Pants vs Trousers: How the English language differs from region to region

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Published 2020-08-20 06:52

Is it a soda, a fizzy drink, a soft drink? Are these pants or trousers? And what even is the loo? While it is spoken universally, there are still differences in English in different parts of the world. Let’s take a little tour.

Pants vs Trousers, Soccer vs Football: American English versus British English

If you’re an Englishman in New-York (or an Englishwoman or non-binary anywhere in the United States) and someone says to you they will only be wearing their pants. They absolutely do not mean they will only wear undergarments. Pants in the United States mean trousers. In the clothing area, there is also a dispute on whether the sports shows are called sneakers or tennis shoes (America) or trainers (England). And which is it? A sweater or a jumper? Can you all decide already?

And yes, differences in British English and American English can give rise to pretty comical situations. Americans are often puzzled when they get to England and someone says to them “I’m quickly going to pop to the loo”. What on Earth does “pop to the loo” mean? The Brits use the expression “pop to” to refer to “going to”. They also say “pop to the shop”, “pop to my granny” or “pop to the chemist”. So what is a loo then? Is it a pub? Well, as much as the Brits love popping to pubs, the loo in England means “the toilet”. A special one, huh?

And then, of course, there is a whole argument over what different foods are called. If an American goes into a pub in England asking for a soda, he will get sparkling water when he was expecting a fizzy drink. If you are English, you likely use the term fizzy drink, soft drink or simply refer to the brand of the drink you want. And if you’re American and you order chips in Britain, you will end up with fries, while if an Englishman orders chips in America, he will get a bag of crisps. And cookies! There is a big dispute over cookies. On one side of the Atlantic Ocean, cookies are those round, flat, sweet baked goods usually with chocolate chips or nuts while in America, all types of biscuits are referred to as cookies!

And then there’s the land down under…

Australian English is also (almost) a whole different language, especially colloquially. So let’s take a tour, shall we mate?

If you’re an English speaking expat in the US, you would have come across the famous barbie, in the summer. Indeed, when one is invited to a barbie, do not go over expecting to find Barbie dolls but rather a barbecue! If you’re having a barbie in Australia, you will be having grilled meat/chicken/veggies for tea. No, we do not mean at 4pm with biscuits and a cuppa. Tea in Australia means dinner, the evening meal. And if you’re being told “Here is your cut lunch”, it means you’re about to be given a sandwich!

Clothes in Australia are also a whole other thing. Because in the land down under, you don’t wear a bathing suit or a swimming costume, you wear bathers. And you will top your bathers with sunnies and not sunglasses. And if you’re a man, you don’t wear undergarment or boxers, or briefs… you wear jocks! And once again, we are faced with the trousers versus pants dilemma. Except in Straya, it is called a pair of daks, or strides.

Let’s chow braai in South Africa

And then you have South African english… one of the richest English around because South Africans also speak a plethora of other languages including Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana among others.

South Africans do love a good barbecue in the summer, and that’s what they call braai. And do you know what you can do with leftover braai? A sarmie, in other parts of the world known as a sandwich. And you can have slap chips to accompany your braai, which are basically french fries with a good serving of tomato sauce instead of ketchup. And if it is very hot and you ask for a cool drink, you will be served a soda/fizzy drink/soft drink.

