Okay I think I managed to narrow it down to five more words. After writing yesterday’s post and choosing the words off the top of my head, I had to resort to Google to find one of the many “British English/American English Vocabulary Lists” that are floating around on the Internet.
6) cinema versus movies.
When the children learn the names of places in a city, the cinema is one they learn right away. It’s easy for them to remember. Cinema in Spanish is el cine. However, I’ve always known what this word means. In French, the word is cinéma. I’m not sure if most Americans know this word or not. However, there is a movie theater company in my area called “Clearview Cinemas” so maybe they do. If I ask my students something like “What did you do this past weekend?”, one of them will probably respond “I go to the cinema.” So while the UK says cinema, the US uses movie theater or simply movies. “I’m going to see a movie” or “I’m going to the movies” is pretty standard. In my opinion, the word “cinema” suggests something fancier than it actually means. I imagine some fashionable New York women going to the Plaza Hotel for tea for some reason (clearly have seen too many Sex and the City episodes).
7) postbox versus mailbox, postman versus mailman.
I’ll have to hand the Brits this one. I have no idea where the word mail comes from. After all, we do use the word post office, so why not say postbox and postman? My theory is after the American Revolution, when the colonies became independent, Americans decided they wanted to distinguish themselves from “that other English speaking country” and really show those Brits what they were made of. This included changing as many words as possible and numerous spelling changes. We really wanted to show how different we were.
This is the only explanation that makes sense to me! And I kid you not, when I google imaged “postbox” and “postman” and “mailbox” and “mailman“, different images came up (and I think it’s easy to tell which terms yielded which results–I have never seen an American mailman ride a bicycle!). Even Google Images is fluent in British and American English! But I have to say postbox and postman sound so quaint. I’m sorry, American mailboxes and the American mailman uniform do not even look remotely quaint. A postman on a bicycle and red postboxes? Now that’s quaint!
8) dustbin/rubbish versus trash can/garbage can.
On a few occasions, my students have referred to la papelera as the dustbin. I’m pretty sure it was Harry Potter that introduced me to the word dustbin and rubbish. The first time I saw the word dustbin I had no idea what that was. I vaguely imagined it was some kind of electric gardening tool or some really fancy word for lawn mower. (Give me a break, I was 11!). We use the word bin in the USA but almost exclusively for the containers we use for recycling, so we’ve got recycling bins. You might occasionally see garbage bin or trash bin but it’s rare. I always tell my students to “tirar todo in the garbage can” (why yes I am fluent in Spanglish too, didn’t you know?).
As for the word rubbish, I feel like it’s an antiquated term in the USA. I feel like I heard my Grandpa Joe occasionally say “Well that’s just rubbish” as a polite way to state he found something to be completely idiotic. However no one born since the 60s uses this word. No wonder Americans think the UK is so old fashioned and quaint. The Brits use all our antiquated vocabulary!
9) motorbike versus motorcycle.
Honestly, I feel like this was a case of “Oh no! The word motorbike is already taken! Well, we’ll just add the second part of the word bicycle so we won’t be labeled copy cats.” Whenever I go over transportation vocabulary, the students love screaming out the word MOTORBIKE! I totally understand, it’s a fun word! And the word makes sense–it’s a bike with a motor attached to it. I feel like Americans were almost being impertinent when they christened this highly dangerous contraption a motorcycle. Or maybe they thought it sounded sexier. I guess I have to agree, motorcycle does sound sexier than motorbike.
10) car park versus parking lot.
I saw the word “car park” in some of my students’ textbooks and it never failed to make me giggle. A car park sounds like a more fun place to be than a parking lot. Just an aside, I hate parking lots mostly because I am terrible at parking, I hate driving, and I think they are the most dangerous places to be in a car (or walking as a pedestrian). A car park makes me think of a playground overrun by cars and children using the cars as an extension of the playground (so I imagine a bunch of toddlers having the time of their lives crawling around on top of cars).
bonus 11) ladybird versus ladybug.
I learned this difference this year. I clearly remember going over animal vocabulary with one of my first or second grade classes and asking them for examples of insects. One of them called out “LADYBIRD!” and I corrected the kid saying “No, no, it’s ladybug!” I thought it was odd but then I decided the words bug and bird aren’t that different so I let it go. A few months later, a friend on Facebook cleared up the confusion in her Facebook status.
Now can I just say one thing? I agree, ladybugs are nicer looking than the average scary spider or centipede. But it’s STILL a bug! It does not remotely look like a bird. I have to agree with the American who decided ladybird was just silly and replaced it with ladybug. Let’s not crossbreed species if we don’t have to–we’ve already got ligers (a mix of lion and tiger), zedonks and zorses (cross of zebras and donkeys and zebras and horses), and wholphins (cross of a dolphin and a whale).
If you must keep it in the English language, we can say ladybird is a new nickname for Mary Poppins who is a product of the UK. She is a great lady who flies around like a bird with that awesome umbrella of hers. Problem solved!