American slang vs. british slang: terms and expressions compared (2023)

There are currently 1.5 billion English speakers in the world. Are you surprised to learn that there are 160 different regional variations of the English language?

Each uses slightly different spellings, pronunciations, and slang. Perhaps most famously, there are some differences between UK English and US English.

If you are using a mix of British and American English study materials, it can be helpful to know which words are specific to which country. Here's a quick rundown of common terms with different meanings on both sides of the Atlantic and some explanations of some common phrases.

Don't forget to check out our ultimate guide on how to learn English!

American slang vs. British Slang: Slang Terms and Words Compared

If you're traveling to England after studying American English, or vice versa, here are some common words related to everyday life, leisure, food and clothing that might have you looking up in the dictionary.

Not sure which ones to learn? Go to American words. Almost all Brits will understand you very well!

Meaning?? american slang?? british slang
boy or manCaraType
An electric light you can hold in your handFlashlightTorch
a mobile homeTrailerCaravan
Good where household waste is storedTrashTrash
The service that takes letters to your homemailmail
fuel for a carGasoline (or gas)Gasoline
The third season of the year when it starts to get coldCairFall
The body part you sit onin this / in this / in thisIn this
The hatch in the back of a car.bad-holderto throw away
A basket with wheels for transporting groceriesShopping cartFork-lift
hand pushed baby strollerstrollerbaby carriage
The part of the street beside the road where people walkFlooringFlooring
Time away from school or workVacationfestive day
The grassy area behind a house.inner courtyardGarden
A place that serves liquor, beer and other spirits.Barbar
Drunkwastedangry (explicit)
Story told with videoFilmFilm
A public space where you go to watch movies.The moviesA cinema
A sweet and crunchy snackCookieCookie
The sweet dish at the end of a meal.DessertPudding
sugary snacksSweetcandy
Hot friend potato sticksFrench friesFrench fries
A purple-black vegetableEggplantEggplant
Strong alcoholic beverages such as vodka, gin, and whiskeySpiritSpirit
A soup-style breakfast made from oatmeal.AvenaLetter
Clothes for your torso with sleeves.Sweaterponte
What Babies Wear On Their ButtsHoneycombHoneycomb
sports shoesZapatillascoaches
women's underwearPantiesPanties
A garment that covers the legs.PantsPants

american slang phrases

American slang vs. british slang: terms and expressions compared (1)

Here are some common American slang words with some notes on their origins. Looking for something more Internet-specific for your social media feeds? Look at thislist of commonly abbreviated words for the web.

Take a look at ourspecialist english teachersTwo United States.

1. For the birds

Meaning: worthless, meaningless, useless.

Your opinion of my jacket isfor the birds. He doesn't know anything about good style.

This phrase dates back to World War II. The soldiers noticed that the birds were pecking at the horse's feces in search of seeds to eat. The original sentence contained an expletive;don't worry about it, yeahShit for the birds."

2. Jonesing

Meaning: Having a strong desire or desire for something.

Let's take a break, I'mjonesingfor good coffee.

"Jonesing" seems to have something to do with the common American surname "Jones". The truth is much darker: the term was originally used to describe heroin addiction. In the late 1960s, the word "Jonesing" was coined to refer to the strong feeling of needing more heroin after taking a hit.

3. Take my goat

Meaning: To make someone very angry, annoyed and upset.

HeI have my goat.I almost yelled at him in the street.

This is pretty old-fashioned American slang. It's really funny that it sounds so cute because it's used to talk about tantrums!

Many people think that this expression comes from a horse racing tradition. In the old days, it was normal to put a goat in a horse's stall before the race. Goats have a calming influence on horses and were used to help them relax. If someone had "grabbed the goat", the horse would not have a little friend to calm him down and could become out of control and nervous.

4. Spill the beans

Meaning: To reveal someone's private or secret information.

she hasspilled the beansabout the timing of her sister's birthday party.

There are a few theories about the origin of this phrase. One theory is that it comes from a voting process in ancient Greece. Faced with a decision, people voted by putting beans in the pot: white beans for yes, black beans for no. Therefore, if someone “spilled the beans”, the votes were lost (or at least, in a messy pile on the floor).

Another theory suggests that the phrase first appeared as a combination of two older phrases, "shed blood" and "spoil the bean".

5. Pass the ball

Meaning: transfer your responsibility to someone else.

Ralph didn't want to do the paperwork, sopassed the ballto your assistant.

This phrase comes from the world of poker. Years ago, there was a tradition for poker players to have a knife made from the antler of a deer. "The dollar" was placed in front of the person whose turn it was to deal the cards. If a player chose not to deal, he could "pass the ball" to another player, then it would be his turn.

6. To do a rain test

Meaning: when you can't do something now but want to politely decline the offer and do it later.

I'm busy this weekend so I can't meet for a rain check?

