American, Australian, and UK English sometimes feel like apples and oranges ... and bananas? Regardless, we're here to help you sort out some of the differences, both the bold and the 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!).
In America, we mostly call a cigarette by its name. 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 (from the Camel Cigarettes mascot) 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 allegedly cropped up after the release of “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones,” where Obi-Wan Kenobi was offered one.
You probably know that the most common slang for a smoke in the UK is fag. It has nothing to do with the American derogatory word for a male homosexual, and in fact its root is debated.
Some think it derives from the 1600s version of fag, which meant “the end piece,” of cloth, rope, etc. It originally applied mostly to the butt end of the cigarette. Others think it has to do with the British word faggot, meaning "a bundle of sticks or twigs."
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 peppered with more than 5000 diminutives, words that are shortened for impact, and they have more of them than any English-speaking language.
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 always have to stick candy in there.
Interestingly, the earliest use of candy, through the 1600s, was always as sugar candy, with both of those words coming from ancient Sanskrit: kanda, meaning "piece or fragment," and sarkara, which basically meant "granular things, such as grit," but eventually came to mean “granular sugar.”
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.
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 as comfy, stretchy, perhaps hole-y pants made of cotton or fleece that we lounge in, sleep in, and work-out 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. The new version (for both men and women), slimmed down and tapered or elasticized at the ankles, are called joggers.
UK: sweat pants
The most common phrase in the UK for this casual piece of clothing is tracksuit bottoms.
Here's another one that is harder to explain, but in London, in particular, sweat pants are referred to as perspiration britches, or perspies for short. Ha, oh you Brits!
Australia: sweat pants
Here come the Aussies again with a cute, truncated word ending in “ie:” they call them trackies, or trackie dacks, short for “tracksuit bottoms.”
Dacks is a common term for pants of many kinds (undersdacks for underpants) and is likely derived from a 19th century clothier called Daks.
By the way, a sweatshirt in Australia is called a windcheater.
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 Hispanic culture as such a part of our fabric, we’ve also taken to calling beer simply cerveza, which is Spanish for 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”).
Guinness and stouts are more popular in the UK than they are in the states, and they refer to those as the black stuff.
On this rare occasion, Australians say more than they need to. Where brewski and pint are short and sweet, the phrase amber liquid demands a little more work—it’s way more syllables—but amber works, too.
And, since the Aussies are prone to using words that end in “ie,” it may be no surprise that they also use the term coldie. Also no surprise that a can of beer is a tinnie, and a roadie is, of course, one you take on the road with you. (Is that legal?)
You knew we’d have to get to it at some point. There are so many silly and fun ways to refer to the act of having sex.
The most direct and inoffensive phrase for Americans is having sex, or making love. A sampling of other slang phrases (that are fairly family friendly) are hook up, bumping uglies, getting lucky, doing the deed (which doesn’t sound so lucky), and just plain doing it.
There's a million more ways of saying it—so we’ll just end this list with the horizontal tango ... because it’s fun.
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 the act of coitus the British way include shag (which any Austin Powers movie will tell you), bonk, boff (that’s slightly more posh), and having it off [with].
This one just feels so British: Referring to a bit of ‘How’s your father?' is an antiquated and somehow charming way of referring to “the act,” a phrase we think needs preserving just for its sheer awkwardness.
We expected a plethora of words ending in “ie” from our Australian friends, but we found surprisingly few terms in general for having sex.
One prevalent term is to root (which means if you want to talk about supporting a sports team in Australia you’ll want to “barrack” for them, not root for them). Another is to have a naughty, which certainly seems judgmental!
America: shock or surprise
When you hear some news that completely stuns you, what do you say later when talking about it? Probably something pretty boring and straightforward, like, “I was shocked” or “I was stunned.”
You might say, “I was floored,” which likely came about as a way of expressing such a visceral reaction to something that a person is knocked out by it.
Our friends in the UK and Australia have much more colorful phrases than us though.
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 1950s. It comes from northern English and southern Scottish dialects, with “gob” meaning mouth.
We might presume “smacked” to come from the idea of smacking one’s forehead in surprise (i.e., facepalm). The word did become more popular in the 1980s after it appeared in some British television shows ...
Australia: shock or surprise
Australians also use the word gobsmacked, but they have another phrase that’s pretty crazy: “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 balls made with sugar and starch, which we put mostly on ice cream, donuts, and cookies.
In some parts of the country, sprinkles are also known as jimmies, and when you want to be fancy you might call them by their technical name, nonpareils.
Not to confuse you, but nonpareils is also the American word for chocolate discs covered by white nonpareils. (In Australia, they call these chocolate treats “freckles” and in the UK, “jazzies” and “snowies.”)
UK: (ice cream) sprinkles
In the UK, what we call sprinkles are called hundreds-and-thousands, which is pretty appropriate, if not a bit clinical. And, even though it's kind of clinical, it manages to convey a bit of whimsy, too. We like it!
Australia: (ice cream) sprinkles
OK, 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 boonies or boondocks; bumf*ck Idaho (or Iowa or other I states); Podunk; and outer Mongolia that all 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 old standby in England is in the bundu, which might be a reflection of the UK’s exploratory history. Bundu is a South African word meaning a remote, wild place.
A favorite in Ireland is Bally-go-backwards, which means a rural, remote town or place, from “baile” for 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, and there is not a lot of variance.
We confuse folks in many other countries by using the term gas when referring to the stuff that fuels our cars. We’re one of the few countries that use the word, which for many conjures natural gas (not a liquid).
It is, of course, short for gasoline, which is a petroleum product.
UK: gas station
In the UK, you’ll most often hear petrol 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 as the most accurate, at least for the stations that have mini-markets (with various services) attached.
But, with the Aussies shortening things as they do, they refer to it as a servo (and may even refer to petrol as petty).
And, don’t be confused if you hear something that sounds more like “sarvo,” because they're not talking about gasoline—that's an extension of their word for “afternoon,” arvo. The phrase, “What’re you up to s’arvo?” means, “What’re you up to this afternoon?”
In America, 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.
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 or an argy-bargy that could break out amongst the legless (drunk).
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 borrowing from the Brits, a barney.
Just beware: If you hear someone yell, “it’s on for the young and old!” it means it's a real brawl, everyone should jump into the fray, and you might want to head for the door. Good luck!