11 Comments
Tediuki
Tediuki
last week

I've been lucky, I was born and educated in England and was fortunate enough to have a sought after trade and basic French under my belt. I went to South Africa on a two year contract when the West was in the bust phase of its boom and bust economy. I lived in Cape Town for almost six years. I also learnt basic Afrikaans. I went back to England (when South Africa started to become insanely dangerous) and I worked for a Japanese company, and then a German company for six years or so. I also picked up basic German. I was then needed in Australia and I subsequently lived there for almost 20 years but I became friendly with many South Africans there. I also worked and toured New Zealand where they also have their colloquialisms. We're all au fait with American English and I even have a pocket translation book for Americans visiting England! I now live the easy life, and also teach English in Vietnam. I did a six week full time Cambridge English course before doing my CELTA because Vietnam uses Cambridge English as its bench mark. I was also able to brush up on my grammar and tenses. This is where the problems arise. Most American teachers don't realise that Cambridge English is the Vietnamese government's bench mark and they don't bother learning it. The kids learn lollypop in grade 1 but the American teachers tell them that it's candy really. Every bar of chocolate, lollypop, mint, boiled sweet, and fudge becomes candy. Except candy floss which now becomes angel hair. A skipping rope becomes a jump rope! Everything worn becomes pants. Everything spoken becomes some form of talk. All illness is sick, and every collective noun becomes a bunch of. A gas is a vapour, not a liquid, and gas is an abbreviation of gasoline, as is petrol an abbreviation of petroleum which is sold by Petrolimex in Viet Nam. Spelling is something else, and lets not mention filling a quart pitcher with a faucet, or that got pregnant is woefully incorrect. The fact is that globally it's far better to have these kids in Asia leaving school with a neutral accent knowing the correct Cambridge English grammar and vocabulary. When I worked for the Japanese company we had a revolving door of virtually every qualified Japanese worker visiting the UK to perfect their English. I asked one girl why they didn't go to America and learn American English, she said that globally they didn't want to sound ignorant! Crikey! Goodness gracious! Troi oi! Thankfully the quality of the American teachers in Viet Nam don't speak like Mike Wolf and Frank Fritz but since being a fan of American Pickers I now know what she meant. Afrikaans is a very basic form of Dutch/Flemish. The average American speaks a simpler form of English and ungrammatical English abounds in most English speaking countries, although the Rhodesians and Kiwis spoke it grammatically well. I speak Seth Efriken to my SA chommies and strine to my Straaalian mates. I try to alter my English for the American guys thus not to discombobulate them. The people in England can't work out where I'm from, my English is apparently neutral now with an occasional Aussie twang. The important thing is not to force one's slovenly way of speaking upon others or to ridicule a non native speaker when they call a lollypop a lollypop, or a pair of pants either trousers, jeans, plus fours, jodhpurs, waders, or shorts . Not to mention flip flops! Lol!

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Cherryann01
Cherryann01
3 weeks ago

Very interesting post this. I guess there are reasons for some of the differences, such as football in the UK & USA. In the UK we only have football but in the USA they also have American Football, so I guess it makes good sense to make the distinction between the two clear. However in the UK we just have fried eggs, no sunny side up/down etc. some other differences just for fun are. off license/liquor store, dustbin/garbage can, pavement/sidewalk, post code/zip code, just to name a few.

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kittycat1
kittycat1
4 weeks ago

As Academy Awards nominee Harrison Ford once said: "Canadians were born good, tallented comedians" referring to his 'Blade Runner 2049' (2017) co-star film actor Ryan Gosling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB0wzy-xbwM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHlJeuStWys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fdgzSE0CPs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YG0gcl01C1g https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7UF8KT_Ljo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmZ1ppujkXg https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=RDxmZ1ppujkXg&v=p0qrxL8oGbE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVu23S_pg3E https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyaJhQ3miKo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MplpwyVpFeY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrhlOOCkeXU

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Cherryann01
Cherryann01
4 weeks ago

Yeh I understand what you are saying but has an Englishman living in England, Chips and fries differ. Chips are thick cut, like we get from our local Chippie (fish and chip shop), fries to us are the skinny things sold at McDonalds. Also fizzy drinks is widely referred to as pop.

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Bob Love
Bob Love
last month

Referring to George Bernard Shaw's quote, relating to the UK and USA, of "two nations divided by a common language", reminds me of, as a Scot on a student exchange in my last year of high school, being in a math(s) class of 17-18 year old New Jersey students and, on my trying to correct an error, turning to my neighbour and asking for a rubber. You can imagine the adolescent response and my incredulity as to the strength of local reaction.

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kittycat1
kittycat1
4 weeks ago

lol

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hammyt
hammyt
last month

Don't forget to include the Canadian English, where you go out in the winter with a toque on your head (a wooly hat), and you sit on the chesterfield (couch or sofa) to watch TV.

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kittycat1
kittycat1
4 weeks ago

Like Harrison Ford once said in one of his TV interviews: "most Canadians are good, tallented-born and into Comedy Showbusiness" - Referred to his 'Blade Runner 2049' (2017) co-star film actor Rryan Gosling. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB0wzy-xbwM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHlJeuStWys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fdgzSE0CPs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YG0gcl01C1g https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7UF8KT_Ljo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmZ1ppujkXg https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=RDxmZ1ppujkXg&v=p0qrxL8oGbE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVu23S_pg3E https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyaJhQ3miKo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MplpwyVpFeY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrhlOOCkeXU

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