The Best of British

The American's guide to speaking British

Around the House

Action replay - During the world cup the England team scored so few goals we had to watch each one several more times on the action replay. Probably as many times as you watched the USA team on instant replays.

Aga - A type of stove that not only cooks the dinner but in many cases, heats the water and the house too. You used to find an Aga in most farmhouses but they have become a status symbol in the UK and have become very popular in any sort of house.

Airing cupboard - In British houses we have a hot water tank in a cupboard off the landing or in one of the bedrooms. Since it is warm in there, we usually hang clothes in it to let them air. That's why we call it the airing cupboard. In my house in Texas, the hot water tank was in the garage.

Answerphone - We like to refer to our answering machines as answerphones.

Bathroom - Again, the clue is in the name. In a British house, you will find a bath in the bathroom. (In smaller houses there may also be a toilet). So when we are going to the bathroom - we are not answering a call of nature - we're going for a bath! Always causes problems when Americans visit UK families this one - I'm sure they think we wee in the sink!

Beading - This is the stuff that goes around the edge of cheap furniture. Wood trim to you chaps.

Bedsit - This is the kind of accommodation many students live in when they cannot afford anything else. It is basically a single room with a bed, cooker, table and sofa. You would normally share the bathroom. The nearest thing you have in the US is an efficiency.

Bin - Trash can. You would put a bin liner in it before you put the rubbish in it to keep it clean. Bin day is the day that the bin men in the bin lorry come and empty your dustbin. A bin would normally mean the one in your house - whereas the dustbin would normally mean the one outside - though that sometimes gets called the bin too.

Bin bag - The black bag that you put inside the kitchen bin to save you having to wash out the bin each time you empty it. Often comes with a draw string so that you can tie the top shut and avoid nasty niffs when you put it in the dustbin.

Bin day - For some reason - everywhere I have lived in the world, bin day is on Monday. I'm sure somewhere it happens on another day but not anywhere I've been!

Bin liner - This is another word for bin bag.

Bin lorry - The vehicle that the bin men drive.

Bin men - The chaps that come around at 6am and wake the entire street up with their bin lorry to empty your dustbins. Sometimes the rubbish even goes in the lorry! I'm sure they have some kind of machine that singles out the crisp bags and deposits them along the street!

Blower - The blower is the telephone, before you get too excited!

Bog - A vulgar word for the toilet, either the room or the pan itself.

Bog roll - Based on the above, you probably already guess this is toilet paper!

Box - If you hear a Brit complaining that there is nothing on the box, he would be talking about the lack of viewing pleasures on the television.

Brolly - Short for umbrella. An essential item in England!

Budgie - One of the most popular pets in the UK, a budgie is a small green bird. Budgie is short for budgerigar, which is a small Australian parakeet. Generally they get eaten by the cat or when you let them out, they find the only open window in the house and let themselves out!

Bungalow - A house with no upstairs. A single storey house. Not popular with anyone but the old.

Caravan - Everyone in the UK hates caravans - except caravan owners, that is. They are the trailer homes that come out every summer and block all our little British roads and bring everyone to a complete standstill. Aaaaaargggggg! Unlike your RVs they need to be towed as they only have 2 wheels and cannot be driven.

Ceefax - This is the text service found on the TV. On British TVs each channel has a text service as an alternative to the regular programming. You can hit the mute and press the TEXT button and read several hundred pages of info from TV listings to news, from the lottery results to cheap holiday deals. Ceefax is the BBC version. On the commercial channels, the equivalent is teletext.

Continental quilt - This is what we used to call duvets. Since the UK was the last country in Europe to figure out what they were, we seem to have made up name a for them. Now we just call them duvets.

Cooker - The thing in your kitchen that you use to cook things on or in. The top is the hob and the inside is the oven. You refer to it as a range or stove.

Corn dolly - On the top of some thatched houses there is a model of an animal - often a pheasant. These are made of straw (the same as the roof) and are just there for decoration. Keep a look out for them as you drive around the English countryside.

