12 Ways to be a More Cunning Linguist While Visiting the UK


I’ve always been interested in different languages and ways of speech. Even though we in the US speak the same language as they do in the UK, it’s fun to note some of the minor differences…just enough to make things interesting, mildly confusing, and to remind you that you aren’t in Kansas anymore.

I often found myself doing the equivalent of the confused puppy head tilt. Here are some examples that made me go “hmmm.”

I’d love to hear any additions, comments, explanations or just plain funny linguistic experiences you may have had while visiting the UK, so feel free to share here!

Here are 12 differences I have come up with that will help you become a more cunning linguist.

  1. Litter v. Garbage-I noticed a sign in a park bathroom saying not to put litter in the bin (garbage), which I thought was weird because in my mind, it’s litter unless it’s not in the garbage and left on the ground, etc. Apparently, here, all garbage is litter whether it is where it belongs or not.
  2. On sale vs. For Sale– I found it curious when buying ice cream at a snack stand that the sign said “ice cream on sale.” I somehow doubted it was marked down. Did it freeze and refreeze? Suffer from freezer burn? Priced to move? Nope, it’s just for sale.
  3. Candy Floss vs. Cotton Candy- My 7 year old had been deprived too long and had never had cotton candy until we went to the Highland Games and ordered Candy Floss. Looks nothing like floss. Why not cotton clouds? Who wants to floss with colored sugar? It’s not stringy like floss. Makes no sense to me!
  4. Chips vs. Fries- This one’s pretty well known-Fries are called chips in the U.K. But chips also exist and they are called crisps.
  5. Pudding vs. Dessert- It’s confusing at first when a waitress refers to your dessert as pudding and you’re like “Pudding? I didn’t ask for pudding. I would like the brownie sundae.”
  6. Layby vs. Shoulder- The spot on the side of the road where you could pullover and stop if needed is called a layby. I guess it makes just as much sense as shoulder, as in, I can see how it could vaguely make sense.
  7. Carriageway vs. Highway-It was not very clear what the speed limit was on the main roads we took from Edinburgh up through the Highlands. So I looked up information on highway speeds in Scotland and it wasn’t super clear at first because it lists the speed limits for single or dual carriageways and I wasn’t quite sure what a carriageway even was. But I figured it out fairly quickly as they had signs pointing out when a single carriageway changed to a dual one. We don’t ride in carriages anymore but it is a cuter term than highway.
  8. River X vs. X River-I hadn’t noticed before, but Adele sings about the River Lea (great song), not the Lea River. We went over a lot of rivers, like the River Gary. I have lived near many rivers like the Susquehanna River. Oddly enough, their bridges are named in the other order like the Forth Bridge.
  9. Overtaking vs. Passing- When you pass someone on the carriageway, you are overtaking them. Feels weirdly and unnecessarily aggressive to me.
  10. Abseiling vs. Rappelling-When researching activities for our trip, I came across various outdoor places with abseiling. I’ll save you the hassle of looking it up. It’s rappelling.
  11. Mind Your Step vs. Watch Your Step- This one is pretty easy to pick up but still a cute little lingual difference. Sounds so much more proper to mind something rather than watch it.
  12. And finally, when they want to say “Come back soon,” they say…Haste ye back!

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