I have to admit, as an American, my inner 12-year-old gets to giggling whenever one of my British colleagues refers to an eraser as a “rubber.”
That’s why I enjoyed this BBC piece translating common office terms for Brits working in America and vice versa.
For example, the aforementioned rubber might be an eraser in the UK, but it is slang for a condom in America. The possibilities for misunderstanding are endless.
Other helpful translations from the BBC:
- Blue tack = sticky putty
- Brackets = parentheses
- Canteen = cafeteria
- Cheque = check
- CV = résumé
- Drawing pin = push pin/thumb tack
- Full stop = period
- Hash sign = Pound sign
- Leaving ‘do’ = leaving party
- Oblique = slash
- Sacked = fired
- Sellotape = sticky or Scotch tape
- Skive (off) = play hooky or shirk work duties
- Tick = check
- Tipp-Ex = Wite-Out
Remember that a biro to a British worker is just a pen to an American – or an ink pen to an American from the South. And Brits use their biros to write on A4 paper, while Americans use the slightly shorter 8.5 x 11 page.
More on office supplies: elastic band (UK) is rubber band (US). Ink printer (UK) is rubber stamp (US). Pritt stix (UK) is glue stick (US).
Another interesting difference results in the diary/journal conundrum. What Americans call a calendar or planner, Brits call a diary. What Brits call a diary, Americans call a journal. Getting the two confused could lead to some awkward discussions about boundaries.
When speaking to human resources, an American asking for a raise is akin to a Brit asking to rise. Taking vacation time in the US is going on holiday in the UK. And layoffs to Americans are “making redundant” to Brits.
If an American says to leave a note, he means a paper with a handwritten message. If a Brit says it, he means to leave money.
A pinboard is a bulletin board. A bank holiday is a legal holiday. And a director is a manager.
That should be enough to get you through your first days at work. There are plenty more, so you might want to check out a dictionary of British-to-American for more help.
And feel free to add your own translated terms in the comments below.