War of Words! British vs. American English

I once heard it said that English is a language that beats up other languages and then rustles through their pockets for spare words. I think this is true, but what’s the use? In many cases, American English and British English already have different words for the same thing!

It’s time to pit those words against each other and determine, ONCE AND FOR ALL, which is better. I realise that I am not an objective judge in this matter. But hey, them’s the brakes.

Round 1: Fries versus Chips

‘Fries’ better describes the process those sticks of potato have gone through before arriving on your plate. This name is more descriptive (although the addition of ‘French’ does compromise its accuracy; good thing they didn’t want to go to war with us in Iraq!) Advantage: American

Round 2: Chips versus Crisps

There are no pictures of chips on this page

Once again, I go with accuracy of description. Crisps is a much better descriptor of those thin and — dare I say it — crispy potato wafers found decked out in salt and vinegar or other artificial flavours. Advantage: British

You’ll notice that this schema envisages getting rid of the word ‘chips’ altogether. So much the better to avoid cross-cultural confusion.

Round 3: Semi-truck versus Lorry

If you are going to describe that vehicle in terms of its truck-ness, then it should not be a semi- but a mega-. Circumvent this whole problem by using the much more delightful ‘lorry.’ If it has a trailer attached to it, you can use the even more delightful “articulated lorry.” Advantage: British

Round 4: Sweater versus Jumper

Whenever I wear that heavy woolen garment, I often sweat. I seldom feel like jumping. Advantage: American

Round 5: Cart versus Trolley

I suppose this is just my problem, but while ‘trolley’ sounds much more delightful than ‘cart,’ that is because it evokes images of streetcars in San Francisco and of Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood. But as it refers, in this case, to an empty wheeled basket in which to put items at the store, ‘trolley’ leaves me with a sense of disappointment. A shopping ‘cart’ makes no pretense about what it is. Advantage: American

Round 6: Sneakers versus Trainers. 

Neither one of these is especially convincing. Those athletic shoes don’t exactly look like the footwear of choice of spies. But also, most people wearing such shoes don’t seem to be training for anything in particular. Nevertheless, someone wearing trainers in the UK is probably more likely to be engaged in some sort of athletic activity than someone wearing sneakers in the US is to be stealthily creeping around. Advantage: British

Round 7a: Can versus Tin

Round 7b: Can versus Bin

I didn’t realise how much Americans overuse the word ‘can’ until I came to Britain. We use the same word to describe the tin that food comes in, the bin that we throw trash in, and we also seem more prone to use that word when we ought to use ‘may.’ Advantage: British

Round 8:Gasoline versus Petrol

Americans often shorten ‘gasoline’ to ‘gas’, which becomes especially confusing when ‘natural gas’ enters into the discussion, as it is wont to do in discussions of fossil carbons. Petrol can only mean one thing, however: petroleum. Advantage: British

Round 9: Eggplant versus Aubergine

Plants don’t lay eggs, silly! Also, there’s no shame in borrowing a word from French. Advantage: British

British English is pulling away! At the risk of opening a can of worms, I invite you to propose other lexical showdowns!!!


7 responses to “War of Words! British vs. American English

  1. Trunk vs. boot. I’ve seen photos of early automobiles with real trunks attached, a covered place to put things. A boot is a piece of footwear. Advantage American.

  2. I believe you mean “at the risk of opening a *tin* of worms.” Although that really makes it sound like you’re planning on eating them. Advantage: American in this idiom?

  3. What about loo vs bathroom, restroom, powder room,, etc? I would have to say Advantage British, due to the fact we have too many names for the same thing. Thoughts?

  4. What about chap or mate vs. friend? Chap definition: a crack in or a sore roughening of the skin caused by exposure to wind or cold. Mate definition: one of a pair. Friend definition: a favored companion. Advantage American.

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