Lost in Translation – when good words go wrong…

Travelling overseas to English speaking countries one would think communication would be pretty straight forward most of the time, which is true. But I can recall several times being caught out with things I thought were perfectly normal – only to have several people look at me very strangely…. (although once you realise what’s happened it can be quite entertaining)

The best one I heard was my sister-in-law, a single English girl who came to Australia. Shortly after arriving she went to a bar and managed to find a nice man and set up a date to meet him the following week. She went to work the next day and announced to every one in the lunch room, “I love aussie men, I’ve only been here a week and I managed to pull a guy at the bar!” (“Pull a guy” = UK “meet a nice man who wants to see you again”, Aus = well… you work it out, it’s something polite company wouldn’t talk about, but it makes most men very happy) Needless to say, when someone took her aside to explain what she’d said – she was mortified.

My own tales are not quite as hilarious, but they still make me smile. At the fair in the UK I asked for “fairy floss” (UK = Candy Floss, US = Cotton Candy). I think they thought I was on drugs.

Again in the UK, a child I was looking after asked kept asking me for a “lolly” so I gave her some caramel toffees, and I had no idea why she wasn’t satisfied and immediately asked again for a lolly. (In Aus “lolly” = UK “Sweetie”, US “Candy”. In UK “lolly” = Aus “Icy Pole”, US ??)

So when have you been divided from another by a common language?

Lollypop. Bits of sugar and flavor stuck to a stick. Hard candy. With a stick. Or a guy who delivers adverbs (some people will get this).

Of course they’re always “knocked up” as in “I was in your girlfriend’s neighborhood so I knocked her up.” Don’t say this in the US.

Early in my stay in the US, at a restaurant towards the end of the meal, I asked for a “short black”. I don’t think they really thought that I was asking for an African American of less-than-average stature, but it took a while to work out that I was asking for an “espresso”.

While in New Zealand MANY years ago, I wanted to get my bangs trimmed. I went into a salon and came out with my fringe trimmed.

I suppose one of the ultimate examples would be “bum a fag”. I Britain it would mean to ask someone for a cigarette, while in the US…, well, there’s a congressman in trouble right now for getting caught trying to do it in a public lavatory.

And then in the other thread on regional slang someone recently brought up Cornhole.

“when you ask for a fag in texas…smile…”

Mark E. Smith

Heathrow, circa 1980…I step off my flight from America,get my first sight of England and burst out laughing…
a huge billboard announces:
“FAGGOTS----great balls of goodness”
It was an advertisement for a brand of fast-food style frozen spaghetti and meatballs.

I saw that guy over at Conjunction Junction

And there’s the classic example of the word fanny. Here it’s acceptable slang for a person’s behind, in England it it’s a not so nice term for a woman’s…“befront.”

Trust the British to drive on the wrong side of the road.

whaddaya expect from a country that calls a trunk “hood”, and a hood “bonnet”?

eta: makes me wonder what they call the frilly head piece that ties under a baby’s chin :dubious: :smiley:

Never heard that one before. My friend from Birmingham called it “the front bum”.

The bonnet is the hood. The trunk is the boot. The convertible top is the hood.

Hired some drywallers. The crew chief was the only one that spoke English. At introductions, he pointed at a fellow and said ‘perro’. So I assumed this guys name was ‘Perro’.

Sort of sounds like ‘Pedro’.

In fact, he was pointing at my dog beyond the guy. I called the guy ‘dog’ for a few hours before I figured it out.

During WWII, my uncle had an embarrassing moment at the table of a family who had invited him over with a remark about their napkins.

(And if I am ever in a similar situation, I’m going to have to be very careful, because, for some reason, even though I know the two not-for-the-table British meanings of “napkin,” I can never quite remember the word serviette without an effort. (Unlike bonnet and hood and lorry and even fanny that are in enough novels or other texts that I can make a instantaneous translation.)

When I worked in New Zealand, I was a bit taken aback when the sweet-little-old-lady receptionist in my office asked me if I knew where to get rubbers if I needed them. It took me a moment to realize she was talking about erasers instead of condoms.

I also got some odd looks in Australia when I mentioned that I rooted for a certain baseball team. There you cheer for your team, while “rooting” refers to another activity entirely.

My SIL and her friend were vacationing in England, visiting her aunt and uncle. They met some nice guys in a pub, it was getting late, and the girls were tired and wanted to go home.

So, they asked they guys if they could give them a ride.

Snickers ensued, then I think the boys took pity on the girls and explained to them what they had asked.

They also ordered pints, which, I understand at the time, ladies never order pints…only half-pints. I believe that’s changed now.

Please explain this one to me.

The one I’ve heard several times (probably apocryphal) was Irish people getting in trouble in America after saying “I had great crack at the party!”
Crack or the horrid Irishified version “craic” = fun

I have a British friend who always expresses amusement that here in the US there’s a “Pratt University”. In england, prat is a generic insult for a stupid person, so it doesn’t sound like a very distinguished institution to his ears. He also recently discovered there’s a town here called Knob Hill, and “knob” is slang for a certain part of the male anatomy over across the pond.

The original sense of “prat” was “backside” (as in “pratfall” = to fall on your arse), hence “making a prat of yourself”. Nowadays, the word has lost its original meaning and is, as you say, just a generic insult.

I can’t see why this would be a problem. In Britain, a “napkin” is the linen (or paper) thing that you place on your lap while eating. It’s also known as a serviette, and I’m sure etiquette gurus would make some kind of social-class distinction between those who would use one word over the other, but frankly I have no idea which is supposed to be “posh” and which isn’t. I say napkin, usually.

Were you perhaps thinking of the archaic word “napkin” as the long form of “nappy”, i.e. diaper? Or the equally old-fashioned “sanitary napkin”, i.e. feminine-hygiene product? Neither would be the first thing that came to mind if you said “napkin” in the UK any time after about 1950.

Dahling, serviette is so lower middle class. Napkins, sweetie, napkins. :stuck_out_tongue: