“Green Thumb” vs. “Green Fingers,” and Other Words To Know in British English

published Jan 13, 2022
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Planting Spring Herbs Into Terracotta Pots
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Being a British writer contributing to an American publication, I learn something new every day. In my work for Apartment Therapy, the use of American English has become second nature, and I’d like to think that you wouldn’t know I was British from my writing (well, until now, of course).

Through covering American interior design, I have come to discover that there are, in fact, a lot more spelling and grammar changes than I first realized. The difference between American English and British English go far beyond just dropping the letter “U” from certain words.

From the obvious to the more discrete differences, here are home words in American English and their British English counterparts.

“Apartment” vs. “Flat”

If Apartment Therapy originated in Great Britain, it might have been called Flat Therapy, and that definitely does not have the same ring to it. While the term “apartment” is used in Britain to give the residence in question more of a trendy, upmarket feel, “flat” is the preferred option.

“Zip Code” vs. “Postcode”

A zip code and postcode are both used to identity a postal area, but there are a few differences when it comes to the actual code. In the U.S., a zip code consists of five numerals (33162, 90210, etc.) whereas British postcodes are alphanumeric and have between six and eight characters, including a single space in the middle ( SW1A 1AA, M16 0RA, etc.)

“Townhouse” vs. “Terraced House”

Simply put, both townhouses and terraced houses are a row of dwellings that share side walls. Terraced houses may also be referred to as “row houses” in some regions of the U.S.

“Green Thumb” vs. “Green Fingers”

If you’re a keen gardener and have a natural talent for growing plants, it’s called a “green thumb” in America. In Britain, it’s “green fingers.” Means the same, just different digits.

“Closet” vs. “Built-In Wardrobe”

While “built-in wardrobe” is the Brits’ favored term, “closet” is the preferred term in the U.S. To the Brits, a wardrobe is just a free-standing piece of furniture, so the “built-in” part makes all the difference.

“Trash can” vs. “Dustbin”

American English is definitely a lot more straightforward when it comes to describing a certain household item. A “trash can” is where you place, well, trash. In British English, a trash can is a “dustbin”, and it’s where you discard your rubbish.

“Dish towel” vs. “Tea towel”

In the UK, the towel that is used to dry washed crockery, silverware, and glasses is called a “tea towel”, as opposed to its more obvious name of a “dish towel” in America. But just why is it called a tea towel? According to HuffPost, tea towels date back to 18th-century England, when the towels were used to insulate delicate tea sets.

It’s no secret that tea is widely associated with Great Britain, but another way the word “tea” can be used is to refer to your evening meal. It’s an age-old argument that has divided the North and South regions. If you live in the North of the country — particularly the North West — the three meals are referred to as breakfast, dinner, and tea, whereas if you live down South, it’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

“Crib” vs. “Cot”

The place where a baby sleeps at night, a “crib” is known as a “cot” in British English. Both refer to the small, fenced-in (or in Emily Ratajkowski’s case, acrylic-walled) bed that is specially made for an infant.

“Stove” vs. “Cooker”

This is where it gets a little confusing. In American English, a stove is made of gas or electric rings where you boil or fry foods, and the oven is the part that you use to roast and bake your meals. But, when a British person says the word “cooker,” they are referencing the stove, the oven, and the integrated grill that usually sits above the oven and below the stove (known in America as the broiler).

Want to brush up on your grammar? Try these 20 garden path sentences.