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Last update:
  8-Jun-2005
©1996-2009
  Mike Todd

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Where it's not obvious: BE = British English, AE=American English and ext-link indicatorindicates an external link

Bacon
  Streaky Bacon
Almost wherever you buy bacon in the US it will be streak bacon which fries and crisps up well. Labels that say back bacon (which is the other significant type of bacon in the UK) are fairly rare, but back bacon is usually available if you look. It is likely to be labelled Irish Bacon or Canadian Bacon (the latter is more like a thin cut ham, and is a loin cut, but is very close to back bacon), and may be in the main meat section rather than the bacon secton.
Backup lights
  Reversing lights
Bank Holiday BE
  Legal holiday
The Americans don't have Bank Holidays as such. Instead they have a complex system of federal, state and local legal holidays. For more information, see US public holidays in the Encyclopedia.
Baseball
 

Rounders (sort of)
The American game of baseball is derived from the British rounders, with which the name baseball had been associated in England a long time ago. In fact baseball and rounders had been mentioned by name in a book in the mid-18th century, suggesting that they was some difference between them. Even Jane Austen refers to one of her heroines playing "base-ball". In the US in the early 18th century there were similar games of "bat and ball", one of which was called "baste", and by the early 19th century the game was very popular, with two distinct versions of the game existed - yet all were very similar to rounders.

However, some purists didn't accept these origins, believing instead that it was devised entirely by Abner Doubleday. Doubleday was a hero of the Civil War and may well have acquired the role of "inventor" of the game as a means of dissociating the American version of the game from its true English roots. His name crops up in connection with the game from around the 1860s, although it was 1904 before he was officially and conveniently recognised as its inventor (curiously, after he had died no evidence was found in his diaries of any association with the game).

So just who did "invent" baseball? The answer is, probably, nobody. Instead, it almost certainly evolved through various rule revisions from the English game. That said, Alexander Cartwright and Daniel Adams may have been the first to adopt the first big revision of the rules in the US (although even that claim is disputed by some) in the mid-19th century, some years before Doubleday is supposed to have "invented" the game.

