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Do Americans understand British English?

(446 Posts)
knickernicker Mon 07-Apr-14 09:14:28

I can't think that there is any American phrase, word or accent that I wouldn't understand, but I wonder if an American would understand everything I say.
I remember sitting for a meal with some people from Boston and being acutely aware of needing to edit what I said to remove any British idiom. It was an odd feeling as when watching American films I forget they're a different nationality.

OldLadyKnowsSomething Wed 16-Apr-14 14:16:34

"I should coco!" is "Absolutely no way am I going to do that!"

Eg, "Will you be going back to that pub where you got food poisoning?"

"I should coco!"

partialderivative Wed 16-Apr-14 18:35:08

I think I have a lot to be grateful to the 'I should coco' phrase.

My DP was really amused by my use of it when we first met. And I think that was what made her 'take a shine' (another Brit phrase?) to me

partialderivative Wed 16-Apr-14 18:38:31

No! I got that wrong as well, apparently 'take a shine to' is a US colloquialism.

hellymelly Wed 16-Apr-14 21:38:47

I think the dog's bollocks evolved from from the cat's pyjamas. it is an amusing ruder version. Like the mutt's nuts has evolved from the dog's bollocks.

zipzap Thu 17-Apr-14 13:27:39

The American phrase 'as American as Apple Pie' used to get me angry.

back to my groups of american students, they often used to book to go to a traditional 'olde english' tourist rip-off evening with traditional food. Dessert was always apple pie.

Every time pretty much, the group leader would berate me that they didn't want american food, they were expecting something english. So I then had to explain how they were eating apple pie in England long before the Pilgrim Fathers set sail. As indeed were most European nations eating some sort of Apple pie (be it called a strudel or a tarte or whatever) - and who did they think had introduced apples to the US as they weren't a native species... THey'd then start saying about the phrase 'as american as apple pie', which I'd then point out didn't mean they had invented it just claimed it for their own like lots of other stuff but could also say that it showed the immigrant nature of the start of the country... For the most part they didn't like that - felt it rocked their faith in their american-ness or something, I'm not really sure.

It was quite fun to watch the kids have their first encounter with tepid insipid weak 'ye olde traditional cheapskate orange squash' though grin - particularly the looks of horror when they discovered they couldn't have ice or Coke/7 Up etc [wicked smiley]

ErrolTheDragonsEgg Thu 17-Apr-14 13:33:36

Yes, that's a very odd one, especially as surely most American kids have heard of Johnny Appleseed?

It should be something like 'as American as succotash'.

PrincessBabyCat Fri 25-Apr-14 22:39:23

I can understand some Brit phrases/slang, I just go off context and voice tone. But I still laugh when I hear them talking about food spoiling. "The milk's gone off" makes is sound like the milk wandered off and "The milk's gone wrong" makes it sound so dramatic. grin

partialderivative Tue 29-Apr-14 17:39:57

I had no idea that "The milk's gone off" was not a universal phrase.


I know that my US friends had no idea what 'thick' meant when assessing the intelligence of another person.

KeatsiePie Tue 29-Apr-14 18:23:12

Er, I think American kids might think that Johnny Appleseed is American. I thought he was American. He's not?

I usually hear/say the milk has gone bad.

"The bomb" is a compliment! But sort of outdated now.

When I moved to Boston I found that native Bostonians actually did say "wicked," as in "wicked smart."

ErrolTheDragon Fri 02-May-14 18:47:19

The point is that Johnny Appleseed went around America planting orchards because there weren't indigenous apples.

PigletJohn Fri 02-May-14 19:05:33

off topic, it's my considered opinion that the large amount of eating and cooking apple cultivars found along pioneer trails and settlements, need not be due to deliberate planting by a mythical character, it would naturally occur when the travellers were eating apples as they went, and throwing the cores aside where some of the seeds grew.

You find the same with tomatoes, even today, but these have the advantage of viable seeds even after they have passed through the human digestive tract.

KeatsiePie Tue 06-May-14 02:13:32

Ah! I honestly thought that he was bringing the seeds from their native part of the US to the rest of the country.

ErrolTheDragon Tue 06-May-14 08:17:39

Piglet - perhaps, but JA planted nurseries not just random wayside trees. And apparently a lot of the seed-grown fruits weren't much cop for eating or even pies but that was OK, they were good for making cider. By which of course I mean proper alcoholic cider not apple juice ... I've heard of innocent Americans getting thoroughly sozzled in Somerset on account of this linguistic difference, whereas Brits ordering cider in the US are liable to be merely disappointed grin

PigletJohn Tue 06-May-14 09:13:16

do you believe that there was one single person who did all that?

ErrolTheDragon Tue 06-May-14 11:15:58

No - in the wiki on JA it says: ' In some periods of the settlement of the Midwest, settlers were required by law to plant orchards of apples and pears in order to uphold the right to the claimed land'.

ShowMeYourTARDIS Tue 08-Jul-14 03:05:31

I get most of the slang, yes. Probably 90% or so. I've never left the US, but I do watch a lot of Who.

I knew two girls at my school named "Randy." Made me wince every time.

ShowMeYourTARDIS Tue 08-Jul-14 03:11:10

Oh, the one that really got me was "squash," the drink. Here, squash is a group of vegetables, including zucchini (courgette?) and pumpkin. It's a bit hard to drink that!

ColdCottage Sat 19-Jul-14 00:58:54

I was unable to order a cranberry juice whilst in New England. They just kept repeating "crown bridges?" With a very confused look on their face.
I have an RP accent so assumed due to my clear diction I would be understood - nope. At a dinner with a friends cousin from the south it was like we were both speaking a foreign language.
Also had long talks about how 'basil' and 'aluminum' should be pronounced. smile

ColdCottage Sat 19-Jul-14 21:32:03

And had a long discussion about the correct pronunciation of oregano - though I never use the word!

misanthropologist Sat 26-Jul-14 05:24:21

A long time ago, my friend group and I became close to a fellow from Glasgow named Martin, whose father worked for a British chemical company (sorry, the name has been lost in the mists of time) and had been seconded to our area. We all had a lovely time getting pished up on the regular and as the summer wore on we all (even me, and even Martin) got more and more confused that the drunker we got, the fewer of us could understand him...except for me. After about a half-bottle of whatever, I became the Designated Martin Translator. I'm still the go-to for accents; unfortunately, I pick them up really easily as well, unintentionally, which leads to some awkward situations when people think I'm trying to send them up.

As far as my own natural accent, I was born in very Southern Ohio, just across the river from Kentucky, and my parents on both sides were descended from Appalachians in VERY far southeastern Kentucky/Eastern Tennessee. When I'm drunk or seriously angry I sound like I should be standing in Wal-Mart smacking a small dirty child with a flipflop <rampant Appalachian-American stereotyping, sorry>.

Wadingthroughsoup Thu 02-Oct-14 14:43:37

Ah, this thread is great. I'm another one who has visited the States and found it difficult to order water. Also tea. I'm going on a 3 week trip next year to the US and am considering taking a stash of PG Tips.

I have an American friend who lives here in the UK with her British husband. She's been here about 10 years so has obviously absorbed many Britishisms and rarely gets confused. I love it when she declares something is 'rubbish', because it comes out in a really English accent- presumably because she had no use for the word when she was in America so has only started using it since she's been here.

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