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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.

blueshoes Mon 07-Apr-14 18:02:32

Fluffy, loved the "period" anecdote.

Juan, that must have been a long time ago. Do Americans still use the word "draft" for money <imagines telex machines and travellers cheques>. I work in a US law firm and I don't think any US lawyer would mistake what we mean when we say "drafts". However, I would love to hear a proper Texan accent ... <cheeks in hands>

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 07-Apr-14 18:05:03

I do think "coals to Newcastle" would be understood by most reasonably well read Americans.

blueshoes Mon 07-Apr-14 18:06:30

Following from "rubber", Americans use the words "prophylactic" in a rather disconcertingly normalised sense which would send the average Brit into a fit of sniggers, like "we need to put up a prophylactic wall to separate the teams".

MardyBra Mon 07-Apr-14 18:13:36

Why do some British actors end up taking on a slightly odd tone when working in the States? It's almost like they are modifying their speech so the American audiences can understand them.

I'm thinking Tracy Ullman in Ally McBeal, the British woman in LA Law, and not forgetting the amazingly weird accent from Jane Leeves (Daphne) in Frasier.

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 07-Apr-14 18:16:44

blueshoes So true. I learned that the hard way in the UK a couple of years ago when I was overhead telling DH before setting off on a long walk that that I was taking a prophylactic arthritis pain tablet. grin

JuanFernandezTitTyrant Mon 07-Apr-14 18:20:30

blue no it was less than 12 months ago, but I am a banking lawyer and they were Texans

My boss was most amused to be addressed as Sir throughout the call.

blueshoes Mon 07-Apr-14 18:24:12

On a hiding to nothing
Have his guts for garters
Bees knees
Feeling poorly
To fancy someone
Thick (as in stupid)
Dogs bollocks
Taking the mickey

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 07-Apr-14 18:26:39

Another subtle difference, though not affecting understanding, is that Americans almost universally use the name of a state as an adjective, so "Texas lawyer" and "Texas accent." Occasionally I will come across an American character in a British book saying "Texan lawyer, etc." which strikes a slightly inauthentic note.

blueshoes Mon 07-Apr-14 18:29:40

scones <heehee - childish>

Juan, I guess the Texan lawyers were not used to high finance. I can imagine them using "sir" or "esquire" ...

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 07-Apr-14 18:31:12

Bees knees is also an American expression as is bonk. Shag made it across the pond some years ago and is pretty well known now.

BertieBotts Mon 07-Apr-14 18:32:59

I think that British people tend to understand more US slang than Americans understand British slang.

I live abroad so most expats are American. The pavement thing is generally an issue when talking to children rather than adults.

I teach EFL and it's not that often that I have to say "Use X in BrEng but Y in AmEng." Certainly not once a lesson but several times in a week.

blueshoes Mon 07-Apr-14 18:33:34

I guess from the Spy who Shagged me ... <smile>

blueshoes Mon 07-Apr-14 18:37:02

Some US expressions which had me stumped:

Blowing smoke up each other asses
It's a crapshoot
Where the rubber meets the road

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 07-Apr-14 18:42:19

When I was a student in the UK, one of my American friends named Miranda had to be counseled not to use her nickname due to her propensity to bounce up to people, stick out her hand and announce in her thick Mississippi accent "Hi, I'm Randy."

ohmymimi Mon 07-Apr-14 21:17:33

blueshoes I get the origins of crapshoot and rubber/road expressions, but, 'smoke up the ass' - where the heck does that come from?

PacificDogwood Mon 07-Apr-14 21:24:20

'Randy' grin

I got caught out saying 'OMG, I'm SO pissed' here in the UK when I meant 'pissed off'. Small, but important difference in meaning… blush.

English, either one of them, is not my first language so I am v aware that I have to be careful with slang or colloquialisms… 'Tis a minefield.

bluebayou Mon 07-Apr-14 21:30:27

Omymimi , do believe it means giving each other B/Shit

NoGoodAtHousework Mon 07-Apr-14 21:36:06

The funniest we had was 'cheeky'. They couldn't get it at all. And when we were asked what it meant all I could come up with was 'well it!'

bamboobutton Mon 07-Apr-14 21:38:32

On holiday in NY about. 10 yes ago and can remember a couple;

1). Waiter couldn't understand 'water'. We repeated it 4 times until american sil said 'wadder' to the waiterhmm

2) at the air port coming home assistant in radiohut, or something, couldn't understand 'batteries'. Again we repeated it over again but gave up and did a massively overacted 'badddddeeeerrriiieeeesss' in an over the top exaggerated us accent, which he understood.

Was very hmm

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 07-Apr-14 21:45:31



DowntonTrout Mon 07-Apr-14 21:50:00

DD was most amused on a Caribbean beach when an American lady started proclaiming very loudly to her DCs-

"I've got a sandy fanny! Look at Mommys sandy fanny!"

knickernicker Mon 07-Apr-14 21:50:03

Not about language but at Boston airport, I asked for a cup of tea at a coffee shop. it was anathema to themi thought Boston was known as the most British place in America.I bet Frasier could get a cup of tea if he wanted one.

HerRoyalNotness Mon 07-Apr-14 21:56:23

bamboo I have found that here the T is replaced by a 'd' sound. For instance we live in Katy, but everyone calls it Kady. Most confusing, as I couldn't work out where this Kady was before we moved here.

SwedishEdith Mon 07-Apr-14 22:00:44

What do Americans say if they fancy someone? Or how would they say "He really fancies himself"?

Raxacoricofallapatorius Mon 07-Apr-14 22:01:02

Do they watch much British TV in America?

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