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These chips, are fries

This queue, a line

This tap, a faucet

Wardrobe, a closet

Vacation, holiday

Underground, subway

Chemist, a drugstore

Autumn, is fall

A garden, a yard

You see now? It's not hard

Language can cause confusion even when two people aren't using separate languages. Often, it's enough for them to speak different dialects of the same language. Most of the examples here are about the differences between British English and American English, but this can occur in any pair of dialects, in any language.

Confusion over dialects in Real Life varies from person to person, and depends on the situation. If British Alice says "throw it in the boot" to American Bob in a story, without context he may be confused; but when they're obviously near to a car, it isn't a huge leap that she means that something should be put in the "trunk".

People who read or watch a lot of fiction in another dialect will understand more words than expected, which may even be Lampshaded by the writers. Before the rise of the Internet in the early 90's it was posited that the different versions of English might eventually diverge into separate languages, however these days the Internet has made it possible to inexpensively speak to a friend in a like-language country on a daily basis, so time will only tell.

See also Australian English and Did Not Do the Bloody Research.

Examples of Separated by a Common Language include:


English

  • Be especially careful when talking about clothing.
    • Pants in America are called trousers in Britain, while pants in Britain are called underwear by Americans. A British person's suspenders are an American's garters; American suspenders are British braces.
      • It's odd that nobody thought to change the name of American import "The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants".
      • A certain Doctor Who fanfic stumbled into this trope: the Doctor was walking around outdoors in his sweater and pants. The absence of shoes was intended by the author, as the Doctor is kind of a Cloudcuckoolander like that. The undies weren't.
      • Though the game makes it fairly clear what she's actually referring to, Shiki's line "Now! Pants! Off!" along with Neku's quite understandable response is even more hilarious for British gamers.
      • Because of the underwear association, in British English 'pants' can also be an adjective meaning 'a bit crap'. Not something truly dreadful, but underwhelming or a waste of your time. 'I went to the circus, but it was pants'. Has confused US speakers.
      • In one UK production of The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged), one of the volunteers who was dragged on stage was wearing distinctive braces. Reed complimented his "suspenders", only for Austin to correct him "Ah, I think that means something different here." Reed came back with "Oh. Well, he might be wearing suspenders as well, but I don't want to get into that..."
    • There was a story in Reader's Digest about a wedding where one family was American and the other was British. They were discussing outfits for some little boys who were going to be in the wedding, and an American woman enthusiastically said "I know! Vests!" There was an awkward pause until someone explained that in Britain "vests" refers to undershirts, and what Americans would call vests are referred to as waistcoats.
    • Jumper refers to two different articles of clothing in the States and in Britain. In Britain and Australia, it's the heavy long sleeve shirt Americans would call a sweater; however, in the States a jumper refers to a sleeveless dress worn over a shirt or another dress, often by little girls. In Britain these are known as Pinafores or Pinafore dresses.
      • Many Brits have difficulty taking Jumper seriously as the name of an action film. Note that, as American jumpers are mostly only worn by little girls, most Americans don't think about them much and are quite likely to make the correct assumption that the title refers to someone who in some way jumps. But Brits wear their jumpers all the time.
      • In American editions of Harry Potter, "jumper" is sometimes localized to "sweater" and sometimes not, leading one to assume that Lupin once turned up at King's Cross wearing a dress.
        • Also, the bit in one of the books where Peeves won't let anyone through a corridor unless they set fire to their own pants becomes far more sadistic to Americans when they discover what he really meant.
      • In the US, The Beatles' "Oompa, oompa, stick it up your jumper" goes from rather skeezy to downright obscene.
        • And in that exact same song, "Boy you've been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down" goes from being downright obscene in the UK to rather skeezy in the US.
      • In Canada, and also in places in the northern USA such as Michigan, jumper means a one-piece outfit that covers your torso completely but not your limbs, usually worn by little girls.
    • There's also the whole hoodie thing. In both countries it's a sweatshirt with a hood, either pullover or zip-up; however, in Britain it's symbolic of a whole generation of youth crime and delinquency, and "hoodie" also refers to a person wearing one and basically means "teenage thug." In America it just... keeps you warm. It's not exactly formal wear, but it doesn't connote criminality any more than jeans do. "Hug a hoodie" would have no meaning in America even after you explained that it means the kid in the hoodie, not the sweatshirt itself.
      • On the contrary, a hoodie is frequently seen as a sign of criminality in the U.S.
      • In certain parts of Canada a hoodie (the sweater) can be referred to as either a "kangaroo jacket" or a "bunny-hug". The second is a classic feature of Saskatchewan.
      • There's a certain dissonance within Britain when it comes to that term; in Scotland, the terms refers purely to the item of clothing, the other meaning having failed to replace the colloquial "ned". While Scots understand the alternate definition, they rarely make use of it.
        • This Scottish understanding of 'hoodie' is probably more common overall. It probably depends on the individual and how much they believe what they read in the popular press; you might be aware of the nefarious crime-spree-causing hoodies beloved by the tabloids, but your first thought will be 'Item of clothing. Warm. Fairly useful, and unlikely to turn me into a feral youth the moment I put it on.'
        • In Scotland, a "hoodie" can also mean the Grey (or Hooded) Crow which, according to Liz Lochhead, should be our national bird.
        • In Wales, too.
  • If a British English speaker says "I got off with X all night" it means they kissed or made out. In America, it... doesn't mean that.
    • Brits also have the slang term "snog" which means roughly the same thing (making out) but often sounds ridiculously obscene to American audiences.
    • This can lead to those unfamiliar with the term except from American television having inaccurate views of the amount of sex their high school fellows are having.
  • In Britain the word "randy" simply means "horny", in a very straightforward manner. In North America, on the other hand, the word "randy" carries the implication that the man in question (and it would always be a man) is also young, inexperienced, wildly exuberant, and not terribly threatening. A colt is randy; a stallion is horny. That's probably why Randy is a fairly common nickname in North America [1]: there's an element of "cuteness" to the word in North American English that doesn't exist in British English.
    • Try being "Randy Johnson" for a day. With a name like that, I guess he pretty much had to become one of the best pitchers in the major leagues... or a porn star. Then again, he is nicknamed "The Big Unit."
    • A letter to the editor of Wizard Magazine once asked "do British people make fun of Randy Queen's name?" the editors turned the question over to Garth Ennis and Alan Moore who responded "I make fun of Randy Queen just on general principle" and "actually I'd love to be a Randy Queen but I'm afraid it'd be too much stress on me poor old mum"
    • From Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Amnesia Danger episode "Tabula Rasa":

 Spike: (checking the label in his jacket pocket) "Made with care for Randy"? Randy Giles? Why not just call me "Horny" Giles, or "Desperate-for-a-Shag" Giles? I knew there was a reason I hated you!

Giles: Randy's... a family name, undoubtedly.

    • A recent episode of Have I Got News for You had lots of fun with the fact that there's a staffer in the Obama White House named Randy Bumgardener.
      • To elaborate: Randy = horny. Bum = ass. Gardner = "Uphill gardner" (a rarely-used slang phrase referring to a gay man, the "gardening" being, well, y'know...
    • British tech site The Register has had a lot of fun with the fact that Novell once had a staff member with the unfortunate name Randy Bender.
    • Being named Randy Pratt is right out too. Then, there's people with names like "John Thomas" in the US...
  • And then there's 'rubber', which in some places is an eraser, and in other places it's a condom.

 England: Do you have a rubber?

America: Do you even have a partner?!

    • Emma Watson told David Letterman that she committed this infraction during her first semester at an American university[2], asking a male classmate for a rubber during class.
    • Jasper Carrott once built an entire routine around the idea of going into an American shop to buy a pencil eraser.

 Jasper: Hello, can I have a rubber please?

Storekeeper: How many would you like, sir?

Jasper: Just the one! Gawd, I don't make that many mistakes!