Couch - Sofa to you. America has some of the largest furniture in the world, yet the only sofa too small to make love in, you call a Love Seat!

Council house - A council house is a government built house to help people on lower incomes have a home. They all used to be rented from the government but now most tenants have the option to buy relatively cheaply to help them get on the house ownership ladder. Most council houses are fairly large, for families, but not terribly attractive. Called projects in some places in the USA.

Council estate - A council estate is a neighbourhood of council houses.

Cubby hole - A cubby hole is a small nook or cranny. It originated as a word for the glove box in a car but is now less fussy about its use.

Cupboard - Any closet in the house. Cupboards in the kitchen contain food, crockery, cutlery etc. In the bedroom they contain clothes and sometimes skeletons.

Des res - If someone lives in a particularly nice property in a nice part of town it would be referred to as a des res. It is short for desirable residence and usually means bloody expensive!

Dresser - Dresser hutch or china cabinet seem to be the closest US words for this item of furniture which lives in the kitchen or dining room. The bottom half is an enclosed cabinet and the top is an open, doorless cabinet for standing plates in upright.

Dust cart - Another word for the lorry that the bin men drive.

Dustbin - When you empty your bins the day before bin day, you put them in the dustbin outside.

Duvet - Most Brits have dispensed with blankets and sheets and now sleep under a duvet. It is similar to a comforter but has a removable cover that can be washed. Duvet's warmth is measured in togs, 2 or 3 togs for summer duvets and 11 or more for winter ones.

Earth - This, in electrical terms is what you call ground. You will find appliances that say "this appliance must be earthed" for example. Or when wiring an electrical plug the third pin will be marked "earth".

Eiderdown - Before Brits started to sleep under duvets, they would cover their sheets and blankets with an eiderdown. Similar to a comforter it does not have a removable cover and is just there to add extra warmth and to look nice.

Emulsion - Our paint for the inside of houses is basically split into emulsion and gloss varieties. Emulsions for the walls and gloss for the woodwork and metal surfaces. Emulsions are water based and can come in matt or silk flavours, depending on whether you want a shine or not.

En-suite - If you are looking at Bed & Breakfast listings in the UK you might see reference to an en-suite. This is the bathroom and means that it is connected directly to the bedroom and therefore not shared.

Estate - This is short for a housing estate. You might call it a residential development or a subdivision. Basically it is a bunch of similar houses built far too close together and described as "highly desirable" by estate agents!

Flat - This is our word for an apartment. I met someone in Texas who had broken down in his car and he told me that he had a flat. I thought it was a strange time to tell me where he lived!

Flex - Although this is derived from the word "flexible", it is used as a noun to mean an electric cord or extension lead.

Garden - Not the vegetable patch or the flower beds. The garden is the yard. I always wondered why my American friends thought it was odd that Brits spend so much of the summer sitting in the garden!

Gazumping - When you buy a new house in the UK, you hope that you won't be gazumped. It's frowned on but it still goes on. When you make an offer on a house and the seller accepts it, they are not allowed to then accept a higher offer from another potential buyer. That would be gazumping.

Hand basin - This is another word for a sink. Usually refers to the kind found in bedrooms in some older houses. They are intended for washing your hands and face, rather than the dishes.

Hessian - This material is what they make sacks from and use on the back of carpets. I believe you call it burlap.

Hob - The bit on the top of the cooker is called the hob. You call it the burner.

Housing estate - This is what you'd call a subdivision.

Khazi - Another word for the toilet, generally used by older people.

Kitchen towel - Paper towel to you chaps.

Laundry basket - Where you chuck your smelly clothes when you take them off and before you wash them. Laundry hamper to you. To us that would imply a thing full of food, not smelly underwear. Surprise!

Loft - Our loft is your attic.

Loo - Either the toilet or the bathroom. The most common way to ask for the restroom in an English restaurant would to ask where the loo is. Try it - it works. More old ladies die whilst sitting on the loo than you would think. Official statistic. I know two that did!

Lounge - Our living room is called the lounge. We also say living room sometimes but lounge is probably more common.

