Here are 10 British words and phrases that I rarely hear in the US, or if I do, they have rather different meanings. For example, my British ground floor is an American first floor, and my first floor becomes a second floor. Cheers is another one. It can also mean thank you and goodbye in the UK. And then there are words like shirty, plonker and taking the mickey.
See 10 British words and phrases in action in a comedy sketch and get explanations here.

Click here to learn more British and American differences
Click here to see how to say cheers in some other languages

British words and phrases

Well, it’s a lovely conference hotel, isn’t it?
Yes, isn’t it great?
I hope Jay hasn’t overslept again. We never hear the alarms on our phones.
No, he’s up. I saw him at breakfast.
Oh good.
Ah Jay. You’re late.
Sorry. I thought this meeting was on the first floor.
Well, this is the second floor.
No, it isn’t.
Never mind. Have you got the artwork, Jay, for our presentation?
Yes, it was quite a challenge. I couldn’t find all the images you wanted so I had to take the photos myself.
Oh cheers, Jay.
Yeah, cheers.
Ah. Cheers. Cheers.
Show us the pictures.
Sure. Here’s the first one.
I don’t understand.
Yeah. Which picture is this?
Hmmm. Man delivering the post.
This isn’t what we had in mind.
Where are the letters?
You didn’t say anything about letters.
But we wanted a postman.
Let’s move on. Jay, show us the next one.
OK. Well this photo was very hard to take.
I don’t get it.
Me neither.
Well, you said you wanted a suitcase in a boot. Now I couldn’t find a boot big enough for a whole suitcase but I did my best.
Are you taking the mickey?
The mi… What do you mean?
We need to see a suitcase in the back of a car.
Well then why didn’t you say so?
I thought we did.
You did not.
Don’t get shirty.
Sh… What?
What’s the next one?
OK. I put a lot of effort into this one and it’s exactly what you asked for.
It’s a school boy holding a rubber. What’s wrong now?
It’s pants, Jay.
No it’s not. Its a condom.
Vicki, you’re going to have to make all these images again.
Yeah. You’re such a plonker Jay. What time is our presentation tomorrow?
8.30 in the morning. Do you want me to stop by your room and knock you up?
Oh, that would be great. Thanks Craig. What?
Hello everyone, I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And last week we showed you that story and asked you to spot the British expressions.
There were ten of them and you did really well!
Well done!
We were very impressed, and this week we’re going to explain them.
Yeah, let’s get cracking
That means let’s start and we say that in American English too.
But you don’t say ground floor when you’re talking about buildings.
We can but the ground floor of a building is the first floor. And in the UK?
It varies but usually we have a ground floor and then the NEXT floor is the first floor.
So it’s the second floor. In the US we’re logical. We start at floor one and go up.
Well we have a different logic. We start at zero. OK, what’s next?
Cheers. We say cheers when we’re making toast in American English. So when we’re lifting our glasses to drink.
We do too but cheers has some other meanings as well. It’s an informal way to say good bye.
Oh, like cheerio?
Yeah, ‘Cheers, bye!’ And it’s also an informal way to say thank you.
OK, next one. Post. That’s a piece of wood or metal that’s set in the ground.
That’s the same in British English but the post is also the mail – so letters and parcels. And a postman or postwoman is someone who delivers the post.
We’d call them a mail carrier. A mailman if it’s a man.
OK. Next?
A boot. This is a big strong shoe.
Same in the UK, but it also means the space in the back of a car where you put your bags and cases.
We call that the trunk. Taking the mickey.
Yes. This is an informal expression and it’s when you make someone look silly.
Is it unkind to take the mickey?
Not really. It means teasing and making fun of someone, but usually in a gentle way.
OK. Shirty. What does that mean?
That means cross or a little angry.
So when you’re shirty, you’re bad tempered.
Exactly. Shirty is when you’re rude because you’re annoyed.
OK, the next one. Rubber. This is an informal way of saying condom on the US – so a rubber is a contraceptive.
We just call them condoms in the UK. And we use rubbers to remove pencil marks from paper.
That’s an eraser.
Yeah, we could say eraser but it’s a bit formal. We normally say rubber.
Plonker. This is an insult right?
Yes. It’s slang. If someone is stupid we might say they’re a plonker.
It means they’re an idiot?
Yeah, or we might say they’re a wally – that’s another informal word. If someone does something stupid we might say ‘Oh, you wally’. It means stupid too.
Ah yes.
Now pants are a piece of clothing that cover our legs in American English but I know that’s different in British English.
Yeah, we call them trousers. And for us, pants are what you wear under your trousers next to your skin.
We call that underwear.
But pants can also be an adjective in British English. It’s informal and we use it to say something was rubbish. So ‘How was the film?’ ‘Oh it was pants.’
Oh so pants means very bad.
And now the last one. Knock someone up
This is informal again and it has a couple of meanings in British English.
In American English it’s slang and it means to make a girl pregnant.
We have that meaning too. But very often it means to wake someone up by knocking on their door.
That’s not what I think of when I hear it.
He must have a dirty mind. So are we done?
Yes. That was fun.
We want to say a big thank you to Craig for appearing in the comedy sketch with us.
We’ll put links to his websites below. They’re great for Spanish speakers who are learning English.
And if you enjoyed this video please share it with a friend.
And subscribe to our channel.
See you all next week everyone. Bye.
Click here to learn more British and American differences
Click here to see how to say cheers in some other languages


