Don’t Get Mixed Up By These Differences In US, UK, And Australian English

American, Australian, and UK (British) English sometimes feel like apples and oranges … and bananas? The real kicker comes when a juxtaposition of all three languages occurs (like, well, in this here slideshow), because that’s when their differences really shine.

WATCH: What Does "Juxtaposition" Actually Mean?

Let us help you sort out some of the differences, bold and subtle, so that you’re not in for a stunned mullet when traveling abroad. (Believe us, you’ll want to know what that is before you say it!)

America: cigarettes

In America, we mostly call a cigarette just that. Ok, maybe we’ll say a smoke, or use the words cig or ciggie, on occasion, but we’re pretty straightforward with this one.

Slang like butt, stogies (used more for cigars) or joes is heard on occasion … maybe if you lived during the ’50s.

When we’re editorializing, we might say cancer stick or even death stick, which was used in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

UK: cigarettes

You probably know that one common slang for a smoke in the UK is fag. It has nothing to do with the extremely offensive American slur for a gay man.Fag, for cigarette, comes from fag end, the “last part” of something (as of cloth), once said of the “butt” of a cigarette or cigar.

Australia: cigarettes

One of the most common words for cigarettes in Australia, besides cig, butt, and fag, is durry.Some think the term durry is derived from a widely used brand of loose tobacco called Bull Durham. The word is used mostly for hand-rolled cigarettes (also called rollies).

Australian English is loaded with diminutives, words that are shortened out of affection or convenience.

America: candy

We don’t have a lot of pet names for candy in the US. We might refer to candy as sweets, but that word can apply to cupcakes or any sugary, sweet delight. We do have hard candies and cotton candy, but we usually have to stick candy in there.

Interestingly, early use of candy (around 1500s) was always as sugar candy, with both of those words having Arabic roots.

UK: candy

The most common term for candy in the UK—as opposed to baked treats—is simply sweets. What we call hard candy, the kind that cracks when you eat it, is called a boiled sweet, due to the fact that it’s made by boiling sugar syrup to make little fruits or candy canes. And, our UK friends refer to cotton candy as candy floss.

Australia: candy

Sharing another word with our British friends, the Aussies also use the word sweets.But, another uniquely Australian word is lollies, not only in reference to hard candies but as a catch-all.

Aussies refer to chocolate treats as chockies, and cotton candy in the Land Down Under is called …  fairy floss!

America: sweat pants

We all know sweat pants (or sweatpants) as comfy, stretchy, perhaps hole-y pants made of cotton or fleece that we lounge in, sleep in, work-out in … live life in.

Though yoga pants and leggings of all kinds have overtaken sweat pants for women in the workout gear department, men are still rocking them, when jogging or working out in cooler climates. A recently trendy version (for both men and women), slimmed down and tapered or elasticized at the ankles, are called joggers.

UK: sweat pants

The general phrase in the UK for this casual piece of clothing is tracksuit bottoms—trackies, for short.

Australia: sweat pants

The Aussies also call them trackies. You might also hear trackie daks or dacks.

Daks is a common term for “trousers” in Australia, from a proprietary name of a 1900s London men’s clothier. Daks is said to be a lend of dad and slacks, e.g., dad’s slacks.

Dads do love sweat pants …

American: beer

In America, we put on our spurs and chaps and mosey on down to the bar for a cold one, or maybe a brewski. (These stereotypes and colloquialisms for Americans are spot on, right?)

Of course, with Latin culture interwoven in our culture, we’ve also taken to calling beer simply cerveza, Spanish for “beer.”

UK: beer

Across the pond in ye olde UK, you might hit up your mate after work for a pint, which is the standard serving size, at the pub (short for “public house”).

Australia: beer

Since the Aussies are prone to using words that end in that diminutive –ie, it may be no surprise that they may call a cold beer a coldie. Also, no surprise that a can of beer is a tinnie, and a roadie is one last drink (“one for the road”).

America: sex

You knew we’d have to get to it at some point …

One of the most inoffensive phrases for Americans is having sex or making love. A sampling of other slang phrases (that are fairly-family friendly) are hooking up, bumping uglies, getting lucky, doing the deed (which doesn’t sound so lucky), and just plain doing it. 

UK: sex

First off, if you get your hair cut in the UK, don’t say you’d like some bangs, ask for fringe. With that out of the way, we can tell you that some favorite colloquialisms for coitus the British way include shag (which any Austin Powers movie will tell you), bonk, boff, and having it off (with someone).

And this one just feels so British. Referring to a bit of “How’s your father?” is a playful way of referring to the deed. It has a storied history in British comedy dating back to the early 1900s.

Australia: sex

In Australia, be very careful if you say you’re rooting for a sports team. Root is slang term for, yep, “sex.” Use barrack Down Under for “cheering” instead.

