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!


living room / front room / sitting room / living area

Living room is probably most standard when speaking about the general area used to sit and watch television (or "t.v.", not "telly") or otherwise congregate, etc in a house or apartment... er... flat.

We do say "front room" but often only if describing a "back room" as well as and it is less common than living room.

"Sitting room" generally means a side room meant for the purposes of relaxing or entertaining guests. This is likely not a "living room", unless the house has no "living room". "Living area" would work well for a posh estate, which would likely also have a smaller, separate "sitting room" in most American minds.

"tickled" meaning happy

This expression is fine but is probably somewhat more common as "absolutely tickled" or "tickled pink" (meaning extremely happy) in the US.

college mate / digs

We don't generally say "college mate" or "digs".

"My buddy at college" (male friend, male speaking to male/female(s)) or "My girlfriend at college" (female friend, female speaking to female(s)) are more natural.

"A friend of mine at college" is pretty gender neutral and common. "My roomate (at college)" is acceptable and gender neutral if you are referring to someone who lives in the same dorm room.

"my place" or "dorm" is more appropriate than "digs". This sounds really uncool, Daddio =).

We rarely say "dormitory" (almost always "dorm" or "dorm room") unless your are referring to the building itself.

If you want to say you have a higher education, it's "I went to college" never "I went to university" (full stop).

You can say "I went to university at (school name)" but for posh schools, you generally "attend" ( "I attended Harvard Law" ).

Not that you may care, but we have

  • kindergarten (under age 6)
  • grade or elementary school (years 1-6) (ages 6 - 12)
  • junior high (years 7-8) (freshmen, senior - but this is less common terminology) (ages 13 - 14).
  • high school (years 9-12) (freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior) (ages 15 - 18).

Sometimes "high school" refers to years 7-12 but this is rare unless you are from certain parts of the US. Freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior are also titles applied to the years at college.

"Primary school" and "Secondary school" aren't things we have in the U.S. and "secondary education" refers exclusively to education beyond high school (year 12), college or otherwise.

"I went to school at" covers everything from kindergarten to college.

shoulder/hard shoulder of a highway

Most shoulders are likely to be just shoulders.

I never hear "hard shoulder" but we do have "soft shoulders" (meaning gravel or dirt in most instances). That said, "soft shoulder" is likely unnecessary as well and saying "shoulder (of the road)" + description of said shoulder (paved, gravel, dirt) is probably sufficient (if it is even necessary).

median strip

"median" (general roadways, highway or otherwise), "center median" (redundant but used), "highway median" or "the median of the highway (road)".

"He takes the piss out of every banker he meets"

Huh... What? =P No, we never use this.

  • "He trashes every banker he meets" might work better, but since "trash" really means "puts down" you would have to be clear in a follow up that he was specifically mocking them.

  • "He shits on every banker he meets" - similar problem to trash. You would likely want to make sure the reader knows he is mocking them (how he is "shitting" on them or putting them down).

  • A simple "He makes fun of every banker he meets" might work, but doesn't have the same color... er... colour.

"I'm pissed off at him" / "I'm pissed at him."

Either works fine. =)

"I called my parents' landline."

"I called my parents" would probably be better but the original is acceptable.

"Landline" is used but generally only in stark contrast to a cell phone... er... mobile. (hint: we don't say "mobile" - it's "cell" or "cell phone"). "I called him on his landline" would more often be used for someone who has a cell but chooses to keep a traditional landline telephone anyway.

In most instances, "I called my parents' landline" would be a call out to how terribly uncool said parents were (since it implies they don't have cell phones) or that the person was going out of his or her way to avoid calling said parents' cell phone(s) (assuming they had any).

changing room / fitting room

Both are used here, though "changing room" might also be used at places other than department stores.


Perfectly acceptable. We have a lot of "whatchamacallits", too.

ropey leg

"Ropy" legs (no E) in the US are unusually unstable, verging on the point of imminent collapse (could be severely damaged/injured or under the influence of drugs or absolute exhaustion).

Furthermore, legs in the US generally "feel ropy" - "I can't walk. My leg feels too ropy."

"My (his, her) leg(s) (is, are, were) tired" is far more common and acceptable for regular "tired leg(s)" (also acceptable).

As pointed out by @Mitch in the comments, some American English speakers may have trouble distinguishing the meaning of this phrasing so it may be best to avoid it altogether.


Yes it shows up as "incorrect" here too. =)

It is a gerund or present participle of "surveil" and applies specifically to being watched. "surveil” or “surveilled" also aren't recognized.

In your case, "Security guards are watching the place" (or are "keeping an eye out" for trouble) would be more American.


