Differences in vocabulary – America and Britain

This is quite a whimsical post for a Friday afternoon. I noticed on Twitter that quite a few people had favourited a tweet about a wikipedia page of a ‘list of British words not widely used in the United States’. Only yesterday morning I catalogued a pamphlet ‘Boys and Girls of the United Kingdom’.  The booklet was written by American teachers in 1946 for the National Educational Association of the United States.  The aim was to increase understanding of other cultures amongst schoolchildren in order to encourage peace and understanding.

Pamphlet, NUWT Collection ref UWT/D/255/2 ©Institute of Education Archives

They make some funny observations about British life, although some that I would say are still quite true – for instance the importance of tea! 

Included at the back of the pamphlet is a list of vocabulary with American to English translations.  It’s quite an odd list including a real mixture of words for such a short list.  Apparently in England at that time ‘beef cattle’ were known as ‘store cattle’ – I’ve never heard that before but that’s not to say it wasn’t the case then. 
I like that in America they have ‘rare meat’ but here we called it ‘underdone’ – is that where the steretypical French snootiness about the Brits and there overcooked steaks comes from?!

I had to look up what a ‘rumble seat’ (American) – ‘Dickey seat’ (England) was. It was “an upholstered exterior seat which hinges or otherwise opens out from the rear deck of a pre-World War II automobile, and seats one or more passengers.” (via Wikipedia)

Quite a few of them are still true, to a greater or lesser extent – e.g. garbage vs rubbish, movies vs cinema, elevator vs lift. However I don’t think I would ever call a hardware shop an iron mongers but I’m sure that’s a generational thing – and the next generations probably won’t even know what a hardware shop is as they’re pretty hard to come by already (I have a weird love for hardware shops).

Vocabulary list, NUWT Collection ref UWT/D/255/2 ©Institute of Education Archive


4 thoughts on “Differences in vocabulary – America and Britain

  1. My father was a farmer and in the 70s still called beef cattle store cattle. I think it was an agricultural term that had gone out of general currency even then.

  2. It’s interesting to see how words change through time. Thanks for the comment, and for letting us know the term was in use at one time.

  3. I hadn’t actually noticed that. Yes, that is interesting – it was written by two female teachers – you would think they would just transfer the gender neutral term so ‘shop assistant’ to the American ‘sales assistant’.

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