This queue, a line
This tap, a faucet
Wardrobe, a closet
Chemist, a drugstore
Autumn, is fall
A garden, a yard
You see now? It's not hard"
Language can cause confusion even when two people aren't using separate languages. Often, it's enough for them to speak different dialects of the same language. This trope applies when the differences in dialects of a common language are used for humor or characterization. Most of the examples here are about the differences between British English and American English, but this can occur in any pair of dialects, in any language.
Confusion over dialects in Real Life varies from person to person, and depends on the situation. If British Alice says "throw it in the 'boot'" to American Bob in a story, without context he may be confused; but when they're obviously near to a car, it isn't a huge leap that she means that something should be put in the "trunk". A non-Irish reader may be confused by the phrase 'giving out'.
This could lead to all sorts of confusion, such as when a nice British girl met an American guy and told him he could "knock me up sometime." American meaning: "I want you to get me pregnant." British meaning: "I want you to call my telephone."
It can also be a giveaway when a writer sets a story in a land besides his native one. Many English and Canadian writers write for American audiences. Often they're so good at it that the reader doesn't notice—until a Texan character mentions something that happened "when I was at university." (An American would say "when I was in college" or "...in grad school" or simply "in school", even if he got his degree at a university.)note
People who read or watch a lot of fiction in another dialect will understand more words than expected, which may even be Lampshaded by the writers. Before the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s it was posited that the different versions of English might eventually diverge into separate languages; however, these days the Internet has made it possible to inexpensively speak to a friend in a like-language country on a daily basis in both text and voice — plus watch their TV shows and play video games with them, so only time will tell. Interestingly, this phenomenon was and still is far more severe when it comes to Spanish and French, to the point where Same Language Dubs are usually required — especially for Spanish, which is the official language of the majority of the western hemisphere and varies wildly across the continent and has two radically different dialects in Spain to boot.
See also Australian English and Did Not Do the Bloody Research. Compare Have a Gay Old Time, where the same word means different things in two different time periods rather than countries. Contrast Language Barrier, which is Separated By Lack of a Common Language.
Examples in fiction and media:
- Jerry Seinfeld featured in an American Express advert where he performs a Stand-Up Comedy routine in front of a British audience... and is greeted with silence because the Americanisms he uses go straight over their heads. So he proceeds to tour England and immerse himself in the culture, including the local dialect. (And his second joke, which the British audience finds hilarious, is just gibberish to Americansthe closing shot is Seinfeld whispering, "I have no idea what I'm talking about!").
- Variant names for foodstuffs can cause confusion at best and real acrimonious strife at worst. It's still a Berserk Button to a lot of British people, even two or three decades on, that what they know as the Marathon Bar ended up with a God-awful Americanised name like "Snickers". And Opal Fruits ended up being Americanised to "Starburst". note
- In Detective Conan, the different meanings of horu (see Useful Notes page) were used to identify the criminal who came from Osaka.
- The English dub to Inazuma Eleven: Ares avoids this by using both "soccer" and "football" to refer to Association Football.
- Various cultures in Lyrical Nanoha use different terminology for certain things even after Translator Microbes are taken into account. For example, what Midchildans would call Barrier Jackets and Familiars are respectively called Knight's Armor and Guardian Beasts by Ancient Belkans. Midchildans also refer to Lost Technology as Lost Logia, while the people of Eltria call them OOPArt (Out of Place Artifacts).
- "Knocked up" gets used in Supergirl, when the British-accented demon Buzz asks Linda to knock him up in the morning. Eventually they get it sorted out.
Supergirl: Demons...Buzz: Americans...
- One Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 has Faith go undercover to defeat a rogue slayer. The other slayer asks Faith for a cigarette. It takes Faith a moment to realize it wasn't some kind of Double Entendre.
Slayer: Do you mind if I bum a fag?
Faith: What do I care? You can go bum whomever you... Oh. [hands her a cigarette]
- In an eighties Justice League comic, The Flash (who has no Secret Identity here) introduces himself as "Wally" to a group of English girls, who respond with derisive laughter. Afterwards someone explains to him that "Wally" means idiot. It's a very gentle insult, like something your nan would say. Using it non-jokingly would be seen in a similar way to Have a Gay Old Time.
- The Smurfs story "Smurf Vs. Smurf" (and the Animated Adaptation cartoon special "The Smurfic Games") has the Smurfs fighting over the proper use of the word "smurf" in compounded words and phrases. For instance, some of the Smurfs call a corkscrew a "smurfscrew," while the other Smurfs call it a "corksmurf." In the comic book story, this leads to a Silly Reason for War which gets resolved by Papa Smurf reluctantly enlisting the aid of Gargamel using a "Freaky Friday" Flip to get the Smurfs fighting together against a common enemy. In the cartoon special, it gets resolved with the creation of The Olympics in their culture.
- The differing meanings behind the word "thong" were used as a joke in the comic strip Zits. When Connie expressed a desire to wear thongs, it was quite the mental image for her son Jeremy. It is actually a language difference within America; certain parts of the country (and older folks) use the more English-y term "thongs", whereas everyone else uses sandals.
- In Cold December Night, England ends up very confused at America's ugly sweater party when everyone starts showing up in truly terrible jumpers.