(Pregnant pause)

Jasper: Oh! Have you got any of those ones with a Mickey Mouse head? Cos I like to chew on them when I'm thinking

    • An episode of The Graham Norton Show in the UK had this confuse guest Johnny Knoxvile after an audience member tells Graham on how she stuffed a rubber up her nose. Johnny's reaction led fellow guest Catherine Tate to tell him it's an eraser. Graham was very amused.
    • In still other times and dialects, 'rubbers' are rain boots.
  • 'Fit' in America and Australia means someone who is physically fit. In England, while it also means this, it adds the pleasant frisson of "highly sexually desirable."
    • During The Eighties, an Italian comics magazine for kids had an educational comic about sports which main character (an athlete, the intended role model) was named Randy Fit. Either the author was more familiar with American English than with British English, or it was a way of Getting Crap Past the Radar.
  • 'Pull' means 'attract a girl' in Britain, but means 'masturbate' in Canada. With the additon of 'Pocket' in front off it 'Pull' shares the same meaning in America it does in Canada.
    • In some Canadian dialects "Pocket Pull" has morphed into "Pocket Pool" which causes a certian amount of awkwardness when trying to differentiate between certian billard games.
    • And Australia.
    • Hence a joke by a stand-up comedian: when the guy was visiting some friends in Britain and one of those friends said "Wanna go to a bar and pull?", to which the comedian responded "Wow, you can do that here? Your country rocks!"
    • It can also mean 'kiss using your tongues' or 'make out' in the UK.
  • In both Britain and America, a thong is an item of ladies' underwear. In Australia, the word refers to what the others would call flip-flops.
    • It's a regional thing in America, actually, and you're not unlikely to hear someone refer to flip flops as "thongs" in the sort of places where they can be worn year-round.
    • Used as a joke in the comic strip Zits. When Connie expressed a desire to wear thongs, it was quite the mental image for her son Jeremy.
      • This is a generational issue as well. In Canada, in the 1960's thongs were what are now called flip-flops.
    • The expanded phrase "thong sandal" is sometimes heard in the U.S., as well.
    • They're called jandals in New Zealand, supposedly an abbreviated term for 'Japanese sandal"
  • And then there's bender. In America it's an extended drinking spree, but in Britain, it's a derogatory term for a gay man. This makes Futurama even funnier.
    • For this reason, Avatar: The Last Airbender is called "Avatar: the Legend of Aang" over there. This had led to problems for the film (which incidentally didn't get such a rename in Britain), however, which features such lines as, "From the minute I lay eyes on you, I knew you were a bender."
    • Haru's line "The only way I can feel close to my father is by bending." is particularly narmtastic to British viewers.
  • In Australia and New Zealand, "to root" means "to have sex with".
    • In Canada, it's a clothing brand. Apparently, Australians think it's hilarious to have their photos taken under the "Roots Kids" sign outside the big Roots shop for children.
    • Cue the sniggering when Americans say they root for a baseball team ("I know they call them players, but I didn't think they meant it that way!") Australians barrack for sports teams.
      • One wonders what the Ozzies Aussies would make of Take Me Out To The Ball Game.
      • Well, when Australian diver Matthew Mitcham won gold in the 2008 Olympics, he thought it was a total laugh riot when a bunch of American fans said they were "rooting" for him.
    • One Midwestern university whose mascot is the kangaroo sent a recruiting group to an event in Australia, offering pens and badges with the logo "I'm a Kangarooter!" Needless to say, these items went very quickly, though the recruitment team didn't realize why until some time later.
    • In Unix circles, "root" is the user who has access to critical system programs or data, equivalent to the Administrator account in Windows. "Rooting" could also be the act of getting root access to a system.
      • Gives a whole new meaning to the word "rootkit"...
    • It's not uncommon for Americans who work the night shift to play World of Warcraft on Oceanic servers mostly populated by Aussies and Kiwis. In the game, immobilize effects are also referred to as root effects and have been known to cause confusion (and occasional amusement) when one player tells another to "root" the target.
  • "Shag" means one thing in Britain (and the Austin Powers movies made that definition popular in America) but something completely different along the coast on North and South Carolina, where Shag means a form of slow Lindy Hop dance popular since the 1940s.
    • Even in Britain, some readers of Sherlock Holmes stories can raise their eyebrows when a character expresses a desire for "shag" -- meaning coarse-cut tobacco.
      • Turned into a Double Entendre in Blackadder Goes Forth (set in World War I), as General Melchett tells "Bob" that Captain Blackadder does a "good line in rough shag" and could "fill your pipe".
    • Goodness knows what Austin Powers would make of the term "shag carpet."
    • Actual advertisement from Charleston, South Carolina: "Memorial Day Shaggin' on the Pier, with music from local Lowcountry bands! Fun for the whole family!"
    • Making the song "Dancin', Shaggin' on the Boulevard" by Alabama hilarious, even if you get the general idea.
    • And an actual agency in Seattle, Washington, the "Senior Housing Assistance Group," with some pretty narmtastic local television commercials...
  • "Knocked up" used to mean "woken up" in Britain, though the American sense of "made pregnant" has pretty much taken over. Still, hilarity often ensues.
    • In Australia, in the the time of time of the Second World War, "knocked up" meant "exhausted and unable to continue." This caused confusion when American Navy personnel were asked to rescue Australian Coast Watchers who were knocked up.
    • This happens to Jennie Breeden of the webcomic The Devil's Panties.
    • It also gets used in Supergirl, when the British-accented demon Buzz asks Linda to knock him up in the morning. Eventually they get it sorted out.

 Supergirl: Demons....

Buzz: Americans....

  • In America "pissed" means angry; in most of the rest of the English-speaking world, it can also mean "drunk" (angry people tend to be described as pissed off rather than just pissed).
    • This led to a memorable scene in the Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back. In a hotel in London, Dylan threw a fit when someone threw a glass (or was it a lightbulb?) out the window. The guy was drunk and tried explaining that he was pissed, so Dylan was like "Oh you're pissed? Don't tell me you're pissed!"
    • On the commentary for Shaun of the Dead, it's stated that the only thing they consciously did to avoid confusing Americans was to say Mary the zombie was "so drunk" instead of "so pissed", because they were aware of this. (The fact that they didn't do this with the fag/cigarette thing caused a lot of unintentional hilarity on the part of American audiences.)
    • The old Frank Sinatra song from the movie High Society, What a Swell Party This Is, causes confusion with the line "she got pissed and I asked her why...". Once past the shock of "Could they say that on American films in the 1940's?", most British listeners think Frank's lady friend was drunk rather than angry. Interestingly enough, British radio and TV broadcast the song with the word pissed un-bleeped. Evidently the BBC think the American usage of the word "pissed" is not as serious as the British.
  • A "dink" in the UK is a small dent, as in a car bumper. In the US it's a childless married couple (an acronym of "double income no kids"). In parts of Australia, it means to give someone a lift on your bike. In Western Canada it's a particularly rude bit of schoolyard slang meaning "penis".
    • An English policeman who had emigrated to Canada was interviewed on the BBC about his new position with the Calgary Police Service. He mentioned that the entire station house burst out laughing when he told one of his coworkers that there was a "dink" on the back bumper of his police car.
    • This may be a regional thing, as this American troper has only ever heard "dink" to mean "small dent".
  • The makers of the US film Wind obviously did not have in mind that in Ye Olde British Empire, the word is a polite way of referring to flatulence.
    • Though the makers of A Mighty Wind probably did.
    • Magic has its share of wind-related cards, of course, but "Blessed Wind" is particularly funny for just this reason.
  • Don't forget the word bum. In Britain, it refers to one's backside. In America, it's generally either a homeless person or the act of asking someone for a cigarette; it's only ever heard to mean "butt" by little kids and adults trying to sound cute.
    • In Canada in the 80s, "bum" was so G-rated that it could be used on children's TV shows. "Butt" was considered much more explosive, on the level of "shit" or "goddammit".
  • In the UK, when the word "bumming" is used without an object (e.g. a cigarette), it refers to the act of anal sex, usually of the male homosexual variety, and is considered a slightly immature phrase. "To bum" can also be used as a term to borrow or beg on both sides of the Atlantic.
    • This can lead to horrible misunderstandings on transatlantic IRC channels, when a British user announces that he's "popping out to bum a fag."
    • "The Gambler Song" (a parody of the Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler") by Australian comedian/singer/songwriter Martin Pearson contains this lyric:

