30 of your Britishisms used by Americans


The Magazine's recent article about the Britishisation of American English prompted readers to respond with examples of their own - here are 30 British words and phrases that you've noticed being used in the US and Canada.

Autumn, n. The season between summer and winter. "'Autumn' is being used a lot more now instead of 'fall'." Alan, New York, US

Bloody, adj. and adv. An intensifier: absolute, downright, utter. Sometimes in a negative sense. "There have been several instances where I've heard the term 'bloody' in regular conversation. I understand the urge to say it in certain situations, but I react with a jolt when I hear it. It just seems so... indecent. The use of 'bloody', in my view, is iconically British. When Americans try to use it, I think they're trying to sound like Michael Caine. I feel it's a deliberate contrivance to associate themselves with some perceived prestige in sounding British. Some Americans think that by saying 'bloody' everybody will assume that they have four more IQ points than everyone else. It's understandable. And completely true." Marshall McCorcle, Dallas, Texas, US

Bum, n. The buttocks or posteriors (slang). "I have seen an increasing use of 'bum' for a person's backside here, both from local friends and from Americans on the web. While I am still perfectly fine with sitting on my butt, everyone else is getting all fancy talking about their bums." Jim Boyd, Des Moines, Iowa, US

Chav, n. Pejorative term to express young person who displays loutish behaviour, sometimes with connotations of low social status. "The word 'chav' is starting to catch on in the US, thanks to YouTube videos. I overheard someone say, 'Nah I'm not buying those sneakers man, they are so chavvy' at a sports retailer." Jeff Bagshaw, US

"Chav is becoming rather noticeable as a few Americans understand that not 'all British people are posh'. Boston/Cambridge is rife with international college students, so it may just be a blip, but I've heard it in a suburban grocery store in reference to some hooligans outside the store." Elaine Ashton, Lexington, Massachusetts, US

Cheeky, adj. Insolent or audacious in address; coolly impudent or presuming. "I have loved using the word cheeky for about 10 years now." Daniel Greene, Phoenix, Arizona, US

"Sometimes the British expression just says it better. I particularly like 'cheeky monkey'." G Griffin, Wethersfield, Connecticut, US

Cheers, sentence substitute. A drinking toast, goodbye, or thanks. "I am hearing people say goodbye to each other with the British 'cheers'. Since I have always had a fondness for the Brits and things British, I enjoy hearing it instead of the worn out 'later' or 'see ya later'. Like it or not, the Yanks and the Brits are cousins, and that's that. Cheers!" Paul Phillips, Marblehead, US

"Use of the word 'cheers' in place of 'thank you' is on the rise, perhaps among young people who have spent time with British people." Roddy McCalley, Joshua Tree, California, US

Fancy, v. With reference to fondness or liking. "Our US friends really enjoyed fancied, as in 'she fancied him', and an item, as in 'are you two an item?'." David Fryer, Muscat, Oman

"Fancy, as in I really fancy a pint." Paul W, New York City, US

Flat, n. An apartment on one floor of a building. "Just as British people are increasingly calling (particularly posh) flats 'apartments', my American friends report that property developers are now selling 'flats' in order to make them sound grander than they are." Beth, London

Frock, n. A girl's or woman's dress. "Until very recently, 'frock' only appeared in North America in British books. I first read it in the Narnia series. No-one ever said it, and no-one ever used it in print. No-one outside of readers of British literature would even have known what it meant. Now I see it in print media about fashion all the time. This just started happening in perhaps the past five years, certainly no more than 10 years." Lee Boal, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Gap year, n. A year's break taken by a student between leaving school and starting further education. "We didn't do gap years much until recently, so we didn't have our own term for it other than 'year off'. The point of language is to communicate. If a new word or term fills a - sorry - gap, then it doesn't matter where it's from." Alden O'Brien, Washington DC, US

Gobsmacked, adj. flabbergasted: struck dumb with awe or amazement. "I left the UK for the US more than 40 years ago. I first heard the word 'gobsmacked' about 10 years ago while visiting the UK. Perhaps because of the popularity of the programme Top Gear in the US, I now hear this used in the US." Duncan Connall, Rhode Island, US

"I heard President Obama use the word 'gobsmacked'. How's that for a Britishism?" Stuart Hamilton, North Vancouver, Canada

Holiday, n. A period in which a break is taken from work or studies for rest, travel, or recreation. "As a child I read Enid Blyton, and as an adult I was pleased to notice, at least in advertising, the use of the word 'holiday' to replace the less preferable, in my opinion, 'vacation'." Vicki Siska, Fort Collins, Colorado, US

Innit, adv. A contraction of isn't it? Used to invite agreement with a statement. "I can't stop saying 'innit' - it's the perfect sort of ('sort of' in this usage is also a popular Britishism) ending to an informal declarative statement." Carolyn, Las Vegas, US

Kit, n. A collection of personal effects or necessities. "I've noticed the adoption of the British term 'kit' for what athletes wear, in the place of what we Americans would generally call a 'uniform' or 'gear'. I notice it among those who follow tennis closely. People will refer to a player's 'kit', which often changes several times a year depending on the surface." Ana Mitric, Richmond, Virginia, US

Knickers, n. An undergarment for women covering the lower trunk and sometimes the thighs and having separate legs or leg-holes. "My American friend just recently said 'I got my knickers in quite a twist'. I was amazed she didn't say 'panties'." Nadine, Seattle, Washington, US

