We'll be spending a couple weeks this summer in the UK (Scotland and London), then a week in Ireland. Is there any slang common in the United States that we be best avoided in either country? For example, 'fag' is commonly used in the UK for cigarettes, but it's considered a slur in the US.

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    Suggest converting this to community wiki, and maybe migrating to english.stackexchange.com. Apr 30 '12 at 20:58
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    Calling someone a cigarette in the US would probably be considered a slur as well :)
    – Doc
    May 1 '12 at 21:32
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    Not exactly slang but movie "Free Willy" had to be renamed in the UK so not to confuse it with being porn.
    – Karlson
    Sep 20 '12 at 12:59
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    Is the flip flops/thongs thing an issue or are US/UK on the same page about that? I've seen it missunderstood to hilarious effect here in Oz -- I offered to take my friends new UK girlfriend thong shopping so she could enjoy our beautiful beaches...
    – Molomby
    Sep 27 '12 at 5:59

11 Answers 11


Avoid the use of the word "fanny", as it is slang for, ah, a woman's front bits. Be very careful when referring to your fanny pack!

Also, if an attractive member of the opposite sex asks you if you have a "rubber", double-check to make sure there aren't any chalkboards around because you're probably being asked for an eraser.

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    Dont spoil it, always gives us a giggle when Americans start talking about fanny. May 12 '12 at 7:53

US "pants" = UK "trousers".
UK "pants" = US "underpants" or for some people "shorts".

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    ^^ this. So many friends who moved to the UK, so many embarrassing moments just because of this difference.
    – Mark Mayo
    Apr 30 '12 at 23:13
  • Not quiet a rude as "fanny", but definitely relevant since we'll be stopping at places to get laundry done. Thanks! May 2 '12 at 21:11
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    None of these four words (pants, shorts, trousers, underpants) are slang as the OP requested though. Should we edit the question to not focus on slang? May 4 '12 at 4:13

I heard an "Irish Car Bomb" and "Black and Tan" are types of cocktails/drinks. These are not terms that would be understood in Ireland, nor terms that are particularly nice.

The Irish Car Bomb one is obvious. "Black and Tans" were a group of British merceneries sent over in the Irish War of Independence in 1920s which were not exactly very honourable military people. They are viewed by Irish people the same way African-Americans might view the Klan. Nike and Ben & Jerry's have made this mistake.

Your example of fag is technically correct, but remember that "fag" would also be understood as an offensive slur in the UK & Ireland aswell, mostly depending on context/tone.

  • In the US, both terms are common in bars. A 'black and tan' is half a Guiness floated on top of half a Harp or Bass beer. A car bomb is a shot of Bailey's irish cream, dropped into a Guiness, and then chugged. I wasn't aware of the Black and Tans history in Ireland, so this is good to know. May 2 '12 at 21:15
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    Imagine if there was a drink called "Twin Towers" (there isn't AFAIK). Should you ask for that in New York? That's like asking for an "Irish Car Bomb" here (the police in Ireland find about 20 bombs per year in Ireland) May 3 '12 at 9:17
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    @Rory In that case, we'd rename it to "Freedom Towers" and slap a flag on the glass.
    – user82
    May 3 '12 at 14:25
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    Your example of fag is technically correct, but remember that "fag" would also be understood as an offensive slur in the UK & Ireland aswell, mostly depending on context/tone. Yes, it's entirely dependent on context. Calling someone a fag would be an insult, even though you can refer to cigarettes as fags as well. Mar 27 '14 at 14:12
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    I have a UK friend who once mentioned that he was able to 'bum a fag' while we were in the US. What he actually meant was that he was able to score a free cigarette from a stranger; how it was interpreted by everyone else around him was something else completely.
    – Sam
    Mar 28 '14 at 0:18

I have often heard Americans use the words "poof" and "poofy" to describe what English people would call "puffy". For example: "That pillow is poofy." It should be understood that "poof" and "poofy" in England are slang for homosexual.

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    That's actually a pronunciation difference. They would still write it "puffy". May 4 '12 at 8:05
  • Correct. Offensive slang, like "faggot". May 4 '12 at 12:34
  • Faggot is pretty old fashioned term these days. May 12 '12 at 7:54
  • in most of the world, a faggot is a musical instrument :)
    – jwenting
    Oct 3 '12 at 8:33
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    A faggot is a meatball, or possibly a bundle of sticks.
    – e100
    Jan 14 '15 at 16:44

Would probably avoid trying to make jokes about "bad teeth" and horrible food as well. Brits in general don't take to kindly to jokes like that. In fact, I'm currently living in the states and some of the clichés the Americans have about us I can't understand where they even came from.

Also, if someone calls you a "yank" they don't mean to be offensive. It's quite common in the UK to refer to the Americans as yanks.

There's not a lot you guys say that offends us in general. Don't make the mistake of calling an Irish, Welsh or Scotsman English or you'll probably be ruined for ignorance.