The phrase All-American has its origins in an All-American sport: baseball. When it rained heavily, a baseball game was postponed to a later date. Ticket holders received a “rain check”, which was a voucher to watch another game.

7. Being in love with someone

Meaning: A lighthearted way of saying that you have a strong affection for someone.

i think danielhas a crushin smooth. Did you see how she blushed when she was talking?

The etymology of "passion" in the Romantic sense goes back a long way... an 1884 diary of Isabella Maud Rittenhouse, who wrote: "Wintie is crying because her lover is gone." It has been suggested that "crush" may have been a variation of the word "crush", because in the 1870s "crush" was a popular way of saying someone was in love, and to crush something was to crush it.

british slang phrases

American slang vs. british slang: terms and expressions compared (2)

Here is a list of some weird British slang words and their history. If you really want to impress Oliver Twist on your next trip to London, you might be interested in this one.longest list.

Take a look at ourspecialist english teachersFrom Great Britain.

1. Parts and Bobs

Meaning: Various random things.

You must finally fix everythingbits e shakeson the shelves in our basement.

"Bits and bobs" may also be called "baubles", "bit by bit", or "garbage". This comes from an old-fashioned way of talking about small changes. In the early 20th century, the word "bit" was slang for a coin, and the word "bob" was slang for a shilling. The British often talk about "bits and bobs", so this is a very useful phrase to learn.

2. Taking Mickey

Meaning: make fun of someone, annoy him a lot.

I don't want to meet your British friend because he's constantlytaking Mickey!

Firstly, this phrase has nothing to do with Mickey Mouse, although it might be a good way to remember it!

"Taking the Mickey" comes from a variety of east London English called cockney rhyming slang. In this dialect, words, usually swear words, are replaced with other words that rhyme with them.

The phrase “take the Mickey” was originally longer: “to take the Mickey Bliss”. No one is sure who "Mickey Bliss" was, but he may never have existed. The important thing is that the name rhymes with a British expletive that means urine, “p*ss”. The expression "take the p*ss" also means to make fun of someone.

3. Bob is your uncle

Meaning: Ready! You made it effortless! This is a phrase used to emphasize how easily something can be completed or accomplished.

What you need is to watch these videos and,bob is your uncle, you will have all the necessary details.

There are several ideas about how this word came to be. It probably grew out of a famous case of favoritism in British politics.

"Bob" is an informal nickname for "Robert". In the 1880s, there was a British Prime Minister named Robert Cecil, and people sometimes referred to him as "Bob" if they spoke of him disrespectfully. In 1886, Prime Minister Robert Cecil gave his nephew a powerful position in the government. The other ministers remarked, "That man only got that job because Bob is his uncle!" and this sarcastic slang was born.

4. By / by by

Meaning: blow, show disrespect to someone or something.

VoyAt the highat that party tonight, I have a lot to do.

I'm so mad at Katie forpushing me away

This very modern slang is common among young people in London. You can also talk about "pushing the other away," which means refusing to give someone the attention they expect.

The term was popularized by London rapper Tempa-T, with his 2009 song, "Next Hype". It is possible that "par" comes from the French term Faux Pas, which means "a false step against the norm".

5. Swamp Pattern

Meaning: An adjective that describes something basic, functional, but not exciting.

it was just aswamp patternhostel, but it was too expensive because of the location.

In the UK, "swamp" is slang for toilet. However, calling something a "swamp pattern" is not an insult. It simply means that, like a bathroom, it serves an essential purpose, but it's not exciting, pretty, or special.

6. Eviscerado

Meaning: When you feel extremely disappointed or upset because something has happened.

Eraguttedwhen Chelsea lost the cup final. John Terry should have taken that penalty.

The normal term "gutted" means to remove an animal's internal organs before cooking it. So it might be pretty clear to see the link between such a violent action and a word meaning "extremely disappointed". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this term originated from prison slang.

7. Boring as dishwashing water

Meaning: Something extraordinarily boring.

I wish I hadn't seen that lecture online...opaque like dishwasher.

This phrase originally comes from the simile “boring as ditch water”, which compares something to murky water by the roadside. Perhaps due to a pronunciation error, at some point the phrase was changed to "dishwater". Likewise, this water is the grayish, dirty water that remains after washing dishes.

Now you know!

Learning the slang of any country can be downright disconcerting (hard to understand). However, more often than not, the weirdest slang is the one the locals are most excited to teach you. If you spend any time in the US or the UK, you're sure to run into people who want to discuss these weird phrases and more.

Do you want to know as much slang as possible before a trip to New York or London? It will certainly help you communicate more naturally with locals! Try to book some lessons with a tutor from the country you plan to visit. He cansearch the list of Preply tutors by "country of origin"to find a tutor who is a natural expert in the language you need to know.

Whether you want to speak like an American or learn a British accent, get a tutor and, "Bob is your uncle", you'll have a perfect command of slang in no time!

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