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On being separated by a common tongue

01:00 Wed 17th Jul 2002 |

The film Gregory's Girl had subtitles when it was released in the USA. It was felt that broad Scottish accents might be too much for viewers in Poughkeepsie and Aurora. Those viewers might also have needed a translation of what exactly was being said. Despite the very best efforts of Hollywood and the music biz, we remain two nations "separated by a common tongue", as the following short and incomplete list suggests.

The Bill

As soon as an American gets used to the idea of calling for the bill in a restaurant (rather than the cheque) they will find themselves calling for the police instead. No-one said this would be easy.


Food apart, older ladies on one side of the Pond wear buns on their heads, while over in the US of A their younger sisters' buns are generally firmer, tanned ... and bringing up the rear. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, their buttocks.


Brits might be getting used to the idea that chips are actually French fries (how silly of us to get it wrong all this time!) only to hear Americans referring to chips... when they mean crisps. Confused Maybe it's time to start that diet.

Clever dick

Let's not get into explanations that will just have us all blushing, and just presume we know how and why people might look surprised to hear this expression...


Being disrespectful to a don at Oxford is far less likely to get you into trouble than doing the same in New Jersey.


see Clever Dick!


A bit archaic as the British term for a nose and would perhaps have followed the same path into the history books as US slang for a (young) woman's breasts were it not for a fast-foods chain called Hooters that has just arrived in Britain. Needless to say the waitresses all have lovely noses.


OK so most people in both countries know that a joint is slang for a cannabis cigarette, but Americans can get mighty put out when offered a roast joint on Sunday afternoons. The ones that say Yes a little too quickly need to be watched...

Keep your pecker up

see Faggot!


Americans wear their pants on the outside. Haven't you seen Superman recently


Picture the scene. Doting American parents call their baby daughter by this name. 20 years later, she's all grown up, travelling through Europe and wondering what all the young men mean when they giggle and ask if she's "Randy by name, randy by nature "

Stand for election

Translates best into American as 'Run for election'. Probably doesn't mean their politicians are fitter or faster than ours.


see Keep your pecker up!


In the UK we've shortened the word 'veterinarian'. In the States they've shortened the word 'veteran' (as in 'war veteran'). Thankfully there can be few occasions when truly embarrassing misunderstandings arrive.

Do you have a question about Phrases & Sayings?