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UK vs. US: language frenemies (part 2)

If you caught part one of Language Frenemies, then get ready for the second installment of American word spelling vs. British word spelling, as told by the brilliant Brit, Tom, and the amazing American, Martinique.

Pavement vs. Sidewalk

M: This doesn’t make sense. Why would we call something what it’s made out of? With that logic, we should just call humans atoms and pasta wheat. Sidewalk is basically the side of the road where you can walk. Simple!

T: Pavement refers to the paved area of the road that’s designed exclusively for pedestrians. It’s taken from the Latin pavimentum, which means “trodden down floor.” Trodden on because it’s for pedestrians. Makes sense, no?

Diaper vs. Nappy

M: Diaper was the term used for small, repeated geometric shapes and later referred to white linen fabric. So, it’s a nice way to say that something you wrap baby excrements in is really just fashion.

T: This one confuses me massively because diaper isn’t actually a word related to infant hygiene at all. Americans just made it up. At least nappy is a simple abbreviation of napkin, which is what people used to wrap about babies’ bottoms in the olden days. We were nothing if not resourceful.

Cookie vs. Biscuit

M: So, we’ve already told you what a biscuit was (the British equivalent to a scone). However, cookie is just a great word! Cookies are sweet, just like this word. But if I have to get literal here, it comes from the Dutch word “koekjas,” and, let’s face it, the Dutch know how to make baked goods.

T: This is one of my favorite British words because it’s so straightforward. It’s derived from the old French bescuit – a combination of the Latin bis (meaning “twice”) and coctus (the past tense of coquere, which means “to cook”) because biscuits were originally baked and then dried out in an oven to make them last longer. See, that’s science and language coming together in perfect, delicious harmony.

Trash vs. Rubbish

M: We normally say garbage, but trash is slang and has so many meanings: it can be a noun for garbage, an adjective that describes something that is of poor quality, and a verb for those occasions when you destroy a hotel apartment because you decide to live a rockstar life. Any word that has multiple meanings is A-Okay with me.

T: Rubbish is related to rubbous, a hybrid word from Old French and Old English, derived from robe, which meant “spoils” (incidentally, a word that also means rubbish but sounds more posh). You can also use it as a slang verb to mean something that’s not good, which was invented by people from Australia and New Zealand in the 1950s. The U.K. used to own those countries, so the word legally became ours as soon as it was invented. So, what if that’s unfair? We didn’t make the rules.

French Fries vs. Chips

M: French fries just make sense because the French have brought many great things to us Americans, like the Statue of Liberty and Louisiana. Therefore, it’s only normal that we name an amazingly delicious fried potato after them. Merci à vous!

T: Chips are the literal pieces of the potato, which have been chipped into chips to make fried chips that go great with curry sauce and other deliciously high-calorie condiments. Which leads us neatly on to…

Chips vs. Crisps

M: Chips are called chips because they chip away when you bite them. It helps you anticipate the experience you’re about to undergo during this snacking.

T: While it is true that American chips are also the chips of the potato they’re made of, these chips are so thinly-sliced that they go all crispy when they’re cooked – and that’s why they’re called crisps. Except tortilla chips, which are called something different because Mexican people play by nobody’s rules and call stuff whatever they like as long as it can be dipped in guacamole. (And that’s why we love them and their cuisine.)

Soccer vs. Football

M: So, uhm, actually, the British invented this *enter nervous laughter,* but we kept it! Go Team America!

T: Why is American football called football? They’re throwing it most of the time, and it never touches their feet! This makes no sense, and Americans should hang their heads in shame while they watch us play a sport that, unless you’re a goalkeeper, exclusively involves foot-to-ball actions.

Sneakers vs. Trainers

M: So, the meaning is in the word: in the 1970s, Henry Nelson McKinney popularized this term while working on a Keds campaign to introduce a rubber sole that allowed you to sneak up on unsuspecting friends and family. Why call it a trainer? Your shoes never tell you to drop and give you fifteen or lecture you with motivational sayings, such as, “No pain, no gain.” So why do British people try to humanize shoes? That’s just weird.

T: In the U.K., we were slow to adopt this sports shoe nonsense because we’re classy like that, and when we did, we only wore them for sports training, hence, why we nicknamed them trainers. Plus, who actually does any sneaking in sneakers? That’s just weird.

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