Which of the following is more common in British English vs American English?

  • Power cut
  • Power outage
  • Power failure
  • Blackout
  • 4
    Power cut is the usual term in the UK, and the one most commonly used in news bulletins. If a widespread power cut (an entire city, say,) occurs during the night, it might be called a total blackout (especially by the more sensational newspapers), since it harks back to the blackouts that were enforced during World War 2. – Mick Dec 9 '17 at 14:54
  • 1
    '...outage' and '... failure' seem to be equally common in the NYC area, anecdotally, but both are less common than 'blackout'. '... cut' is vanishingly rare, and would only be used if it was a deliberate action by the provider. – Jeff Zeitlin Dec 9 '17 at 16:03
  • 2
    If anyone cares, in Canadian English you hear all these terms, but "power cut" is quite uncommon and refers specifically to an intentional interruption in power (e.g. a service disconnection due to cancellation of service or for non-payment). It wouldn't describe an ordinary temporary disruption. – Jim MacKenzie Dec 9 '17 at 17:00
  • 5
    The problem is that these are all used in different contexts. "Power cut" would the least common (in the US) but only because it's mainly reserved for an intentional disconnection. – Hot Licks Mar 22 '18 at 1:14
  • 2
    Blackout implies a large-scale outage, as when a power plant drops off line or entire grid sections get isolated. It isn't used when a transformer on your street blows. Personally, I don't associate it with daytime or nighttime in any way. I wouldn't use it for outages smaller than 50,000 people. MW seems to agree. "c : a period of darkness (as in a city) caused by a failure of electrical power" – Phil Sweet Mar 23 '18 at 15:40

"Power cut" is certainly the most common in the UK, as seen in the comments. Lexico Oxford Dictionaries gives the phrase the "British" tag.

On Google News, almost all of the news is UK stories, and it's the same story ;-) for power outage in the US.

As for blackout being used as a term for a mass outage in the UK, the fairly recent mass power cut that affected the nation is indeed referred to as a blackout more often than power cut.

"Power outage" is often used to refer to a more local failure, whereas "Power failure" is almost never heard, clearly shown on NGrams:NGRAM1

"Blackout" is also seemingly used to mean a wide-scale outage in the US, as shown in News as well.

"Power failure" doesn't seem that popular either, and as it's a UK term, "power cut" is close to nonexistent. (where "cut" is used, it's usually published by a UK news site).


The Google NGrams corpus search on all four, for UK and US separately are shown here:

compare gb/us on all four

Blackout seems to be by far the most popular in both the UK and US, then 'power failure'. 'Power outage' and 'power cut' both seem to be rare in the US.

  • 2
    As a Br.E. speaker, this feels wrong ("power cut" is the term I'd use/have most often heard). Does this graph exclude, say, blackout used for someone fainting, or power failure used for individual pieces of equipment rather than the whole mains supply failing? – TripeHound Mar 23 '18 at 15:37
  • 2
    I think this is misleading; here in the D-M-V I hear blackout mainly to reference large-scale grid failures, fainting episodes, spans of lost memory during a night of heavy drinking, or the curtains you vow to install while recovering from that night. If the transformer blows on a street, it's just a power outage. – choster Mar 23 '18 at 15:41
  • Context is everything. "Resistance is futile". This thing of looking up single words without taking context into account is a fool's errand, in my opinion. – Lambie Mar 23 '18 at 15:49
  • 1
    This is interesting in this context. I just googled "power cut" and "Massachusetts" and the top results included power cut and Massachusetts in The Guardian and the BBC, whereas among those same top "local" results "power cut" became "power outage" and Massachusetts. So, that immediately told me that yes, power cut is indeed BrE. (Well, told me because I know how to "read that"? Dunno). :) – Lambie Mar 23 '18 at 16:06
  • 1
    @choster there's also 'blackout dates' for times in a schedule that are not allowed to be used, like airlines do for use of frequent flyer miles. – Mitch Mar 23 '18 at 16:39

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