the slang of American English and British English

Milly   Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:58 pm GMT
There are some slang in British English, such as to go for broke 、bark up the wrong tree、to let the cat out of the bag、Sob story、crocodile tears 、fit as a fiddle ...etc.
Can we use it in American English countries?
Also, there are some words confused me, for example, in America, they called trash can instead of rubbish bin, subway instead of underground, and eraser instead of rubber.
Is it proper when we use these words both in American countries and British countries?
Skippy   Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:09 pm GMT
The first list you gave, I thought were American sayings...

In America you could say the "Trash bin" but you hardly ever here this... Definitely "trash can." No one would really know what you're talking about if you referred to the subway as the underground...

And a rubber is a condom.
William   Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:12 pm GMT

It is not a big deal if we can communicate with each other by the language that we used to use.
John   Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:35 pm GMT
These expressions are *not* slang. They are idioms or dialectal or regional differences. "Let the cat out of the bag" is an idiom while "lift" or "elevator" are more of less regional differences. (I'm not even sure if that one even classifies as "dialect", so I'll let the language pros in the forum sort that one out.)

Slang is defined as:

1 : language peculiar to a particular group: as a : ARGOT b : JARGON 2
2 : an informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech

Slang is often, but not always, considered pejorative. And it's best to avoid using any kind of slang in polite company. An example of slang that might be unique to the UK would be the word totty or Chav. Something unique to the US might be "ho" for a prostitute or "bogart" for "to steal".

Please note, as a general rule it's best to *always* avoid using slang anywhere as the person you are speaking to is likely to have no clue what you are talking about and likely make you appear ignorant or uneducated at the same time.

I often hear non-native speakers say things like "Americans speak a different "slang" than the British." Implying that someone "speaks" slang is most likely going to offend that person. I could go on about this but I'll stop here.
John   Sun Oct 07, 2007 5:08 pm GMT
I wanted to add that some words may have slang meanings in one place, but not in another or may not be properly misunderstood by everyone in certain contexts.

Rubber is a good example. In the UK "rubber" is a proper word for what Americans would call an "eraser" but if you ask an American if they "have a rubber" they might look at you a bit funny because this word has a "slang" meaning as being a condom. Of course most Americans already know that people in the UK say "rubber" when they mean "eraser".

In the UK cigarettes are often referred to as "fags" (Not sure if it's considered slang there or not) but in the US a fag is derogatory slang for a homosexual. "To smoke a fag" in the US can mean to viciously attack a homosexual. "To smoke" is also slang meaning "to beat someone up"

In the US a "fanny" is considered a childish word for the buttocks, but in the UK it's slang for the vagina. British people laugh very hard at the "innocent" American word "fanny pack" ( ) which they call a "bum bag". I personally prefer calling it a belt bag to avoid any confusion :)
Rene   Sun Oct 07, 2007 10:57 pm GMT
There is a really good video on this as told from an Englishman's point of view here (
furrykef   Mon Oct 08, 2007 1:07 am GMT
<< Of course most Americans already know that people in the UK say "rubber" when they mean "eraser". >>

I don't know about that. It's very difficult to judge what "most" Americans know, particularly in matter such as this.

- Kef
K. T.   Mon Oct 08, 2007 3:27 am GMT

I think I use "trash bin" sometimes. I would understand "underground" too, but I'd use "subway"...
Damian in London E14   Mon Oct 08, 2007 8:17 am GMT
***Of course most Americans already know that people in the UK say "rubber" when they mean "eraser".***

I have a strong feeling that that is a slight over-statement - knowing what we do about general American "lack of knowledge" of practically anything outside of their own borders. As for the "rubber/eraser" thing I remember the reaction of a female American student in the library at uni when a (male) British student asked her if he could borrow her rubber - meaning eraser, of course. It's fortunate he had no plans to knock her up early the next morning.

If some Americans are unaware of the language actually spoken in England itself (apparently that is true, incredible as it seems - take a peek at the British Expats in the USA website!) then why should they know about the rubber/eraser situation? Many Brits are unaware of a fair number of the different meanings for the same word on the two sides of The Pond (apart from the most well known examples such as boot/trunk, petrol/gas, bonnet/hood etc to use the motoring theme) but at least I'm pretty sure that every single one of us knows what is the main language spoken in the USA.

Whether English will continue to remain dominant in America may be a matter of conjecture, taking into account the apparent huge surge in the Spanish/Latino influence over there. Well, maybe just in parts of the country - America is such a vast and complex country.
X   Mon Oct 08, 2007 8:33 am GMT
I'm an American and I knew about the rubber/eraser thing since about the fourth or fifth grade. It's hard to say what the "average" American is, but most likely any "reasonably educated" American who is reasonably well traveled and read would be aware a lot of the differences.

****I have a strong feeling that that is a slight over-statement - knowing what we do about general American "lack of knowledge" of practically anything outside of their own borders.****

It's an overstatement to assume that more than two thirds of the population just about anywhere has a clue of just about anything that most members of this forum would consider "common knowledge." The following clip makes it painfully clear.
Uriel   Tue Oct 09, 2007 11:56 pm GMT
Nah, I think most Americans do know the rubber/eraser thing. We just can't help snickering anyway....