My Personal Experience with the Embarrassing Differences Between “British English” and “American English”

“Personal Experience” and “Fun Facts”

England and America are two countries separated by a common language (British playwright George Bernard Shaw) 

I Gave the British Congregation “The Bird”

I quickly learned on my mission in England that there were differences between American English and British English.

During my first talk in a sacrament meeting, I “flipped off” the congregation.  I said, “There are two reasons for this.”  I held up two fingers with the back of my hand facing the audience.  That is the English “bird.”  My companion, in the front row, tried to signal to put my hand down, but I ignored him.

I was in good company.  New Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave a back handed “bird”, instead of a front handed “victory sign.”  The photo was on the front page.  Afterward, Churchill tried to explain that instead of giving the England the “victory sign,” he was actually giving Hitler “the bird.”

American English/British English

  • Car trunk/boot
  • Car windshield/windscreen
  • Car hood/bonnet
  • Elevator/lift
  • Flashlight/torch
  • Apartment/flat
  • Garbage/rubbish
  • Cookie/biscuit
  • French fries/chips
  • Line/queue
  • Truck/lorry
  • Mail/post
  • Gasoline/petrol
  • Tow truck/breakdown lorry
  • Wrench/spanner
  • Vest/waist coat
  • Robe/dressing gown
  • Suspenders/braces

Sister Missionary: “I’m Pregnant”

In England, “stuffed” is slang for “pregnant.”  Our missionary district just finished dinner at a ward social, and the Relief Society President asked the sister missionaries if they would like dessert.  A new sister replied, “Sorry. I’m stuffed.” We had a good laugh at the her expense.

Elder: “Can you give me a Kotex?  My underwear’s wet.”

American “pants” are “trousers” in England.  “Pants” are “underpants.”  “Napkins” in England are slang for “feminine napkins or Kotex.”  American “napkins” are English “serviettes.”  We had just come in from the rain, and my “greenie” companion said to the hosts, “Can I have a napkin?  My pants are wet.” How embarrassing!

“Take a fag home for dinner?”

In England, “fag” is “an informal noun” for “cigarette.” (Oxford Dictionary)  A prominent billboard used the slogan, “Take a fag home for dinner.”  Hosts sometimes asked us missionaries, “Would you like to take a fag home for later?” We blushed.


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