Different Englishes: The Education System

uk v us

While there are not as many differences between UK and US words relating to education as there are in other areas of the language, there are a few significant ones. Fortunately, this entry on Different Englishes: The Education System is here to help if ever you want to study in either of the two English speaking countries – or just want to understand the difference in references between Harry Potter and Mean Girls!

Key: UK vs. US word

Primary School vs. Elementary School

  • While both refer to the first school a child attends (starting around age 5), it would be very unusual to say primary school in the US or vice versa!

Note: In the US, Preschool (age 4-5) and Kindergarten (age 5-6) refer to the transitional years when a first child first starts attending school. In contrast, in the UK, these years are included under the general term primary school.

Secondary School vs. High School

  • Another big difference. While both refer to the school attended before college/university (more on that later), in the UK secondary school is the school you go to from age 15-18. In contrast, students in the US typically go to middle school from ages 11-14 first.

Sats (test) vs. SAT (test)

  • These may look the same – and in fact they both refer to the standardised test taken by students across the country prior to entering college/university – but in the US they say the individual letters S.A.T and in England people say ‘sats’ as a word. A little difference that makes a big difference!

Uni/University vs. College

  • Both refer to a school for higher education which students attend after finishing high / secondary school but the term “college” is the chosen term in North America.

Term vs. Semester

  • A portion of the academic year. In the UK a term is divided three ways (e.g., September – Christmas, January – Easter, May – Summer holidays/vacation) while in the US a semester is just two.

Finally, here a few school subjects that are referred to differently. Although a lot of these are simple distinctions, you might not be understood if you say the wrong one in the wrong country!

UK                                            US

Maths                                      Math

P.E. (Physical Education)      Gym

Politics (Political Science)     Poli Sci (Political Science)

As always, be sure to check out Different Englishes mainpage for more examples!


Idioms in Depth: Idioms from the Body

human bodyEverything that goes up must come down, as they say, and while our last installment on idioms from the body concentrated on the positive, this one is a little more negative. Worry not, though: every cloud has a silver lining!

To cry your heart out – to sob uncontrollably; to cry a lot

  • Melanie did not get the scholarship she needed and spent the rest of the day crying her heart out.

To make one’s blood boil – to irritate, annoy, or infuriate

  • Our professor’s inconsistent grading style really makes my blood boil.

Note: This is a very figurative idiom which imagines that angry people get hotter (red in the face), thereby increasing their body temperature and making their “boil.”

To pull someone’s leg – to trick or tease someone (usually in a playful, not mean-spirited, way)

  • I was really worried when Mike told me we had an assignment due today in Math class but it turns out he was just pulling my leg.

Note: Playfulness matters here. If someone tricks you with malicious intent they are not pulling your leg!

To shake a leg – to go fast

  • Shake a leg! The movie starts in five minutes and we don’t want to be late.

Note: This expression is commonly (as above) used as an exclamation similar to hurry up, however it is possible to say something like

  • Let’s shake a leg – if we get there early we’ll get better seats.

To stick your neck out –to expose oneself to the possibility of failure; to take a risk

  • It was really brave of you to stick your neck out like that; most people would never consider starting their own business.

To wash one’s hands of something – to remove oneself from involvement or responsibility

  • You asked me for my advice but you don’t want to take it. That’s fine but I’m washing my hands of the whole situation.

If you are interested in more examples and some extra practice make sure to visit our idioms homepage.


Commonly Confused Words: Lose Weight, Not Your Way!

bathroom scaleAs we have discussed before, the vagaries of English pronunciation mean that a large number of English words sound the same but look complete different. There are many famous culprits – the “there” (with their and they’re) at the beginning of this sentence is just one example – but few words have as many homophones as weigh and its related parts of speech. With luck, though, this quick explanation should help take the weight of worry off your mind:

Way vs Weigh

Despite the fact that one has three letters and the other five, both of these words rhyme with “pay” – although apart from this common ground they have little else in common. Way, for example, is a noun which is similar in meaning to “manner or style” and can also be used to indicated direction (“one way”). Weigh, by contrast, is a verb – weight, below, is the noun – that is used to measure the total amount of pounds or kilograms something has. Thus we could say that “one way to weigh fruit is to use a scale.”

