Wednesday, March 5, 2014

English English vs. American English

I read A Song in the Night by Julie Maria Peace not too long ago. It was published in the UK and, being an American and Texan to boot, I had a bit of trouble with some of the words and phrases. At my age and because of the number of books I've read over the years, I thought I knew English fairly well. Turns out, not so much.

I could figure out some of the words by the way they were used. Others, I found in dictionaries. Still, there were a few I haven't yet found. I should mention that part of the book took place during World War I, and I believe the author used terms from that time period to be more authentic. However, most of the ones I stumbled on were from the contemporary time.

I was reading the book because the author had asked me to review it. I am glad she did because I loved it. You can read my review here:, an interview of the author here:, and sample chapters here:  As I read and noticed the many differences in our English languages, it hit me that a book I was just finishing up may not make sense to English readers in the same way I was struggling with Julie's book. One thing led to another until at some point she agreed to read The Vengeance Squad Goes to England and look for words and phrases the English characters wouldn't say. We let the Americans visiting England use their version of English, except for the main character, Chris. He is slightly OCD and has an eidetic memory, so he picks up on the differences in English and began to speak the way his girlfriend Angela does. Julie did a marvelous job, and I know the changes made because of her greatly improved the book.

Now, back to my concern for the words and phrases in A Song in the Night I don't understand. I put my guess in parentheses in the list below. Would you look over the list and either tell me if I was right, or let me know what some of these mean? Use the comment section below so everyone can see what still needs to be done. Oh, by the way, I didn't think about it at first, but at page 55 I started adding the page numbers.

Thank you.

The place was a tip (mess?)
Cuppa (cup of?)
Fortnight (two weeks?)
Iced finger (some kind of cookie?)
Bleeping (phone ring?)
Mobile (cell phone?)
Bit (as in phase)
Clapped eyes on
Caravan (RV?)
Mind (mind you?)
Plucker up the courage
Gone ten (after 10:00?)
Ribbons (blasted to bits or smithereens?)
Bullet has your number on it (name on it?)
Violin taster (55)
Broody (55)
Nappies (diapers?)
Stick (57)
Blanking (58)
Sussed (61-suspected?)
Lernt (69-learned?)
Sharpish (69-soon?)
Kitch (69-70 may be a reference to character Ciaran)
Barium meal
It was just gone nine (78-a little after nine?)
She came off the phone (79-hung up?)
Arrived bang on three o'clock (79-exactly at three?)
Cheered off (79)
Knickers (84)
Dab hand (84)
Flicked though the mail (84)
Smalls (84-undies?)
You lot (86-male or female?)
Clued up (96-in the know?)
Mucking in together (89)
While February (95)
Fancy (95-meaning to like)
Horlick (97-malted milk?)
Ciggie (97)
Kith and kin (98)
Respirators (101-gas masks?)
Had a bad do at him (119)
While ever (120)
Dowdy (122)
Spot of bother (127)
Wheeze (127)
Bairns (129)
Fingers on the clock (134)
Filled up (134-tears?)
Funk wallahs (141)
Rota (145-schedule?)
Stroppy teenagers (148)
Mooched (149)
Feeding me up (151)
Gooseberry (152)
Natterer (161)
Twigged (183)
Cropper (204)
Coming to meet (205-going to meet?)
Good job you're ill (207-good thing you're ill?)
Chuffed (212, 391)
Snigger (243-snicker?)
Coming back to mine (275-coming back to my place)
Gutted (437-pained?)

Twigging (490)


  1. Fusty - mouldy smell
    Bleeping - a high pitched intermittent sound rather than a phone ring
    Bit - means a short amour of time or a short piece of something
    Niggle - annoy
    Clapped eyes on - saw, seen
    Windscreen the glass in the front window of a car. Don't know what the US equivalent is
    Caravan is a mobile home which is attached to the back of a car. It does not have a separate engine of it's own
    Pluck up the courage - means make yourself brave and psyche yourself up to do things
    Broody - want a baby
    Stick - adhere to or a a shaped piece of wood with a crooked handle to help you walk
    Blanking - staring through and ignoring
    Sharpish - straight away
    Barium meal - a medical test for your stomach
    Knickers - what we would call pants and you would call underwear
    Dab hand - good at
    Flicked through the mail - took a quick look at what post and come
    You lot - derogatory term for all of you
    Mucking in together - all joining in and helping
    While February - until february
    Ciggie - cigarette
    Kith and Kin - relatives
    Dunno - don't know
    Dowdy - frumpy, plain, uninspiring
    Spot of bother - a little bit of trouble
    Wheeze - sound made as you exhale air through tight bronchial tubes, can also mean good fun but that would be a very old word
    Bairns - Scottish word for children
    Wallah - servant. Came from the old days of the raj
    Rota - timetable for doing tasks
    Stroppy teenagers - teens who are arguing and in a bad mood
    Mooched - walking moodily with hunched shoulders
    Feeding me up - giving someone a large meal
    Gooseberry - someone who is there but feels left out. Usually when there is a man and a woman anthem one more person
    Natterer - someone who talks a lot
    Twigged - caught on, just realised something
    Cropper - would be come a cropper which means have an accident
    Chuffed - pleased

  2. Thanks Wendy. Some of these are real surprises.

  3. Wow, Sid - this is one of those occasions when I realise just how much our US English/British English lingoes differ. Isn't language a wonderful, fascinating thing? Great 'translation' job, Wendy, by the way :)
    Talking of language, I have recently started reading 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' for the first time. Now that really is a linguistic challenge for an English gal!

  4. Thought you might be surprised, Julie. I got some feedback from a church friend here and she totally missed some of them, even using dictionary. For example, gooseberry.