- Ashes of the Past has a bizarre example due to the Fantasy Counterpart Culture involved. In Chapter 54, the Team Rocket Pokémon are going to take part in Pokéathlon and Meowth describes one of the events as "football". When Victreebel asks what type of football, Meowth reiterates "football. This ain't Unova or Orre, ya know"—Unova and Orre being the two regions based on parts of the United States. Of course, Japanese is one of the few non-English languages whose name for association football is derived from the American "soccer" rather than the British "football", so this turns into an unintentional bit of Creator Provincialism.
- Child of the Storm has this occasionally happen between Harry (who's British) and Carol (who's American), with a recurring issue over the matter of the word 'pants'. In the US, pants are trousers. In the UK, however, pants are underwear (usually male, with female underwear being referred to as knickers, but the terms are effectively interchangeable). Considering their semi-constant UST, this leads to more than one comical situation.
- In Living With Danger, the Pack regales Dumbledore and Hagrid with stories of their trip to the US, including the time Sirius walked into a shop and asked for a jumper, meaning what an American would call a sweater. What the clerk thought he was asking for was a dress that is sleeveless and normally worn by young girls (specifically the then-pre-Hogwarts-aged Hermione is referenced).
- In X-Men fanfic "A Conversation in the White Hot Room," Scott Summers and Jean Grey have a slight misunderstanding:
Blast it. Theyre silent for a moment. What are you waiting for?
What? Scott says, startled. Oh. Oh. I thought that was an exclamation. You know, like- he mimics a British accent- Blast it!
Jean glares at him. Blast it, Cyclops, with your eye beams.
- In Warriors Rewrite, housecats use different terms from the feral Clan cats that live nearby. For example, Clan cats call cars "monsters", refer to housefolk (humans) as "twolegs", and refer to a house as a "twoleg den". Even their term for pet cats, "kittypet", is foreign to pet cats.
- Parodied when Bandit Keith in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series speaks to some British people, with "Try speaking American, it's the only language I understand!"
- A Canterbury Tale: Bob, an American serviceman in 1943 England, runs into this problem. He asks the local kids where the "drugstore" is. They draw a blank. He explains that it's the place where you go to buy everyday stuff like toothpaste or shaving cream. One of the kids says "Oh, you mean the grocer's." Later the same kid corrects Bob again for saying "drugstore". He also tells Bob two different times that a quarter should be called a "shilling".
- Barbara Stanwyck plays a con woman in Screwball Comedy The Lady Eve. When she is pretending to be the Lady Eve Sidwich, she leans on this trope pretty hard, dropping a lot of British slang to the befuddlement/amusement of her American hosts.
- In Paul, two British comic-book nerds attend Comic Con in San Diego and then go on a road trip in the American Southwest. Clive asks where they parked the RV.
Graeme: It's in the car park.Clive: I think you mean the parking lot.Graeme: (cowboy voice) Ah sure do! [laughter]
- In America, "pissed" means angry; in most of the rest of the English-speaking world, it can also mean "drunk", while angry people tend to be described as "pissed off" rather than just "pissed". On the commentary for Shaun of the Dead, it's stated that the only thing they consciously did to avoid confusing Americans was to say Mary the zombie was "so drunk" instead of "so pissed", because they were aware of this trope and knew how that would sound.
- The meanings of "pissed" led to a memorable scene in the Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back. In a hotel in London, Dylan (who is American) threw a fit when someone threw a glass out the window. The guy was drunk and tried explaining that he was pissed, so Dylan said something along the lines of "Oh, you're pissed?! Don't tell me you're pissed!"
- In Austin Powers in Goldmember there's a scene where Nigel Powers is talking about his sexual exploits and Austin requests that they speak in "English" English (actually Cockney rhyming slang) in front of the Americans. The proceeding conversation has subtitles, though not all of it, as Even the Subtitler Is Stumped...
- Back to the Future has the temporal version of this as Marty occasionally fails to make himself understood in 1955:
- His attempt to get a diet soda at a diner goes down like this:
Marty: All right, give me, uh, give me a Tab.Lou: A tab? Can't give ya a tab, unless ya order something.Marty: Give me a Pepsi Free.noteLou: You want a Pepsi, pal, you're gonna pay for it!
- Amusingly, this conversion would play out the same with someone from the 21st Century, since Pepsi Free is now called Caffeine Free Pepsi, and Tab is pretty obscure.
- Doc questions why Marty keeps saying "this is heavy" in moments of stress.
- In a deleted scene, Marty talks to 1955 Doc about his misgivings about "hitting on my mother", which Doc takes literally. He then explains that it might turn him gay, to which Doc says, "why shouldn't'' you be happy?", since the modern meaning of the word didn't come about until several years after.
- His attempt to get a diet soda at a diner goes down like this:
- A Running Gag in The Dish. Al, the visiting American from NASA, is regularly puzzled by the local Australian slang.
Mitch:: You treat us like a pack of galahs!(Al looks confused)Glenn:: That's a type of parrot.
- In Chasing Liberty, Anna, the US President's daughter, is visiting London and doesn't understand the phrase "Tele's broke, and there's no lift" before it's translated: "Television's broken, elevator: none."
- El Norte: An example from Spanish, in a film that involves siblings from Guatemala migrating to the United States. The villager who helps Enrique gets started on his journey tells him to claim to be Mexican if he's caught by Border Patrol, so he won't be sent back to Guatemala. He tests Enrique by asking him to say "It's very hot", and when a bemused Enrique says "Hace mucho calor", the villager says that's wrong—he has to say hace chingana calor, "It's fucking hot." Apparently Mexicans curse constantly. When Enrique makes it to Mexico he finds out that his friend was right. And later he does in fact use this trick to convince a Border Patrol agent that he's Mexican.
