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US, British English to collide at Olympics

Published:Saturday | April 7, 2012 | 12:00 AM

LONDON (AP):The lorry driver taking kit to the football pitch was so knackered he pulled into the lay-by near the petrol station for a quick kip.


For American readers, that translates as: The truck driver delivering uniforms to the soccer field was so tired he pulled into the rest area near the gas station for a nap.

As George Bernard Shaw once observed, England and America are two countries divided by a common language. That trans-Atlantic linguistic divide will be magnified by Olympic proportions this summer when an estimated 250,000 Americans come to town for the London Games.

Yes, the Internet, television, movies, global travel and business have blurred language differences, and many people in the US and UK are familiar with those bizarre figures of speech from both sides of the pond.

Yet important differences remain, prompting this rough guide to just a few of the potential colloquial conundrums that await baffled American visitors to the old country. (A caveat: This is not a definitive, all-inclusive list and doesn't take into account different spelling, accents, Cockney rhyming slang or expletives!)


Let's talk "sport." That's singular in Britain, not like sports in the US.

Those "blokes" (guys) hawking 100-metre final tickets? They're not scalpers, they're "ticket touts." Incidentally, if you can't get any tickets, you can always watch on "telly" where the commercials are called "adverts."

You'll definitely do a lot of "queuing" (waiting in line), especially at Olympic venues for security checks. Whatever you do, don't "jump the queue."

Headed to the Olympic Stadium to watch track and field? The preferred term in England is "athletics."

Of course, soccer is "football." The sport is played on a pitch, rather than a field. A player might kick the ball into the "stand," rather than stands.


If someone is feeling "chuffed," don't worry. That means they're delighted, as in, "I'm chuffed to bits that I got tickets for the closing ceremony."

If someone says they're "gutted," it has nothing to do with fish. They're just bitterly disappointed, as in the British Olympic sprinter who's "gutted" after failing to qualify for the 200-metre final. By contrast, he'll be "over the moon" if he makes it.

Some words take on a totally different, even opposite, meaning in the two countries.

"Torrid" is a prime example - positive in American sports, negative in Britain.

In the US, if Kobe Bryant goes on a torrid run in the fourth quarter, he's scoring a bunch of points. In England, if Chelsea striker Fernando Torres is having a torrid season, he can't put the ball in the net.