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13 American Words with Completely Different Meanings Overseas

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Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, and many others countries speak the English language. But sometimes talking with the locals there can feel as foreign to U.S. travelers as communicating with those in, say, Thailand. To help clear these up, here are a few words that our stateside readers are all familiar with — but that mean something completely different in other English-speaking places around the world.

Slang in Europe 

Pants: In England, the word pants refers to one’s underwear, not their trousers. When something’s awful, you can also say, “that’s pants.”

Jock: No, it’s not the hunky star quarterback. A Jock is a term for a Scottish person that, while affectionate in some instances, can also be interpreted as derogatory.

Ride: Don’t ask a new Irish friend from the bar for a “ride” to your place. Ask for a lift instead, because a ride implies a roll in the hay.

Chips: If you’ve ever ordered fish and chips, you know that these are actually french fries. That greasy snack that we so love? They’re called crisps.

Banger: This means sausage…or a shabby car.

Jelly: Here’s why foreigners constantly sneer at our love for PB&J sandwiches. “Jelly” is a monicker for Jell-O — would you ever put that in your toast?

FannyWhile “fanny” refers to the backside in American English, the word is quite rude to Britons — who use the word to refer to women’s genitals. (Fanny packs are “bum bags” on this side of the pond.)

Fag: Before lashing out at the Brit politely asking for a “fag,” remember that, to them, it means cigarette.

Knock up: If someone promises to “knock you up in the morning,” they’re assuring you that they’ll make sure to wake you up.

Thong: Flip-flop shoes.

Slang in Other Parts of the World 

Entree: When you order an entree in Australia, you’re actually ordering an appetizer. The “main” is the focus of the meal.

Gypped: In some parts of the world, this term has racist implications, referring the the stereotype that the nomadic Roma are thieves. So when you’re telling a tale abroad of being cheated, think twice about your word choice.

America: Believe it or not, this word can be mildly offensive in South American if you use it interchangeably with “United States.” You might see why doing so could be interpreted as narrow — after all, some South Americans also refer to themselves as Americans, too.

8 Comments

  • Anja says:

    Banger – in Los Angeles, SoCal area, it means gang banger (gang member).

  • Dario Magpantay says:

    Entrée is a French word and Aussies use it correctly as in Europe. It is the first part of the meal which is the equivalent of anti-pasti for the Italians,most often small salad and definitely not the main course.

  • Sara says:

    My friend went on a foreign exchange trip to Argentina and found out that bit about South Americans disliking people from the United States of America referring to themselves as Americans. They saw it as egocentric, etc. However, we don’t have another word for describing ourselves. We can’t say United Statesians or USAers or anything like that (whereas they do have something in their language like that to refer to us as). Also, the America bit is not in reference to our continent. We don’t call ourselves Americans as coming from North America. America comes from The United States of ‘America.’ I compare this use to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (simply referred to as Congo), People’s Republic of China (referred to as China), etc. It’s not us being ethnocentric and thinking the Americas revolve around us; we’re just shortening our name like so many countries do and it’s the easiest word to add a suffix to refer to people who come from the United States.

  • Buechler says:

    What is kind of funny about this is that “fag” and “thong” used to mean the same things in the U.S. as they currently do in Europe. Also, I can’t help but wonder if the origins of “gypped” in the U.S. is essentially the same reference as other parts of the world?

  • Daniel says:

    A friend of mine who was in the US Navy during WWII, told me when he was in Australia during the war, he heard a woman at a bar say, that she was knocked up and wasn’t going to get screwed until next week.
    He said he found out later she was saying, that she was broke and wouldn’t get paid until next week.

  • brian says:

    dont forget arse vs ass——– an ass is a mule like beast

  • Rei says:

    Well teaching here in China has taught me a lot- some good and some not so good. My first day teaching (over 10 years ago) I made the mistake of calling someone a ‘chicken’. I meant to imply that they were afraid of speaking out in class but here in China I quickly found out that ‘chicken’ is what a female prostitute is called! While a male prostitute is a duck.

    SO just be careful what you translate or use as well.

  • Aisling says:

    They also left out “rubber.” In Europe, it’s an eraser; in the US, it’s a condom. Also, in the southern US, “shag” is a dance or a haircut; in Europe, it means sex.

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