Wednesday 11 October 2006


you have probably heard some of the common words that are different in american english and british english:

elevator / lift
trunk / boot

and you know that spelling varies:


but there are some words that are used in everyday british english that just sound downright pretentious in american english. i love those words and endeavo(u)r to incorporate them into my vocabulary. so here is a spotlight on four of them.

as in bespoke tailoring, bespoke catering, and even bespoke pizza toppings
means "custom made" or "made to order"
check out this explanation of "bespoke" here

as in "i haven't even worked at my new company for a fortnight yet."
means "two weeks"
neat. tidy. to the point.

as in "this is the penultimate word in my list of fab britishisms."
means "second to last"
this is a truly wonderful word and americans should take it upon themselves to use it more often. most likely, the only time you even heard it was on a list of obscure words that might appear on the SAT if the testers were feeling exceptionally cruel that year.

as in "the service at that restaurant was shambolic."
means "disorderly or chaotic"
my ear is still not fully attuned to the word "shambolic" and i often hear it, associate it with a positive comment offering praise about something, and then realize it means the exact opposite. shambolic.

and finally, to sign off: ta ra!


Anonymous said...

The Britishisms made me remember a character from Atwood's "Cat's Eye"
"Are you sufficiently saphonsified?"
(the same as "did you get enough to eat")

"I feel like Haggis McBaggis" means what it sounds like!
Her family had a number of these sayings and when she started going on dates and asking the guy this stuff, he was confused to say the least.

acechick said...

It was only a couple of years ago that I understood the difference between holiday and vacation. For years, I have wished travelling friends a "happy holiday" not realising that it was meant to be used in a different context!

Anonymous said...

"queue", "top of the range", "take away", "vouchers"

tedsfiles said...

It's funny to call these words Britishisms. Didn't they invent the language? Come to Australia (or NZ), and you'll hear lots of these same words.

tedsfiles said...

maybe not ta ra

Anonymous said...

Thanks to author for this article. Very interesting. Write more!

John Haugeland said...

Penultimate doesn't mean second to last; this is one of the many dangers of learning one's words from dictionaries. It's explicitly the sound preceding phrase closure in rhetoric, when and only when one is using crescendo ultimatum.

It's our way of referring to what other languages call a penultimum (or penultima).

People using penultimate to refer to the next to final element in a list are just showing their poor education. It's a character affectation of someone on a television show Fawlty Towers who's meant to appear of low education but who puts on affectations to appear otherwise, inevitably getting them wrong. Many people who watched the show and don't have an appreciation for the character's poor quality of language picked up the bad habit.

Please don't instruct others to follow suit.