"MPH" in the US. We have "KPH" (in much a much smaller font) on many cars but totally ignore it. We will stay with our weird, hard to use measurements thank you very much. =P

"Calm my jitters"

"Nerves" is likely more common but "jitters" is not totally out of the ordinary.

"fence" vs. "gate"

"Iron fence" springs to mind for what you describe (and yes, I am imagining it as iron). A "gate" would be a gate (a place to get through the fence). =)

Note that a "gated" area might be fenced in ("gated community", "gated compound").

"It cost a pretty penny" / "It took every ounce of strength" / "skiff"

All are acceptable American English, but as pointed out in another answer, "skiff" is a particular kind of boat.

Other Stuff

You probably are already aware of these, but "boot" is always "trunk" (of the car) and "torch" is always "flashlight". We do not use "Brilliant!" unless we are praising ideas and rarely say "mental".

elevator landing

This seems mainly architectural in nature here.

Most common references are to people/things standing/waiting/sitting "in front of the elevator", especially when referring to most common kinds of (smaller) elevators... er... lifts.

While "elevator landing" is accurate American English for referencing all types of elevator receive and discharge areas, I would venture to say it's likely only going to be generally associated with larger or "fancier" types of elevators.

  • A freight elevator might have a landing.
  • An elevator in an upscale or posh hotel might have one (could be a regular elevator with an ornately decorated carpet in front of it, for instance).
  • A personal elevator in a mansion or loft might have one as well.

"the landing" is likely fine but you may also want to consider "the landing surrounding the elevator".

That really funny area behind the front door

For lower middle-class homes, "entryway" is probably what you are looking for if it is a very short hallway, especially if you can hang generally dry jackets or coats but not really store shoes (like a mudroom).

If you are talking about homes with neither a "mudroom" nor a more general enclosed "entryway" there are a few options.

  • "front hall", "front hallway" (smaller area, middle-class to upper middle-class home)
  • "entrance hall" (medium-sized area, upper middle-class or minor wealthy home)
  • "foyer" (large area, home is likely worth millions of dollars... er... pounds)

All three of these:

  • describe an open area just past the front door
  • describe an area with side rooms (e.g. "living room", "dining room", "sitting room", "study" etc.) attached directly to it.
  • describe an area which may often have a main staircase (but this is not required).

For extremely wealthy homes or estates, "hall", "entrance hall" and "foyer" may all be effectively synonyms (though a "foyer" may be a bit smaller in this particular context).

"hall" or "hallway" can be a shorthand synonym for "entryway", "front hall" or "entrance hall".

  • "She left him standing in the hall(way)"
  • "Yeah, he's in the hall(way)."

However, "hall(way)" is most commonly used for enclosed interior passages of a home in the US.

  • Thank you so much Anaksunaman. I really appreciate your answers and will be taking them on board. Thank you! – MoniqueH Nov 6 '15 at 18:30
  • I know I'm pushing my luck but do you mind if I pick your brain about 3 other questions I have: 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"? – MoniqueH Nov 6 '15 at 18:30
  • 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"? – MoniqueH Nov 6 '15 at 18:31
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    Updated the end of my answer to address your comments. Hope this is enlightening. =) – Anaksunaman Nov 7 '15 at 2:35
  • Nice long complete answer. One quibble: I've never heard/used 'ropey' for anything, leg or weak or anything. Maybe for rope? Also, another term for the entry area is 'vestibule' (but this is a fancy word, and often describes a more enclosed area than a hallway or foyer). – Mitch Nov 7 '15 at 2:56

The use of these words depends, in some cases, on the age of the speaker and the region of the US. You have some very good answers already, but in my experience there are some differences. (I'm a 50-something man in northeastern US.)

I associate sitting room with a more formal home. Maybe a wealthier home. A lot of our houses have a living room and a dining room, but not a sitting room.

Tickled, by itself, without "absolutely" is something my mother says, but I never have.

I've never heard college mate. And digs is an older "hip" term that's not common anymore.

I've never heard hard shoulder, but shoulder is the accepted word.

Median strip is used, but feels redundant. More usually we say median.

Taking the piss out means defeating someone verbally. A cocky guy is sometimes said to be "full of piss and vinegar" and deflating his spirit would be taking the piss out of him.

Pissed off at and pissed at are both common, and synonymous.

Changing room and fitting room are both fine.

Thingamajig is common. Also whatchamcallit.

I've never heard ropey.

Surveilling is fine.

Calm my jitters isn't something I've heard before, but I can tell what it means and it doesn't sound wrong.

A mansion's fence is fine, though fence can be tiny or huge so you might want to describe it in your writing.

Yes, "It cost a pretty penny" is fine, though I imagine it used by older people.

I think skiff is fine when you're talking about that particular kind of boat, but not everyone will know the definition.

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