Word Nerd: An English-speaker’s guide to funny Americanisms

25 Sep

By now, many Americanisms have crept into English around the world, thanks to pop culture and Microsoft Word. Perhaps you say ‘restroom’ for ‘toilet’. Or you may be one of those people who say ‘from left field’ even though they’ve never played baseball. And you probably know that a ‘cheeseburger’ is a mere shadow of its true self if it contains no beef.

But there’s always some stray expression that catches you off guard. Depending on the situation, you may or may not have the opportunity to clarify what the speaker means. We picked out a few that are not commonly heard in many other parts of the world – check out how many of you know!


Gas: Like anywhere else in the English-speaking world, it can refer to an air-like fluid substance which expands freely to fill any space available. But when Americans talk about cars, gas is not CNG – it’s short for gasoline, which the rest of the world calls petrol.


Stick: Speaking of cars, you might hear some Americans say they can drive a ‘stick’. No, they don’t play Quidditch. ‘Stick’ is short for ‘stick shift’ (because Americans like to reduce words to monosyllables when possible) and refers to a car with a manual transmission, as opposed to an automatic one.


Wedgie: People from India and some other countries do not distinguish between V and W when speaking. A ‘w’ sound is produced by rounding your lips, almost as if you’re about to whistle, and a ‘v’ sound is produced by placing your front teeth on your lower lip. If you’re asking for vegetables, be careful not to confuse ‘veggies’ with a juvenile prank.


Bus: While the usual meaning – a large passenger vehicle – applies in North America as it does anywhere else in the English-speaking world, Americans also use ‘bus’ as a verb. One meaning of this is related to transportation, and therefore obvious (for example, ‘The children were bussed to school’). But ‘bus’ can also mean ‘clear dirty dishes from’ a table. So if you see a sign in a cafeteria or food court asking you to bus your own table, don’t forget to leave it nice and clean for the next customer.


I don’t care: If you offer someone alternatives and hear ‘I don’t care’ in response, don’t assume it’s rude. Sometimes people say it when they mean they have no strong preference for one alternative. It’s just a way of saying ‘It’s OK with me’ or ‘I have no objection’. Unless, of course, it means ‘I don’t give a damn’. Context, intonation, and body language are everything.


Interesting: You want to pay close attention when someone says this to you. More often than not, it means ‘I don’t like it’, or ‘I have no clue what you’re talking about’, or ‘I don’t give a damn’. If your listener is actually interested, they will usually continue the discussion by asking you questions or sharing information. Again, you need to watch your listener’s intonation and body language.


Biscuit: You may think you understand conversations about food, but you could be getting everything wrong without even realizing it. In much of the English-speaking world, a biscuit is what Americans call a cookie – not something a normal person would want to eat with gravy (and if you’re a fastidious vegetarian, you need to check what’s in the gravy). In the US, a biscuit is a kind of bread roll. And good luck finding ‘coriander’ or ‘spring onions’ at the grocery store – you’ll be more successful if you look for ‘cilantro’ and ‘scallions’. Also, don’t be disgusted if someone offers you ‘hush puppies’ to eat – they are made of corn, not leather.

We would love to hear about your adventures in American English – leave a comment below, or email us!.

As for that first semester, give it all you’ve got! Hit it out of the park! Break a leg!

Want to read more Word Nerd posts? Click here.


By: BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer


First semester in North America? Check out the links below!
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Book Review: The Naked Roommate
An engineer’s guide to surviving grad school
How to nurture your child’s passion – advice for parents
Libraries infuse magic into studying abroad
8 tips to party safely when you’re studying abroad
Surviving winter on a North American campus
My first semester at Northeastern University
How universities accommodate students with disabilities

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