- In the Harry Potter films, the British wizarding population uses the term "Muggle" to denote humans who cannot perform magic. In the spin-off film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which takes place in New York City, the American wizards use the term "No-maj" instead.
- Hercule Poirot of Murder on the Orient Express (1974) intuits that one of the suspects in his case is lying about never having visited America by means of this trope, when she refers to 'calling my lawyers long-distance' rather than an Englishwoman's 'make a trunk call to my solicitors.'
- In Smilin' Through, Kathleen the Brit and Ken the American have a Running Gag where they are constantly correcting each other's accentsshe dings him for his flat "a" in "ghastly" and his long "i" in "neither", and he later gets her for her pronunciation of "after". Also, apparently Americans called doughnuts "sinkers" in 1915, as Frederick does, only to be corrected again.
- Vet Hard: In this Dutch / Belgian movie, Flemish Belgian character Koen is getting brutally yelled at by another, Dutch, character because his Flemish idioms and accent differ from theirs:
Bennie: Dickhead, speak Dutch properly!
- Timeline: Marek tries to ask Claire if she's "with anyone", or "seeing anyone", but both times she takes him literally, and doesn't get it, as these aren't English expressions in the period.
- In Snatch., Dennis Farina's character (a New Yorker who is not happy to have to travel to England) gets angry at all the British slang being thrown around, and at one point yells "English, Tony, English! I thought you people invented the language! So far, nobody here speaks it!"
- Lampshaded in Surf Ninjas. After the ninjas attack their burger shack and capture their adoptive father, the boys call the police. Lieutenant Spence (played by Tone Loc) is taking their statement, but neither party is able to understand the other as Lieutenant Spence speaks inner city while Adam and Johnny speak Surfer Dude. Lieutenant Spence finally gives up and summons an interpreter.
- In the comedy-mystery Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe, Rob (an American) learns that Natasha's life is in danger and rushes to save her. He asks the guard in the lobby which floor she is on and the guard tells him she is on the second floor. He rushes to the second floor but cannot find her. When he returns to the lobby to question the guard again, the guard (an Englishman) reminds him that the English and the Americans number buildings stories differently. In England the first floor is the one above the ground floor, while in America "first floor" and "ground floor" are synonymous.
- In The Spy Who Loved Me, as the American, British, and Soviet submariners join together to fight Stromberg's mooks on the Liparus, the British captain orders his men "Help yourself to firearms!" while the American captain orders his men "Grab a weapon, come on!".
- In Jeeves and Wooster novel Right Ho, Jeeves, Bertie observes that Aunt Dahlia's French chef Anatole had been in service with an American family for several years before coming to work with Aunt Agatha. Bertie pronounces Anatole's English as "fluent, but a bit mixed." In the next paragraph, Anatole mixes up American slang ("Hot dog!", "hit the hay", "mad as a wet hen") with British ("jolly well", "blighters").
- In "Money, A Suicide Note" by Martin Amis, the main character is sent to try to get a very clean cut actor called Spunk Davies to use a stage name instead.
- In Good Omens, Newton Pulsifer has a Witchfinder's card which states that faggots (meaning chunks of firewood) should be turned over to him. When an American soldier asks what they do with the faggots, Newton replies "We burn them." The soldier is quite impressed...
- The Lady From Zagreb: German detective Bernie Gunther spends much of the novel in Zurich, Switzerland. The people of Zurich speak a German dialect called "Allemanic German" that Bernie thinks is "weird". Eventually he gives up trying to follow along.
- Not too much between Charlotte and her cousin Zee in the Cronus Chronicles, but there is a little bit of idiom confusion when they first meet, especially since Zee is an avid (British) football player.
- Sherlock Holmes stories:
- "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" uses this for a plot point. Holmes is able to divine from the spelling of the word "plow" (in British English, "plough") and a couple of vocabulary choices that an advertisement purportedly from an Englishman is actually from an American.
- This trope is used for humor in "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" (though the conversation being described ultimately proves plot-relevant):
Lord St. Simon: Lady St. Simon said something about jumping a claim. She was accustomed to use slang of the kind. I have no idea what she meant.Holmes: American slang is very expressive sometimes.
- "Murders in Pastiche" by Marion Mainwaring - the usage difference while/whilst gives an important clue who wrote the note.
- The Baroque Cycle: Lord Gy, a Scottish lord, speaks with a nigh-impenetrable Funetik Aksent and litters his speech with Scottish-specific words. One of his jailers very bluntly tells him that he does not speak English.
- In Morgan's Run, late 18th-century Britain is full of this. A Scottish criminal needs a translator because no one can understand his Scots, some Scottish prison guards later must self-translate so their English prisoners can understand, and even English people can't understand each other in some cases if they're from diverse parts with different dialects.
- In Witches Abroad, the witches are from Fantasy North England and visiting Fantasy Louisiana. A discussion of how words means different things in foreign parts results in Granny Weatherwax being under the impression that "hobo" is Genuan for "backside" (she's grasped that it's synonymous with "bum", but...)
- In Whispers Under Ground, some British coppers have to run through half-a-dozen slang synonyms ("ends", "manor", "patch", etc) before hitting upon a term ("hood") that conveys the right meaning to a visiting FBI agent.