 "Then he bummed a cigarette/

(Most people smoke them with their mouths)"

    • This has similar connotations to "bumming around," e.g. lazing about. "Bumming around all day" and "bumming some food/money" being things a bum is known for, be he homeless or a lazy friend.
    • To "bum a ride" (i.e. mooch a car ride from somebody) opens up its own series of implications.
  • Meanwhile, "tramp" in British English means "a homeless person", while in American it means both that and "a woman who gets around". See "Lady and the Tramp" vs. Frank Sinatra's "The Lady Is A Tramp".
  • An eighties Justice League comic had The Flash (who had no Secret Identity at the time) introduced himself as "Wally" to a group of English girls, who respond with derisive laughter. Afterwards someone explains to him that "Wally" means an idiot.
    • It's a very gentle insult, like something your nan would say.
  • A "discursive essay" is rambling/freeform in America, but tightly structured in Britain.
  • In America, a roommate shares the same suite or flat, not necessarily the same room as in England or Australia (they would say "flatmate" or "housemate"). Leading to this overheard bit of dialogue:

 Yeah, she was my roommate for a year.

Oh? Isn't that a little gay?

No, no, she's lovely.

  • There is an American show now airing in the UK called The Mentalist, about a Derren Brown Captain Ersatz who Fights Crime. Brits tend to have trouble keeping a straight face on hearing that title, which is a playgroundish insult for someone who's "mental" - i.e. crazy.
    • The same insult is used on American playgrounds, or at least was in the late nineties. Of course the superlative form would be "most mental." </pedant>
      • "Mentalist", not "mentalest"; as in, "someone who is mental". It's a slightly clumsy colloquial attempt to turn the adjective "mental" into a noun, not another adjective.
    • "Mentalist" was undoubtedly revived a bit in Britain by an episode of I'm Alan Partridge when Alan runs away from his stalker with the words "no way you big spastic, you're a mentalist!"
    • By the same token, only a British viewer would describe Jane as a "Derren Brown Captain Ersatz". Americans are more likely to compare him to John Edward of Crossing Over.
    • "Mentalist" is a real word, which refers to people who do the same sort of thing that John Edward and Derren Brown do with one crucial difference: that they're only magicians who use the very same reading tricks for entertainment purposes and do not claim to actually be psychic.
  • Russell Brand talks about an encounter with this trope in his New York comedy special, describing the time he was introduced to LL Cool J.

 "'Yo, yo, yo, wazzup my homies?' 'Oh yes, you're wonderful. I love all your homos.'"

  • Nothing dirty on either side of this one: "chips" refer to different types of food depending on whether you're in England or America. The British call the American chips "crisps", and the Americans call the British chips "French fries". Which raises yet another differance as in the UK, French Fries refer to the type you get in fast food places rather than chips as you would get in a Chippy, The popular meal known as "fish and chips" is still commonly called "fish and chips" in America, though, and for some reason Pringles brand crisps still refer to themselves on the can as crisps instead of chips. In America, the thick-cut, skin-on chips associated with chippies are commonly called "steak fries".
    • In Ireland at least "fries" are slowly becoming identified with the dry, very thin sort found in McDonalds or Burger King (or with steak in quality restaurants) while "chips" are the much thicker, chunkier stuff you eat with fish. If you eat it with vinegar it is probably a chip.
    • In Australia, on the other hand, the word "chips" refers to both what they call "crisps" in Britain and what they'd call "fries" in America. The "fries" variety are often called hot chips to differentiate, especially in the context of buying them alongside some fish from a takeaway store. Like in Ireland, the very thin McDonalds-style chips are often called "fries" to differentiate them from the larger chips you get in most other places.
    • To add to the confusion, there is a type of crisps/chips named "French Fries"
    • In the US Pringles was forced to rename their product from "potato chips" because "chips" were legally defined be actual sliced potatoes, which isn't what Pringles makes. They use chopped up bits of potato reconstituited into a uniform shape. They use less than 50% potato in their crisps.
    • In South Africa, neither "fries" nor "crisps" are a thing. Chips are chips; fries are "slap chips," "slap" being Afrikaans for "soft / floppy."
    • This one can actually get slightly dirty on the American side, as a "chippie" can refer to a promiscuous woman.
    • In Israel, french fries are specifically called "Potato chips," and crisps are not widely available.
  • Another one is tinned/canned when referring to food. The process of home canning (preserving food not in tin cans, but in vacuum-sealed glass jars) adds another layer of confusion.
  • The phrase "she's full of spunk" would be interpreted by most Americans to mean that the woman in question is opinionated and outgoing in a cute and charming way. In Britain it would be interpreted to mean that the woman had just slept with a large number of men.
    • In "Money, A Suicide Note" by Martin Amis, the main character is sent to try to get a very clean cut actor called Spunk Davies to use a stagename instead.
    • Nicely played with in Blackadder Goes Forth, when Melchett assumes the crossdressing George is a woman and says she's "full of spunk." Blackadder is quietly amused.
  • Soccer/football/American football.
    • Football is a generic name for a group of sports with a shared history; the source of the word is that they are played on foot (i.e., not on horseback). In any part of the world where one of them is the dominant code, that code will be called simply "football". This can be rugby football (either union or league), association football (soccer), American football, Canadian football, Australian Rules Football or Gaelic Football -- and possibly others.
  • The British expression "keep your pecker up" does not translate well into American English. Pecker in Britain means spirits or nerve, but pecker is also slang for penis.
  • "Screwed up" means "rolled up" in Britain. In America it means "messed up" or "disturbing" and in Australia it means "broken" (though the American version has filtered into British and Australian usage).
  • "Spastic" has the same literal meaning on both sides of the Atlantic: relating to muscle spasms. However, its colloquial use couldn't be more different. While remaining more-or-less neutral in North America, it, and its abbreviated form "spaz", quickly became an insult in the UK -- originally applied to people with disabilities characterized by muscle spasms, but later broadened to refer to mental retardation due to people's ignorance about disabilities. It's an easy mistake to make; even Tiger Woods and Nintendo have been guilty of Not Doing The Research about this word.
    • Calling someone a "spaz" in some US regions is a weak, childish insult of the type used on elementary school grounds. Its use in media usually indicates the person attempting to be insulting is not very threatening or has an otherwise childish vocabulary as insults go. It's not as common as it used to be, however. Calling someone a "retard" is similarly distorted and sees more use; it's a slightly less childish insult in the US but considered the only more venomous insult to your intelligence in the UK after "spaz" since at least the early 2000s.
    • In the midwestern US "retard" has quickly become an insult more on par with its UK meaning with some even considering it on par with the "N word".
      • Calling someone a "mong" in the UK is also deeply offensive on several levels--it's drawn from the word "mongoloid," which used to be a term for people with Down's syndrome (used by Mr. Down himself).
    • Actually, "spastic" tends to be considered an ableist slur in the United States as well, but "spaz" is considered a harmless schoolyard insult meaning that someone is either disorganized/forgetful or a Cloudcuckoolander, depending on the context.
  • The word "Paki" is a very derogatory term for a Pakistani person in Britain, while in parts of the US (notably Boston) "packie" is a slang term for a liquor store, which are sometimes called package stores. Leading to such exchanges as:

 Americans of Bostonian origin: "Let's find a packie and get some booze."

