Lexicon top
Home page


Last update:
  Mike Todd


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

Caesar Salad
  A salad made from grated cheese, anchovies and romaine lettuce, dressed with raw egg, olive oil and croutons
  A corruption of Acadians (in the same manner as Injuns for Indians). Acadia was a former French colony in SE Canada, in the area which is now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. In the late 18th century, there was a particular group of people here with a strong French Catholic cultural tradition - they were expelled from Acadia in the late 18th century and moved to Maine and to Lousiana. In modern times, Cajun is usually taken to describe their unique language and cuisine - the latter being particularly popular in Louisiana, and around the US (including Jambalaya, Gumbo, and various spicey dishes cooked with blackening seasoning).
  Stop! or a jar
Can it! usually means stop it! But the word usually means a tin can or a jar in which fruit and vegetables are preserved, and you may see references to canned fruit and be surprised to see them in a jar. In fact, in BE, can really means any vessel for storing liquids, although it is usually only applied to metal vessels.
Candy Striper
  A hospital volunteer (usually a teenager). Named because of the red and white striped uniform they often wear.
  Butt or Buttocks or Toilet or Jail
Chapter 11
  An indication of bankruptcy
If a company is heading towards bankruptcy, it can apply to the courts for Chapter 11. This freezes the debts of the company, and also prevents creditors from being paid. The intention is that the company will be able to stabilise itself, while the court-appointed panel works out how the debts are to be repaid.
Charley horse
  A cramp or muscular pain
Usually after strenuous exercise, and in the muscle at the front of the thigh.
  Reading glasses (rare)
  Cheque, or restaurant bill
Chilli Dog
  A hot dog (a frankfurter in a long bun), smothered in chili con carne and perhaps cheese or other "fixings". A very messy, if tasty, way to eat!
  Crisps or Crumble
To an American, (potato) crisps are unknown. Instead, huge bags of potato chips adorn the snack shelves of the supermarkets. Most self-respecting Americans wouldn't be seen dead with the tiny bags of crisps that we have in the UK. Of course, if you really wanted chips then you'd need to ask for French Fries - however, Fish and Chips is a known meal in the US, and available in a number of places and they're exactly what someone from the UK would expect (at least in principle!) See also Potato Chips. However, a crisp in the US is what the UK would know as a crumble, that is a fruit-based dessert baked with a crunchy mixture of flour, breadcrumbs, butter, nuts and/or sugar.
  A thick soup, made from clams or fish, which will also usually contain milk, tomatoes, salt pork, onions and other vegetables.

In the US cider is unprocessed apple juice and non-alcoholic (sometimes also known as soft cider or sweet cider), and hard cider is the alcoholic variety (fermented apple juice), also sometimes sold as apple wine. In fact the moment unprocessed apple juice is processed (in the non-alcoholic sense), it can no longer be called cider. In the UK, although cider is always now presumed to mean fermented apple juice (sparkling or still), at one time it just meant any strong drink, fermented from any fruit.

