Visit Britain

Visiting Britain? Manage the Queen’s English on Day One

Visit Britain

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A sign at a Caravan Club camp site in Somerset includes several words and meanings unfamiliar to Americans; we …

The English language: Louis Armstrong sang about it and George Bernard Shaw is said to have remarked upon it. America and England may be two countries separated by a common language, but if you're a "holidaymaker" (that is, someone going on a vacation) headed for the capital city on the other side of the big pond, perhaps we should review some basic vocabulary.

Welcome to London!
Sir, Madam, your black cab awaits. When you get to the top of the "queue," or line, the driver will put your bags beside him in the front, since there is not a front seat, nor is there a trunk. If there were, the trunk would be called the "boot"; a car's hood is the "bonnet." As you get in, the driver will nicely caution you to "mind your head," then chug along past "articulated lorries" (semi trucks) on the "dual carriageway" (multi-lane section) of the "motorway" (highway) via "roundabouts,” over a "level crossing" (railroad crossing) or two. You'll find it odd that he drives on the left, but if you stay a "fortnight," or two weeks, you'll become accustomed.

Let's drop the quotation marks and parentheses (known as speech marks and brackets) and see how well you catch the meanings from here on out.

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Knowing British terms can be helpful when seeking information. Here, a wheelchair user at the Science Museum in …

Arriving at the hotel
Say cheers at the kerb by the pavement in the car park and proceed to reception to register. If your baby needs a crib, ask for a cot. If you need a cot for a third person in the room, request a rollaway. Take the lift upstairs from the ground floor (the first floor is the American second floor) to unpack your mac, brolly, trousers, lounge suit, frocks, jumpers, trainers, court shoes, vests, tights and knickers, placing them in the chest or hanging them in the wardrobe. Ring the concierge to book dinner at a brilliant restaurant with a good situation. Head for the loo, turn on the tap and wash up.

Dining out
A meal is a bit of a challenge; here are the basics. At the bar, a spirit served without ice is neat, not straight up. A beef filet (pronounced fill-it) is steak and a joint is a roast, while grilled means broiled. A jacket potato is a baked potato and is considered a meal in itself, albeit for lunch. Chips are French fries and crisps are potato chips.

A hamburger bun is a bap and a hot dog roll is a bridge roll. A frankfurter does not exist, but you can call it a sausage. On the vegetable front, courgettes are zucchini, aubergine is eggplant, bell pepper is green pepper, swede is like a turnip and broad beans are lima beans (only they taste better). Chicory is endive and endive is chicory. And, as Louis Armstrong sang to Ella Fitzgerald, tomato/tomahto are actually the same thing.

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This sandwich is served on a bap with hand-cut chips at the Breakfast Club diner in Islington. (Photo by Pawel …

After pudding, sorbet or some sweets, have a black or white coffee, then ask for the bill, not the check. It's always nice to have someone else do the washing up.

Various and sundry chores
Should you require any items, hop on the tube to the High Street, where the shop assistant at the chemist can sort you out with nappies, a spare dummy, nail varnish, hair grips or an Alice band, elastics, sellotape, a biro, a cotton reel or other bits of haberdashery. You may stop at the corner shop, also called the newsagent, for a SIM card for your mobile, handy as your morning alarm. Alternatively, inform reception at what time you'd like someone to ring you up or knock you up. (Really, it's English for a knock on your door.)

Final caution
Best off you don't take ill whilst on the road. Just the thought alone may give you goose pimples. A visit to hospital or to surgery (the doctor's or dentist's office) requires a whole new vocabulary list. Indeed.

Content by Laurie Jo Miller Farr

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