Saturday, October 20, 2012


A year or so ago, the BBC website published a rather silly article, where they invited readers to write in with the Americanisms which annoyed them most. The BBC published these without any comment, causing a bit of a stir in the (mostly American) linguistics blogosphere. In fact it turned out that many of these 'pet peeves' that people sent in weren't even Americanisms at all, and of the five examples the journalist had opened the article with, only one hadn't started life in Britain.
Perhaps in an attempt to redress the balance slightly, the BBC have recently published an article about Britishisms (also known as Briticisms) that have been creeping into use in North America, and invited American readers to send in examples of Britishisms they had noticed being used. Thirty of these were then published in a follow-up article, with definitions from Oxford English and Collins dictionaries.
Note - a lot of these words are informal or colloquial, and one is downright rude (in the sexual sense), or as one dictionary has it - 'vulgar', and another 'taboo, slang'. But none of them are particularly nasty. Try your hand at using them with four short exercises.

Click and Drop - Click on a word in the box and then click on an appropriate gap. If you change your mind, just repeat the process.
The words in the first three exercises are all taken from that list. Have a look at the list first, and then do the first three exercises

Exercise 1 - One word is used twice

autumn   ·   cheers   ·   frock   ·   innit   ·   kit   ·   mobile   ·   muppet   ·   queue   ·   row   ·   skint  
1. Now it’s the leaves are beginning to fall off the trees.
2. I’m a bit at the moment, can you lend me a fiver.
3. Remember to wear your best party , Darling. - Mum! Nobody says that word nowadays.
4. Come on you silly , it’s easy. Just press that button there.
5. When she came home so late, her parents were really angry and they had an almighty .
6. They’ve got their own pool, so remember to bring your swimming with you.
7. Can I borrow your pen. - Sure, here you are - That’s great, .
8. In Britain there’s often a sign on a bus stop telling you which side to .
9. You’re one of these grammar nerds, ? - I think you mean ‘aren’t you’, don’t you? - Yeah, that’s what I said, ?
10. Give me your number and I’ll text you when I know where we’re all meeting.

Exercise 2

cheeky   ·   fancy   ·   sussed   ·   gobsmacked   ·   knickers   ·   mate   ·   proper   ·   roundabouts   ·   numpty   ·   wonky  
1. Give that to me, you big ! Look. This bit goes here, not there!.
2. He bought his girlfriend a bra with matching frilly for her birthday.
3. He was totally when he was told they were firing him.
4. Hello , how are things with you today?
5. Now that was what I call a nosh-up. Full four course dinner and cheese board.
6. I can’t be bothered to cook tonight, let’s get a take-away. What do you , Indian or Chinese?
7. Sylvia! Stop being such a monkey and do what your dad tells you.
8. This chair’s a bit ; I'll put something under the leg to make it a bit steadier.
9. Hey, I finally out what that word 'gobsmacked' meant.
10. In Britain we often have instead of crossroads - they help the traffic to flow more smoothly.

Exercise 3

holiday   ·   bloody   ·   bum   ·   chav   ·   flat   ·   gap year   ·   loo   ·   pop over   ·   shag   ·   twit  
1. It’s cold in here, shall I put the heating on?
2. She was making eyes at you all evening, and you didn’t even ask her for a dance! You can be such a at times.
3. He took a teaching English in Thailand before starting his career as a lawyer.
4. OK. We’ll to your place right after work, and then we can all go to the party together.
5. We’ve just bought a new in Docklands and we’re off to IKEA to get some furniture for it.
6. Michael! You’re joking! I wouldn’t him even if you paid me! But his brother, that’s a different matter.
7. I hope this skirt isn’t too tight. It doesn’t make my look too big, does it?
8. Where are going for your summer ? - We're off to Tenerife. I can't wait.
9. Excuse me, could I use your . Yes, of course. It’s just at the top of the stairs, on the right.
10. Calling a certain type of working-class young person ‘ ’ is not only condescending but can also be seen as a form of social snobbery.
Now read the earlier article and do the last exercise.

Exercise 4

an item   ·   bespoke   ·   chattering   ·   gastropub   ·   missing   ·   one-off   ·   sell-by   ·   snogging   ·   spot on   ·   trendy   ·   chat   ·   will do  
1. That joke is well past its date. Don’t you know any new ones?
2. It was a really difficult question, but he got the answer .
3. The TV series Downton Abbey is all the rage with the classes.
4. I've just seen Mandy and Pete behind the bicycle shed. Are they nowadays?
5. They could be. He's been trying to her up for ages.
6. Remember to bring me back some cheese from the shop. - OK. .
7. He took us to eat at a so-called . I know they're meant to be very , but it was a bit too pretentious for my liking.
8. Savile Row, a street in the West End of London, is famous for its tailoring - suits made to measure for their (male) customers. No designer labels here, this is real old school.
9. OK, I'll let you off this time, but this has to be a ; it mustn't happen again.
10. Have you seen my keys anywhere. They seem to have gone .


shag - warning! - taboo, slang (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary), impolite (Macmillan's Dictionary). This can be both a verb and a noun, and although rather rude has no nasty or sexist overtones and is less offensive than another very well-known word for the same activity. It seems to be particularly popular with young women, for example. Possible uses are:
  • I really fancy a shag tonight. (some sex)
  • He's a good shag. (good in bed)
  • She shagged him something rotten. (had very active sex)
  • Don't you think he's rather shaggable? (sexually attractive)
But don't use it in front of your friend's mother!
chav - this Wikipedia article explains it nicely. Also see below.
suss (something out) - I was surprised that this was a Britishism, as it became popular during the hippy era, and most hippy words came from America, but this Ngram graph shows that it is indeed much more popular in Britain (blue line). Possible uses are:
  • I've got him sussed. (I know what he's up to)
  • Have you sussed out how to do it yet? (worked out)
  • I bought her present ages ago and hid it in the garage, but she never sussed. (suspected)
innit - this is used as a universal question tag by some young people, but is not yet accepted as standard English, and probably best avoided. You can read about it here and here
don't get your knickers in a twist - this useful expression means 'Don't get upset, angry or confused, don't get so bothered'. It is said to have originated in the popular children's TV programme 'The Basil Brush Show', sometime in the late '60s. It apparently got changed in Australia to 'knickers in a knot', and then in the US to 'panties in a knot'. Source. There's a fun calypso-style song from 1973 by 'Johnny Reggae' with the same title on YouTube

BBC Learning English - Keep your English up to date.

Some of these words are discussed in this interesting series:

Comparing the use of words in British and American English with Ngram

Google Books Ngram Viewer can be a useful tool for serious research, but is also great fun and really easy to use. Up until recently you could see how words or phrases were used over time in all books in English, in British books or in American books.
But now you can do a graph comparing use in British books and American books. Enter the word or phrase, follow it with ':eng_gb_2012' (notice the colon :) and a comma. Then enter the word again and follow it with ':eng_us_2012' - see this example. Try playing around with it with some of the other words and expressions in this post.


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