Sun, Apr 08, 2012 - Page 18 News List

US and British English to collide at this year’s London Olympic Games


People enter a Tube train at London Bridge Station on March 14.

Photo: Bloomberg

The lorry driver taking kit to the football pitch was so knackered he pulled into the lay-by near the petrol station for a quick kip.

Huh? For readers of American English, that translates as: “The truck driver delivering uniforms to the soccer field was so tired he pulled into the rest area near the gas station for a nap.”

As playwright George Bernard Shaw once observed, England and the US are two countries divided by a common language. That trans-Atlantic linguistic divide will be magnified by Olympic proportions this summer when an estimated 250,000 Americans come to town for the London Games.

Yes, the Internet, television, movies, global travel and business have blurred language differences, and many people in the US and UK are familiar with those bizarre figures of speech from both sides of the pond.

Yet important differences remain, prompting this rough guide to just a few of the potential colloquial conundrums that await baffled American visitors to the old country. A caveat: This is not a definitive, all-inclusive list and doesn’t take into account different spelling, accents, Cockney rhyming slang or expletives:


Those are “chips” that go with your burger, instead of “fries.” You’d like some “potato chips?” Those are “crisps.”

A soft drink or soda? That would be a “fizzy drink.” A “soft drink” can refer to any nonalcoholic beverage. If you want the hard stuff, go to the “off-license,” rather than a “liquor store.”

If the waiter asks if you’d like “pudding,” he’s referring to dessert in general, not necessarily the soft treat that Bill Cosby once pitched in TV ads. By the way, if you see “black pudding” or “blood pudding” on the menu — well, that’s not dessert at all. It’s sausage.

A “cracker” isn’t only what you put cheese on. It’s also a very good thing, as in: “That goal was a cracker!” It can be an adjective, too: “London will put on a cracking opening ceremony.”


Let’s talk “sport.” That’s singular in Britain, not like sports in the US.

Those “blokes” (guys) hawking 100m final tickets? They’re not “scalpers,” they’re “ticket touts.” Incidentally, if you can’t get any tickets, you can always watch on “telly,” where the commercials are called “adverts.”

You’ll definitely do a lot of “queuing” (waiting in line), especially at Olympic venues for security checks. Whatever you do, don’t “jump the queue.”

Going to watch the finish of the marathon or cycling road race? Yes, the venue is the “Mall.” No, that’s not a shopping center. It’s that iconic boulevard leading from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. And it’s pronounced the “mal.”

Headed to the Olympic Stadium to watch “track and field?” The preferred term in England is “athletics.”

Of course, “soccer” is “football.” The sport is played on a “pitch,” rather than a “field.” A player might kick the ball into the “stand,” rather than “stands” — and there are definitely no “bleachers.” Players wear “shirts,” not “jerseys,” and “boots,” not “cleats,” and their “uniform” is called their “kit.”


Londoners don’t walk on the “sidewalk.” They walk on the “pavement.”

That “crosswalk?” It’s a “zebra crossing” (pronounced “zeh-bra,” not “zee-bra”).

The best way to travel around the city during the Olympics will be by the “Underground,” the rail network commonly known as the “Tube.” It’s not the “subway” — that’s a pedestrian underpass.

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