Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Be Careful Whom You Call "Foxy"

Are you having a "storm in a teapot" or a "tempest in a teacup"?
Depends whether you are a Brit or an American.
Photo Copyright Janet Cameron
Sometimes misunderstandings about words from across the Atlantic can cause great puzzlement, humour and even offence. This is particularly relevant when the words used are identical but contain different meanings, as opposed to separate words for the same thing.
A classic example of the former is the word “billion” which, in UK, used to mean a million million whereas in America it meant a thousand million. Britain has now adopted the American usage. One can only imagine the misunderstandings that might have occurred before the meaning was aligned.

The Same Word with Different Meanings
  • Be careful whom you call “foxy.” In Britain; this means someone who is sexually attractive, while in some parts of America it’s a person with a fox’s legendary slyness and cunning.
  • "Peckish" people in America are irritable, while in Britain they’re just dying for a decent meal.
  • How you use the word “off-colour” on your travels can be a sensitive issue. For Americans it’s an accusation of indecency, while in Britain it simply suggests you’re not in great shape health-wise.
Different Words, Same Meaning
  • In UK, "knickers" are women’s and girl’s undergarments, while in America, they are "plus-fours" or "breeches."
  • An American “hickey” is a UK “love-bite."
  • American “bangs” are a “fringe” in UK.
  • An American “barrette” is a British “hair-slide.”
  • In games, the UK “noughts and crosses” is “tick tack toe” in US, while “blackjack” is "pontoon" and a British child's "climbing frame" is called “monkey bars.”
Words that Might Cause Offence
  • A "rubber" in Britain is an eraser, while in America, the plural “rubbers” means galoshes. Confusingly, “rubber” in both countries is the colloquial word for “condom.” Anyone within earshot could easily assume that a reference made out of apparent context applies to the word condom.
  • Occasionally, an American has surprised a British woman by referring to her “fanny,” meaning her bottom. In UK this is colloquial noun for a more intimate part of the body.
Picturesque Language
  • The UK’s “storm in a teapot” is, in US, is a “tempest in a teacup.”
  • The UK bride’s “bottom drawer” is the US bride’s “hope chest.”
  • Clever UK gardeners have “green fingers” whereas US gardeners manage with just one digit, a “green thumb.”
  • UK women who like big hair “backcomb” but in US they “tease” their tresses.
  • UK children love “gobstoppers” but in America they prefer “jawbreakers.”
  • British households probably contain "cream crackers and balloon glasses" which are, respectively, "soda crackers and snifters." Both nations use the word "frying pan" although Brits should not be confused by the additional American term "skillet," which also means "frying pan."
An Awkward Idiom
  • If you are a Brit, never say to an American: “Keep your pecker up.” Of course, you only mean “cheer up” but Americans use that word, colloquially, to signify the penis.
Wrong Directions
  • In Britain, the ground level of a building is known as the “ground floor,” but in America it’s the “first floor.” Therefore, the floor above ground in Britain is the first-floor “flat”, while it’s the second-floor “apartment” in America.
  • When you are gazing at the sky with an astronomer from across the Atlantic and confused about where to look, remember it’s the “Plough” in Britain and the “Big Dipper” in the US.
  • A Brit invited to step into an American’s “yard” should not be surprised to find a beautiful garden. In Britain, a yard is usually an enclosed space, often used as a commercial enterprise, like a builder’s yard, or a storage dump for railways tracks and sidings.
A Cause for Celebration
  • The best two words ever to cross the Atlantic from America to Britain are “senior citizen,” a far more respectful noun to describe what Brits still, occasionally, describe as an “old-age pensioner.”
Thank you, America, for that!

The Oxford Manual of Style, Edited and compiled by R.L. Ritter, Oxford University Press, 2002.

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