10 Silly American Words

In January, it’ll be 12 years since I have lived in America. While fully embracing my host country, paying taxes, raising my kids here, and even willingly saying words like “diaper” and “trash,” there are still several words spoken here that are, with all due respect, ridiculous (IMHO.) They are:

Catty corner
Teeter totter

Hope I’ve not offended anyone! Being the word nerd I am, I am actually quite (that’s the U.S. meaning of quite) interested in the origins of these words. Not sure I’ll find much Latin or Queen’s English, but I am sure I will learn some interesting American culture along the way (much like one of my heroes – the writer, traveler and humankind observer, Bill Bryson.)

Meantime, for other lovers of language out there, you might want to check out this list of Words to Retire in 2012.

And please let me know if there are any other silly American words I overlooked.

Leave a comment


  1. Jeff Loeb

     /  December 24, 2011

    A couple of thoughts. First, I was surprised by “catty corner” – I have always used “kitty corner”. No matter, that probably will strike you as equally silly.

    Second is y’all. This of course is the Texas state phrase. I lived in Texas for a couple of years and was never comfortable using it. I’ve come to appreciate its gender neutral value. Beats referring to a mixed group as “you guys”.

    • My first comment! Thanks Jeff! I found several spellings of catty corner/kitty corner and yes, they are equally silly. As for y’all, I concur it’s regional and nicely gender neutral – but still silly in my book! Happy holidays to you and your family!

  2. I would also like to discuss this post.

    I have so many fun conversations with my friend Sophie in which we have strange language barriers. She’s from Scotland and lives in England.

  3. The Economist’s language blog had a pretty interesting entry on y’all recently… http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2011/09/southern-american-english

  4. sarah.tourville@mediafrenzy.uk.com

     /  April 12, 2012

    What about fanny pack? I’ve never liked this one.

    So when Americans say ‘quite like it’ do they really mean that they really like it? It may explain why my husband never sounds that excited about things when he actually is.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Allison Marie Parkyn

     /  September 6, 2012

    Where in the USA do you live? I’m an American that lived in the UK for 6 years and just recently moved back to TX. LOVED learning the English slang. Worked with a bunch of guys that were always slagging each other off and so would ask them what their insults meant. Kinda took the sting out of the insult when asked to discuss its origins! Hope you’re getting along OK! Best x

    • Hi – thanks for commenting. I’m in Mass but originally from just outside London. Haven’t lived in the UK for over 15 years. English slang can be rather, um, colorful …. don’t you think? I enjoy being a Brit in the USA because everyone assumes I’m very smart thanks to the accent! (I have them all fooled!!) Have a great day.

  6. Mary Daughtrey

     /  November 3, 2012

    As a North Carolina girl (who once lived in Belfast), I’m a huge fan of “y’all,” a perfectly proper contraction for 2nd person plural and always adds a certain charm to a conversation. Thanks, notfromaroundhere for adding the great Economist article to the thread, and was so pleased they mentioned the caveat that you have to be talking to/about more than one person to use “y’all.” Love the color language adds to life! Thanks for a great post!

  7. Melanie

     /  November 3, 2012

    Pantyhose and.Pocketbook are the most annoying words. I love this list! What word do the British use in place of rutabaga?

  8. As an Anglophile who’d love to live in England I’m trying to translate the words you find silly into “Brit-speak” but I haven’t got them all. Here’s what I’ve got off the top of my head:
    Pantyhose – tights (BTW, I LOVE that tights are “laddered” in England instead of “having a run”)
    Pocketbook – handbag
    Catty corner – ?
    Bangs – fringe
    Caboose – ?
    Eggplant – corgette
    Rutabaga – turnips or swedes
    Freshman – year 10?
    Teeter totter – ?
    Y’all – I doubt there’s an equivalent for this one πŸ˜‰

    P.S. I’m in Mass as well.

    • Hi Julie, here you go:

      Pantyhose – tights YES
      Pocketbook – handbag YES
      Catty corner – diagonally across
      Bangs – fringe
      Caboose – “In the UK, the brake van performed a function similar to the caboose on North American railroads, being the accommodation for the train crew at the rear of the train, specifically the train guard, hence its alternative name.”
      Eggplant – corgette WRONG, AUBERGINE (COURGETTE = ZUCCHINI)
      Rutabaga – turnips or swedes
      Teeter totter – SEESAW

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