Mobile home - Trailer home. These are not as common in England as they are in the US. I was shocked when I saw my first trailer home driving down I35 on the back of a lorry. I've heard of moving house but that is ridiculous. Of course we cannot use the term "trailer trash" since "mobile home rubbish" doesn't have the same ring about it!

Paper knife - A letter opener. Also used in murder mysteries to kill people, of course.

Paraffin - You call this kerosene. Equally a paraffin lamp would be one of those old fashioned lamps with paraffin in the base and a wick which is really hard to light. We still have them, but only when you go on scout camp!

Plaster board - Sheet rock in Texas. In the UK, plasterboard is used to make ceilings and is also used to make internal walls, it is then covered in a thin layer of real plaster, except in cheap modern houses. In Texas, entire houses are made from sheet rock, which is a bit worrying if it is windy or rainy! If the three little pigs had lived in Texas, they would have been eaten! In some states call it's called "plaster board" like it is here in the UK and others it's called drywall.

Power point - This would be an electric socket in the US. Ours have three pins, not two. The big one is earth and also serves to open the little doors where the other two pins go. This keeps little fingers out, in theory!

Run the bath - This means to fill the tub. Obviously you have to run the bath before you get in it.

Sand pit - Every parent buys a sand pit for the kids to play in and the cat to pee in. Sand boxes to you, now available with lids to keep the cat out!

Schooner - This is a rather ridiculous looking sherry glass, for what the pubs call a "large" sherry. It is not the same as the American glass of the same name.

Secateurs - You use a pair of secateurs to cut the shrubs in the garden down or to trim bushes. You would call them hedge clippers or pruning shears. I recently discovered that they use something like secateurs during a caesarean birth to cut your wife open. Not the most pleasant experience!

Settee - Sofa to you. Whether a small love seat or a big three seater.

Shammy - I think you call these wash leathers. They are the completely useless cloths, originally made from the skin of the chamois - a wild antelope, the size of a goat. They dry rigid and leave horrible streaks across the windows they are supposed to clean!

Skirting board - This is the wood that goes around the bottom of the wall and usually has bits of carpet fluff stuck to it where people were too impatient to wait for the paint to dry before laying the carpet! You chaps call it baseboard.

Tap - Faucet. There will be some on the sink in the loo!

Teletext - Whenever American friends come to visit us in England they are always fascinated by teletext. On our TVs, text is transmitted along with the programmes. You just press a button from any channel and you get the text channel. There you can book holidays, check the lottery results, read the news, check the weather and a hundred other things. And best of all - it's free.

Telly - The good old television. Still only four channels (actually there are FIVE now. Yikes!). Still no commercials on two of them, still very few commercials on the other two. British television was one of the things I missed most when I lived in Texas.

Thatch - There are still many houses in England that have thatch for their roof material. It is basically straw and is very picturesque. Amazingly it keeps the rain out pretty well, but is often covered in a fine wire mesh to keep the birds and mice out since they like it too.

To let - You'll see signs around England with "To Let" on them, outside properties. This is the same as to rent in the US. Kids love to add a letter "I" in between the two words to make "toilet".

Toilet - The Brits are not so shy about their use of the word toilet. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable to ask for the toilet in the most classy of establishments. Our first American visitor asked for the bathroom, shortly to return complaining there was no toilet there. Of course there wasn't! That is in the toilet! For some reason, you also call it a restroom though I have never seen anyone resting in one yet!

Trunk call - This is the old expression for a long distance call.

Video - We use this word to mean the video cassette recorder or VCR to you, as well as the video you put in it. Just like in the US - most people have no idea how to operate it. Only the under 10s have mastered most videos.

Wardrobe - Wardrobes are usually free standing wooden cupboards, designed for holding clothes on hangers. In America you have closets. A walk-in wardrobe is a walk-in closet.

White goods - When you visit a British store that sells things for the home you will find a section for white goods. These are the electrical appliances that you have in your kitchen or utility room like fridges, freezers, washing machines and driers. The name is cunningly derived from their colour!

Wireless - This is an old word for a radio. See if you can guess where the name came from!