- In one Agatha Christie novel, a character is revealed to be American when she says I would call my lawyer long-distance instead of I would place a trunk call to my solicitor.
- In Regina's Song, this is an Invoked Trope. At one point, the protagonist (an English teacher) and his fellow grad students are accosted by a swarm of unwanted reporters for their comments on the Seattle Slasher case. They resort to giving random statements in their favored foreign languages, and the protagonist's contribution is the opening stanza of Beowulf in West Saxon. When asked by the rest of the group, he explains that he's speaking "English," just English from 1500 years ago.
- In the Venus and Mars self-help books, it's explained that Martians (men) and Venusians (women) use the same language but in different ways. In the books, Venusians tend to rely on nuance and Hint Dropping, as well as emotion, where Martians are more direct and to-the-point, even Literal-Minded. note This causes chaos when the Martians and Venusians hook up and travel to Earth for reasons never really explained in the books.
- Tales of the South Pacific: In story "Coral Sea", the Americans manning a remote observation post laugh when an officer from New Zealand lands on the island and introduces himself as Flight 'Leftenant' Grant. They later mock his turns of phrase like "Hop to it, lads!"
- In Frederick Forsyth's Gulf War thriller, The Fist of God, Forsythe spends several pages regarding communication problems between the American and British forces. Most notably the Americans trying to find "MMFD" on the map after hearing British pilots reporting flying over it. (It stands for "miles and miles of f**king desert")
- The Heroes of Olympus introduces characters Frank Zhang and Hazel Levesque who eventually hook up. They eventually learn that respectively they can speak dialects of French from Canada and Louisiana, but that the two are so different they can't actually communicate at all. It becomes slightly funny because their mutual friend, Piper McLean, is a daughter of Aphrodite and as such has an inherent fluency in all French (as it's the Language of Love) and can understand them both perfectly as they misunderstand each other.
- Isaac Asimov's Opus 100: Dr Asimov, raised in America, describes his surprise to find that his book, Quick And Easy Math had been changed by the British publisher to Quick and Easy Maths.
- In 30 Rock Liz's boyfriend Wesley Snipes incorrectly claims that in England film cameras are called "film-pods" and bikes are "velocipedes" or "foot cycles".
- In Blackadder the Third, there is a rotten borough named Dunny-on-the-Wold. Combined with the Myst entry below about what "dunny" means in Australian English, the location can be literally interpreted as "a shithole in the moors".
- Bo' Selecta!: Whilst Craig David tries to break America (again), he goes to a diner and asks for egg and chips, only to be given a plate of crisps with fried eggs.
- The Colbert Report had an interview with Emily Blunt discussing when she first came to America and discovering that the Americans have a different definition of the term "quite good" than the British. In Britain being told something is "quite good" is Damned by Faint Praise, but in America it's much more sincere. Americans were telling her that her films were excellent but she initially thought they were insulting her.
- Columbo: In "Dagger of the Mind", Columbo is telling Richard the Brit about some spots on the "hood" of the car, which is odd, because it hadn't rained at Sir Roger's country estate. (It had in London.) Roger is puzzled for a second, and then he says "Oh, the bonnet."
- In Community, Professor Ian Duncan, the British professor, played by John Oliver, occasionally uses British terms as part of a joke. All of which are part of the larger joke that Duncan doesn't actually know any English slang and knows very little about England, having come to the US at a young age with his grandfather.
- Duncan claims, "I seem to have left my purse in my duffel and my duffel in the boot of my lorry," when trying to borrow money. These are all British-specific terms, though a "lorry" would be a large 18-wheel truck, not a personal pick-up truck, which Duncan doesn't own either.
- Professor Duncan: "Let's blow this pop stand and head out back for a spot of slap and tickle. That's sex, in case the lingo hasn't made it across the pond."
- In one episode, Britta (a hottie of the group) wants to high-five with Professor Duncan and he leans in for a kiss, but Britta pulls away from him. "Okay, American high-five it is."
- In another episode Duncan is driving Britta home, and decides to put on a British comedy radio show. As he's trying to explain the cultural background of the jokes, Britta simply responds with: "Are they speaking English?"
- The season 4 Downton Abbey Christmas special finds Martha and Harold, Cora's American family, arriving at Downton to visit the Crawleys.
Martha: Well, the gang's all here!Violet: Is that American for "hello"?Martha: Harold, I don't believe you've met Tom, Sybil's husband.Tom: It seems strange we never met when she was here to introduce us.Harold: Well, I'm glad to know you now.Violet: How curious these phrases are!
- Weaponised in Sherlock. After finding a connection to America in "The Hounds of Baskerville" case, Sherlock deduces the murderers identity, and cites, among other evidence, their former suspects use of the word cell phone as opposed to mobile due to time spent in America.
- In episode "Internal Audit" from Elementary, Sherlock meets someone new.
Randy: You're Sherlock, right?Sherlock: And you are?Randy: Randy.Sherlock: Name or adjective?Randy: What?Sherlock: Short for "Randall" or state of sexual arousal?Randy: Are you asking me if I'm horny?
- Since Daphne, a Brit, is a major character in Frasier, this trope comes up fairly often. For example:
Frasier: Is Dad home?Daphne: Nope, I haven't seen him since he knocked me up early this morning.Frasier: What?Daphne: Knocked me up. Woke me up. It's an English expression. What does it mean here?Frasier: Oh, something else. You'd definitely be awake for it, though.
