Use the Yankee-to-Brit dictionary
September 18, 2004
The next time you travel to England — I’m sure you do every year or so, don’t you? — don’t wait until the last minute to brush up on a few phrases so you can find bathrooms and order beer, not necessarily in that order. After all, they speak a foreign language in the mother country, and you don’t want to spend your time looking up each word and be pointed out as just another dumb Yank from Cleveland.
So today we’ll look at a few examples of the king’s English, which is spoken in Britain, and compare it with the president’s English, which is spoken in Landry, Texas. For instance, in the clothing department:
• Anorak: This item is a waterproof, hooded coat with a zipper found all over the world. In America we call it a slicker. A British mum would say, “Now Percy, zip up your Anorak.” And you wondered how we beat them in 1776.
• Balaclava: This item is used in America mostly by bank robbers. We call it a ski mask. You know, it’s that knitted woolen thing that covers your entire head and has little holes for your eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s not recommended for dates.
• Boiler suit: This item protects other clothes from oil and dirt in nasty working conditions. Originally it was worn by men working in boiler rooms. Over here we call them coveralls.
• Boob tube: All you kids leave the room now. Go on. Git. Are they gone? OK, well, in England a boob tube is an elastic thing that covers, well, boobs. They’re called “tube tops” in this country, except in California where they call them ... umm ... I can’t use that word, because this is a family newspaper. Incidentally, a boob tube here is a television set. When you visit England, don’t tell them you want to watch the boob tube. They’re funny that way.
• Brace: In England this is the metal stuff you wear on your teeth so you can chase girls later with impunity. Don’t mix them up with “braces.”
• Braces: That’s what we call suspenders. Braces hold up a Brit’s britches. Suspenders hold up hose on a British lady. We call them garter belts. Well, I don’t wear them, but I’ve heard that’s what they’re called. I think I’ll end this.
• Bum bag: British women will snicker and men will get huffy when you mention a fanny pack in England. I’m not going to tell you what a fanny is in England.
• Cagoule: This is a light jacket in America — you know, one of those nylon things coaches wear. Don’t ask me how to pronounce this word. I can’t find it in the dictionary.
• Cardie: This is a cardigan sweater that buttons down the front, not a poker hustler.
• Dressing gown: Robe to you.
• Dungarees: Overalls for kids. Grown men don’t wear dungarees in England.
• Frock: This is not a dirty expression. It’s a dress in England. Your posh frock is your best dress.
• Jersey: This is what we call a heavy sweater. It’s also worn by our football players. In England it’s the name of an island. Cows raised there are called jersey cows. Well, duh. The capitol of New Jersey is Trenton.
• Jumper: Not an athlete, this is yet another name for a sweater over yonder.
• Knickers: This is what we call ladies’ panties. Be wary of this one.
• Mack: This is a Macintosh or raincoat invented by a guy named Macintosh and most often worn by dirty old men and flashers.
• Muffler: A big, fluffy scarf. In America if someone asks if you want to wear his muffler, back off.
• Nappy: A diaper to you.
• Pants: When in London, don’t say, “Boy, I really like your pants.” Pants in England are men’s underwear. Same for ladies, although knickers has the edge. If you’re a doll visiting England and you’re wearing a short skirt, don’t tell someone you’re cold and should have worn pants. You’ll start a riot.
• Pinny: This is English slang for a pinafore or an apron or even a jumper. Keeps egg juice off your dress.
• Polo neck: We call them turtle necks. Either way, the main thing to remember is, don’t put one on without first removing your glasses.
• Pullover: The British name for a sweater you pull over your head.
• Handy: This is what we call a cell phone. I think that’s spiffy.
• Pumps or plimsolls: These are sneakers in England. Pumps are black and elasticized. Plimsolls were invented by a guy with that name, just as Nikes were invented by a Mr. Nike and Reeboks were invented by Mr. Reebok.
• Tights: In ladies apparel, this is what we call pantyhose.
• Trainers: Yet another British word for sneakers.
• Trousers: This is what we call pants.
• Vest: This is what’s worn by old men and someone who’s a nesh (a wimp.) We call them undershirts.
• Waistcoat: This is what we call a vest over here in the land of the free. It’s worn under your jacket. If you wear it over your jacket, you’re out of fashion.
• Wellies: These are rubber boots named after the Duke of Wellington, who liked dry feet. Over here we call them overshoes or galoshes.
There are other categories of misspoken English besides clothing in Great Britain, but I won’t go into them today. Most of them are dirty.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.