American/British Language Differences: Automotive Edition

It has always struck me as bizarre that, when it comes to cars, there’s an especially-wide swathe of vocabulary differences between British English and American English. After almost thirteen years here in the USA, I feel like I have mastered most of these except for those that are spelled the same but pronounced differently over here, like the brand Jaguar. To me, it will always be Jag-you-are. Never Jag-war.

For those of you intrigued to learn more transatlantic automotive vernacular, here’s a quick checklist:

  • Bonnet: not decorative headwear but rather the British word for ‘hood.’
  • Boot: not footwear, but how we Brits say ‘trunk.’
  • Windscreen: yes, we call it a windscreen not a windshield.
  • Number plate: that’s English for license plate.
  • Manual: you call it ‘stick.’ You’ll find a whole lot more of these in the UK and Europe. In fact, most of us learn to drive manual. This makes us better multi-taskers, IMHO.
  • Hatchback: a three-door car. Again, many more of these across the pond. After all, British streets and parking spots are narrower, so it makes sense.
  • Saloon: not as glamorous as in the wild west, this is what we call a regular four-door car.
  • Estate: Personally I think station wagon cars are all ugly. Also it’s such a silly word.
  • Lorry = Truck
  • Caravan = RV
  • People Mover = Minivan
  • 4×4 = SUV

Things you may have in your car:

  • Anorak: in case it rains. Y’all call it a windbreaker.
  • Wellies: ditto, in case it’s rainy or muddy out. You’d call them rubber boots.
  • Torch: A.K.A a flashlight.

I’ve also discovered some words here in America for which I don’t think there’s a direct British equivalent:

  • Way back: fortunately it means what it says, as in “tell the kids in the way back of the car to stop throwing legos at each other.”
  • Tailgating: Grilling in car parks before sports events is not something Brits really know how to do. Or why.

On the flip side, we Brits do like a good car boot sale. No, this doesn’t mean selling our trunks. It’s like a big old market where everyone parks their car and sets up a booth to sell off second-hand stuff. Like lots of yard sales in a parking lot or a big field.

Confused? 10 British/American Words That Are Spelled the Same But Pronounced Differently

As my readers know, I’ve been living in the US for 12 years now and love observing the differences between British English and American English (see posts 10 Silly American Words and  10 British Expressions that Americans Find Amusing.) While there are many words and expressions that differ between our two lovely languages, what actually confuses me the most are the words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Here are my top ten:

  • Vitamin – I have to admit that I no longer know which pronunciation is the “correct” one; a long ‘i’ or a short one? Which usually means I’ll say it wrong.
  • Privacy – Ditto. No clue.
  • Garage – I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Emphasis is on the first, short “a” – not a long, drawn-out “age.”
  • Water – People of the US, that’s a “t” not a “d” in the middle!
  • Herb – Yup, pretty sure the first letter here is an “h” so that’s how I pronounce it.
  • Oregano – While we’re on the topic, I say it the Brit way, with a long “ano.”
  • Peugeot – I know there aren’t many, if any, of these lovely French cars here in the US but I’d like to advise you that there is no “poo” in its pronunciation.
  • Woburn – I have learnt this well; when in Massachusetts, say “Wooburn” (when in England, it’s W-oh-burn.)
  • Tomato – You say “tom-ay-to” – “I say tom-ah-to.” Not budging on this one, folks.
  • Colin – If this is your name, you should know that in the UK, we don’t pronounce it C-oh-lin.

So now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, happy travels. Good luck with “the look!”

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