Roslyn’s Guide to British Vocabulary

The English language is neither black, nor white. It can be fifty shades of confusing, and even when you travel to an “English” speaking country, you may find yourself lost in an entirely new kind of translation.

Living in England, or even travelling there for that matter, means stepping into a completely different culture. Despite speaking the same language, there are numerous differences that arise in both vocabulary and grammar (in addition to accents, of course) that contrast the word bank of the average North American.

You’ll be walking down the street, and before you know it, you’ll be struggling to come up with an answer when someone asks you if they can borrow 50 “P” for bus money. Fifty what, you’ll ask yourself? “P”, like the letter P? And then you’ll kick yourself later when you find out that they only meant 50 cents.

Later, you’ll be on the phone with a friend who lives in Yorkshire, and they’ll invite you over. “Come for tea”, they’ll say, “we’re having a roast and you can invite any of your housemates”. That’s odd, you’ll think. You’ll go along with it anyway, of course, because why would you ever turn down a free home cooked meal while studying abroad? You’ll arrive at 5:30 p.m. as requested, only to realize that there will be no “tea” until after tea, which really means dinner to some people in Yorkshire.

At some point, you’ll also try to order a sweet at a café to go along with your traditional English black tea. You’ll ask for the oat square behind the glass that’s been calling your name and point to it excitedly. The waitress will say, “You mean the flapjack?”, to which you’ll respond, “No, no pancakes please, just the square”. A confusing back and fourth staring contest will prompt the waitress to say, “Are you sure you don’t want a cream tea instead?”, which will throw you into a whole new ball park of bewilderment. Five minutes later and you’ll finally understand that she was only trying to offer you a cup of English black tea with a scone on the side.


The English language is as straightforward as it can be confusing. Despite similar appearances and even similar interests at times, the English use an entirely new vocabulary that will leave you giggling, baffled, and at times, fascinated as well. It can be daunting to live amongst a new culture as a minority, especially when it comes to dialogue. However, differences such as these should not deter you from seeing casual conversations as an opportunity to learn more about British culture and its origins. Diversity is the hidden gem of travel and studying abroad. On the flip side, it can also be the most intimidating part of your exchange. Intimidation aside, cultural diversity will not only widen your perspective, but it will also challenge you to venture outside your comfort zone; two values that can be learned from very few other experiences in life.

Before you head to England for your study abroad, check out these 40 words and terms that you’ll encounter on a daily basis:

British English North American English
Dinner* Lunch
Tea* Dinner
Boot Trunk (of a car)
Bonnet Hood (of a car)
Motorway Highway/freeway
Crisps Chips
Cookie Chocolate chip cookie
Biscuits Cookies (other than chocolate chip)
Queue Line up
Black pudding Blood sausage
Loo Bathroom/restroom
Lorry Semi-truck
Module Course/class
My school My faculty
Aubergine** Eggplant
Courgette** Zucchini
Jumper Sweater
Knickers Underwear
Can I help you love? No substitute–being called “love” is commonplace, especially in the North.
Pence Cents
Quid Dollar
Sweet potato Yam (the orange one)
Chips French fries
Fit Good looking
Daft Stupid
Rocket Arugula
Cereal bar Granola bar
Flapjack Square/bar (i.e. with oats)
Bloke Man/fellow
Lads “The boys”
We will be there shortly I will be there shortly—it’s not unusual for people in Yorkshire to refer to themselves as “we”.
Rubbish Garbage
Bin Garbage can
Car park Parking lot
Dodgy Sketchy
Taking the piss To be sarcastic or make fun of something
Housemates Roommates
Mobile Cellphone
Cream tea English tea and a scone with clotted cream and jam
Flat Apartment/house

*England’s way of confusing you at meal times (only in Yorkshire)

** Even Microsoft word doesn’t recognize these as words, but it’s probably because they’re actually French!

by Roslyn Kent – University of Calgary – Canada


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