Englishmen of Pakistani origin: "Um, most of us don't drink and that's our word."

    • In this case "packie" is short for "package store", because the liquor is purchased in sealed packages for off-premises consumption -- what's called an "off-licence" in Britain (contraction of off-premises, as opposed to a license to sell it for drinking on the premises e.g. a pub or bar).
    • George W Bush fell particularly afoul of this one: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/jan/09/usa.matthewengel
    • While this usage does occur in Boston, more notable are the hundreds of miles around Boston where this term is the norm for a place that sells alcohol- New England is more than just Boston. In Connecticut, for example, any place that sells liquor will have "Package Store" written on it. There is almost no such thing as a "liquor store" in this area.
  • 'Stuffed animal' in America means a plush toy shaped like an animal. In Britain, it means... well, it means a stuffed animal, like what a hunter might keep as a trophy from hunting game. They would refer to the toys as "soft toys" or "teddies" or specifically describe the toy, e.g. "teddy bear," "toy rabbit." Likewise, Americans would refer to the specific animal that was stuffed in the way British people think of when they hear when someone says "stuffed animal" (such as a stuffed deer) while "stuffed animal" only refers to plush toys when used as a general term. Naturally, furry cosplayers should be careful how they use the expression. British people do generally understand the American usage; it just might not be the first thing that springs to mind.
  • In Britain "pudding" usually implies a hot sweet course (and dessert a cold one) although the lines are somewhat blurred nowadays. In parts of the country, a pudding may refer to a specific type of hot dish (such as a steamed pudding), some versions of which can be savoury. Specific types of pudding (Sticky toffee pudding, queen of puddings, suet pudding) are traditional British dishes. In the U.S., it's a dairy dessert thickened by starch (a British person would likely call it "custard," although in America, that's specifically thickened with eggs).
    • To add to the confusion, Americans visiting the UK would not want to try Yorkshire pudding for desert; it's actually a kind of dry batter dish accompanying roast meat. The closest American equivalent is the popover, from which individual-sized Yorkies are nearly indistinguishable.
      • Likewise black pudding, which is a blood sausage.
      • Or pease pudding, which is a bit like peanut butter, or a dripping, only made from peas.
    • In a similar case, Australian and British savoury pies containing meat are very common, while in the US "pie" seems to refer primarily to a sweet pastry stuffed with fruit or vegetables. Occasionally American productions will treat pies full of meat as unusual, which itself seems very odd elsewhere. There is also the "pastie" or Cornish Pasty, (pronounced "Pah-stee", not "pay-stee"), a type of meat and vegetable pie which is common in Australia and Britain but unknown in many parts of the US, where a pastie is apparently what strippers wear over their nipples to adhere to state decency laws.
      • The exceptions to this are "pot pies", which resemble fruit-filled pies but are typically filled with meats, vegetables, and/or gravy and "beef pies" (also called beef patties) which are flaky pockets filled with seasoned ground beef & occasionally cheese which bear a passing resemblance to empanadas (a similar food of Hispanic origin). Both kinds are a fairly common food throughout the NE seaboard, and can be purchased at fast food establishments and supermarkets alike, though the beef pie variety are more common in regions with Caribbean diaspora. Both are usually eaten as appetizers or snacks.
  • According to The Other Wiki, a misunderstanding once took place between American and British planners during WW 2 surrounding the verb, "to table". (US usage: Postpone. UK usage: propose) The British wanted to table a matter immediately, as it was important, while the Americans felt that the matter was important and should not be tabled at all.
    • These days, both usages of the word show up in American usage, which can be very confusing indeed.
      • In America, "to table" means "to postpone a discussion or matter" exclusively. Nobody in America proposes an idea by tabling it. Instead, they "bring the matter of X to the table."
  • Interestingly, the number of American shows aired in the UK means a lot more American slang is understood and used over here.
  • Cunt is a much worse insult in the US than in England.
    • It's also more likely to be aimed at women, making it not just a profanity but a sexist slur. In other places it's more or less gender-neutral (probably more likely to be used toward men, if anything).
    • It's very acceptable in some parts of Ireland, and in Connacht 'cuntish' is regularly used to drive something as bad or undesirable.
      • Most non-Australians - and even these days some Australians - are unaware that the quaint local slang term "dropkick" is an abbreviated bit of rhyming slang derived from an obsolete Australian Rules Football play, the "dropkick and punt" (work out the rhyme for yourself). It's therefore considerably more offensive than it appears.
        • It has two meanings then, younger people use it to mean idiot and/or clumsy.
    • It must be a truly powerful insult in the US then because it's considered unspeakably insulting in Britain as well. It is a very gender-oriented insult and often considered one of the worst insults possible in the English language to direct towards a woman.
      • Heard of George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" routine? It's the one word you still can't say on television.
    • Also, many Brits these days are unaware that the word "Berk" (pronounced "Burk", not "Bark") - which is often used as an almost affectionate insult to refer to someone who's a bit scatter-brained ("Oh, you silly berk!"), actually derives from a highly insulting term in cockney rhyming slang; "Berk" was actually originally a shortened form of the term "Berkshire Hunt" (here it is pronounced "Bark-sher"), which of course was cockney for "Cunt".
  • In the States, a fag is a slur against members of the LGBT community. In Britain, a fag is a cigarette or cigarette butt. Can lead to cases awkward cases where an American is confused when a British tourists asks where he could have a fag.
    • You're a cigarette!
    • On a similar note, faggot historically meant either "bundle of firewood held together with string" or a kind of meatball in the UK - the former has mostly fallen out of use, but the meatballs are still fairly widely available (although the American usage is more well-known now).
    • In Good Omens, Newton Pulsifer has a Witchfinder's card which states that faggots (meaning chunks of firewood) should be turned over to him. When an American soldier asks what they do with the faggots, Newton replies "We burn them." The soldier is quite impressed....
  • 'Shit', in colloquial US and Australian parlance, seems like it can be used to denote anything; a substitute for 'stuff' (whilst retaining its specific, scatalogical meaning), or as a general synonym for "nonsense". In the UK it remains much more of a negative word. A US observer commenting on, say, your fully-stocked fridge by saying 'Wow, you've got loads of shit in here' would probably be received a little coldly. You can describe random stuff as 'shit', but only to give the impression you don't think much of it. (Unless you are a World War II RAF pilot who speaks like a 2010s teenager.)

 Eddie: ...and shit?

    • Stephen Fry once pointed out that if an American says "I was eating hamburgers and shit" you can tell what he means, but written down it looks like he's saying, well, "I was eating hamburgers and shit".

 George Carlin: Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?