In BE, just about any storage space behind a door is a cupboard. In AE, a cupboard is usually a stand-alone piece of furniture (such as on the wall in a kitchen) intended for the storage of cups and other dishes. Any other storage space (such as a small room) would be referred to as a closet.
Club soda
  Soda water
Just plain soda water, but it may have some potassium salts. If you want pure carbonated water, you'd ask for seltzer water
Coach class (trains and planes)
  Second Class
  Well, yes, everyone knows what Coca-Cola is - and it's probably one of the greatest and most ubiquitous icons of marketing of all time. It all started with a tonic called Vin Mariani, which was sold in 1863 - it consisted of Bordeaux wine infused with coca leaves (from which comes cocaine). In 1884, Dr Pemberton produced his own version, called French Wine Coca. Later, to improve this patent medicine, he added kola nuts and it was, like several other drinks of the time, added to soda water (it was not added as an accident, as the myths suggest) and marketed as both a patent medicine and a soft drink. But there's a lot more to the story than that!
In Shakespeare's time, what we now spell as colour was spelt numerous ways, including colur and color.
  From Macbeth, Act II Scene II
My hands are of your color, but I shame
To wear a heart so white. [Knocking within.] I hear knocking
At the south entry.
Retire we to our chamber.
Color is more consistent with the word's Latin root, but BE ended up settling on the French-influenced colour. Which spelling was originally adopted in AE is uncertain, but there are areas of North America where colour is used, and there are records of color from before Webster tried to simplify the American spelling.
Columbus Day (Federal holiday)
  Second Monday in October
It celebrates the first landing of Columbus in the Bahamas on 12th October 1492. It was first celebrated as a holiday 300 years later, but wasn't an official holiday until 1909. It is celebrated mainly by Italian-Americans.
For more general information, see American Holidays
Although comforter in BE sometimes refers to a baby's dummy, in AE a dummy is a pacifier, and a comforter is basically just an a type of quilted sheet or blanket, filled with down, and has nothing specifically to do with babies (although infants and young children often have their own small comforters).
Commutation ticket
  Season ticket (on transport) - approx
Condo (condominium)
The essential difference between an apartment and a condo is that the condo is specifically owned by the occupier rather than rented or on leasehold. While the term is usually used to refer to apartments, it can actually apply to any single unit in a multi-unit development.
Confectioner's Sugar
  Caster or Icing Sugar
Americans refer to these as 4x powdered and 10x powdered confectioner's sugar.
  Biscuit (once-baked)
The AE biscuit is a type of savoury scone. American cookies are generally quite chewy, and not "twice-baked" which is, technically, what is require to make a biscuit in BE (although the more chewy cookies also exist in BE and are sometimes called biscuits)
Cooties (also Cooty)
It usually refers to human body, head or pubic lice, and is often used in a derogatory sense, although it can also refer to animal lice. Oddly, the word is known in ScotsE where it means a wooden bowl or as an adjective meaning to have feathered legs! American children use the phrase "you've got cooties" as a (playful) insult.
Copacetic, copasetic
  Okay, fine, going just right
The word has been around in the US since the early part of the 20th century, but nobody is too sure where it originated. The most likely explanation is that it was from negro slang kopasetee
  When Americans speak of corn they're referring to varieties of Indian Corn, the sort that yields sweetcorn. In BrE, of course, corn is a general term for all the main cereals, but is sometimes used to mean wheat in England and oats in Scotland. Although it may also be called maize, this is usually reserved on both sides of the Atlantic for the poorer grades that are used for cattle fodder..
Corn bread
  A bread made from cornmeal. Usually baked in small bun sized loaves, and with a crumbly texture.
Corn dog or sometimes Corney Dog
  A hot dog, dipped in a cornmeal batter and fried, and served on a stick. The story goes that these were invented at the State Fair of Texas, when someone making hot dogs ran out of buns and so dipped the dogs in a corn-bread batter and fried them.
Corned Beef
  Actually, this means exactly the same in the US as it does in the UK. The only reason it is here is a widespread misunderstanding that in the US corned beef is beef from corn-fed cattle, whereas in the UK it is beef preserved in salt (although some people think that it's actually the other way around!). In reality corned beef does not have (and never has had) anything to do with what the cattle have been fed - instead (both in the US and UK) it comes from the word "corn", which means "a small hard particle", and "to corn" produce is to preserve it by sprinkling it with hard crystals of salt. So, corned beef was originally beef that was preserved this way, but by the 19th century had been extended to cover beef preserved in brine. However, mainly in the US, some manufacturers of beef products do emphasise that they only use meat from corn-fed cattle, and this may include their corned beef which certainly adds to the confusion.
  Camp bed
Hotels and motels sometimes offer a cot for sleeping additional guests in your room. They're not expecting them to sleep in a baby's bed, but they'll supply a camp bed. If you want a cot in BE terms, you need to ask for a crib.
Cotton Candy
  Candy Floss
Crack (a window)
  Open a little
Americans may ask you to crack that window, meaning to open it a little bit. They don't mean it literally!
Crazy Quilt
  Americans have never heard of crazy paving, but they use the word in exactly the same sense with their crazy quilt. This is a patchwork quilt made from lots of irregular shapes.

This is a vegetable-based oil or fat used as a "shortenign" for making pastry, cakes and so on. It was originally the trade name of the very first vegetable-oil shortening, and /Crisco/ remains the trade name for a range of such prodicts. However, it has also become a generic name for any shortening.

  Cupboard for cups and dishes
Unlike BE, where just about any storage space behind a door is a cupboard, in AE, a cupboard would normally just be used for the storage of cups and other dishes. Any other storage space (such as a small room) would be referred to as a closet.
Cuff (on trousers)
  American cooking ingredients are frequently measured in cups. And an American cup is half a (US) pint, or 8 (US) fluid ounces (which is very close to 8 British fluid ounces). In the UK a cup measure is not defined, but is sometimes taken as 10 (UK) fluid ounces. For more, see the Encyclopedia entry on US and UK measurements.