- From Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Amnesia Danger episode "Tabula Rasa":
Spike: (checking the label in his jacket pocket) "Made with care for Randy"? Randy Giles? Why not just call me "Horny" Giles, or "Desperate-for-a-Shag" Giles? I knew there was a reason I hated you!Giles: Randy's... a family name, undoubtedly.
- And the spin-off, Angel, gives us a glorious example when Gunn and Wesley discuss their chosen profession as occult detectives.
Gunn: Five herb shops in Chinatown; we've been to four. How come whatever we're searching for is always in the last place we look?Wesley: I suppose it's one of the unwritten laws of being a dick.(Gunn gives him a really weird look)Wesley: Ah, a sleuth, a gumshoe, a Sherlock.Gunn: All I know is you use the word "dick" again and we gonna have a problem.
- An episode of Have I Got News for You had lots of fun with the fact that there's a staffer in the Obama White House named Randy Bumgardener. To elaborate: Randy = horny. Bum = ass. Gardner = "Uphill gardener" (a rarely-used slang phrase referring to a gay man).
- An episode of The Graham Norton Show in the UK had this confuse guest Johnny Knoxvile after an audience member tells Graham on how she stuffed a rubber up her nose. Johnny's reaction led fellow guest Catherine Tate to tell him it's an eraser. Graham was very amused.
- This gag from The Office (UK), in which Keith decides to give Dawn some advice on American slang after hearing she's going to the States, was made funnier by Keith's general creepiness and monotone delivery.
- The Late Show with David Letterman:
- The word 'rubber' means an eraser in the UK, but in other places (particularly the USA) it's a condom. As a guest on Letterman's show, Emma Watson said that she committed this infraction during her first semester at an American university (Brown), asking a male classmate for a rubber during class.
- Emma was baffled when Letterman made a reference to "punting on fourth down"; "punt" means kick in American slang (in American Football context as in his comment, it means to relinquish possession in a useless situation), whereas it means rowing in British slang.
- American newsman Ted Koppel (who was born and raised in Lancashire before his parents moved to the US when he was 13) has also told the story of asking the class for a "rubber" and getting laughed at.
- In iCarly, Spencer orders Canadian bacon, only to find out that it's just sliced ham.
- In Torchwood: Miracle Day, when Gwen adjusts to the US:
Gwen: I had to go to the petrol station and all they had was crisps.
Esther: I think you mean "gas station" and "chips." Crisps are called "chips" over here.
Gwen: Thank you, Miss Translation.
Esther: And a mobile is a cellphone and by cashpoint I think you mean ATM.
Gwen: Don't ever leave my side.
Gwen: This lemonade is flat.
Esther: It's lemonade. It's supposed to be flat.
Gwen: What, fizzy fizzy lemonade?
Esther: It's fizzy in the UK and flat in the US.
Gwen: Yeah, that just about sums it up.
- 'Shit' can mean 'stuff' in American or Australian English, though it's still connected with the original meaning. In British English it remains a profanity in any context. Stephen Fry once pointed out that if an American says: "I was eating hamburgers and shit", you can tell what he means. But written down it looks like he's saying: "I was eating hamburgers and shit."
- In one episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Detective Goren deduced that a kidnapper was British and not American because he threatened that if he wasn't paid his ransom, "it wouldn't be a very happy Christmas." An American would have said Merry Christmas.
- A Running Gag in the season 8 opener of Psych is that the Americans (Gus and Shawn) can't understand the British criminals even a little bit, because everything they say is completely laden with slang.
- The British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? had a more varied lineup of performers compared to the US version, including British, American, and Canadian comedians. Sometimes the humo(u)r comes from an American/Canadian performer not understanding what a British performer is referring to, or vice versa. It gets even weirder in the episodes filmed in the US—you've got a British host, American and Canadian performers (and in some of the New York episodes, British performers as well), performing in front of a live American audience, for a British TV audience. For example, British host Clive Anderson once got in a brief discussion with American Greg Proops over the meaning of the word "jelly". note
- Brit Joseph Marcell, who played butler Geoffrey on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, talked about some of his problems with British vs American English when he was a guest on The Arsenio Hall Show, specifically the slang for calling someone on the telephone: in the US it's "giving [someone] a jingle" but in the UK it's "tinkle," which means urinating in the US.
- When Jamaine goes missing in an episode of Flight of the Conchords, Dave is confused by Murray's New Zealand accent that shifts the short e to the short i sound:
Murray: He [Jamaine] may be dead!Dave: He maybe did what?
- Rodney McKay of Stargate Atlantis, a Canadian, insists on referring to Zero Point Modules as "zed-pee-ems", much to the initial confusion of his (mostly American) teammates, not to mention the aliens that his team talks to.
- On Game of Thrones, people in all of Westeros speak the Common Tongue — the same language is used in the Seven Kingdoms and by Wildlings (aka free folk) who live in tribes beyond the Wall in the North. In season 7, there is one minor confusion between Sandor Clegane and a Wilding leader Tormund. Apparently, the word "dick" for penis is only known southern of the Wall.
Tormund: I don't think you're truly mean. You have sad eyes.The Hound: You want to suck my dick, is that it?Tormund: Dick?The Hound: Cock.Tormund: Ah, dick! I like it.The Hound: Bet you do.
- Band of Brothers: While the American and British armies are making plans for Operation Pegasus,note the British colonel has to clarify that when he says the Brits will be using "torches", he is referring to what Americans call "flashlights".
