10 American Words That British People Don’t Understand

Ellison Clapton5 min
Created: Jan 20, 2023Last updated: Dec 26, 2023
American Words That British People Don’t Understand

Although English is the same language in the United States and Britain, it can often feel like two completely different versions. The differences in spelling, grammar, and vocabulary can be confusing for people from across the pond. In addition to common words with different meanings, there are also many American words that confuse Brits. 

This guide will explore common Americanisms that are unfamiliar to British people. We’ll start with common words with different meanings and then move on to slang. Keep reading to learn more about these confusing terms.

US vs. UK words: why are they different?

The United States and Britain have a long history together. The two countries have been through many wars, colonizations, and migrations. All of these events have shaped the English language in both countries.

British colonists founded the United States, and much of their language was brought with them. Over time, the two English dialects grew apart due to geographical boundaries and the influence of other cultures and languages. One consequence of this evolution is spelling, grammar, and vocabulary differences.

British terms vs. American terms are not just a matter of spelling; many words have different meanings. Certain Americanisms might not even make sense to people from Britain, even though the language “base” may be the same. Of course, there are also British words that Americans don’t understand!

5 American words the British don’t understand

Now that we’ve covered a bit of background, let’s move on to the main event. This section will explore five particularly perplexing Americanisms that Brits may struggle to understand. We will provide definitions and compare American words vs. British terms with the same meaning.

  • Buck.

This Americanism refers to a dollar. While the Brits use the word “quid” for pounds, they don’t have a common term for dollars. Asking someone to “give me a buck” might confuse them, as they won’t know whether you’re asking for a dollar or something else entirely.

Can you give me a buck for the movie ticket?

  • Broil.

In the United States, broil means to cook by direct exposure to radiant heat. In Britain, this is called grilling. While “broiling” something might not make sense to a British person, they would understand if you asked them to “grill” your steak. 

The steak is done when it’s nicely broiled on both sides.

  • Pants.

It is among tricky American vs. English words, as the meanings are reversed. In Britain, “pants” refers to underwear, while in the USA, it means outerwear such as trousers or jeans. It’s easy to see how this could confuse you!

I need to go to the store and buy some new pants.

  • Carpetbagger.

A carpetbagger was a person from the North who moved to the South during Reconstruction after the Civil War. Today, the term is used to describe a politician who runs for office in a district where they don’t have any personal connection. Carpetbaggers are typically motivated by profit or political ambition. 

He was accused of being a carpetbagger, but he insisted that he was committed to representing the people of his district.

  • Bangs.

In the United States, bangs are pieces of hair cut short and hung down in front of the forehead. In Britain, this hairstyle is called a fringe. 

I’m thinking about getting bangs; will it suit me?

5 examples of American slang that the British don’t understand

As the English language continues to grow and evolve, it also develops slang. These words are generally only used in a particular country or region, so they may be completely unfamiliar to someone from another country. Let’s explore British vs. American phrases, some of which may be pretty surprising!

  • Copium.

This slang means lying to yourself to cope with a situation. If you are faced with loss or failure, you might use this word to cope by bluffing and reassuring yourself.

I got rejected from the job, so I’m telling myself a little copium to make it easier.

  • Shoot the breeze.

This phrase means to talk casually without any specific topics or aims. You may shoot the breeze with someone for hours but never make real progress or decisions.

We just stayed up talking all night, shooting the breeze.

  • Pissed.

“Pissed” is one of the American vs British English words that can mean two very different things in the UK vs. America. In the United States, it is a slang term for being angry; however, in Britain, this phrase means “drunk” or “intoxicated.”

He was so pissed when she said that.

  • The 411.

This phrase refers to getting the latest news or information. It was initially derived from 411, the dialing code for directory inquiries in the United States and Canada.

I need the 411 on this company before I interview there tomorrow.

  • Jonesing.

This slang word is used to describe intense cravings. It can refer to wanting food, drugs, alcohol – even people or places. The phrase comes from the name Jones, which was once slang for an addiction.

I’m jonesing for a burger right now.


Learn More about American vs. British words with Promova

Promova is a perfect platform for English learners from all backgrounds and locations. We provide individual and group classes with English tutors, as well as different courses to improve your language skills.

Depending on your needs and goals, we can tailor a program just for you. Whether you want to enhance your general knowledge, get rid of common mistakes, or focus on vocabulary and learn about UK vs. US words, Promova is the perfect tool.

Our mobile app lets you practice and improve your English anytime, anywhere. It also contains many fun activities and exercises that make learning new words enjoyable. The app is available for Android and iOS devices, so start practicing today!


Britishism vs. Americanism are a common source of confusion for people from the two countries. While many words have similar spellings and meanings, others may be entirely unfamiliar to those unaware of regional slang or variations in vocabulary. Knowing the common American phrases that confuse Brits can help prevent misunderstandings. Plus, it’s fun to learn new terms from both sides of the pond! Various helpful resources like Cambridge Dictionary or Merriam-Webster can be used to continue your research on this topic.


Why is the English language different in America and Britain?

The two versions of the English language have evolved separately over time due to geographical boundaries and the influence of other cultures and languages.

What is the difference between American and British words?

American English has a different spelling, grammar, and vocabulary than British English. Many British words compared to American words have undergone changes in spelling and subtle variations in meaning.

What are some common American words that British people don’t understand?

Many American terms and phrases might be confusing to British people. Some examples include “buck,” “broil,” “bangs,” and “the 411.”

What variety of English should I learn?

British words vs. American words can be confusing, but it depends on where you plan to use the language. If you want to learn English for travel or work in an English-speaking country, it might be helpful to focus on that dialect. However, if your goal is general proficiency, learning both versions can give you a well-rounded understanding of the language.


XAVI WIGGNSJan 11th, 2024
PromovaJul 20th, 2023
Great question! Understanding both American and British English vocabulary expands an English learner's language proficiency and cultural awareness. It allows learners to comprehend and engage with various English-speaking communities, whether they encounter American or British English speakers. Moreover, being familiar with both variants enhances adaptability and communication skills in diverse English-speaking environments.
OdeliaJul 20th, 2023
How can English learners benefit from understanding both American and British English vocabulary to become more proficient in the language?