Basketball
  Netball (sort of)
The game was developed by James Naismith, a YMCA PE instructor, in 1891. It first started in Massachusetts as a winter game for Naismith's students, using a soccer ball and peach baskets. The British game of netball is a derivative of basketball, and was introduced at the Dartford Physical Training College in 1901
Bathroom
  Toilet or Bathroom
Americans don't understand loo, and in just about every circumstance where loo would be used, they use bathroom, although public toilets are more often called restrooms. In a house, bathroom refers to a room with a bath, or a room with a toilet and a bath. If the room has only a toilet and a washbasin, it is a half-bath
Beer
  Lager
American beer is more like what the British would understand as lager. It usually comes in smaller glasses than you might expect, and there seems to be less concern about getting exactly the right volume for your money than there is in the UK - a substantial head on the beer is not at all uncommon. For draught beers, a group of people will often buy a pitcher of beer between them. It's a large jug containing several pints, and usually works out very much cheaper than the small glasses. If you want a beer in the British sense, you'll need to ask for ale.
Bellhop (sometimes Bellboy)
  Hotel page
Belt bag
  Bum bag (see also Fanny Pack)
Beltway
  Ring Road
Bias ply tires
  Cross ply tyres
Big Apple
  New York City
From jazz musician's apple, slang for a city
Big Easy
  New Orleans
Supposedly so-named because of the availability of "easy money" and "easy women"
Bikini
  Swimming trunks
Although bikini can mean a woman's two-piece swimsuit, it can also mean a man's brief or low-cut swimsuit. The word is supposed to have come from the Bikini Atoll, where the US tested their early atom bombs. The scanty swimsuits came into fashion about the same time as these tests, and they were nicknamed for their "explosive effect". See also speedos.
Bill
  banknote
The bill in terms of what you get at the end of a meal in a restaurant is the check. This leads to the idea that, while in the UK you might pay the bill with a cheque, in the US you might pay the check with a bill. The existing range of bills in circulation runs from $1, with nothing larger than $100. See US Dollar Bills for more detail.
Billion
  Milliard
The US billion is 1,000,000,000 whereas in the UK it is 1,000,000,000,000. This can sometimes lead to confusion, and the UK is generally tending to use billion in the US sense, at least in the media. The reason that the systems are different is based on the way that the number of zeros is counted - basically, the US uses the old French system of counting the number of groups of three zeros after the first 1,000 whereas the British system just counts the number of millions. For a more detailed explanation, and a full table of the differences, look at The Billion and beyond
Bill of Rights
  First 10 amendments to the US Constitution
Ratified by the states, and approved by Congress in 1791. These amendments are intended to signify personal liberties that the US government may not reduce. They include things like the right to free speech, free assembly and a speedy trial - and they prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures, and cruel and unusual punishments.
Biscuit
  Savoury scone (approx)
The American biscuit is a small savoury scone-like bread which is often eaten for breakfast with gravy. Indeed, biscuits and gravy is a traditional southern-style food consisting of savoury scones and a white or brown thick savoury sauce (nothing like British gravy), often with small bits of bacon or other meat. In BE, a biscuit is a crisp, sweet confection like an American sweet cracker (its name deriving from the French, meaning "twice baked", which is what makes it crisp, but the word is also applied to the softer (American style) cookie.
Bleachers
  Stands
The permanent outdoor stands at a football or baseball stadium were once made of wooden planks, tiered to provide somewhere for the supporters to sit. The sun bleached the wood, and so the stands came to be known as bleachers. However, these days the stands are made from aluminium, but they're still called bleachers.
Blow off
  Ignore or dismiss
Americans perhaps ought to be aware that in BE this can in some situations be vulgar since it could be taken to mean pass wind or fart, or have oral sex with.
Boardwalk
  A wooden promenade, often found on the edge of a beach and usually raised.
Bobby pin
  Hair grip, or Kirby grip
It gets its name from the use of the hair-grip to hold the bobbed hairstyles (or "bob cut") in place.
Bodacious
Bodacious
  Remarkable, noteworthy
Probably derived from a combination of bold and audacious. In the southern US, it sometimes also means unmistakable or outright. Although the word is chiefly thought of as an Americanism, it does seem to have existed in Britain. Devon and Cornwall slang has boldacious. It has largely grown out of fashion.
Bomb, to
  To fail
A show may bomb, in which case it as an absolute failure.
Bone wrench
  Box Spanner
Bonk
 

To have sex with, to hit (with something)
While the British do use the second meaning, it is much more commonly recognised in the sense of "to have sex with". This is not the case, however, in AE where bonk invariably means "to hit", and the sense of "to have sex with" is all but unknown. Therefore Americans need to be careful using the word, as it is likely to be interpreted in the vulgar sense in Britain.

