a room, but it's like the entrance way/hallway between the front door and other rooms like the living room, study. Is this called a "hallway"? It's not a lobby, obviously as that would be for a hotel or something. Can it be the "entrance hall"?

  3. If you are using WASP-y as an adjective, do you have to write it like "WASP-y" or "WASPy". I'm guessing "waspy" hasn't become a thing yet?

Thank you!

  • 18 questions...wow! – user66974 Nov 6 '15 at 7:48
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    The ones that jump out at me as UK English are numbers 6, 11, and 18. We also rarely use "mate" to mean "friend," although it is used in the context of "spouse" and of "roommate" (someone who shares a flat, you might say). I've never heard the term "hard shoulder" for the shoulder of a road, but "soft shoulder" is used on warning signs when the shoulder is likely to give way under a car or truck. The others are all more or less common and familiar to a U.S. English speaker, I think. "Surveilling" is a bit odd, but not out of the question in the context you give. We'd say "mph" for #13. – Sven Yargs Nov 6 '15 at 8:05
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    There are lots of expressions equivalent to "takes the piss out," of varying degrees of vulgarity. "Teases" is common, as is "kids"; more colloquially, we have "busts [one's] chops"; and more vulgarly "breaks [one's] balls" (the last is Goodfellas talk; I have rarely heard people use it in everyday conversation). I think U.S. English tends to go with "bad leg" for damaged leg, though more specifically someone might refer to a "trick knee" (one that locks up unpredictably). I've also heard or read the term "gamy leg" but I don't remember if that was from a U.S. English source or not. – Sven Yargs Nov 6 '15 at 8:24
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    I might add that "tickled" is probably a regionalism these days. I heard it a lot in Texas while growing up there, but rarely or never in Washington, D.C., New York City, or the San Francisco Bay Area, where I have lived as an adult. A fairly large house may well have both a "front room" and a "living room." "Sitting room" and "parlor" may still be used in parts of the U.S., but I don't think they are at all common in most places. And finally "digs" is a bit unusual; it may have some currency, but it's not a standard way to refer to one's dorm room, apartment, or home. – Sven Yargs Nov 6 '15 at 8:32
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    @WS2: In regional U.S. English it means "delighted" or "very pleased": "We're just so tickled that you could come down here and pay us a visit!" – Sven Yargs Nov 6 '15 at 8:45

Here is my (highly subjective) take on the Americanness of the 18 terms you asked about (compiled from my earlier comments with further additions):

  1. A fairly large house may well have both a "front room" and a "living room." "Sitting room" and "parlor" may still be used in parts of the U.S., but I don't think they are at all common in most places. "Living area" implies the part of a house you actually use, as opposed to the part that is sealed off or inaccessible; for most people the whole house (aside from the garage and maybe the laundry room) qualifies as "living area."

  2. "Tickled" is used in regional U.S. English it means "delighted" or "very pleased": "We're just so tickled that you could come down here and pay us a visit!" It is not very common in the metropolitan areas where I've lived in recent years (Washington, D.C., New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area).

  3. I would expect a typical U.S. version of "My college mate wants to hang out at my digs" to be something like "My friend from college wants to hang out at my place." "Digs" is certainly not unheard of here, but "mate" has a distinctly British Commonwealth sound to it.

  4. I've never heard the term "hard shoulder" for the shoulder of a road, but "soft shoulder" is used on warning signs when the shoulder is likely to give way under a car or truck.

  5. "Median strip" is indeed common in U.S. English for the physical divider (not just a double yellow line) separating traffic headed in opposite directions on a highway, freeway, or busy street.

  6. "Takes the piss out" is known in the U.S. only as a UK import. We might say "busts [one's] chops" in a similar situation, or less colloquially "ridicules."

  7. Both "pissed at" and "pissed off at" are commonly heard in the U.S. I think "pissed off at" was the earlier phrase.

  8. I'm pretty sure that "landline" is the standard term for a fixed home phone in U.S. parlance.

  9. I've certainly heard "changing room" an "fitting room" used, though "dressing room" is also common. "Changing room" is sometimes used to refer to a place for changing a baby's diapers, I think.

