At the beginning of the 1900s, Britain ruled one-quarter of the world. It held large parts of Asia, Africa, America, and Australasia. At this time 400 million people resided in its empire. Over the next 100 hundred years, many nations fought for their independence and won back the right to govern their own country. However, the impact of this empire still lives on today. The most notable result is that the language spoken by most countries in the world is English (although more people do speak Mandarin as their native language) with 67 nations having English as its primary language and another 27 having English as its second language. However, all English is not the same and when you visit each country you will find some surprising differences.
The greatest difference is, of course, that of American and British English. The two dialects are almost different languages. They have different meanings for many words, different spellings, and different approaches to sentence structure. The most notable difference is that Americans like to avoid using the letter u in words like colour or honour, replacing them with color and honor. They also change any words in ‘ise’ to ‘ize’. While these can be inconvenient for some people they rarely cause embarrassment. There are some words that do.
Pants to an American is a word used nearly every day. It refers to the bottom half of an outfit. There are many types of pants; such as suit pants, cargo pants, and more. In Britain the word pants mean underwear. It is actually an abbreviation of the word underpants. In Britain, if you want to talk about the outer garment worn on the bottom half, you would use the word trousers. While this is a subtle difference you can imagine how many awkward situations it can lead to. Asking to borrow a friend’s pants in the US is perfectly fine, asking in the UK is a bad idea.
Hamper is another strange one. In Britain, a hamper refers to a basket filled with delicious treats. You can give someone a hamper of food at Christmas or a gift hamper can often be won by raffle. If you want to go on a picnic you could even bring a picnic hamper. Yet in the US a hamper is where your dirty laundry goes. You can already see the issues that may arise when you are telling your US friend about the amazing hamper filled with delicious treats that you got from your mother as a Christmas gift. It doesn’t work out so well.
Of course, it is not just the difference between US and UK English that causes an issue. The language is spoken across the world and every country has its own local lingo. For example, in Ireland, it is common to ask someone “What’s the craic?” or to say “last night was great craic”. This is a special word in Ireland that captures that incredible atmosphere that the country provides so well. The most basic translation would be ‘fun’ but the doesn’t capture it quite right. Of course in other countries ‘crack’ is a form of cocaine that is smoked and while some people think it is fun most of us look down on it. This, of course, causes an issue when an American visits Ireland and is asked if he had “good craic last night?”. Most Americans end up highly insulted, the Irish, just a little confused.
It is clear that there are many differences between all the English dialects in existence. If you know of any other hilarious examples let us know in the comments below.