- My Mother and Other Strangers, set in Northern Ireland during WWII, has a number of bloopers uttered by ostensibly American characters (played by British actors). Most grating is the recurring phrase call by meaning to stop by or visit; to a 20th-century American, the word call only means a telephone call. Another time, an American character is directed to a cottage and shows no confusion. The house in question is one of a connected row; in American English, a cottage is a detached house (normally—except Newport—a small one).
- Friends has Monica's former roommate Amanda show up in an episode after a few years living in England. She insists on using British terms and accent, to Monica and Phoebe's annoyance.
Amanda: Sorry, I didn't want to catch you on your mobile. I feel like such an arse.
Phoebe: Well here you're just an ass.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: In the The Last of the Wild Horses episode, Mike programs Crow and Servo to speak with different regional dialects to see how they communicate. This results in the Bots getting into arguments about things like the word "Coke" (Crow uses it as a generic term for all carbonated soft drinks while Tom specifically means Coca-Cola). After a few exchanges Mike calls it off because there's a difference between regionalism and just plain stupidity.
- Burnistoun: One sketch features two guys traveling in a new, voice-activated elevator which has an American accent. The automated system is unable to understand the men's Scottish accents, and they try impressions of various accents, to no avail.
- Criminal Minds:
- In episodes "Lo-Fi" and "Mayhem", the team works with Agent Kate Joyner who's British. It doesn't come up in a plot relevant way, but after she's caught in an explosion, she says that it feels like "the cinema". She then corrects herself that in America, people say "in the movies", not "cinema" and asks why there's a different word for it.
- In "Alpha Male", they demonstrate the trope within American English. The unsub's manifesto includes regionalisms like "taping the MAC", causing the team to look up just what he means so they can figure out where he's going next (it's "using an ATM" if you were wondering).
- Used in one episode to identify a specific suspect, when her unique quirk of referring to lightbulbs as "lightbugs" allows Garcia to track down online chatter that belongs to her.
- 1989 saw the debut of a new series on MTV titled The Day In Rock, hosted by Kurt Loder. John Lydon was supposed to have been a guest on the first episode. When it came time for his segment, Kurt asked why he wasn't there. An off-camera crew guy said, "Johnny is sick." Kurt's response was, "I know that, but where is he?" The crew guy had to explain, "Johnny is ill."
- Cheers refers to the observation that Italian as spoken in North America is distinct enough from standard Italian as spoken in Europe to count as a different dialect (see the Useful Notes page). In an episode where ferocious barmaid Carla is confronted with a deathbed ultimatum from her estranged mother - if you really love me, then you must prove it by getting one of your children to change his name to that of a great and famous Italian - she is horrified and refuses. However, one of her sons, who is not encumbered by brainpower, says he is willing to change his name to Benito Mussolini Tortelli. The historical and political implications of the name go right over his head. But Tortelli Junior baulks at one thing. Reading that Mussolini was also known as Il Duce, he pronounces the name in the characteristic Italian-American way, not sounding the second syllable. note And refuses to be known as The Douche''.
- On NCIS, MI-6 liaison Clayton Reeves refers to Ellie Bishop as his "mate"; he means "friend", but others think he means "girlfriend".
- The Good Place: The titular Good Place automatically translates all spoken words so each resident hears the language they're most comfortable with, but apparently it doesn't differentiate between British and American dialects of English. When Michael tells Tahani, who is English, that he's planning to wear "suspenders" to her party she has a moment of confusion over whether he means the American (over-the-shoulder support for pants) or British (garters to hold up stockings) sense and has to ask him to clarify which he's planning to wear.
- Rupauls Drag Race features so much drag slang, anyone who's not familiar with the culture would need a lexicon to follow along. For instance, "fish" is a queen that passes for a cisgender woman, "kai-kai" is when two queens hook up (not to be confused with "ki-ki" which is just a party), "ladyboy" is a fishy Asian queen, "trade" is a queen that's handsome as a man, etc.
- In one episode of Yes, Prime Minister, Bernard is tasked with making arrangements for the state funeral of a former Prime Minister. He has to specify that the United States is generally considered an "English-speaking nation" and that the delegation would not require translators.
- "The Gambler Song" (a parody of the Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler") by Australian comedian/singer/songwriter Martin Pearson contains this lyric:
"Then he bummed a cigarette/(Most people smoke them with their mouths)"
- "Super Mario Land With Lyrics" has Dave Bulmer giving several British insults to an uncomprehending Brent, until Dave pulls out an English-to-American dictionary.
- In Get Fuzzy, recurring character Mac Manc Mcmanx is this due to him speaking an extremely weird mishmash of multiple British dialects that require a good deal of effort to translate into American English.
- Canadian example, but Chris Jericho said of the Appalachian area that was home to SMW that he might as well have stayed in Japan even though the language was now English since there was so much he didn't understand.
- ROH Death Before Dishonor V Night I, August 10, 2007. Chris Hero and Larry Sweeney would like to remind Nigel McGuinness of the second pure wrestling commandment. Thou shalt not speak British!
- The Bob & Tom Show: In "Cooking with the King", Elvis goes to England to try fish and chips and is completely confused by his host Ian St. Ian's speech. Eventually they get into a fight over the chips, which Elvis recognizes as French fries ("And they ain't even Ore-Ida's!").
- One episode of The Adventures of Harry Nile had Harry realize that a supposedly American man was actually British because he frantically shouted at Harry to take an injured man "to hospital" as opposed to "to the hospital" (the way someone raised in America would have said it).