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11 thoughts on “10 British words and phrases that Americans don’t use”

  1. Ha! Well, yes, of course you’re right about there being English, Welsh, Scottish (and we could add Scots there which could be different) and Irish. But in linguisytics we also use the terms British English and American English to distinguish between two important variaties. Similarly we distinguish between Spanish Spanish and South American Spanish and so on. It’s painting with a broad brush, but the distinction is useful in lots of ways.

  2. English is the language spoken in the UK by its natives. American English is a version spoken in the USA.
    Words in both versions can migrate to the other version
    Pavement is another word with different meanings either side of the pond

  3. When I spent a year in US with my two young daughters, we lived on Long Island and early on I took them to the beach where I sat reading and the children were drawing. Then the elder aged six called over to her sister, to throw the rubber over to her. She did and shortly after I had a very embarrassed Anerican lady crawl over to me, to explain that ‘ over here we call it an eraser’’. She didn’t explain what a rubber was so I had to look it up when I got home!
    Later I was in a NY taxi and the driver asked how long we’d been over. I replied ‘about a fortnight’. The driver took his eyes off the road, and stared at me and the car swerved into next lane, as I gasped and cars honked, he straightened up, apologised and said it was like hearing Shakespeare talking, as he hadn’t realised people still used the word!

  4. I am in America now but as a young girl in the 70s, I remember condoms being called French Letters. That may be antiquated now 40 odd years later!

  5. I often read, and heard the American ambassador say, that British people pronounce arse as ass. This is not true.
    Arse is pronounced as it’s spelt and is used about some who is behaving badly and possibly stupidly. (To be very rude arsehole is used).
    Ass (as in donkey) is used to to describe someone foolish.

  6. Sorry I meant say in my previous post that arse is also used in the same way that Americans use ass but is perhaps less polite.

  7. Cheers meaning thank you is, or was, more a London/south of England thing. I remember hearing a Londoner saying it 40+ years ago as a child in the North and not knowing what he meant as he wasn’t holding a drink . It may have penetrated the North more now, as London ways are won’t to do (like American ways )… hard to say as I’ve been in London more than 30 years. Plonker comes from a slang word for a part of the male anatomy (not sure whether you have Guardian-level tolerance for “rude words”, or Telegraph), and is a bit rider than wally. See also twat – more rude still. In Scotland wallies (pronounced like tallies with a short a) is slang for false teeth.

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