I'm aware that in America the word "dirt" is a synonym/replacement for earth/soil/peat/turf.etc whereas in the UK "dirt" would typically refer to uncleanliness, detritus, and granular rubbish (i.e. too small to pick up by hand). You wouldn't say your garden was full of dirt in the UK.

What word do Americans use to refer to the type of granular rubbish that is typically referred to by the UK use of the word "dirt", unless "dirt" fills both uses in America? After all, "dirty" seems to mean the same thing, either side of the Atlantic.

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    As an American, it sounds to me like you’re describing litter.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 15, 2018 at 11:25
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    Interesting link for Brits - the 'sweptyard' as opposed to the 'dirtyard' both of which are unknown in the UK, as such. We have 'gravel' yards, usually. Link. 'Dirt' or 'dirty' in BrE (I would say) is not just something that can be swept up. It bears a connotation of requiring washing in order to cleanse it, whether physically or morally.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 15, 2018 at 11:46
  • Additionally, would this word be universally common across all American states, or are there regional differences? Mar 15, 2018 at 12:20
  • @DanBron 'Litter' is normally limited to paper, empty cans and the like which have been dropped in a public place. 'Dirt' in the British sense could include mud (on paving or indoors), animal droppings, decayed leaves and the like. Mar 15, 2018 at 16:50
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    Could you give an example sentence (or even several), and perhaps a brief description of how you would say UK "dirt" differs in meaning from some of the synonyms given by a thesaurus (e.g. "crud", "dreck", "filth", "gunk")?
    – herisson
    Mar 15, 2018 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


As an American, I think this is dependent on context:

  • Dust if in a building

  • Crumbs if involving food

  • Grime if non-granular (especially if membranous)

In all other contexts (and arguably in some of the ones listed above) it would not be unusual for an American to simply say dirt.

"Clean the dirt off the porch."

"I wiped the dirt off the park bench."

Perhaps one might also make a more indirect reference to such filth using the word mess, but this term is used more generally and could include any of large and small granular filth, membranous filth, or even larger trash or clutter.

  • You actually use 'grime' quite often? In the UK, there's a more ingrained, probably almost sinister and corruption-generated aspect to 'grime', and it's not used very often unless invoking say the dark satanic mill setting. Sep 8, 2019 at 12:44
  • @Edwin. often? Probably not, but not too uncommonly. Grime usually applies to mold/mildew/scum/food-residues that grow or are stuck to counters, tiles, tubs, etc. As in "I've got to go clean the grime out of the sink" Sep 8, 2019 at 21:52
  • That's pretty much in line with the normal usage over here. Thanks. Sep 9, 2019 at 13:56

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