Booger
  Bogey, snot
The dictionary defines booger as a "a piece of dried nasal mucus", which just about sums it up. It is used a little more freely than the British would use bogey or snot. Some Americans pronounce booger in a way which sounds as though they mean bugger, and it can lead to confusion!
Booster
  Enthusiastic supporter
That is, a supporter of a football or baseball team who will give up their time to raise funds, or otherwise help with the organisation of the team.
Boston Beans
  A traditional style of baked beans
Box Cutter
  Stanley Knife
Boxing Day (BE)
  This British holiday (26th December), including its name, is unknown in the US.
Braces (BE)
  The word braces in AE largely means anything that clamps something together, although the BE use as a something that holds a bit for drilling is also known. The AE equivalent of braces is either suspenders (for the things which hold up the trousers, although there are some Americans who do recognise braces in this sense) or retainer (for the contraption which is used to straighten teeth).
Brights
  Main or full beam (of car lights)
British
  This isn't really an Americanism, or a Britishism. It's included here to clear up a misunderstanding that is common in the UK and in the US. British means "from Great Britain", and strictly speaking Great Britain (usually shortened to just Britain) comprises the single island that is England, the Kingdom of Scotland and the Principality of Wales, and their direct dependancies (including the Scottish islands) - it does not include Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands etc. The United Kingdom consists of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but still excludes the Isle of Man etc, which are Crown dependencies.
Broil
  Grill
Although broil does mean any form of cooking where the food is directly exposed to radiant heat, the Americans do sometimes differentiate between grilling, where the heat source is underneath and broiling where the heat source is over the top of the food
Brown-bagging
  In some areas it is illegal to drink from an open container of alcohol in public. So, those who can't wait for a drink simply put there bottle of booze in a brown bag, and drink from the bag - although it doesn't stop them getting arrested. It is also a term used when you bring your own lunch for work or school (commonly taken in a brown bag).
Brunch
  Combination breakfast and lunch
This is a great American tradition which is designed as a late-morning meal. Although it can be had at any time, sometimes after a social occasion, Sunday Brunch is a popular Sunday activity. It is usually leisurely, and based on a buffet. In the most elegant of Sunday Brunches, the choice of food might range from corn flakes to caviar; bacon and eggs to smoked salmon; toast to pork chops ... and much more besides. It is possible to start Sunday Brunch at 11am, and still be eating (albeit always in small quantities) at 3pm!
Buck
  Dollar
The slang word for a dollar is of uncertain origin, although it probably came from buckskins, which were deerskins once used by the Indians and frontiersmen as a unit of currency. The word was also once a word for a South American Indian, and also for a negro.
Buffalo
  Bison
The old gag goes (spoken with a posh English accent):
Q: What's the difference a buffalo and a bison?
A: You can wash your hands in a bison.
In fact a buffalo refers to one of a number of specific breeds of bison. Therefore a buffalo is always a bison, but a bison isn't always a buffalo. The term is most commonly, and incorrectly, applied to the American Bison
Buffalo Wings
  Chicken wings
Not even in America do Buffalo fly! These are just chicken wings cooked in an often spicey sauce. There are many stories of how they came to be so called, but the most likely is related to their origin in the town of Buffalo in New York State some time around the early 60s.
Bug juice
  Kool-Aid, or any other non-carbonated fruit drink
Kool-Aid
is a non-carbonated fruit drink made up from a powder, invented in 1927. Summer-camp slang refers to it, and similar fruit drinks, as bug juice
Bum
  Tramp or vagrant; also disappointing, worthless, misleading
It is also occasionally used in BE in these senses (from the American influence), but it is primarily slang for the buttocks.This leads to problems with such American phrases as "on the bum", "bummer" and so on, all of which in strict English terms would be related to the bottom, and could be distinctly rude in the wrong context.
Bumbershoot or Bumberchute
  Umbrella
This is an old (well, 19th century) American word for umbrella, and comes from combining bumber (a corruption of umbre-) and -chute (from parachute).
Buns
  Buttocks
Be careful! You might want to be careful and avoid asking for the traditional English "sticky buns". You may be misinterpreted by some people.
Burlap
  Hessian
Burma Shave
  A shaving cream, initially from the 1920s, which made its name by putting doggerel couplets onto billboards all over America. The signs urged drivers to drive safely and shave frequently:
Cooties love bewhiskered places,
Cuties love the smoothest faces [1936]

Don't stick your elbow out so far
It might go home in another car [1940]
Busboy
 

There's not really a BE equivalent. A busboy is the general dogsbody in a restaurant who clears and clean tables, serves water and so on. In general, restaurants have three categories of staff - the hostess, who is the person who seats you, the server who takes your order and brings it to you, and the busboy who cleans up after you. The server is the only one who gets a tip. If you leave the tip on the table when you leave, the busboy will usually be careful to ensure that he leaves it after he has cleared the table!

The origin of the term is omnibus, which was originally an adjective meaning "relating to many objects at once". By the late 19th century in America an omnibus was a term for someone who "waits on waiters" (possibly an apprentice), possibly from the fact that they would deal with all tables and waiters in the restaurant. It was then later shortened to bus boy

Butt
  Bum, bottom
A short form of buttocks, butt can sometimes be used in reasonably polite conversation, perhaps where the British would tolerate bum

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