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Last update:
  10-Oct-2002
1996-2004
  Mike Todd

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

Nachos
  Fried tortilla chips, often served (free) as a starter in a Mexican restaurant. But also served with beans, beef, chicken and other toppings, as a main course.
National Anthem
  The Star Spangled Banner is highly respected by many Americans (even if the tune is actually an old British drinking song!) When it is played in public, people will often stop what they're doing and stand, hand on heart. It was written by Francis Scott Key whilst held on board a British ship during the attack on Fort McHenry, in September 1814. The words were an account of his feelings as the sun rose and he saw that the US flag was still flying and was originally called The Defense of Fort M'Henry, and if you know the background, the words are very poignant. It was only ever really seen as a patriotic song until 1916, when Woodrow Wilson ordered it to be the National Anthem, although it wasn't officially so until 1931. For more details, and the complete words, see the History of the National Anthem in the Encyclopedia..
Native American
  Indian
In some circles, it is no longer politically correct to refer to the native inhabitants of America as Indians (and particularly not Red Indians). Instead, they're referred to as Native Americans, a term which reflects the fact that they were living there for something like 15,000 years. The term Indian arose because Columbus thought that the land he had discovered was part of Asia. However, some non-Indian Americans dislike the term because it suggests that they're not "native", even though they are descended from many generations of Americans ... and some Indians prefer to be called just that.
Naugahyde (TM)
  PVC
Strictly speaking, Naugahyde is a PVC coated fabric
Nickel
  5 cents
So-called because the coin is made from copper and nickel. However, it was also applied to the previous 1-cent and 3-cent coins. There's also a phrase "don't take any wooden nickels", referring to counterfeit coins. A plugged nickel is one whose centre has been replaced by a base-metal plug.
911
  999
The equivalent of the UK's emergency services number. However, it wasn't always universally 911 (and there may still be areas where it isn't) - that is why you see signs in some areas giving 911 as the emergency number.
Nerd
 

Socially inept, unstylish person
It is thought to come from a character called Nerd in the children's book If I Ran The Zoo, by Dr Seuss. However, Edgar Bergen was a ventriloquist with a dummy called Charlie McCarthy, who himself had a yokel friend called
Mortimer Snerd. The term may have come from either, or even both.

Nigger
 

African or African American (offensive!)
The word is not American in origin, but comes from the 16th century British term neger. It originally comes from the Spanish negro, which simply means black. These days it is a grossly offensive term, and has many unpleasant connotations in such phrases as "nigger in the woodpile", "to work like a nigger", "nigger heaven" (an unexplained source of trouble), "nigger show" (black and white minstrels) and so on. People using the word in public when referring to American blacks have been known to be arrested for anti-racial behaviour.

Nitty-gritty
 

The heart (of the matter)
This is American slang, although it is also used in the UK. The American origin is unclear, but is probably form Negro slang, deriving from the slang words nits and grits, where nits are the eggs of lice found in the hair, and grits is slang for "particles of excrement attaching to the hairs around the anus".

No outlet
  No through road
Noogie (also Nuggie and Nugie)
  A jab with the knuckles
BE doesn't have an equivalent, because it's not something we do! To do a noogie to someone, make a fist and extend the knuckle of the middle finger; then with a twisting motion, drilling the knuckle into their head, back or upper arm. It's common to hold the person's head under an arm and do a noogie to their head (often proclaiming "noogies" at the same time). It's often done playfully as a sign of affection, or more painfully as a schoolboy prank. Punching with the knucle extended is known as frogging
NTSC
  This is the television system used in the US. The initials stand for National Television System Committee, a part of the US standards organisation. The differences between it and the British system, PAL, are enough to prevent American-recorded tapes being played back on many British videos and TVs. NTSC, for instance, uses 525 horizontal lines to make up the picture signal whereas PAL uses 625 - and NTSC displays 30 pictures a second, whereas PAL displays 25. In addition, the colour information is carried using a different system. Some modern VCRs and TVs in the UK are now designed to handle NTSC tapes, but in general if you're buying a tape in the US you need to look out for one which is recorded using PAL. You won't find the normal movie type videos available in PAL, but you may find videos at major tourist attractions (such as the Grand Canyon) available in PAL. One of the limitations of NTSC is that the colour of the picture can change in some situations (NTSC TVs have a tint control to allow you to correct this), and it led to NTSC being facetiously referred to as Never Twice the Same Colour - the UK adopted a development of NTSC which fixed these problems, and this is sometimes referred to as Perfection At Last.
Nude
  Unfinished/unpainted
Really just a marketing gimmick, you'll see signs for nude furniture along the highway. It simply means that it's bare wood.

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