British vs. American phraseology

In a previous post, I took on some rather straightforward differences in American and British English vocabulary, namely individual words. After several incidents where I’ve used a phrase from the wrong side of the pond, I’ve decided it’s time to move up to the next level and provide you, dear readers, with a collection of phrases that are unique to one dialect, but have an equivalent in the other.

British Phrase: ‘Taking the piss’

American equivalent: ‘Making fun’

Examples: ‘The lads were really taking the piss out of Ian for wearing a West Ham shirt after that drubbing last week.’ ‘ Those girls were making fun of Morgan for calling a water fountain a ‘bubbler’.”

British Phrase: ‘Having a go at’

American equivalent: ‘Tearing into’

Examples: ‘Wow, Nigel was really having a go at George over his comment about benefits.’ “Geez, Mike was just tearing into Eric for voting for a third party.”

This bloke was really banging on about the weather before taking the piss out of me for my accent

This bloke was banging on about the weather before taking the piss out of me for my accent

British Phrase: ‘Banging on’

American Equivalent: ‘Ranting and raving’

Examples: “It’s no use trying to talk to Gareth about Remembrance Day; he’ll only start banging on about sacrifice and duty and patriotism.” “Ugh, try not to start a conversation with Todd; he just can’t stop ranting and raving about the new food trucks outside his office.”

British Phrase: ‘Faffing about’

American equivalent: ‘Messing around’

Examples: “You didn’t tell me someone had brought a Victoria Sponge! And here I was faffing about, trying to open these Jaffa cakes.” “Amber doesn’t mess around: she goes straight for the hard liquor.”

Note: ‘Faffing about’ is usually synonymous with ‘Arsing around.’

British Phrase: ‘Jump the queue’

American equivalent: ‘Cut in line’

Examples: “I can’t believe that portly bloke there jumped the queue to get in the cinema.” “Some people have a lot of nerve, cutting in line like that.”

British Phrase: ‘Get on’

American Phrase: ‘Get along’

Examples: “I  like Ashley; he and I get on really well.” “I just really like Ashley; she and I get along really well.”

British Phrase: ‘Cock up’

American Phrase: ‘Screw up’

Examples: “Leave it to Virgin Trains to massively cock up our reservation.” “Joe’s Guns really screwed up my online order.”

And the list goes on. But these are just the easy ones to explain: there are plenty of  phrases that have no direct equivalent in the other dialect. Can anyone  translate “Swings and roundabouts” into American English?

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2 responses to “British vs. American phraseology

  1. Jumping the Queue is the title of a novel by Mary Wesley, a British writer whose several novels deserve to be more widely known (says this librarian).

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