If you threw a party with guests from Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Jamaica, and the United States, they might have a hard time understanding each other. English is spoken in all five countries, but every culture puts its own spin on things, from using the same word in wildly different ways, to coining words that are unique to a specific nation. Here’s a guide to some words and phrases that are 100% American.
While a professional ballpark is defined by the baseball diamond, the outfield, the stands, the concessions, and the walls around it, neighborhood fields might not have the same boundaries. You can play ball anywhere, including in the street, an open field, or a backyard.
So when the word “ballpark” is used off the field, it usually means you’re in the right general area, but maybe not within set boundaries. You can ballpark an estimate, hit something out of the ballpark, or meet someone’s guidelines by being in the same ballpark.
Athletic footwear goes by many names around the globe — Canadians refer to such shoes as runners, while Brits affectionately call them trainers. Americans favor sneakers, tennis shoes, or running shoes — don’t worry if you’re neither sneaking nor running.
Bachelor / Bachelorette
The title of this reality TV guilty pleasure is also a term unique to the U.S., at least when it comes to prenuptial partying. In other English-speaking countries, parties to celebrate the bride and groom’s last hurrah are known as stag, stagette, hen, or buck parties, though most people would still know what a bachelor(ette) party entailed if you extended an invite.
Soccer / Football
Perhaps the most infamous sports-related difference in the English language is what people call the game that involves kicking a black and white ball into a goal. Throughout the rest of the world, it’s called football, which makes sense because it’s played with, well, your feet. But in America (and Australia), it’s soccer. What Americans call football is played by throwing and carrying a ball into an end zone. It’s known as American football internationally.
More Bang for Your Buck
This American expression refers to getting a good deal, but the origins are a little more sinister. President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the phrase in the 1950s, with the aim of expanding America’s armed forces while decreasing military spending.
Sure, people around the globe say “first floor” — but they’re referring to the floor of a building above the ground floor. In the U.S., if you said you were on the first floor, you’d probably be referring to the floor where you enter a building. This difference can lead to some confused hotel guests when staying abroad.
The rest of the English-speaking world uses postal codes to send their mail (also known as the post in the U.K.) via the postal system. But America’s five- or nine-digit ZIP codes stand apart. The USPS strategically chose ZIP to imply snail mail was, believe it or not, fast and efficient. But it’s not just a zippy marketing ploy — it’s also an acronym, for Zone Improvement Plan.
Freshmen / Sophomores / Juniors / Seniors
Whether you’re in high school or university, American students typically progress through these levels, based on their year of study — a practice not followed outside of America. Interestingly, these terms originated at the University of Cambridge in England, only to fall out of favor until they were revived by Cambridge graduate John Harvard, when he, you guessed it, founded Harvard College.
America’s colonial history pops up in American slang. If you ask for someone’s John Hancock, you’re asking for their signature. John Hancock was a real man, an American revolutionary patriot who made a literal name for himself with his flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence.
Light, airy, and oh-so-quick to crumble — just like your plans with a flaky friend. The rest of the world primarily uses this word when describing baking textures, but Americans have extended the meaning to anyone who is indecisive or flighty.
Take a Rain Check
If you’re looking to politely turn down an offer for drinks with colleagues, or a last-minute dinner invite, you might tell someone you’ll “take a rain check.” This charming Americanism also comes from baseball. If a game was rained out, ticket holders were given a ticket — or rain check — for a future game.
Many English-speakers look forward to taking a holiday from work. Americans, however, are all about booking a vacation, or even more colloquially, a vacay. In America, holidays are typically reserved for talking about the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Jumped the Shark
This fishy phrase hails back to the 1970s, when the Fonz literally jumped over a shark during an episode of the comedy show Happy Days. Fans declared this scene as the official moment when Happy Days had run out of fresh, creative, and believable ideas. But the phrase stuck, and it’s still used to describe anything that undergoes a rapid and steep decline in quality.
While this slang word for “man” or “guy” is now most closely associated with SoCal surfer types, its origins date back to the 19th century, when posh East Coasters trekked out West for a cattle ranch vacation. It’s been picked up somewhat by other English speakers, but “dude” still has a truly American vibe.
The best seat in the car is shotgun — AKA the front passenger’s seat. The term was inspired by America’s Wild West stagecoach days. If you ever see a group sprinting across the parking lot while yelling “shotgun,” chances are they’re just trying to lay claim to this coveted spot.