You Say Tomay-toe, I Say Tomah-toe

It used to amuse me a lot living in London when I’d meet American visitors, who’d assume that we all speak American-English in UK. “Where’s the Elevator ?”

Well, we don’t actually speak American-English, we speak the real original Queen’s English !

The different words and phrases used on either side of the ocean can be very funny. Americans find the differences amusing too, and no I’m not talking about Cockney Rhyming Slang, just ordinary words and phrases.

So I started to learn them when speaking to Americans, and also when I’ve visited the states. Helps me communicate better. There’s some funny faux pas’ that Americans make when in UK, and maybe vice versa … Fanny and Pants for instance 😀

Here’s some examples :

I say Tomah-toe, you say Tomay-toe

I say Lift you say Elevator …

I say Rubbish Bin you say Trash Can …

I say Pavement you say Sidewalk …

I say Rubbish you say Garbage …

I say Petrol you say Gas …

I say Trousers you say Pants … (pants are underwear in UK)

I say Mobile Phone you say Cell Phone …

I say Bum Bag you say Fanny-Pack … (Fanny is a vulgar word in UK – look it up yourself!)

and so on …

My nickname for the whole thing is – “You Say Tomay-toe, I Say Tomah-toe”. Which was brought to mind by the Fred and Ginger tune “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” from their movie “Shall We Dance” (1937)  :

SO TODAY … Your mission, should you choose to accept it … tell me some more words or phrases that differ between UK and USA … bonus points will be given for the use of humour/humor, especially potentially embarrassing faux pas’ that may arise  😀


Don Charisma

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79 thoughts on “You Say Tomay-toe, I Say Tomah-toe

  1. Wellies – rain boots
    Rubbish – trash
    Queue – line
    Trainers – tennies/tennis shoes / sneakers
    Jacket potato – baked potato
    Buggy – cart (in a supermarket)
    Dummy – pacifier
    Nappy – diaper
    Wee – pee
    Buggy – stroller
    Tip – dump

    Plus we pronounce aluminum quite differently!

    And then there are lots of fun British words and phrases that we just dont have such as mingin’

    Reminds me of a favorite quote from George Bernard Shaw about us being separated by one language!

  2. Having originally lerned English in Britain (Cambridge of all places) I still can’t quite shed some of the British English expressions like rubbish bin, purse for wallet and what else there is.
    But lately I told my husband about a story I read in one of Bill Bryson’s books where he’s visiting New England and passes by a guy by the side of the road selling pasties… My husband pleaded with me to never use that expression in public unless I really wanted to embarrass him – I haden’t realized (see there, at least I managed to change to American writing…) that apart from being the plural of a “pasty”, the Cornish pie, it also stands for the glue-on nipple patches!! Oopsie…

  3. Colour(B) = Color(A)

    Dialogue(B) = Dialog(A)

    Centre(B) = Center(A)

    Favourite(B) = Favorite(A)

    But Mummy, Mammy, Mommy; I’m a bit confused. Which one do the British use and which one do Americans use as well?

  4. “Fanny” in the U.S. is another word for butt, that’s why they’re called “fanny packs” here…and yes I know what “fanny” means in the U.K.! I’ve also heard in the U.K. “pissed” is drunk (here it’s angry) and a “rubber” is an eraser (here it’s a condom). Are these right?

  5. I was armed with the list of differences but you pretty much covered them haha. You made me miss London with this post! The only one i can think of now is, we spell Colour and they spell it Color (i think)
    Microsoft Word has been trying to correct me and get me to spell it Color for years, I’ll keep refusing! Haha

  6. I used to wonder why the Brits were always covering themselves with rugs–then one day realized they were using afghans. And eating all those biscuits while we ate cookies? I noticed the sweaters and jumper issue was already covered, and not by a rug, but how about the car park? We park our cars in parking lots, and our kids play in the parks. I’ve heard it said that you pack away your “bits and pieces” while we pack away our “clutter”. And we have” lawyers” instead of “solicitors”. You just don’t want to be pinned down by a solicitor here, because they are trying to sell you something you don’t want or need, and they are next to impossible to get rid of. I really should know so many other words because I’m a fan of British mysteries, but no more come to mind just now.

