Different Englishes with Clothes

sneakersThought you had English down? That you were pretty fluent and could combat just about any conversation? Think again. There are different names (and different meanings for the same names!) between even the most commonplace items in the UK and the US. With this in mind we present you with Different Englishes with Clothes.

Key: UK vs. US word

Trainers vs. Sneakers

  • Trainers in the UK but Sneakers in the US, but in either case they both refer to exactly the same thing: the shoes you wear when you play sport (e.g. Nike, Adidas, etc.).

Wellington Boots (Wellies) vs. Rubber/Rain boots

  • Wellies and Rain boots are different names used to refer to the long rubber boots that you wear to splash around in puddles or keep the mud off you when walking the dog in the countryside. The US name is pretty descriptive while the UK term is derived from a popular English brand but this is one difference worth knowing: as you’ve probably heard, it rains a lot in the UK.

… and it only gets more complicated from there! For example:

Handbag. vs. Purse

  • This is a longstanding cause for confusion, as Americans call a bag that a woman carries on her shoulder a purse, while in the UK it’s a handbag. However, a purse in the UK is a small wallet that you put money in; for them a purse is carried inside the handbag!

Jumper vs. Sweater

  • Both of these refer to the warm item of clothing that you put on over your top. Although it’s a sweater in North America and Jumper in the UK, they are nevertheless made of the same material: wool or polyester.

Pants vs. Trousers (vs. Underwear!)

  • Okay, this one is big. In the US, the item you wear on your legs that aren’t jeans are called pants (or dockers or slacks, but I digress) while the same item is called trousers in the UK. While that may sound simple, the same word – pants – is used in the UK to refer to underwear.

Note: when this mistake it made it can be very funny! I remember someone telling me that their friend was wearing white pants and wondering “why would she know the colour of his pants?”. This is perhaps the most important difference to learn as far as clothing is concerned, so consider your audience when you pick your term.

Want to learn more about different Englishes around the world? Read on to find out more.


Idioms in Depth: Idioms from Parts of Body

sweet toothAs John Mayer had it, “your body is a wonderland” and so it is not wonder than many common English idioms trace their origins to the human body. At the same time, however, you may be wondering what a lot of these expressions mean. Well, wonder no more! The following explanation should give you some insight into some of the most common idioms from parts of body.

To Have A Sweet Tooth – to especially enjoy sweet foods (e.g., cookies, cakes, ice cream)

  • My sister really has a sweet tooth – for her the question is not “should we have dessert?” but rather “what should we have for dessert?”

Note: The opposite idea – a salty (or better, savory) tooth does not exist. If you don’t have a sweet tooth it is best to simply say “you prefer savory foods.”

To let one’s hair down – to relax

  • I am really looking forward to my upcoming vacation to Cancun. It will really give me a chance to let my hair down.
  • to give/lend a hand, lend a hand

To play something by ear – to be able to play music without sheet music (i.e., from memory)

  • My Aunt is a very talented musician. Although she never studied music, she can play many popular songs by ear.

To get something off one’s chest – to speak freely about something that has been troubling you

  • Jane, do you have a minute? I really need to get something off my chest.

Note: While most idioms – as in to play something by ear, above – use the word “something” as a filler for a variety of words (e.g., song, tune, piece [of music]) – in the case of this idiom the “something” is a fixed part of the expression.

To see eye to eye – to agree, to have the same point of view

  • My best friend and I see eye to eye on most major issues.

Note: This idiom is very similar in meaning to the expression “to be on the same wavelength.”

Be sure to check our idioms homepage for more information on these and other idioms!


Business Idioms: Idioms about Understanding

understandingCommunication is the cornerstone of any fruitful relationship and business is no exception. So in this installment of our business idioms series we will be discussing a variety of idioms about understanding.

to see eye to eye – to have the same perspective, opinion, or otherwise agree with someone

  • I’m glad we see eye to eye on the new customer service policy

to get someone’s drift – to understand in a general way what someone is trying to say

  • I had to leave early so missed the question and answer section but I got the drift from the power point presentation

Note: we “get” a lot of things in idioms! Here are a few other examples which refer to understanding alone: get the message (e.g., When my boss pointed at his watch I got the message – it was time to finish the meeting) and get the picture (e.g., I didn’t realize how bad the financial state of the company was but after reviewing the figures I get the picture.).

penny drops – when a person has difficulty understanding something and then they finally understand

  • He thought his job was incredibly secure but the penny dropped when he received a written warning.

Note: this idiom alludes to coin operated machines which will not function until the penny (a coin) literally drops or goes in. This makes it similar to the idea of the lightbulb of insight.

to be on the same page – to have the same amount of knowledge or understanding

  • After a few weeks of negotiation we’re on the same page.

Note: Another idiom with a similar meaning is to be on the same wavelength (which is to say that two people are receiving the same signal).

Please visit our homepage for further installments of the Business Idioms series as well as a whole host of useful and interesting resources.


Commonly Confused Words: The Six Ws

witchIn English we use the expression “the five w’s” when we want to make sure we have asked – or addressed – all of the questions at hand. Corresponding to the first initials of the language’s most common question words – who, what, where, when, and why – this interrogative set also serves as a useful reference point for another set of “w” words that raise no end of questions for many English speakers. While we have six, not five, we hope our discussion will help make things easier for you just the same!

Weak vs Week (Weakly vs Weekly)

Both of these soundalikes rhyme with “cheek” but, this aside, they could not be more different. Weak, for example, is an adjective which means the opposite of strong (powerless), while week is simply a noun referring to a group of seven days. Interestingly enough, though, adding an –ly to both of these words further changes them: weakly, meaning “feebly” is a adverb used to modify verbs and weekly becomes an adjective used to describe something that occurs ever seven days. Thus, while “you might still be weak after only a week at the gym, if you go weekly before long you will do few things weakly.”

Weather vs Whether

It is no wonder that these two are so often confused: given that they sound so similar (both rhyme with feather) it can be difficult even for native speakers to use them correctly. The trick is simple, though: only weather, with an a, is the correct spelling for the noun that is related to rain, snow, and other conditions outside. Whether, by contrast, is simply an adverb used in conjunction with possibilities and cannot stand alone in the same way as weather. Consider this sentence as both an example and a good memory trick: “The weather is so uncertain that I can’t tell whether if it will rain or not.”

Which vs Witch

The independence of words can help you distinguish between these two as well. Though both words rhyme with ditch, only witch can really stand alone in a sentence. As a noun meaning “meaning sorceress or enchantress” it has a lot more power in a sentence than which, a word that can be used to begin a question or add detail to another part of a sentence. Thus we might ask “Which witch cast the spell which turned you into a frog?”

Head over to our commonly confused words main page for more examples!