America: shock or surprise

When you hear some news that completely stuns you, what do you say later when talking about it? Maybe “I was shocked or “I was stunned”?

Or perhaps “I was floored? As in, to be so astounded or confounded that it was like you were knocked on the floor.

UK and Australian expressions for this emotion are even more imaginative.

UK: shock or surprise

Gobsmacked is a favorite UK phrase, and though it sounds very old, it’s only recorded as far back as the 1930s. Gob is an Irish, Scottish, and northern English word that means “mouth,” from a Celtic root.

Australia: shock or surprise

Australians also use the word gobsmacked, but they have another phrase that’s pretty crazy, e.g., “Tucker sat there like a stunned mullet when Jennie said she was leaving.”

When you’re really bewildered, shocked, surprised, you might look like a mullet (the fish, not the haircut), after it’s been clobbered on the head and stunned to submission. Yeah, that.

America: (ice cream) sprinkles

Sure, we have a couple of cute names ourselves for the decorative confectionery of multi-colored, tiny particles made with sugar and starch, which we put mostly on ice cream, donuts, cookies, frozen yogurt … OK, pretty much everything.

In some parts of the country, sprinkles are also known as jimmies, and when you want to be fancy you might call them by a French-derived name, nonpareils.

UK: (ice cream) sprinkles

In the UK, what we call sprinkles may be called hundreds and thousands, which is pretty appropriate and whimsical. The idea is that sprinkles are so abundant, they’re beyond counting.

Australia: (ice cream) sprinkles

In Australia, they also favor the term hundreds and thousands.

We thought it interesting enough on its own merits, but when we discovered an Australian snack treat called fairy bread, we just had to include it, too. Fairy bread is a slice of white bread, topped with butter and a healthy layer of sprinkles. Really. Can we have a piece now?!

America: a remote place

When you think about it, we have a number of silly phrases that mean we are “out in the middle of nowhere.” We have in the sticks, boonies, boondocks, or Podunk, among others, to represent being far from a city, way out in God knows where.

Different regions have their own idioms, including this New Jersey/Pennsylvania gem: “You must have parked out in Japip or East Jabip/Jabib.”

UK: a remote place

These also vary in the UK from place to place—as many of our words here do—but one in England is in the bundu, a reflection of the UK’s colonial history. Bundu is a South African and Zimbabwean word meaning “a remote, wild place.”

A favorite in Ireland is Bally-go-backwards, which means a rural, remote town or place, from the Irish baile (“town”).

Australia: a remote place

A favorite of Australians for reflecting that sense of “Where in the heck are we?” is to say you are fifty K’s south of Woop Woop, although just saying out in Woop Woop is just as effective.

Another one is Back o’ Bourke, which is a pretty remote town in New South Wales. Beyond the black stump and back of beyond mean the same thing.

America: gas station

We might occasionally use the term service station in the states, but that’s a bit dated now. We tend to favor gas station.We confuse folks in many other countries by using the term gas when referring to the stuff that fuels our cars. For many, gas conjures natural gas (not a liquid).Gas, of course, short for gasoline, which is a petroleum product.

UK: gas station

In the UK, you’ll most often hear petrol station, filling station, garage, or services (short for service station, as in “let’s stop at the next services for petrol and snacks”).Petrol is, of course, just short for refined petroleum product and is their word for “gas.”

Australia: gas station

The phrase service station is embraced by Aussies. But, with the Aussies shortening things as they do, they also refer to it as a servo (and may even refer to petrol as petty). And, don’t be confused if you hear sarvo, because they’re not talking about gasoline. That’s an extension of their slang for “afternoon,” arvo. The phrase, “What’re you up to s’arvo?” means “What’re you up to this afternoon?”

America: confrontation

In the US, when slinging back too many cold ones at the saloon in our leather chaps and spurs, a fist fight might break out. Some observers might call it a brawl, smack-down, dust-up, beat-down, and even opening a can of whoop a$$.A serious confrontation of words between friends or lovers might simply be called a fight or spat.

UK: confrontation

In the UK, when slinging back cold pints at the pub, you might hear a row (rhymes with “brow”), which is a loud, heated argument.

Another term is barney, which you may think comes from Cockney rhyming slang, but the actual origin is unknown. If the row escalates, you might make room for a punch-up/out or an argy-bargy that could break out amongst the legless (drunk).

Australia: confrontation

While enjoying your cold amber at an Aussie pub, you might notice a couple of blokes (men) getting pissed (drunk) and their voices rising until a row breaks out.

It may be loud and ugly, and eventually might escalate to a full-on blue, a biffo, or once again, a barney.

Click to read more
Word of the Day

Can you guess the definition?


[ mod-i-kuhm ]

Can you guess the definition?

Word of the day

[ mod-i-kuhm ]

Redefine your inbox with!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.