Tuesday Translations: Bits & Bobs and Bollards – British vs. American English

As the resident English person in my area, I am holding the fort for the use of British English – even in the face of confusion, and often outright amusement – and still refuse to pronounce aluminium as “al-oo-min-num” and call courgettes and aubergines, zucchinis and eggplants. Here are some more lost in translation moments …

Most recent amusements were all centred around a trip to a grocery store. It all started when I excitedly exclaimed that a bollard I nearly walked into was almost as tall as me … the American fell into fits of giggles as he had no idea what I had just said, and indeed thought I had referred to something very, very different … I am sure you can imagine!

As I was embarrassed I told him to sod off which only made the laughter worse and it all then descended into a very silly shopping trip not becoming of two grown-ups. Adulting was difficult that day, as the American spent most of it mocking my accent and asking if I would like a cup of tay – how he thinks I say tea.

Here is a quick round up of the lost in translation moments …

bollards | as in ‘those bollards are huge’ are not man parts as thought by the America, but the posts to stop vehicles from crashing into the store front

trolley | a shopping trolley to me but a shopping cart to everyone else

sod off | is the equivalent to ‘get lost’ but clearly, not as effective, as the American had no idea what I was saying

bits and bobs | often used by me when I say we need a few random things from the store which is not to be confused with ‘odds and sods’ (see below)

odds and sods | a phrase used by my father to name the box/drawer he used to put that junk nobody knows what it is or where it came from or if it has any use – commonly called the junk drawer here or, more amusingly … the man drawer (very funny clip about that below)

And the final hilarity was more to do with my accent and when I said the tulips in store smelled lovely, the American said it sounded like I was saying two lips. Oh, what fun!

Do you know or use some words or phrases that are lost in translation when you use them? Do you know any more British or American words that just do not make any sense to you or cause some amusement? Leave a comment if you do!


28 thoughts on “Tuesday Translations: Bits & Bobs and Bollards – British vs. American English

  1. Donna-Lee says:

    Visiting my long-distance love in California (I was still in Australia then) I remember asking for a coke in a restaurant. It was as if everyone in that establishment just stopped talking and looked (like in a movie). I asked again if I could have a coke please. My now-hubby quickly said “she means a coke cola”. To this day, I can’t understand how my Aussie accent resulted in them hearing anything other than coke! 🙂


  2. Holly says:

    Ha ha, you are the opposite to me, the American words have infiltrated my vocabulary! My Scottish friend has been living in Canada for thirty years though and she still uses English/Scottish words!


  3. FrenchVillage Jacqui says:

    Brilliant, I always say courgette, but if I post a recipe on my blog I have say zucchini too or there will always be someone who says ‘what is a courgette?’ My French friends often ask me to translate recipes from English they have found online but even I have no idea what a ‘cup’ measures in grams!


  4. alittlemoresouthern says:

    After three years in New Zealand, I still have issues being understood, struggle with the metric system, and can’t for the life of me spell things in English that I was struggling with in American. Why the extra “I”?!?! Lol!!


  5. Fabiola Rodriguez says:

    I loved this post! I am Mexican, but I teach English As A Second Language, and every now and then I’ve had to explain the subtle differences between American and British English, or at least follow the lesson marked in the book. Honestly, I have no idea if it’s true that “trainers” is the British word for “sneakers”, but it confuses the students like you wouldn’t believe!


  6. cristinkelly says:

    Love it. I’m an American in Australia, so I know well how different English can be from one country to another! It’s fun to pick up the new expressions that are fun, and leave the ones you don’t care for. Hope some of yours will rub off on the Yanks!


  7. seychellesmama says:

    Very cute! I love differences in dialects! It’s funny how you still discover differences even after living somewhere for a long time isn’t it!! I found when I lived in America that my American friends found me to be super British but when speaking to my friends back in the uk they all thought I’d gone full blown Californian girl on them!! My husband still picks me up on americanisms that pop out every now and then (mostly when I’m drunk haha)
    Really enjoyed this thanks for sharing with #myexpatfamily


  8. oregongirlaroundtheworld says:

    I have the opposite – but can feel your pain. We are Americans living in Denmark with children attending a British International school. Needless to say – we have lots of Brits in our expat circle here. Many rounds of confusion between common words and phrases between us. “Fancy dress?” Not a costume in American English. “Trunk” vs “Boot.” “Eraser” versus “Rubber.” And my daughter trying to learn homonyms was comical – because in American English soar does not equal saw, nor court equal caught. Good luck holding out! I recently asked the kids if they wanted crisps with their lunch. AAAH.


  9. Diane Oui In France says:

    So funny! Sod and sod off are new ones for me that I learned while watching Happy Valley (great show by the way). Is sod off just like get lost or more strong? I’d sound ridiculous saying it as an American but just trying to judge how to use it.

    I can see how bollard and bollocks can get confusing. I didn’t know what a bollard was until you told me!


  10. Tim says:

    Very late to this conversation. My father is a naturalized US citizen originally from England. When my brother and I were little he’d call us “little buggers.” It wasn’t until well into my 20s that I learned what a bugger was. And explain what smoking a fag is all about.


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