What We Have Here is Not a Failure to Communicate

Homer: Wow, Marge, you really do understand me.  See, I thought we weren’t soulmates because…
Marge: …we had a fight?
Homer: Right, and we don’t like the same things.  It’s like you’re from Venus…
Marge: …and you’re from Mars.
Homer: Oh, sure, give me the one with all the monsters.

– The Simpsons

The Kev and I sat down the other day to figure out how much lumber we needed to buy for the closet project. It went something like this:

K: We need 1x6s for facing the inside of the opening, so enough of that to cover roughly 8 feet, both sides…1x4s for the trim around the front sides.

S: Both sides. I’m gonna draw a picture. [scribbles] So, yeah, here and here and the back side as well.

K: Construction lumber to frame in the upper cabinets [more drawing] and we need a piece of wood for the inside top.

S: The inside top of what?

K: Of the closet.

S: You mean, where the ceiling is?

K: Yeah, because…

S: The trim is going to snug up against the existing plaster. [drawing] Ok, look, here I am in the closet as it stands — not to scale — and I’m looking up. What do I see? Ceiling.

K: You look like you’re hanging yourself but you’re happy about it.

S: In that case, I should be waving.


With a little more drawing (the complex upper cross-section to the left of the main drawing), I understood what he meant — and yes, we do need some wood to frame in the upper cabinets.

We generally communicate pretty well, but even with over 15 years together, we’re still learning little bits and pieces of each other’s specific brands of English. The Kev is English, naturalized American, and I’m American, naturalised British. We’ve each lived the other place at length, but we still surprise each other. “A bit cold around the lugs,” Kev said the other day. “Legs??” I queried. “LUGS,” he emphasized, gesturing wildly at his head.

Anglo-American Lug Conference, 2011

Anglo-American Large Lug Conference, 2011 (image: Guardian.co.uk)

Since these new examples still crop up from time to time, we put together a DIY translator. This led to unexpected hilarity as we reviewed American/English glossaries on the web.

PANDA CAR?! Maybe in 1962! (image: http://www.classicvehiclesunlimited.co.uk)

“PANDA CAR?! Maybe in 1962!” (image: http://www.classicvehiclesunlimited.co.uk)

Here’s our hopefully more current British/American glossary of home-related terms.

UPDATE! We’ve made this glossary into its own page as well so we can add to it as we think of more examples. You can also get there from the “US-UK” tab above.

American English British English
Allen Wrench Allen Key
Anchor Rawlplug
Apartment Flat
Attached Bathroom En Suite
Band-Aid Plaster
Baseboard Skirting Board
Basement Cellar
Built-in Cabinets Fitted Cabinets
Buffet Sideboard
Caulk Mastic
Cinder Block Breeze Block
Closet Wardrobe
Clothes Pins Clothes Pegs
Contractor Builder
Counter/Countertop Worktop
Cutlery Knives (sharp ones)
Dirt Soil
D’oh! D’oh!
Double-Paned Windows (or low-e or insulated glass windows) Double Glazing
Drill Press Pedestal Drill
Dryer Tumble Dryer
Duplex Semi-Detached House
Emergency Room Casualty
Faucet Tap
First Floor Ground Floor
Flashlight Torch
Floor Lamp Standard Lamp
Flatware/Silverware Cutlery
Fly-By-Night (tradesperson) Cowboy
Full Bed Double Bed
Garage (guh-RAJ) Garage (gair-ij)
Ground (electrical) Earth
Half-Bath Toilet
Hardware Store Ironmonger
Home Improvement DIY
Interior Latex Paint Emulsion
Level Spirit Level
License Plate Number Plate
Living Room (or family room or den) Sitting Room (or lounge)
Lumber Yard Wood Yard
Medicine Cabinet/Vanity Bathroom Cabinet
Monkey Wrench Adjustable Spanner
Outlet Socket
Physical Therapy Physiotherapy
Pipe Wrench Stilsens
Power/Service Line Mains
Queen Bed King Bed
Range Cook Top/Cooker
Saw Horse Trestle
Screw Extractor Stud Extractor
Second Floor First Floor
Sheetrock Plaster Board
Sod Turf
Spackle Polyfiller
Stairs Apples and Pears (ok, now we’re just messing with you)
Stove/Oven Oven
Tank (toilet) Cistern
Tempered Glass Toughened Glass
Toilet Bowl Toilet Pan
Tub Bath
Twin Bed Single Bed
Tylenol/Acetaminophen Paracetamol
Vacuum Cleaner Hoover
Valance Pelmet
Wall Heater (if in the wall anywhere) Electric (or Gas) Fire (if in sitting room, especially in a former   fireplace)
Washing Machine Washer
Worn Out Knackered
Wrench Spanner
Yard Garden

Some of these have substantial cross-over, and some may well be regionalisms.  Apologies for anything way out of line! What would you add? Please tell us in the comments what terms you would like to see, whether British, American, or another variety of English altogether.

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