Learning British

By Don Allen

I’ve been living in the United Kingdom for just over two years, and I’ve found it fascinating to ruminate on how my use of the English language has and hasn’t changed. My accent hasn’t changed at all. My tell-tale New England voice, which sometimes slips into the hard “r” of Massachusetts (think “pahk the cah at Hahvad Yahd”), has not taken on any type of Norfolk tinge. But some of the words I use now, and even some of the pronunciation of those words, has definitely been affected by my time here. I thought it would be amusing to go through a few of these words.

Quid/Pound- While I no longer have issues with the currency exchange rate I still have a hard time when talking about currency. When I talk about money, even though I am typically talking about the British pound, I tend to use the American words “buck” or “dollar”. I find myself continuously saying “yeah it was a couple of bucks……I mean quid”. The amused expression on the face of the, typically British, person I am talking to never fails to make me remember how American I am.


Fillet- This is one of the words whose meaning doesn’t change but the pronunciation of it threw me off. Pronounced “fill-it” here in the UK, it is pronounced as “fill-ay” in the US. The first time someone said “fill-it” to me I was completely flummoxed. Had to resort to first-human like pointing and saying “that one” before I figured it out!


Sussed- Easily my favorite British word. I think it’s all the “s”’s. Sussed. It’s a bit difficult to type, but so much fun to say. Plus the meaning behind it, “figure out”, is easy to suss. Ha. American wit.


At the same time some of the phrases that I use, admittedly a lot of American sports terms, my British friends don’t understand at all.

Quarter of- In American, “quarter of” means “fifteen minutes before” the hour, i.e. “it’s quarter of 5” means 4:45. This one confuses the heck out of the British people I’ve met, who either assume it means fifteen past (so 5:15, which to be clear is “quarter past” in America) or just have no clue whatsoever. Just fyi, it comes from an older saying “quarter off”, but at some point the second “f” was removed. So. You know. There ya go.


Out of left field- A term that means either “unexpected” or “crazy” depending on usage. It comes from baseball, and while no one is completely sure exactly where it came from, there are a couple explanations. One is that a left-fielder has the farthest to throw to first base in order to make an out, and is therefore much less likely to be able to make the throw, so if it happens it is unexpected. The other is that in the late 20th, early 21st centuries in Chicago at the West Side Grounds there was a mental institution behind the left field wall, and patients would often yell things, thus leading to “out of left field” meaning “crazy”. The picture below by the way is Fenway Park’s left field. Home of the Boston Red Sox. The best team. Ever.



Date terminology- This one is really more of a shared one between the two, as neither one can understand why the other one is used! In America, a date written as such, 10/12/2016, means October 12th, 2016. In Britain, that would mean the 10th of December, 2016. Quite frankly I have no idea why they are different. But it is annoying when you look at a date like the above in Britain and, as an American, think that you are two months late!


Thankfully, there are a few books here in the 2AD Memorial Library that can help should you find yourself in a similar situation as I have, for example Divided By A Common Language: A Guide To British And American English by Christopher Davies, or That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore. Good luck, and I’ll see you around.


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