“The British and Americans are two peoples separated by a common language.” — Oscar Wilde
America has never quite gotten over its split from Britain back in 1776. This shows in the language, where many expressions differ markedly from British expressions. For example, if a British gentleman goes into a shop and asks for a rubber, an American may assume that he wants a condom. He in fact wants a pencil eraser.
Both countries are experiencing a language detente due to the popularity of the British drama series, Downton Abbey and the worldwide sensation of Harry Potter. These very British entertainment empires are conquering the American lexicon. Here are some British phrases becoming more and more common in American English.
If there is anything Americans like, it’s a good curse word. Many Americans have long forgotten their foreign language lessons except for the swear words. “Bloody” (a derivation of “God’s blood”) is a swear word that’s socially acceptable in any level of American society. It’s a way of swearing in America that’s not really swearing.
The British expression for flirting is much gentler than the American expression “hitting on.” That may be why more Americans are using “chat up” especially when talking about their own actions.
Before the first Harry Potter book was published, Americans only used the word ginger when referring to the spice. Ginger has almost always been a color as well as a spice for the British. Now more and more Americans are talking about “ginger cats” and “ginger hair.”
Until the popularity of the Austin Powers movies, Americans assumed “shag” was adjective describing carpeting or long-haired dogs. But the British use “shag” as a verb (for the sexual act) and more and more Americans are, too. Americans may have started to use the word “shag” as the British do in order to confuse some Americans who didn’t realize the British meaning.
More and more American members of the media are using this British term in the place of the American “expiration date.” American products are also using this term, which is a bit more descriptive than “expiration date.”
In the 1970s, the American expression, “right on” was popular, but has since gone the way of bell-bottoms. In 2012, the British expression “spot on” has taken the place of “right on.”