, , ,

Lost in Translation: An Aussie's Guide to Overcoming the Language Barrier in the UK

1 March 2015

image from Lost in Translation: An Aussie's Guide to Overcoming the Language Barrier in the UK

The differences between British English and American English are well known, but before I moved to the UK I figured that there would not be much difference between British and Australian English. While this is mostly true, there are some subtle differences that definitely tripped me up a few times! If you’re new to the UK hopefully this guide will stop you making the same mistakes as me.


Underwear is referred to as pants in the UK. As someone who opts to wear skirts or dresses over jeans most days, making a perfectly innocent comment about not wearing pants will raise some eyebrows amongst the Brits who will think you’re talking about underwear. What we Aussies call pants are known as trousers in the UK, or bottoms in some cases (eg tracksuit bottoms).

Aubergine, Courgette and Peppers

Did you know Brits have different names for some vegetables? I certainly didn’t and this led to some confusion when ordering food at restaurants. I once ordered a chicken dish “served with peppers” on the assumption it meant black pepper and was a bit surprised when they brought out capsicum. A friend of mine once ordered courgette fries expecting some form of potato fries but out came fried zucchini. I also had to have a friend explain that aubergine is eggplant after it was brought up in conversation and I didn’t have a clue what people were talking about.

Flip Flops

This is probably an obvious one. In the UK thongs are known as flip flops and they think thongs = G-strings. I’ve confused people a couple of times with this.


I once asked a colleague if we had any Band Aids in the office first aid kit. It took her a second to realise that what I was asking for was a plaster.

Baps and Buttys

You may see the word bap pop up on breakfast menus in the UK (eg bacon bap). A bap is just a soft bread roll. Similarly, a chip sandwich is often called a chip butty in the UK. According to Wikipedia the word butty is a contraction of “bread and butter”.

“You alright?”

In Australia if someone asked me if I was alright it would probably be because I looked really upset or sick, that they could see something was wrong. In the UK though, when people say “You alright?” its their way of saying hello/how are you?. This is something that would confuse me so much and even know I’m still not entirely sure how to respond.

Here are a few more quick translations you may find useful:

  • Buggy (translation: stroller/pram)
  • Duvet (translation: quilt)
  • Crisps (translation: a packet of chips)
  • Ice lollies (translation: ice blocks)
  • Hoover (translation: vacuum cleaner / to vacuum)
  • Dungarees (translation: denim overalls)
  • Cantaloupe (translation: rockmelon)

Let me know if you’ve come across any other British words or phrases that have tripped you up.

This post is part of a travel link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Sam . Head on over to any of these blogs to join in the fun!



comments powered by Disqus