Written Rambles

British Words That Mean Something Different in America (Part 2)

In January, I wrote an article on HelloGiggles that chronicled some of the slang differences I immediately noticed upon arriving in the UK for my study abroad program. However, after living in a “flat” with British students and taking classes at “uni” for the past few months, I’ve come across a couple of differences in language that are a bit more subtle. Misuse just one of these terms and you’ll be ousted as an American on the spot, before you even have the chance to explain the SATs, decry Miley Cyrus, or say anything that would otherwise peg you as an exchange students “from the States.”


In the US: an expression used in celebration, usually when clinking glasses together

In the UK: an expression of gratitude

“How exactly do you use ‘cheers’ here?” This was the question my friend and I asked our British flatmate after returning from a shopping trip and hearing every single bus passenger mumble this word to the driver as they entered and left the vehicle. While, in the US, a person might yell cheers right before they tumble off of their bar stool, in the UK, cheers is meant more as a way of saying “thank you.” Though it doesn’t seem like a difficult concept to get behind, I still find myself saying “thank you” as I get off the bus or occasionally “OW” when they close the door on me on my way out.


In the US: an inquisitive gesture

In the UK: a greeting

It only takes one misunderstood slang word to make you question your emotional state of mind. Unlike in America, where hearing someone ask “are you alright” is an indication that you failed to put on enough makeup to hide your natural disdain for people, the word “alright” in England is more of a casual greeting (i.e. “How are you?” or “How are you doing?”). This can initially be very confusing, especially when everyone is suddenly asking “alright?” and you begin to wonder if you look pale or unwelcoming, even though you thought you were in a good mood. Suddenly, you fall into an existential crisis as you start questioning whether or not you’ve always looked sick and no one has told you until now, or if British people are hyper-aware of sadness and can pick up on it before you even have the chance to recognize it yourself. Moral of the story: “Alright?” is the British equivalent of the rest of the world’s “How are you?” which means you should give a short and meaningless “Good, you?” and move on without waiting for a response.


In the US: disrespectful in speech or behavior

In the UK: behaving in a bold or rude manner, but in a funny way

Cheeky is a tough word to define. Even British students find the slightly altered definition hard to describe, often suggesting anything from “flirty” to “playfully bratty.” The best example I can come up with might be when you say something sarcastic to your mom or dad and they let out a slight chuckle before telling you to “Stop being so fresh!” They’re recognizing your boldness while also acknowledging that it wasn’t offensive. It seems that cheeky has a similar connotation. So next time some guy tells you that you’re acting a bit “cheeky,” don’t run to your room and cry into a box of Thin Mints because you think you insulted him. (In fact, don’t do that even if he was insulted. You don’t need no man to make you happy.) In reality, he was probably just trying to be flirtatious, and an emotional breakdown would probably not be the best response.


In the US: someone who helps you with your homework

In the UK: a formal instructor

I sent an email to one of my teachers last week to ask about the upcoming essay that was due. I began the email with “Hi Professor _____,” thinking that the adults spewing information at us in our seminars every week are surely considered our professors. As it turns out, “tutors” are not exactly professors, which I learned when the teacher kindly thanked me for the career upgrade but pointed out that he wasn’t a professor quite yet. In the educator hierarchy, tutors are apparently one notch below professor and are usually graduate students on their way to completing a Masters or PHD. In the US, unless they are employed by some big name company, tutors are usually only qualified enough to critique your essay outline or help you figure out why Tommy bought 50 watermelons at a local fair at 5 pounds each with each melon costing 10 dollars per pounds without considering how exorbitant the price would be ahead of time.

Everyone says that the UK is the best place to study abroad if you want to avoid culture shock because it is so similar to the US. While that is certainly true, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the few differences they do have. If you didn’t answer the question on my original article, then riddle me this: what other British words have you found that have a different meaning in the US?