    • Conversely, the term "bollocks" seems fill the role of "shit" in the UK, much to the confusion of Americans. Whilst the literal term differs (bollocks being slang for testicles), the usage is the same:
      • Example 1: "This is bollocks." = "This is shit." (i.e. negative term, means bad, terrible, etc.)
      • Example 2: "This is the dog's bollocks." = "This is the shit." (i.e. positive term, means great, brilliant, etc.)
  • In the USA, the term 'handicapped' remains acceptable from a Political Correctness point of view. In the UK, it has fallen out of favour, and some disabled people will take significant offence if called handicapped. In Canada, "handicapped" refers specifically to disabled persons with mobility problems, and has no negative connotations whatsoever.
  • English as spoken in Ireland (and sometimes in the UK as well) has picked up a few words from Irish. Many Irish people have gone to America and had amusing reactions to their use of the phrase "How's the craic?". It means "What's up?/What's happening?", but craic is pronounced 'crack'.
  • "Solicitor", in Britain, refers to a lawyer who doesn't take part in trials. The American legal system does not have the Barrister/Solicitor separation, and as such, the word is not common. Calling one that in America could imply that you've mistaken them for a salesman... or it could get you sued for slander, as "soliciting" refers to asking for or extorting sex and/or drugs.
    • In fairness, the latter usage (of solicit as a verb/gerund) is used in the UK as well: most law students get a talk at least once a semester reminding them that "Solicitors do not solicit. Solicitation is a crime, and is what prostitutes are charged with".
  • Though most of these are now obsolete, G. K. Chesterton notices a number of these Anglo-American differences in his writings. He was told that a lady journalist had referred to him as "a regular guy" and did not see how that was meant to be complimentary; in the American usage of the time, the phrase meant "someone who was affable and not snobbish," whereas in the British use then current, it meant "a figure designed to be mocked, a scarecrow, or an object of ridicule." He was warned by an American friend against certain people because they were "very bad actors"; GKC did not know why their defective thespian abilities should cause him anxiety, until it was explained that this was American for "malefactors." Similarly, an American friend told him her sister had "gotten a beau" -- by which he understood her to have devoted herself to archery.
    • "Guyed" as a verb still means "mocked", although it's fairly obscure. The origin is Guy Fawkes, who gets burnt in effigy every year on November the 5th, so yes, a scarecrow and figure of ridicule.
  • In Britain, "outhouse" can be used to refer to any number of subsidiary buildings on a property, such as a barn, guest house, or shed. In America, it's used exclusively for that type of enclosed outdoor toilet which might be called a "privy" in the U.K., a "dunny" in Australia, or a "long-drop" in New Zealand and South Africa.
  • Be very careful asking for a "napkin" while in a restaurant. It can mean either "serviette" or "diaper" depending on where you are.
  • In America, "fanny" means "butt". Particularly, it's similar to "hiney" or "rear" as a giggly euphemism used by little kids, so it's often used as Toilet Humor in children's shows. This must be pretty horrifying to British viewers - over there, "fanny" is a much ruder word which refers to female genitalia, similar to "snatch" or "pussy" in the US. On top of that, there's the American tourist garment called the "fanny pack," which makes things even more confusing as it's actually worn across the front...

 Keith: Fanny means your arse. (Beat) Not your minge.

    • In the UK, we call a "fanny pack" a "bum bag". Yes, that's a bum as in your gluteus maximus, and yes, we do still wear it on the front...
    • Wikipedia to the rescue! Names: A fanny pack (US, Canada), belt pack (US), belly bag (US), Buffalo pouch (US), hip sack (US), waist bag (US), hip pack (UK), bum bag (UK, Oceania, Ireland), cangurera (Mexico), koala (Venezuela), banano (South America), riñonera (Argentina), pochete (Brazil) or moon bag (South Africa), is a small fabric pouch secured with a zipper and worn by use of a strap around the hips or waist.
    • The makers of Goldfinger recall sending early rushes of the Golden Woman Lying On The Bed scene to the movie's producer Cubby Broccoli, who kept telephoning to say the shots were unacceptable as her fanny is on full show and we'll never get it past the censors. The British production crew were perplexed, as her fanny was not showing at all, given that she was lying on her front... her arse was visible, yes, but not her fanny...
  • One example that frequently affects this wiki and other wikis like it: What American TV calls a "season"; i.e., a sequence of episodes produced and aired in a particular year, is part of a "series". In the UK, these are often used far more interchangeably when talking about seasons (although not when talking about a series), although American usage is starting to catch on thanks to the internet.
    • In American usage "a series" refers to all of the seasons of a show.
  • In America, 'Hooker' is a common term for 'prostitute'. In Ireland, 'Hooker' (properly the Galway Hooker, pronounced HOO-kah) is a term for a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay, and sometimes used for racing. An example of this term can be seen in "Irish Lace", a mystery-romance novel by Andrew M. Greeley; the female lead, the Irish-born Nuala Anne McGrael, first meets Chicago Bishop "Blackie" Ryan, a recurring character in Greeley's novels, while attending an outdoor Sunday Service while wearing a t-shirt that reads "Connamora Hooker". Bishop Ryan, himself part-Irish, asks if she crewed on a Galway Hooker in college. Given that Greeley himself is an Irish Catholic priest, it would be safe to assume that her t-shirt was referring to the nautical term.
    • "Hooker" is also the name of a position in rugby. Even beginner rugby players in Ireland sometimes get a giggle out of this one.
  • Also in Ireland "cute" is sometimes used to mean sly. A "cute whore" is an especially sly person, not an attractive prostitute.
  • In the US, Oriental is considered an outdated and potentially racist term for people from East Asian countries, and the term Asian is much preferred. In the UK, Oriental is considered politically correct and the term Asian tends to be reserved for people from South Asian countries.
    • YMMV on this one. In the midwestern US, "Oriental" is little more than a slightly archaic synonym for "Asian" with no racist connotations. Also, referring to objects as Oriental (in style, etc.) in any region will not be taken as offensive.
  • When an American asks for a brew, it means a beer. In the UK, it means a cup of tea.
  • In the US, you travel between floors of a building in an elevator. In the UK, you travel between floors in a lift. In addition, in the US, you start at the 1st floor and go up to the 2nd; in the UK, you start at the ground floor and go up to the 1st.
  • In the US, "cow" is slang for a fat or stupid woman (or both) while in the UK and Canada it's a mild word for bitch. So to an American, terms like "fat cow" and "skinny cow" could be taken as redundant or contradictory.
    • While the above is mostly correct, "cow" is occasionally used as per the British/Canadian sense in America.
  • In the UK, a flashlight is called a torch. In the US, a torch is a stick with a flame on the end.
    • This caused some confusion with American audiences watching Chicken Run when Mrs. Tweedy asks Mr. Tweedy to get the torch and he brings her a flashlight.