Loo, n. An informal word for lavatory. "Many of my friends now call the restroom 'the loo', although they haven't converted to saying 'loo-roll' - it's still toilet paper. Funny, since most of us won't say 'toilet' for the American 'bathroom'." Heather Revanna, Colorado, US

Mate, n. A friend, usually of the same sex: often used between males in direct address. "It seems that Yanks enjoy English swear words but I don't believe British people are using typical Americanisms. I've never heard a Englishman say 'dude' but I am hearing Americans say 'mate'. I also don't believe British people are so overtly conscious of foreign influence as much as Americans care to be, especially in the Midwest." Paul Knight-Kirby, Rockford, Illinois, US

Mobile, n. Short for mobile phone; a portable telephone that works by means of a cellular radio system ('cellphone' or 'cell' in standard American English). "I think the use of 'mobile' is a consequence of more international travel and wanting to be understood. I use mobile while elsewhere and it is creeping into my US-based language as well." Stuart Friedman, Middlesex, Vermont, US

Muppet, n. A stupid person; from the name for the puppets used in the TV programme The Muppet Show. "I am a Brit living in Idaho. One of the biggest Britishisms I see, and have helped perpetuate, is the term 'muppets' to refer to brainless individuals. I love this term as it conjures images of the loveable Muppets but in reference to a person it definitely conveys a lack of intelligence or substandard education. In this state there are plenty of 'muppets'." George Hemmings, Idaho, US

Numpty, n. A stupid person. "I have heard 'numpty' many times in the last few years. I get the impression that our American interpretation is more good-natured than it might be in the UK. It's used when calling a friend a numpty when he does or says something silly. Perhaps this is because there is a 'cuteness' to the pronunciation of the word." Jeffrey Timmons, Mayville, Wisconsin, US

Pop over, v. Come by for a visit. "Recently, I've heard the phrase 'pop over' used by several different people. ('Why don't I just pop over and pick them up?')." Susan Moore, Indio, California, US

Proper, adj. Appropriate or suited for some purpose. "I picked up the British use of 'proper' (as in 'a proper breakfast') while completing graduate work at Oxford in the mid-2000s. I hadn't realised just how prevalent it was in my own speech until a coworker asked me this year if it was a North Dakota thing, as that is the state where I grew up. It's definitely not a North Dakota thing." Jacquelyn Bengfort, Washington, DC, US

Queue, n. and v. A line of people, vehicles, etc, waiting for something. "In the 'queue'. More online forms and automated voice responses to banking transactions say 'queue' instead of 'line'. I'm guessing that it makes more sense to use it because people aren't actually standing in a line if they're on the phone." Guy Hait, Chesterfield, Michigan, US

"When I was in New York and waiting with an American friend to get into a bar, I called it a queue. She told me that in the US it was called a line. However, she commented that 'queue' was becoming more common because of the use of the term 'printer queue' in computing." David, Worcester

Roundabout, n. A road junction in which traffic streams circulate around a central island. "'Roundabout' is the official word used to describe the traffic circle that was recently completed in our rather small city. Many feel that this sounds pretentious. I am originally from California where we used the term 'traffic circle'." Beth, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, US

Row, n. and v. A noisy or violent argument, a quarrel with someone. "My husband and I often use the word 'row', most likely because we've heard it so often on public television. We think of it as a very common word among the Brits (like 'bloody') and we both assumed that most other people would recognise both the word and its meaning. Recently, my husband (who is very Southern and not bookish at all) used 'row' in a conversation with a buddy, only to learn that the friend had never even heard the word. We were astonished." Catherine Graves, Georgia, US

Shag, v. To copulate with. "You guys missed the best one. 'Shag' is such a brilliant word and Brits cringe because of the vulgarity of it, while Americans don't realise exactly how rude it is and run around saying it like a toddler repeating Daddy's accidental swear word slip. I love it when you guys cringe over us picking up your words." Leona, Oxford

"Thanks to Austin Powers, many Americans are familiar with the word 'shag', but don't seem to realise how truly coarse it is. It's used in polite society, and used to shock me, but now I accept the fact that usage differs in UK/US." Linda Michelini, Port Orange, Florida, US

Skint, adj. Penniless, broke. "To hear terms like 'skint' for being broke, 'agony aunt' for opinion columnists, or 'yobbo' for upstart children has surprised me. Such words would never have been heard in this part of the world until only two or three years ago. There are only minor UK and Irish ex-pat communities over here, so to have this sudden and growing use of Britishisms is a linguist's delight." Anthony Hughes, Omaha, US

Sussed, v. To work or figure out; to investigate, to discover the truth about (a person or thing). "My favourite Britishism has to be 'sussed' - 'I finally sussed out what he was talking about', 'leave them alone, they'll suss it out on their own'. I use it a lot and I always seem to have to explain it to people, then a few days on, I'll hear them using it and explaining it. It's a word/phrase that gets used often in my close circle of friends now." Bonnie Lee, Portland, Oregon, US

Twit, n. A fool; a stupid or ineffectual person. "It seems to me the word 'twit' - a Britishism heard on Monty Python - is being used more frequently here in the US." Rachel Newstead, Appleton, Wisconsin, US

Wonky, adj. Shaky or unsteady. "Some Britishisms that I have used include 'wonky', 'bung', and 'snarky'. They're fun, innit? It's hard for me to notice hearing these words in the US, because I talk to so many Brits online, so they sound normal now." Anne E, Pittsburgh, US

Definitions from the Oxford English and Collins Dictionaries.

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