- Jasper Carrott
- He once built an entire routine around the idea of going into an American shop to buy a pencil eraser.
Jasper: Hello, can I have a rubber please?Storekeeper: How many would you like, sir?Jasper: Just the one! Gawd, I don't make that many mistakes!Jasper: Oh! Have you got any of those ones with a Mickey Mouse head? Cos I like to chew on them when I'm thinking.
- Upon learning that in Australia the Durex company was known for making adhesive tape to the point of having the same Brand Name Takeover as Sellotape in the UK (and, more to the point, as Durex condoms have in the UK), he imagines an Australian in a British shop trying to buy "a roll of Durex".
- He once built an entire routine around the idea of going into an American shop to buy a pencil eraser.
- Russell Brand talks about an encounter with this trope in his New York comedy special, describing the time he was introduced to LL Cool J.
"'Yo, yo, yo, wazzup my homies?' — 'Oh yes, you're wonderful. I love all your homos.'"
- Brian Regan has a brief routine about how, in college, his roommate was from New Jersey, and when they first met said roommate suggested they go for "a pie". The roommate was talking about a pizza, but since Brian had never heard it be referred to like that before, he thought he wanted to get the dessert.
Brian: So we got half pepperoni, and half pumpkin.
- Eddie Izzard (who is British) plays with the Trope Namer when performing in the US: "They say that Britain and America are two countries separated by a common language (and a lot of fish). And it's true!" He goes on to demonstrate various pronunciation differences, notably "you say 'erbs,' and we say 'herbs,' because there's a fucking H in it!"
- Australian comedian Carl Barron, preforming at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, says nobody warned him that "thong" means something very different in North America than it does in Australianote , leading to a very strange conversation with a guy in the street.
Man: Hey look, when she bends over, you can see her thong!
Carl: Whoop-de-doo. What are you lookin' at her thong for?
Man: It was poppin' out the top of her jeans.
Carl: What was poppin' out the top of her jeans?
Man: Her thong.
Carl: [confused] Her thong was poppin' out the top of her jeans? What's a friggin' thong doin' poppin' out the top of her jeans?!
Man: [getting annoyed] No, when you look down her jeans, you can see her thong!
Carl: Jeez, she must have loose jeans on! [beat] By the way, where's the other one?
Man: The other what?
Carl: Thong. They always come in twos.
Man: What do you know about thongs?
Carl: [shrug] I wear 'em.
Man: [shocked] Do ya?!
Carl: When I'm feelin' hot. When it's cold, I put a sock on first and put the thong over that! What's the big deal? My mum wears 'em, my dad wears 'em...
Man: Are we talkin' about the same thing?
Carl: I don't think so.
- Trevor Noah talks about how he once ordered tacos from a truck and the cook asked him if he wanted a napkin, which in South Africa means a diaper, it was an... interesting conversation.
Trevor: Why the hell would I want a napkin?Cook: Hey, man! For the mess, afterwards!Trevor: For the mess? Is it that instant that I'm gonna need a napkin?Cook: You never know with tacos, man! One minute you think you got it, then is coming out!
- Copies of Mario Party 8 had to be recalled in the UK due to the character Kamek using the word "spastic" (as in "Magikoopa magic! Turn this train spastic! Make this ticket tragic!") on the Shy Guy Express level. In the UK, "spastic" is an offensive derogatory slang term to refer to disabled or mentally handicapped people. The word was changed to "erratic" in re-releases.
- If you perform poorly on the tests in the Nintendo DS version of Mind Quiz, the game will call you "spastic", or "super spastic" if you did particularly bad. It was recalled in the UK for the same reason as Mario Party 8 — however, a fixed version was never released.
- Myst: The chamber where Atrus is trapped is called "Dunny". While later sequels retconned the spelling of this place to "D'Ni", the directory containing the files for this area on the original Myst CDROM is clearly spelt "Dunny". The idea of Atrus being trapped in Dunny for all eternity has a special, hilarious meaning in Australia where the word "Dunny" means toilet.
- Nancy Drew's plan to explore yet another dark, mysterious tunnel is briefly foiled in The Curse Of Blackmoor Manor, at least until Jane explains why her great-aunt has no idea what a "flashlight" is: in the U.K. they're called "torches".
- Lampshaded in an Hetalia: Axis Powers comic:
England: Do you have a rubber?America: Do you even have a partner?!
- The Devil's Panties uses the variant meanings of "knocked up" for a joke with Jennie Breeden.
- Two Running Gags in Scandinavia and the World are Denmark being an Innocent Bigot, and the fact that the main Nordic languages all sound like mispronunciations of each other. Put them together, and you get this strip, in which "major downer" gets mistaken for "master negro".
- Stand Still, Stay Silent, has a Danish to Swedish (in theory mutually undestandable) case. Danish Mikkel gives Swedish Emil a list of four items to salvage from a nearby commercial area. Two of the items happen to be things for which the Danish and Swedish words are not the same, causing Emil to tell Mikkel he can't understand half the list.
- The Tim Tebow CFL Chronicles: Troy Smith, quarterback of the Montreal Alouettes, assembles a massive army of football players, all of them Montreal natives. Troy is from the US, so when he tells his army to march north, he means the magnetic north. Unfortunately for him, Montreal street directions are strongly skewed relative to the compass, so the army instead marches "Montreal-north"... which is roughly to the magnetic west.