  • In parts of Britain, especially the North, a mojo is a small liquorice-flavoured chewy candy. This causes confusion when coming accross the American usage of the word as either voodou sex-magic, or as a euphemism for an African-American's penis. Therefore listening to a blues singer boasting of getting his mojo working can provoke vague incomprehension of the "so can we, they're sold at four for tuppence down at the sweet shop, what's the big deal?" variety. And the mojo (sweet) is usually black in colour. So it can work the other way too, as when a Northern girl remarked to an American friend in an internet chat-room that she was sucking on a big black mojo even as she typed and it doesn't half taste lovely!
    • Less sexual, but still possibly confusing, the western states use mojo as a synonym of magic. For example, the motto of the Seattle Mariners (a baseball team) is "So Do Mojo," referring to their stadium in South Downtown.
  • In Australia, "bogon" or "bogan" is a class-based putdown, often used in a vaguely affectionate way. In Canada, it's a racist insult. (Possibly because in French, a bougnoul, or bougnoule is a derogatory racist word for a North African Arab, on a par with "wog" or "nigger"). In the rest of the world, a bogon is an address in unassigned or reserved IP space, which is clearly invalid and non-routable.
  • What Americans call a purse - a small-ish bag carried by women containing their keys, phone, etc. - is called a handbag in the UK. The small thing women keep their money and credit cards in - the female version of a wallet, is what Brits call a purse.
  • British tights and American pantyhose are exactly the same thing, but it's interesting how a user of one term is often totally ignorant of the other - this has led to polite mutual incomprehension over on the YKTTW page in a discussion of what it means when a female character wears tights with a skirt.
    • Some Americans do use "tights" and "pantyhose" interchangeably, though "tights" is slightly more associated with the thicker variety worn by little girls and dancers (also known as leggings), and which is (occasionally) acceptable as outerwear.
    • Probably only acceptable as outerwear when worn by very little girls or dancers, but not that kind of dancer. [3]
  • A military example, one that might have lost the Allies the Korean War: when the Chinese attacked Korea in 1951, a mere 2,000 or so British soldiers were confronted with up to 100,000 Chinese attacking their section of the line. The American general rang his British counterpart to ask if the Brits needed support. The British commander said, with superb and as it turned out, totally misleading, understatement "it's a bit sticky". What he meant was "we're being slaughtered, and we need reinforcement urgently." What the American heard was "Well, the Brits seem to be managing perfectly OK and don't need any help." So he refrained from sending any. The result was that an entire British regiment, the Gloucesters, died practically to the last man - only thirty or so out of 800 managed to escape. American reinforcements finally arrived, no thanks to the communications breakdown, and the line was held...
  • In most of the world, the word "barbecue" is a verb, meaning "to grill". However, in the American South (and part of the Midwest) it refers to a specific style of outdoor cookery, distinct from grilling. Grilling is done fairly quickly, over an open flame and/or coals. Barbecue is a far slower process (several hours at minimum) involving lower heat, which may or may not involve the subspeciality known as "smoking," which is even slower. The word barbecue can also be applied as a noun to the products of the whole process. In Britain, it is generally applies to any form done outside without a specific process, as well as as a noun to the object this is done on.
  • In South Africa, only the larger magnetic disks are referred to as "floppies." The smaller 3.5" disks are, of course, called "stiffies" ... Fortunately, since these storage media are obsolete, it's no longer much of a problem.
  • A biscuit in America is a bread product with a soft inside and a somewhat crispy outside, similar to a scone. In the Commonwealth a biscuit is a dry cookie that in America would be called a cracker (that popular accompaniment to A Spot of Tea, the digestive biscuit, is a Graham cracker). For further confusion, there's a similar item called "beaten biscuit" in American South or "sea biscuit" in New England, or "pilot biscuit" or "pilot bread" in other regions.
  • In the UK, letters arriving through the door is the post, is posted when sent, and the man delivering it is the postman. In the US it's the mail, is mailed when sent, and delivered by the mailman. Just to confuse things further, the postman is an employee of Royal Mail, whereas the mailman is an employee of the Postal Service.
    • While not as common as mailman, the term postman is used in the States, however when a document is "posted" it means its been hung on the wall as a notice
  • In America, the fruit of the capsicum plant is typically called a "pepper", or sometimes "chili pepper", whereas in Britain said fruit is typically referred to simply as a "chilli" (note the spelling), and "pepper" by itself refers exclusively to the dried and ground fruit of the piper plant, which Americans usually call "black pepper", while "peppers" generally refers to American bell peppers. The term "chili", when used by itself in America, usually refers to chili con carne.
  • In America (at least, the city of Los Angeles and eastward) "thick" means voluptuous, and it's a compliment. Everywhere else, it means stupid.
    • In America, it depends on ethnicity/community. For example, some black/Latino guys would say their girls are "thick" and mean it as a good thing. Most white girls would take offense at that and think he was calling her fat.
    • In Ireland, a thick person is someone who is angry or sulky. Or sometimes just stupid.
  • "Lemonade" is a drink made from lemon, sugar and water in the US, and a similar but carbonated drink in the UK. However, in Australia and New Zealand, it refers to clear carbonated drinks like Sprite.
    • American style Lemonade does exist in the UK, though is usually explicitly referred to as Still Lemonade to differentiate from "traditional" UK varieties.
  • Carbonated drinks have many names, depending on the region you're in - pop, soda, coke, fizzy drink, etc.
  • During the Cold War, in the UK, the highest state of alert, was BIKINI state Red, whilst the lowest state was BIKINI state White. In the US, a red alert meant DEFCON 2; DEFCON 1 (the highest state of readiness) was actually a white alert.
  • "Ice block" is usually, well, a block of ice, but in New Zealand it sometimes refers to what Americans would call a Popsicle.
  • Another food example: "candy" (North America) vs "sweets" (UK and Ireland) vs "lollies" (Australia and New Zealand).
  • In Australia and New Zealand, if you are asked to "bring a plate" to a gathering, it means to bring a plate of food to share around, similar to potluck. In the rest of the English-speaking world, it means... to bring a plate, without food.
  • British people often use "meant" in casual language, where an American would say "supposed". For example, in America, the question "Who am I meant to be?" would only be used if the person speaking was contemplating their existence; in Britain, one could ask that question in order to clarify after being mistaken for someone else, in which case an American would say "Who am I supposed to be?".
    • Likewise, to an American, "it was meant to be a red pen" implies that a higher power intended the item in question to be a red pen; a reference to pulling out the wrong item from your pocket would be "it was supposed to be a red pen".
  • Brits say "different to", Americans say "different from".