    1. Oh, yes, you do go to the “cinema” while we go to the movies. I’m not sure very many young Americans would know what a cinema is. Plus, you probably still don’t realize it, but you drive on the wrong side of the road. That is extremely dangerous, and could get you arrested Don.

    2. LOL sounds like some solicitors in the UK – “they are trying to sell you something you don’t want or need, and they are next to impossible to get rid of” 😀

  7. We’re Aussie and when my sister first moved to the US she was pretty aghast at the use of,,,, hmmm, I hate even saying the word, one of my all time LEAST favourite words,,,, fanny. *shudder. And she also copped quite a bit of flack and disgusted looks when she asked if she could have a ‘nurse’ of a baby squirrel. Nurse here means to hold, seems in the US it is purely used to describe breastfeeding. Hehe, they must have thought she was all kinds of crazy!.

  8. An Englishman looking for fags in the US might get him into all kinds of trouble…In Australia I have to be careful not to say, “I do like a cockatoo.” (They are lovely birds, BTW.)

  9. Don,
    Don’t forget that even American English is not standard across the country. For instance in the Appalachian Mountains, you might hear: ‘mater, ‘tater, maw, paw, etc. Some would call this hillbilly, but we prefer the term Appalachian Americans.

      1. Really? I was born on the east and ive lived on the west coast since like 2006, never heard flip flops called thongs or vice versa i just thought a thong was a thong lol

    1. LOL … thanks for adding to … and yes UK has the same, Newcastle accent “Geordie” is the most difficult to make out for me, I can’t understand what they’re on about …

  10. As a child, I recall a rainy Sunday; I was at a religious meeting with my parents and sisters. The speaker that day was from another country other than the US, (I had at that time, never been out of the US myself) he was visiting someone in our congregation. I remember my sisters and I having to throw coughing fits to avoid our hysterical laughter; when halfway into his dissertation, he looked down and suddenly announced to the entire audience: “Oh, I am sorry, it seems I have worn my rubbers in to the hall.” Hee, words can truly take on humor when used out of their normally used area. (He was referring to the rubber shoes he wore over his regular dress shoes.)

      1. No, he won’t, but that is because he has passed on. However, he was quite the character. An older gentleman; he was known for saying all sorts of embarrassing things like that. 😉

  11. The most embarrassing one for me was when I realized that in the U.S., a rubber is most certainly NOT the little thing attached to the top of a pencil! I needed rubbers for school and you can’t imagine the horrified looks I was given when I went into a store looking for a large purple rubber and pencils with really good rubbers on them…you know, not the ones that left ugly marks when used. 🙂

  12. The whole “It’s a sweater! What do you mean jumper?” Conversation is one I had as a teenager with an Aussie who was hitchhiking across the US (as some Americans do with Europe).
    I think it’s a shame that many Americans assume the whole world thinks and talks like them – or if not – they can go bugger themselves (hopefully I didn’t slay the use of that word too much).
    The cure? We need to travel abroad and see how wide the non-American world really is. Just one short trip to Germany showed me how ignorant I am of the world at large – and that place is as 1st world as where I live (even if some of them don’t know English – the Queen’s or otherwise).

  13. We used to smirk at ‘pants’ when i was a kid (pants was underwear), but I’ve lived with American English for too long and I’ve just got used to it now. The other day I was talking to an English guy about getting some pants made at the tailors and the bastard smirked at me!

  14. One of the first mystery book I read was Shrelock Holmes, confused the heck out of me because of the different words. The one that drove me crazy, until I learned the difference, was torch. I could never understand why someone would hold a torch under a wooden cabinet.

    In the UK a torch is any portable light. In the US a torch is a fire on the end of a stick, a battery operated light is a flashlight.

      1. It became even more confusing in one story where he lit a torch in a cave. I had to sit the book down and ponder over what kind of torch he lit in the cave. I could see either one working, but each with their own problems. This convinced me that the English had made a bad choice on using the same word for two, obviously, different items.

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