- Some of Achievement Hunter's interactions with Gavin Free can be this. Because he's British, much of his vernacular confuses and enrages some of the other members of the group, namely Michael Jones and Jeremy Dooley, sometimes on purpose.
Gavin: See if you can get a packet of fags out.
[gasps of shock from the others]
Michael: Whoa. This is America, Gavin! This is America!
- In a Let's Watch in Hitman, Gavin encounters a spice merchant and wonders if he sells rapeseed* . Both Ryan and Jeremy were confused and very nervous about the term.
- Jeremy and Trevor even invented a game where Gavin challenged them to look at three slang terms and pick out which one he made up.
Jeremy: Two of those are real?!
Gavin: [grinning] Two of those are real.
- World War II: Episode 46 - "The Dictator of France" features an introduction joke and a whole segment about the aluminum/aluminium divide and the etymology of the metal's name. Host Indy Neidell, an American living in Stockholm, Sweden, says aluminum, for what it's worth.
- On this very wiki, we have The Lad-ette, named after a term not really used outside the UK. "Lad culture" basically carries the same meaning as "bro culture" does in the States, but Americans would likely think of "lad" as a quaint, old-timey term for a young boy.
- In Clerks: The Animated Series when Dante and Randal recall working in a British convenience store and a customer asks for a "pack of fags". Hilarity Ensues.
British Customer: Pack of fags.
Randal: You're a fag!
British Customer: It's a cigarette, mate.
Randal: I'm not your mate, fag!
[Randal jumps over counter and tackles the customer.]Dante: It wasn't until years later that we found out what "fag" really means. Right, mate?
Randal: You're a fag!
Dante: No, it's a cigarette!
Randal: ''You're a cigarette!"
- In South Park's fifth season episode "It Hits the Fan", the gang visits the casino Excalibur to ask about the curse words and "words of curse."
Excalibur employee: Ha! Leave it to Americans to think that "no" means yes, "pissed" means angry, and "curse word" means something other than a word that's cursed!
- In one episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh 1 goes with his father overseas to his homeland of England. Despite having a pretty robust English accent, Nigel is worried that he won't be able to comprehend their language while his father assures him they speak English. Unfortunately Nigel indeed ends up confused due to the massive number of idioms that fly over his head once they arrive (and compounded by thick British accents that mask what he would otherwise be able to understand).
- Phineas and Ferb:
- In the episode "Are You My Mummy?", upon hearing Phineas calling for a "mummy", his British stepfather Lawrence thinks Phineas means his mother instead of a mummy from Ancient Egypt. This is particularly ridiculous since Phineas, unlike Lawrence's biological son Ferb, learned to talk in American English and as such, would use terms from said language variant and is old enough that except under certain circumstances, he would call for his mother as "mom" rather than the somewhat babyish "mommy".
- In "My Fair Goalie", Ferb's cousins visit from England and, believing he's become too Americanized, ask whether he even plays football anymore while holding a ball. Buford mocks them for holding a soccer ball and corrects them on what football is by pulling out an American football.
- The Simpsons:
- "Lisa's Wedding": In the time-skip episode (first aired in 1995, set in 2010), Marge talks to Lisa (both are American) on the "picture phone". Lisa is spending her summer with her boyfriend Hugh in England, and Marge tells her she should remember that an elevator is a "lift", a mile is called a "kilometer" and botulism is "steak-and-kidney pie". The elevator/lift one is accurate, the mile/kilometer one is a joke that England might move to the metric system in the future as the rest of Europe (not bloody likely, and even if they did miles and kilometers still aren't equal in length), and the last one is just a jab at the English stereotype of their poor cooking and food standards.
- In "Brush With Greatness", in the 1960s, the teenaged Marge sent Ringo Starr a letter with her portrait of him, but he didn't respond. At least, until 1991, when he finally got it.
Ringo: (Voiceover Letter) Dear Marge. Thanks for the fab painting of Yours Truly. I hung it on me wall. You're quite an artist. In answer to your question, yes, we do have hamburgers and fries in England. But we call French fries "chips". Love, Ringo. PS: Forgive the lateness of my reply.
- American Dad!: Klaus, being from East Germany, learned how to speak British English rather than American and uses their terminology. Roger gets angry when Klaus refuses to say he met a girl at college instead of ''university
- In an early episode of Family Guy, where Quahog gets flooded with British expatriates, one of them (voiced by Hugh Laurie) tries to explain how cricket is played, using a lot of jargon. When Peter asks what the guy is saying, Cleveland responds that the only British idiom he knows is that fag means cigarette. Peter replies "Well, someone tell this cigarette to shut up."
- The Let's Go Luna! episode "Speaking Wigglewalker" takes place in the UK and teaches about how there are several differences between American English and British English. In the episode, Andy eats all of the juggling food meant for the Wigglewalkers' circus act and is asked to buy some more to replace it. Then he gets confused because he has no idea what chips, crisps, biscuits, and candy floss are, and starts to panic until Luna sings him a song about the differences between the UK's English and America's English and explains that the aforementioned foods are the British names for french fries, potato chips, cookies, and cotton candy.
- In Robot Chicken, Criss Angel substitutes for Snape. When Hermione asks if they'll be going over the answers to yesterday's homework, he throws out her textbook and tells her there are no answers.
Hermione: That textbook was 65 pounds!
Criss Angel: I'm sure it didn't weigh anywhere near that much.