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    The USA seems to have a steryotype of "British Bad Teeth", but I don't think that's a stereyotype that the British are aware of it, so you might get confused looks if you joke about it. Some countries are aware of the steryotypes of themselves (e.g. Irish & drinking), and might understand if you are making a joke, but the "British Bad Teeth" seems to be a USA idea. Joking about food as a USAian would be odd, since the USA isn't exactly known for it's culinary excellence (compared to say, France) Oct 2 '12 at 9:36
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    @Rory. One of the American guests on QI was once talking about bad British food, and Stephen Fry quelled him with "And this from a country that has spray-on cheese?"
    – TRiG
    Dec 14 '12 at 3:51
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    @Timothy The problem in the USA seems to be that teeth are viewed as health indicator. So US citizens in general use everything to prop up their teeth: Repairing, whitening, symmetric placement (even if it does more internal, non-visible damage to the teeth). As everyone does it, they subconsciously expect perfect white teeth and evaluate normal teeth from other cultures (Europe in general, not only British) as "bad teeth". Mar 27 '14 at 14:48

if you offer someone 'a ride', as in "I'd love to give you a ride" you will be offering something more intimate than a car journey. Use 'do you want a lift' if offering to drive someone to their destination

  • So has Uber taken off then?!
    – smci
    Aug 24 '15 at 10:49

It applies to gestures too. If you're holding up two fingers to mean two (two pints, for example), be sure to do so palm out. Holding up two fingers palm in, especially if accompanied by an upward motion, is rather rude. (In the south of Europe it indicates a cuckold; in the UK and Ireland it doesn't have that specific meaning, but it's still rude.)

You may hear fanciful stories about how this gesture originated from the Battle of Agencourt. These stories are not true.

  • US, UK & Ireland all have the "2 fingers" insult (right?) so I'd presume an american wouldn't have this problem. Jul 24 '12 at 18:13
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    @Rory. I thought the US had only the single-finger insult ("flipping the bird"). I've certainly seen an American woman use two fingers in the bar when ordering. It was perfectly clear what she meant, and the staff weren't at all offended, but I warned her anyway, for future reference, as in other cases her meaning might not be as clearly apparent.
    – TRiG
    Jul 24 '12 at 18:45
  • Oh. I did not know. Maybe you're right. (Scratch that up to another 'I thought everyone did that'). Any USAians care to comment? Jul 24 '12 at 21:00
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    USAian here. I've never seen the two-finger gesture (index and middle fingers raised) used as an insult. It normally just means "two" (or going back further, "peace" or "victory"). The only insulting gesture I know that's recognized throughout the US is the one-finger (raised middle finger, normally with palm in). Oct 3 '12 at 2:28
  • @NateEldredge: UK/Euro victory/peace sign will also be palm forward, despite the famous photo of Churchill doing it the US way.
    – e100
    Oct 4 '12 at 12:49
  • Elevator = lift
  • Garage/ parking lot = car park
  • Hot chips/ French fries = chips
  • Chips/ potato chips = crisps
  • Route is pronounced root.
  • Side walk = pavement
  • Jelly = jam
  • Jello = jelly
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    All true, but none of these would lead to embarrassing situations. May 1 '12 at 20:32
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    The US "Jelly" = UK "Jam" thing took me ages. I wonder what monstrosity a (US) "peanut butter and jelly sandwich" was until I realised it was uk "jam", not uk "jelly" May 3 '12 at 9:21
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    (Hard cider = cider. Old Rosie right at the moment, which is definitely alcoholic.) May 3 '12 at 21:56
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    I never heard (hot) chips called "chips" in the US (except in British themed fish n chip shops). Only ever "French fries" or just plain "fries". Even if they were pretty chunky, in which case they might have some adjective before "fries". May 4 '12 at 4:17
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    Yes all "cider" in the UK & Ireland is as alcoholic as beer. I always thought it strange to see Ned Flanders enthusiastically talking about cider on the Simpsons. May 4 '12 at 12:35

For those with more time thean sense :

look at the lists of false friends from wikipedia: a-l m-z Some could be offensive, others not so, but also beware of things like rhyming slang found mostly in east London.


"Restroom" may be understood, but "bathroom" means exactly what it says (you know, shower & bath) and "prop room" is unknown. What you mean is either "public conveniences" if you are extremely polite, but "toilet" and "loo" are the well known terms you search.

  • Asking for "gents" and "ladies" is OK too.
    – e100
    Jan 14 '15 at 16:42

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This may help you. copied from here: http://funnychutkule.com/3446/british-vs-american-english-words-differences/

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    Not a lot of actual slang in there though, and not a lot that needs avoiding either. Mar 27 '14 at 20:50
  • Scotch tape is the really good quality sellotape which doesn't yellow with age and peels off without tearing. A yard is a concrete area: it may be a goods yard, or may be part of a garden. (My parents' house has a yard: the garden is beyond it. Or it may be considered part of the garden, perhaps.)
    – TRiG
    Oct 6 '14 at 21:01

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