Other languages

  • In European French, "gosse" is an informal term for "child". In Quebec, it means "testicles". It is a very common source of gags.
    • French-Canadian seem prone to funny Anglicisms too : when a Quebecer sais "Je suis chaude" (literally from English "I'm hot", in the "too warm" meaning of the word), a French will understand "I'm horny". Confusion (and expectation) particularly arises when you take off some clothes since you're "hot".
      • It gets funnier: The most common Quebecois meaning of the phrase "Je suis chaud/chaude" (adjectives are gendered in French) is "I'm drunk".
    • According to most French speakers "chauffer" means "to heat" as in over a fire. In Quebec, it's a loanword from English, derived from "chauffeur" and means "to drive". Along a similar line, "char" in France means "tank" or "chariot", but in Quebec it means "car". So, if you're going to "chauffer mon char"...
    • There's also the minor problem of "sacre" the Quebecois system of swearing. Europe isn't nearly as strict about religion as Quebec was when the swears were established, so they don't translate. This leads to French speakers in Europe adopting them without understanding their severity. But saying "tabarnak" in Quebec is considered worse than any English or European French swear word (an American equivalent would be at somewhat over the "Jesus motherfucking Christ" level of profanity; we still use it pretty often anyway, and it can sometimes even be heard on primetime TV shows - yeah we swear a lot). In France, it's more of a Gosh Dang It to Heck replacement for France's swear words, which are related to sex, not religion. So when a Quebecois travels to Paris...
      • Of course, that's something of a two-way street, with the Quebecois thinking nothing of using French swears. Perhaps fortunately (for this trope anyway), Quebecers tend to prefer using American swearwords for mild ones.
  • In Flemish, "Ik zit vol" ("I'm full") is a way of saying one is pregnant. In the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands, it's a way of saying one has had enough to eat. This has lead to some embarrassment.
    • Even in Belgium (the Flemish part) most people don't really know it, so it's probably very regionally bound.
  • The phrase "Ik zie u graag" ("I like seeing you.") means "I'm in love with you." in Flanders, but not in the Netherlands. So when a Flemish person says this to a Dutch person, the message will quite probably not get across.
  • Also famous for this is the verb "poepen", which to Dutch people means "to shit", but which for Flemish people means "to have sex". So no matter where you go to poep, someone will always think you're weird. Especially since the word is, in both dialects, a relatively tame and decent alternative to various less polite terms. So these cases usually end up sounding like "I'm going to make love in the shithouse" or "we're going to the toilet in her bed".
  • Portuguese in Portugal and Brazil is similar, but many words mean different things overseas:
    • "Banheiros": in Brazil, bathrooms/restrooms; in Portugal, lifeguards.
    • "Durex": in Brazil and Australia, duct tape; in the rest of the world, a brand of condom common in the UK and Europe.
    • "Puto": in Portugal, kid; in Brazil, masculine of "whore". In Tagalog, rice cakes, though that depends largely on the intonation: pu-to means male-whore, pu-to means rice cake.
    • Similarly, "Rapariga" in Portugal means girl, young woman; in Brazil, it means "whore".
    • If you say "Vou tomar uma pica no cu." in Portugal, you're about to go get a shot for, say, flu, on your buttocks. In Brazil, not only are you telling people that you're gay, but you're also announcing that you're about to be sodomized. And being quite vulgar about how you say it, in fact.
      • One could go even further: "Vou pegar uma bicha para tomar uma pica no cu" -- in Portugal, you just got in line for that flu shot on the buttocks; in Brazil, you just explicitly added that you'll be picking up a gay man with the specific intention of being sodomized (and still being pretty rude and vulgar about the whole thing).
    • Computer jargon in Brazil and Portugal is also pretty much mutually exclusive, since Brazil prefers to import words from English or do only mild adaptations, while Portugal only translates.
      • Sometimes you need to think about the etymology of the translated word to be able to understand the other ("Arquivo"/"Ficheiro", both meaning File. Brazilians can only understand "Ficheiro" by thinking about what "Arquivo" meant 50 years ago)
    • There are also significant differences in grammar, such as the gerund. Portugal usually uses "estar a <<plain verb>>" (with the "estar" appropriately flexed), while Brazil uses "<<verb>>ando" (or "endo" or "indo").
  • Spanish is chock-full of these on account of being spoken in 20 countries of the American continent, a very heterogeneous country in Europe, an African and an Asian country (Philippines and Equatorial Guinea) and the entire south of the United States, to the extent that Spanish pages have to either focus on a specific target country or use a region-neutral dialect.
    • "Cajeta" is Argentinian for "vagina", and Mexican for a caramelized milk confection known in Argentina as "dulce de leche".
    • "Euzkadi" is the Basque language name in Spain for the Basque Country, but in Mexico, it's the name of a famous brand of tires named "Euzkadi Radial".
  • The Spaniard phrase "por la cara" is a literal translation of the British phrase "by the face" who normaly mean "free" in Spain and the U.K. but in Mexico (and possibly the U.S. too) "por la cara/by the face" could be translated as "receiving something in the face" (normally a punch).
  • "Pendejo" is Mexican for "asshole" and Argentinian for "brat". It can also mean "pubic hair" or "coward".
  • "Cachondo" is Spaniard for "funny" and Mexican for "horny"; "guarro", meanwhile, is Spaniard for "dirty" and Mexican for "bodyguard".
  • The verb "coger" is probably the most (in)famous example of Separated by a Common Language in Spanish. It means "get" or "pick up" in Spain and a few Latin American countries, but in Mexico and many South American countries, it's an offensive word that means "to fuck."
    • The word "guagua" means "bus," "van" or "truck" in Canarian Spanish and several dialects influenced by it (e.g., Cuba, Puerto Rico, Louisiana). So, "coger la guagua" means "take the bus" in Canarian and Puerto Rican Spanish. In Chile, however, "guagua" means "baby." I won't spell out the potential for confusion here.
  • Computer-based terminology can be a royal pain to translate depending which Spanish-speaking country you're talking about:
    • In Mexico a "Monitor" is a computer screen, but in Spain a "Monitor" is a type of speaker used in music production. (And in the U.S., it can be either, although the "computer screen" definition is probably better known.)
    • In Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, and Puerto Rico the word "computer" is translated as "computadora" but in the rest of the Latin American countries is translated as "computador" and in Spain as "ordenador".
      • Using "ordenador" could possibly be a way to avoid a version of the Scunthorpe Problem, as the Spanish word "puta" (whore) is in the words "computador" and "computadora."
    • The word "File" can be translated as "Archivo" in Mexico but in Spain is translated as "Fichero".
    • The Mitsubishi Pajero is a car named for the Pampas cat (from "paja" meaning hay). But it had to be renamed for certain markets because "pajero" also means "wanker" in various Spanish dialects. In America, it is the Mitsubishi Montero, and it is the Mitsubishi Shogun in Britain.
  • In China, 搞 means "to do". In Hong Kong, it can mean "fuck".
    • The less innocent meaning has caught on in the Mainland, although the default would still be to assume the former.
      • To be fair, "to do" can mean "to fuck" in many other locations, as well, although typically only as a secondary slang use (e.g. England and America).
    • This is where we get the infamous line "R2, do you is fucking".
  • In Japanese, やる means "to do," but can also mean fuck. Kids shows sometimes say "やらないか?" which means "Wontcha do it with me?" and just like in English, that can get a few snickers. (For those who were wondering, this is romanized as "yaranaika.)
    • In addition, the regular form of "to do" in Japanese, する, can lead to some... unusual translations. To say "make something [adjective]", you "do it [adjectively]", or to "make something [noun]" you "do it towards [noun]". Furthermore, as verb classes are very strict, loanwords must be appended with the word "do" to become verbs (e.x. you don't copy something, you "do copy", you don't homework, you "do homework"). This leads to literal translations such as "please do the honorable forgiveness to me, master".
    • In American English at least, "to do" can mean "to fuck", which explains some of the issues in the infamous mistakes in "backstroke of the west".
  • The Nordic languages Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are close enough that native speakers of one language will understand the other two. Basically it's three dialects that happen to be separated by political borders, and use slightly different spelling conventions. This, of course, means that the occasional differences in vocabulary (particularly where the same words have different meanings) can lead to much hilarity. One frequent source of puns and misunderstandings is the word "rolig", which means "calm" in Danish, but "funny, amusing" in Swedish. Another funny one is "tutt", which means "tittie" in Swedish, but "pacifier" in Norwegian. (Yeah... that's sorta related, I guess.)
    • It's "tutte" in Swedish, and it can mean both tit and pacifier.
    • Tutte doesn't actually mean anything at all in Norwegian (pacifier is "smokk"), although because of familiarity with Swedish many Norwegians will associate it with breasts.
    • There's also "rar", which is the Swedish word for "cute, sweet", but means "strange, weird" in Norwegian. "You're the strangest girl I've ever met." (In Swedish "rar" can also mean "rare". However, it's almost never used that way.)
      • In Danish "rar" also means "nice/friendly", say "You're a nice guy." It's not commonly used, but worth noting.
    • And also the word "yr", which in Swedish means "dizzy", but in Norwegian can mean "frisky" (although used, in that sense, about as rarely as the word frisky in English) or "light drizzle". However, the Norwegian word "ør" (pronounced as American "her" without the h) has approximately the same meaning as Swedish "yr", so that confusion will often be avoided.
    • Fun fact: Swedes generally have a harder time understanding Norwegian and Danish (especially Danish) than Norwegians and Danes have understanding Swedish.