Wade vs Weighed

Again, although these two verbs both sound the same – both rhyme with shade– they are otherwise quite distinct. Wade, for example, is the action of moving slowly, as if through water, while weighed is simply the past tense of the verb weigh we discussed above.  To keep things straight, just consider the context: while water can be weighed, only people wade through water!

Wait vs Weight

Having discussed the first two soundalikes already, the second member of this set should look pretty familiar. While weight, as noted above, is a noun used to refer to the amount that results from weighing, wait can be both a noun and a verb. As a verb it means to “delay or stall” while as a noun it refers to the period of time of that delay. Thus we might say “I need to wait before I check my weight” or “Because the line was so long, the wait to check my weight took a while.”

Don’t forget to check our main page for more examples of commonly confused words!


Business Idioms: Idioms about Negotiation

negotiationIn business as in life almost everything is negotiable. So it is no wonder that people are constantly striving to find the middle ground. With this in mind, in this installment of the Business Idioms series we will be discussing some Idioms about negotiation.

to cut a deal – to make a beneficial business arrangement with someone.

  • I thought we weren’t going to be able to afford the new version, but I was able to cut a deal and get it at half price.

Note: cut can also be used to describe a reduced price (e.g., cut price).

to make an offer – to deliver a financial proposal for a product or service.

  • We are going to make an offer they can’t refuse.

a bargaining chip – something used to make someone do what you want.

  • Our faster delivery times can be used as a bargaining chip.

Note: bargaining refers to negotiation and can be used in other idioms (e.g., a bargaining tool referring to something used to strengthen your negotiating position).

a hard sell – an aggressive sales technique.

  • They really wanted us to sign the contract so they were using the hard sell.

Note: this can also be used for when someone is difficult to convince someone something (e.g., He bought the ticket from me in the end but it was a hard sell).

 to knock down the price of (something) or knock the price of (something) down – to lower the price of something.

  • I managed to convince them to knock down the price of my new car.

Note: Knock, as used above, means to hit (as in on a door) but it can be used if a very different way, to describe an imitation or fake product (e.g., her designer purse looks real but it is a knock-off).

For more installments from our Business Idioms series as well as many other helpful articles, please visit our homepage!


Show Me the Money! Phrasal Verbs for Business and Investing  

water coolerModern investment capitalism is its own little world. And just like any world, it has its own language, its own“water cooler lingo” (jargon and idioms). This entry’s phrasal verbs will give you a taste of the rich linguistic tradition of our economics professors and CEOs. Read on to learn more about phrasal verbs for business and investing:

Pay … Down/ – to make payments in order to reduce debt

  • I’ve been paying down my student loans steadily for ten years, and I’m very close to being debt-free.

Note: This verb is used primarily for large amounts of debt, such as that incurred by many college students in the US, or debt from buying a house or car.

Buy … Out/ – To purchase the part of a business or property owned by another person in order to eliminate their participation (and take more ownership for yourself)

  • When Pfizer Pharmaceuticals received a tax holiday from the US government, they used the money they saved to buy out small shareholders and consolidate ownership of the company.

Note: Like many other phrasal verbs, this one may be combined to form the noun “buyout,” which can be used as follows:

  • After the buyout, the company’s stock was concentrated among only 10 shareholders, the fewest since it went public.

Sink money into/ – to make a (usually bad or unproductive) investmentof  significant size

  • They’ve been sinking money into that project for years, but I don’t think it will ever enter the production phase. It’s too impractical.

Note: This verb is related to the economics concept of “sunken costs,” or money that cannot be recuperated from an investment, like in the example of unsuccessful research and development investments shown above.

Bail … Out/ – to rescue someone from a debt crisis

  • Governments around the world bailed out the big banks during the financial crisis of 2008, but many economists think that they should have let the banks fail.

Note: “Bail out” originates from a maritime context, where it means,“to remove water from a sinking boat.”

Remember that you our phrasal verbs homepage is always available for more practice!