Interpreting British Speech – What It Really Means!

I’m sure this is a humorous list for the British, but for those of us who are not British, it’s a great guide to print out and keep on hand to understand what our British friends really mean!

This list certainly typifies in the pink column how Americans would understand the speech in the gray column.  I worked for years in a company with both American and British employees, and these were exactly the type of misunderstandings we had going on for years.  People often don’t realize what has happened until it creates a major misunderstanding such as joint partners going off in completely different directions without realizing they have done so, until a major problem occurs.

My thought is that when the British are dealing with each other, they will understand each others’ meanings.  If they wish to be understood, British bosses and subordinates are dealing with other English-speaking cultures, they need to be careful to say clearly and plainly what they actually mean.

–Lynne Diligent

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6 Responses to “Interpreting British Speech – What It Really Means!”

  1. Judy Says:

    Two countries divided by a common language, lol! But in all seriousness as a British/North American (quite literally half of my life spent in each country) I think this is surprisingly accurate even though its intent is humour. The British do have an obtuse way of speaking sometimes, although it does vary region to region. For example, generally speaking, those who live in the North, where I am from, are held to be “blunt” speakers (ie would be less likely to speak like this). My favourite though is not included and is the uniquely British uber-polite way of posing a question which must be totally incomprehensible to non-native speakers – “You wouldn’t happen to have the time on you, would you?” for “Do you know the time?” It is not “good” English but this construction is frequently heard. Language is a huge insight into culture, isn’t it?


  2. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Comment emailed from a teaching friend: “Regarding your Britishism translation guide, there should also be one for people in academia. More than once, after emailing with various math professors on various aspects of math education they have responded “Thank you; this is an area well worth my interest.” Or something along those lines. What they mean is “Go away and don’t ever write to me again.””


  3. cybermd Says:

    Very insightful!
    I would add to your list a personal experience. Visiting London for the first time, my wife and I were invited to dine with about 20 British 3rd cousins, many of whom we had barely met. The food was excellent, but portions rather small, by American standards. Given that, when someone announced, “Would anyone care for the last piece of meat?”, I gladly chimed in that I would be happy to take it. All conversation suddenly stopped and everyone was staring at me with a look that varied from annoyance to horror.
    Fortunately, my well-known cousin who had lived in America later explained to me that the person who had politely asked if anyone would like the last piece of meat was actually saying “I am politely letting everyone know that I am taking the last piece of meat, assuming that no one else minds.”


  4. the retrospective entrepreneur Says:

    As a Brit I have to say that this has got us spot on and really made me laugh! But we’re a small country with a lot of people and we all have to rub along – we haven’t had a civil war for many centuries….


  5. expatlogue Says:

    As someone who has lived in Britain for most of my life but now lives in Canada, this list and furthermore, some of the comments, have been quite an eyeopener!
    It’s no surprise things get misunderstood – the dinner with the cousins mentioned in the comments above is a perfect example of how one statement or question can be intended/taken in different ways. It’s something i barely consider when talking to my new friends. I’m too busy substituting vocabulary to think about sentence structure. Thanks for such an enlightening article.


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