    • Most Swedes moving to Norway will learn fairly quickly that it is not a good idea to invite new friends over for a cold "bärs" (meaning "beer" in Swedish) from the fridge, since it is pronounced the same as the Norwegian "bæsj" (meaning "poo/feces"). Additionally, a Swede being asked what his plans for the weekend are might reply that he is going to "pula" (meaning "do small repairs/tidying up/etc" in Swedish) around the house and garden. In Norwegian, "pule" is a rather obscene slang verb for "fornication", and in Danish, it's slang for anal rape.
    • Danes heading into Sweden on shopping trips also have to watch out - the Danish word for "bag", "taske", is almost homophonous with Swedish words meaning "mean" and "scrotum".
      • Equally a source of much embarrasment, the Danish word for "free", "gratis", isn't too far off the Swedish word "grattis", which means... "congratulations".
        • "Gratis" exists in Swedish as well, with the same meaning, vowel length is extremely important and we don't think of two words only differentiated by that as sounding similar at all.
  • The closely related Finnish and Estonian languages are full of these. "Pulmad" means "wedding" in Estonian, "pulmat" means "problems" in Finnish. "Sulhanen" means groom in Finnish, "sulane" farmhand in Estonian. "Hallitus" means government in Finnish, and mould in Estonian. "Ruumide koristamine" means "the cleaning up of rooms" in Estonian, "ruumiiden koristaminen" in Finnish would be "the decoration of corpses". The Finnish word for "cheap" means "bad" in Estonian, which leads to many amusing situations when Finns in Estonia are discussing prices in stores or restaurants.
    • "Kannatus" means "support" in Finnish (the support some politician or political party has) but "suffering" in Estonian. And so on. There's even a book which lists the incidents of this trope between Finnish and Estonian.
  • This can happen with Chinese characters across different languages, as well. In Japanese, 大根 (daikon, literally "big root") refers to a kind of radish (as well as being the local term for a Large Ham). In China, the same two characters mean...well...a "big root", but not on a plant.
    • Have you ever seen a daikon? It has a similar connotation in Japan, and some intriguing cultural artifacts bear this out... An old-enough-to-get-away-with-it granny in Japan might declare "揉んで味出せ捻大根", or to the linguistically limited, "a shriveled radish needs a good rub before it's any good".
    • Also in Japanese, 手紙 (tegami) means "letter" (as in, one sent in the mail). In Chinese, 手紙 (shouzhi) is "toilet paper".
  • Loanwords can take on a life of their own when borrowed from other languages, particularly English, to Japanese. Consider "bloomers": in the UK and the Anglosphere in general, they're a frilly item of clothing that your great-grandmother might have worn under her skirts. In Japan, they're a tight-fitting item of clothing that your wife might have worn in high school gym class, as well as major Fetish Fuel.
    • They're also what cheerleaders wear under their uniform skirts (at least in America) which might explain the confusion.
  • Let's just say that there's a reason American Sign Language, British Sign Language, French Sign Language, and so forth, are all separate languages.
    • ASL is an extremely regional language. Signs can vary greatly depending on where you are. For example, the sign for a cherry (the fruit) in some regions is identical to the sign for oral sex in others.
  • The Philippines, being an archipelago, has had several very different languages develop among the certain isolated island clusters. While there are many shared local words and similarly loaned words from former colonizers, quite a lot can mean different things even when spelled and pronounced similarly. For example, the word "langgam" means "ant" in Tagalog while in Visayan it means "bird."
  • There are so, so many in Indonesian and Malay. Not exactly a common language, but they're generally mutually intelligible languages so these are actually pretty common. (Most of the time, awkward silence happens first, 'then' Hilarity Ensues.)
    • Malaysian cooking show hosts may ask their viewers to "menggauli", or mix a certain concoction. An Indonesian listening in may wonder why and how they'd rape a concoction.
    • In Indonesian, "buntut" is perfectly normal word meaning "tail", but in Malay it means "butt". Malay uses "ekor" instead. (which is a synonim of "tail" in Indonesian)
    • In Malaysia, the national census is known as "Banci Penduduk". An Indonesian would have presumed that transvestites are banned there....
  • There is a line somewhere between the South and North of Germany that marks the separation between Bavarian/Alpine and Northern German dialects. Everything that claims to be speaking German south of it, including Austria and Switzerland... yeah.
    • Except that the Northern German dialects are even more different from standard German than the Southern German dialects are. It's just that the actual Northern German (or "Low German", as opposed to the standard "High German") dialects have become mostly extinct and most Northern Germans nowadays speak the standard language that was almost like a foreign language to their great-grandparents
    • Which is not to say that the various countries and regions south of the line are not also Separated by a Common Language. For example, the phrase "Half ten" can shift in meaning by a full hour over a distance of a few hundred kilometers. In most of the world, this means 10:30, but in German, it means 9:30; as in "half to ten". People from North America use a different set of phrases for giving the time without reading the whole thing out; half past ten means the same thing as half ten in British English, quarter past ten means 10:15, and quarter till eleven means 10:45.
    • Switzerland is the above countries plus one. There are at least three major dialects of Alemannic (Swiss) German (Low, High, and Highest Alemannic), with several minor dialects of each. And then Swiss French and Italian are their own subdialects of archaic dialects of their respective languages. And the Swiss, needless to say, take extreme pride in all this.
    • And then there's Romansh, a language spoken by less than 1 % of the Swiss people, that still counts as a national language and thus is represented on Swiss national TV - with German subtitles. Again, a source of pride for those who care about it.
    • The dialects are also a source of humour: the Bernese dialect is noticeably slower than most, thus the Bernese people are considered a bit slow by most other Swiss, which is coincidentally where the phrase "Swiss Moment" derives it's name. [4]
    • Most Swiss are aware their dialect is just a standardized orthography and a serious literary tradition away from being a separate west Germanic language (like Dutch) and thus try to speak "standard German" when conversing with Germans. However, there are some subtleties not everyone is aware of, like "Peperoni" meaning (fruity) bell peppers in Switzerland and (hot) chili peppers in Germany. "You are going to put what into the salad?"
    • And "Finken" which is a form of the German word for "finch" and in Swiss German means a sort of shoes you wear inside the house.
  • A common occurrence in Arabic, what with being spoken in about 20 countries, some of which have multiple dialects, and whose dialects are often mutually unintelligible (much as in German). NOTE: In general there are two broad dialect groups in Arabic, Western (Maghrebi in Arabic) and Eastern (Mashriqi in Arabic). The line between them falls somewhere in the big desert that separates Libya and Egypt. Within the Eastern group, there is further variation: there is Nile Valley Arabic (Egyptian and Sudanese), Levantine (Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, and Palestinian), Iraqi, Yemeni, and Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait). Each country typically has a unique dialect nevertheless mutually intelligible with the others within its group, and there is often some cross-group intelligibility as well: Egyptians--particularly those from Cairo and northward--can typically understand western Levantine (everything but the far eastern reaches of Syria, eastern Jordan being a desert wasteland), while eastern Syrians can understand at least some Iraqis, and many Iraqis can understand Kuwaiti and northeastern Saudi. Some examples:
    • The Standard Arabic term for a woman is imra'ā or mar'ā, plural nisā' (don't ask why). This becomes mara and niswān in dialect. However, while these are perfectly acceptable in some countries (like Lebanon), niswān is highly derogatory in Egypt, and mara is downright offensive. (It's rather analogous to the non-anatomical usage of "cunt" in British and American English, except that in Lebanon it's not even remotely offensive).[5]
      • Related to this, the word niswanji/niswangi, "womanizer".[6] In Lebanon it means, roughly, a player or Casanova: a guy who's good with the ladies, and is vaguely positive, or at least cool. In Egypt, it has historically meant a habitual customer of prostitutes, or at least a guy who consorts with other kinds of low women, and is vaguely negative, although Lebanese influence has toned town the negative connotations somewhat.
    • Similarly, in Iraqi Arabic, the word for a woman is ḥurmah. While this has its origins in Classical Arabic and is widely understood, it also sounds a bit like the Egyptian and Levantine word khurmah, which means "hole." Yes.
    • In Moroccan Arabic, the word `ayyaṭ means "to call" someone (on the phone) or "to call on" someone (at a place). In Egypt and several other Eastern Arabic dialects, it means "to cry."
    • The word ḥūt means "whale" in Standard and Eastern Arabic. In Western Arabic, it can refer to most fish. Imagine an Eastern Arab's surprise at being offered a tagine of ḥūt in Tangier...
  • Modern Hebrew, despite having almost no actual dialectical variations, does have one prominent example: while metsitsa (מְצִיצָה, lit. ‘sucking’ as in ‘the act of sucking something out of something else’) means ‘lollipop’ in Jerusalem, it means ‘blowjob’ to any Hebrew speaker elsewhere.
  • Japanese regional dialects can cause a lot of confusions. For example, "horu" in standard Japanese means "to dig". In Kansai and some other parts of Japan, it means "to throw away rubbish". In Detective Conan, this was used to identify the criminal who came from Osaka.

Notes

  1. usually short for Randall or Randolph
  2. Brown University in Rhode Island; she had indicated a desire to major in Literature, but she's made no official statement since enrolling.
  3. Although to many Americans who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, when leggings were very commonplace, the current unlove of them is as baffling as any linguistic issue.
  4. We call that Late to The Punchline since the phrase is not universal and has those nationality-slur vibes.
  5. For the curious, the anatomical word for "cunt" in Arabic is fairly consistently kuss, which is always a curse word--although how strong of one varies based on the country--and occasionally gets visiting Germans in trouble.
  6. -ji/-gi being a suffix meaning "guy who does x"; the spellings are different because of pronunciation differences we'll not get involved in at the moment
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