Do we really speak the same language?

Four days in the UK have taught me a lot: always add $0.30 per pound spent to convert pounds to dollars, look right-left-right before crossing the street, and don’t worry about adding tax to purchases: it’s already included. I have also just begun to learn that although I might speak the same language as those in England, we don’t speak the same language. I thought I knew enough differences between the two languages, but I found myself asking my cousins for clarification when they said words, sometimes words that were even new to my vocabulary!

It wasn’t necessarily that we were saying different things, it’s just that words in American English have come to mean different things than they do for British English. As each language has evolved independently from the other, we have grown to have more and more differences. Just as English has changed from the time that Shakespeare lived, so has both American and British English. I found that most people in the UK have traveled to the US and therefore know the American words for things, whereas I usually had to ask for the American counterpart to British words (usually just for clarification). Below are a few of the words that I have run into so far. It will be interesting to see what I continue to hear in Scotland, as there are some words used that are not even English!

  • “Brollie”: a short-hand word for umbrella
  • “Car park”: parking lot
  • “Semi-detached”: a group of two houses together, what I refer to as a duplex
  • “Jumper”: sweater
  • “Laurie/Van”: words for small and large cars (no word for truck exists)
  • “Diary”: a calendar or planner used for dates, either paper or digital
  • “University”: the same word as in the US, however “college” is not used, also “school” refers to children under the age of 18
  • “Dummy”: pacifier
  • “Nappie”: diaper
  • “Estate Agent”: relator or real estate agent, responsible for both selling and renting homes
  • “First floor”: literally starts at the FIRST floor (there is no “ground” floor)
  • “Holiday”: vacation

And then of course, there are the ones that everyone knows, such as biscuit and queue!


Emily McIntyre is a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Marketing and Entrepreneurship with a Spanish minor. Emily is involved with several student organizations, including UMKC Enactus, which uses entrepreneurship to solve needs in the community. She’s looking forward to studying abroad this summer with the UMKC Honors Program in Scotland, where she plans to explore more of her family heritage and country of origin.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.