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Common mistakes
  Posted on Thu 02 Nov 2006 by AndyM (2098 reads)

This document attempts to clear up the most common mistakes made. The most common offenders are Americans (sorry, but itÂ’s true!), so I will list by the American word, with its British equivalent.

Auto(s): We call a car a car, although there are variations.

Block(s): Our street systems do not have blocks. We would not say “my house is only 3 blocks away”. While we may say “I’m just going for a walk around the block,” it does not mean a literal block, but just that you are taking a route that could of any shape. The British tend to talk in distance or time, for example: “the bus station is only about 5 minutes walk, or “the pub is about half a mile away.”

Blocks do not exist because most of our cities, towns and villages are quite old, and much building work was done back when planning permission wasnÂ’t quite an issue. As a result, they have grown organically over the years. Most noticeable to tourists is central London. Although, you may find some areas have rows of roads with shops and/or housing.

The only exception to this is Milton Keynes, which was first started around the 1960s (I think), and was designed from the ground up on a grid system.

Buddy: Not very commonly used, but has its places. When referring to a friend, a male you may say mate or pal. Whereas women often tend to refer to friends by their names.

Butt: People may think youÂ’re talking about a water receptacle or part of a cigarette. Ass is used, but has more in common with a donkey. Arse is more common and appropriate.

Candy: Always say sweets, never use candy as a generic term. Candy is sometimes used for a certain type of sweet, like cotton candy. Except for chocolate, then thatÂ’s just called chocolateÂ…

Check(s): The bit of paper we write on to transfer money – they are spelt “cheque(s)”.

Chips: See “Fries” below. What Americans call chips, we call crisps.

Cookies: To the British, cookies are a type of biscuit. Some of the more popular muggle biscuits are Jammy Dodgers, Rich Tea, Digestives and custard creams.

Denim(s): We call “denim pants” jeans. Why? I have no idea – it just is. Back in the 70s, there was a special edition Volkswagen Beetle that had denim clad seats; it was called the Jeans Beetle.

Diaper: Very rarely used. Our infants wear a nappy, or nappies (plural).

Elevator: The device that moves people between floors in a vertical fashion, we call a lift.

Fries (French Fries): With the likes of MacDonalds and Burger King becoming more popular over recent years, this has become more acceptable, but, you should only refer to fries when your characters visit an American style fast food type restaurant; and to only refer to the thin machine cut potato product. Otherwise, you call them chips – these are thicker, usually cut by hand, and vary in thickness, shape and size. Chips are usually served at home, in fish and chip shops and Chinese takeaways (yes, Chinese takeaways do “English” chip shop food as well).

Fall: We say Autumn and never fall.

Graduate (graduation): This only applies to people who have finished university, and not school (and I believe JK Rowling said that thereÂ’s no equivalent to universities in the wizarding world). We generally just leave school, there is no big ceremony.

Mom or mommy: Never, ever, EVER have your character say “mom”. No, really, I am not over reacting. I have only known one British person use it, and she was constantly berated because of it. For informal use, use “mum”; use mother when the character is being sarcastic or talking back when being told off, etc. Also, use “mother” if the character is more upper class, E.G. Draco.

Movie(s): Again, another “Americanism” that seems to have become more popular of late. But as the Harry Potter books are set in and around the mid 1990s, you should say film, or if you are going to see a film – “Harry, Ron and I are going to the Cinema, do you want to come?”

Pants: It seems in the last couple of years, it has become more “fashionable” to take on the American meaning of pants. However, Harry Potter is set in and around the mid 1990s, so you use pants to refer to underwear – use trousers.

Saying “Harry got out of bed, pulled on his pants and went down to the common room[…]” is like saying that Harry was in bed naked, he put on his underwear and that’s all he wore as he went down to the common room. Kind of kinky/odd in that context…

Panties: Never, ever use this. Seriously, I donÂ’t think IÂ’ve ever known anyone to use this in real life. Not in my 37 years upon this planet. When referring to underwear, you can use pants or undies, which are interchangeable (not literally!) for male and female, or knickers for females.

Pavement: What you call the pavement, we call the road. This does mean the footway on the side of a road that people walk upon.

Sidewalk: This is what we call the pavement (see above).

Sneakers: We call them trainers, as in training shoes.

Sweater: You’d be more likely to find a “sweater” in a sauna. We call them “jumper(s)” (this is where the old joke comes from: “What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo? – A woolly jumper.”)

Takeout: We do not get a takeout, we go for a takeaway.

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