The Coventry Chronicles: A guide to English
After four years of learning — and fumbling with — Italian, my husband and I were slightly relieved to move to the U.K. where we would be able to speak English again. I was pregnant at the time and would give birth in Scotland, and I felt more comfortable doing that in my native language.
Fast forward three years and we now have a whole new vocabulary to rival our Italian one. It turns out that British English is quite different from American English after all.
Most of the words are easy to figure out in the context of the conversation, but there have been a few times when I had to go home and look something up.
Once I was at a baby group and another mother was describing her daughter’s sleep habits to me. “She whinges all night,” she kept saying. She said it multiple times throughout the conversation, but we had passed the point where it was acceptable for me to ask what she was talking about. A few months later I read an article written by an American expat living in London who explained that Brits use this word all the time when speaking of their children; it means to whine.
If you have children in the U.K., you’re completely thrown into a new set of vocabulary. A diaper is a nappy, a pacifier is a dummy and a stroller is either a pushchair, a pram or a buggy.
A baby is a bub and I am a mum. All mums, in general, are knackered (exhausted).
But it doesn’t end with children. If you’re eating, chips are French fries and crisps are chips. Squash is a drink — though I’m still a little fuzzy on this concept. An aubergine is an eggplant and a courgette is a zucchini. Coriander is cilantro. At the grocery store, you put everything in your trolley.
In the afternoon, you sit down with a cuppa and biscuit.
If you’re ordering a fillet, you pronounce the t, and if you want a baked potato with that, order a jacket potato.
Children eat fish fingers for dinner rather than fish sticks, and suck on ice lollies in the summer rather than popsicles.
Pudding is dessert. Any kind of dessert, including actual pudding.
If you’re at home in your apartment, you’re in your flat. The ensuite is the master bedroom and bathroom. The loo is the toilet. The hob is the stove and the bin is the trash can. The garden is the backyard, even if there are no plants.
If you’re in the car, the bonnet is the hood and the boot is the trunk. If it’s empty, you fill it with petrol. And if you’re driving on the motorway, you’re on the highway, where you might see a few lorries (trucks). You can use your sat nav for directions rather than your GPS.
When getting dressed, pants are trousers and sweaters are jumpers. Rain boots (worn 365 days a year) are wellies and umbrellas are brollies.
To be honest though, we haven’t adopted too many British words in our everyday vernacular. But after spending lots of time with some British mums, I did start saying “well done” to our toddler, which is what they say rather than “good job.” This lasted for about two weeks before my husband asked me to stop, saying that it reminded him of a bad steak order.
One word has stuck for sure though; every morning at 6:15 a.m., I am awakened to the sound of “Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!” from the next room.
Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer currently living in England. Dingle’s husband, Ryan, is a Steamboat Springs native and professional hockey player; you can follow their adventures at sophiedingle.blogspot.com.
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