MED Magazine - Issue 12 - October 2003
in American and British English
First in a series of articles on differences between American and British English.
American vs British English
This famous quote attributed to the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is certainly an exaggeration. The differences between British and American English have never been as different as people have imagined. Nevertheless, as any learner of English knows, there are some areas of language - especially vocabulary and use - in which the differences between these two varieties of English can be a source of confusion and even embarrassment. This article describes some of the major differences in vocabulary and usage related to housing.
Types of homes
Whether you are British or American, the place where you
live is your home, no matter what type of building it is.
This is one case where Americans use the same term as the British. When
it comes to naming specific types of homes, however, the Americans and
the British usually use terms that are quite different. In a few cases,
such as ranch house (a house on one level, often with a
roof that does not slope much), the terms describe types of dwellings
that are native to the American continent, thus unknown in Britain. Some
other American terms, such as apartment (what the British
usually call a flat), may be familiar to speakers of British
English, but in Britain they are used to describe different sorts of things,
as in the following example:
Many of the differences in housing vocabulary are in the words used to describe types of homes. The following is a list of examples in which different words and expressions are used to indicate essentially the same type of house and apartment.
In other situations, however, there may be no exact British equivalent for the American term, as is the case with the following:
The rooms in a house
The good news here is that American and British English use the same words to describe most of the rooms in a house: bathroom, bedroom, dining room and kitchen. Note, however, the following differences:
In the kitchen
Ask an American and a British person to list the things that can be found in their kitchens and then compare the lists. You will discover a relatively large number of appliances and other items that have different names in American and British English. Here is a list of the most common ones:
Polite houseguests in the U.S. will offer to do the dishes (wash and dry the dishes) after a meal. The British equivalent do the washing-up is confusing to many Americans for whom the verb wash up usually means to wash yourself, especially your hands and face.
Furniture and furnishings
Most items of furniture and household furnishings share the same names in American and British English, but there are a few exceptions that may cause confusion. Sometimes it is merely the case of different names for the same object. For example, what Americans call a shade (a sheet of material that you pull down to cover a window) is called a roller blind by speakers of British English. And what speakers in Britain call a standard lamp (a lamp on top of a tall pole that stands on the floor) is called a floor lamp in the U.S. Sometimes, however, the differences are potentially more confusing, as in the following cases:
How many flights up?
The American system for indicating the floors of a building is different from that used by the British. In the U.S., the term first floor is used to refer to the ground level of a building. However, in the British system the first floor is the floor immediately above the ground level. Americans call that floor (the one above the ground level) the second floor. This difference in nomenclature continues all the way to the top of a building. To make things even more confusing, Americans who live on the ground level sometimes say they live on the ground floor, and some who live on the level above the ground level will describe their apartment as being one flight up. And if you live on a really high floor in an American apartment house, you will probably ride upstairs in an elevator, what is known in British English as a lift.
Next in the series
The next article in this series will discuss differences
in vocabulary related to transportation and travel, an area where there
are a great many differences between American and British English.
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