  10. "Thingamajig" and "thingamabob" are still heard in the U.S. They sound a bit old-fashioned to me, but not ludicrously so.

  11. We don't generally use "ropy or "dodgy" for a damaged or tired leg. I would expect to hear "bad leg" or "tired legs."

  12. "Surveilling is okay, I guess, but "keeping [a person or place] under surveillance" is much more common.

  13. In the U.S. we still refer to "mph" or "MPH," not having yet abandoned the British measurement system.

  14. "Calm my jitters" is passable, though "calm my nerves" or simply "calm down" is much more common.

  15. "Metal fence" to me implies a barred metal fence of the kind you describe. We would use "cyclone fence" for the kind of fence that consists of a series of hollow metal poles and a thick wire mesh stretched across them.

  16. My grandmother always used to say "I'll bet that cost a pretty penny"—but she was from Canada, so I'm not sure how Canadian del Sur the expression is. It sounds natural to me, anyway.

  17. Yes, we still sometimes say "It took every ounce of strength I had."

  18. "Skiff" is a word I've seen in books for decades but rarely heard used. I would expect "flat-bottomed boat" to be the more common way of describing this watercraft in the United States.

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    @Josh61: Yep, you'll notice that there is not one link or citation to corroborate anything I said. I figured that if I was going to cover all 18 questions, I wasn't going to do a scholarly job of it. – Sven Yargs Nov 6 '15 at 9:16
  • Thank you so much Sven! I really, really appreciate your input and will apply it to my writing. I only expected opinions and certainly didn't expect to get any supporting material or links as they aren't needed. An opinion from an American English speaker is all I expected and is very useful. Thanks again. – MoniqueH Nov 6 '15 at 9:21
  • On 18: I'm quite familiar with skiff, but I grew up in an east coast seafaring town. It might be somewhat regional. On 12: I agree with you. We'd probably use watching rather than surveilling. As for digs (No. 3), that sounds a little dated to me, a bit like groovy. – J.R. Nov 6 '15 at 10:08
  • To have the jitters is pretty common. So, calm them does not seem strange. Thingamabob or jig, is also common. Though, there are a lot of thingies and whosits out there. – Lambie Jun 15 '18 at 20:42
  1. Living area. This is a term of art in real estate, and refers to the finished, heated area of a house. This should be a calculation that gives a meaningful number for comparison. Unfortunately, it's calculated differently by assessors, real estate agents, and developers. You wouldn't use it to describe a particular room.
  2. tickled. Tickled pink is to be happy and pleased. Tickled is to be happy and amused.
  3. mate, digs. Then Ngram viewer finds that college mate peaked in popularity at the turn of the last century. Digs referring to in-college living arrangements is more British than American. That said, everyone would understand your sentence.
  4. Ropey. No, Partridge has the word with various meanings from the 1940s and 1950s but "injured" isn't one of them. Dodgy means perilous ("a dodgy situation") or shady ("a dodgy business arrangement.") A damaged leg is a bum leg.
  5. Kilometers per hour. No one in the US will have the vaguest idea of what you're talking about.

(All of this for vernacular American English.)

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  • Thank you - very useful. There is a question I forgot: In the US, do people say "we made chit chat"? or "we chit chat about something"? – MoniqueH Nov 6 '15 at 9:03
  • @MoniqueH We chit chat or make small talk. – deadrat Nov 6 '15 at 9:07
  • Good point about "bum leg"—I forgot that one. I also like your "sit or wait" comment. – Sven Yargs Nov 6 '15 at 9:12
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    @Josh61Trust me. Kilometer is not only mysterious, it's suspect. Jesus used miles per hour, and that's good enough for us. – deadrat Nov 6 '15 at 9:48
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    deadrat: If you gave me your speed in KPH, this American would know what you were talking about – but I'd have no idea if you were speeding or not. ;^) (Anyhow, I got both your jokes, no need to explain.) – J.R. Nov 6 '15 at 10:03

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