Whoever argues that Americans and Brits speak the same language are mistaken. True, we both communicate with the same words, but the subtle differences between British and American English make a huge difference in meaning.
Take the word “pants,” for example. In the US, this word refers to clothing items that are worn around the legs—jeans, leggings, shorts, slacks, sweats. In England, however, pants refer to underpants. “Trousers” are the jeans or slacks that go over one’s pants.
This distinction was particularly important when I was trying to find something to wear over my jeans so that I wouldn’t get wet while riding my bike in the rain. I don’t think it would have gone over well if I had gone into various stores asking for waterproof pants. The clerk might have referred me to a grocery store for diapers.
There are also no sidewalks in England. Cars and bicycles ride on the street, and people walk on the pavement. When I originally heard this term distinction, it seemed odd to me, because roads are made of pavement, not pedestrian walks. But I’ve been in Oxford for a little while now, and can testify that the sidewalks here really are made of pavement—the same black asphalt that covers the street. The only difference is that the pavement is raised higher than the road.
“Pancake” is a term that has brought some of my friends grief. When Americans say “pancakes,” we mean bread-like, plate-sized flap jacks, slathered in butter and syrup. Not so in England. Just across the Channel lies France, and the French influence means that British pancakes are actually crêpes—thin, paper-like—not at all the kind of food that I imagine Paul Bunion growing up on.
So when my friend Rachel decided that she was going to make us pancakes for dinner one night, she was sorely disappointed when the pancake mix produced crêpes. Don’t get me wrong—they were delicious, and she made mouth-watering sausages cooked in maple syrup to accompany them—but she still ended up disappointed at the end of the evening because crêpe recipes call for a lot more water than pancake recipes.
And I won’t talk about the name of the small pouches that people wear at the waist….just don’t ever ask anyone in England for a fanny pack.
Curious? Don’t even ask.