Sunday, October 16, 2011

Splitting Hairs

When you move across The Pond your mind starts playing tricks on you after a while. Some well-worn phrases are so similar that you can’t remember which one’s which. While it’s “no biggie”, use of the wrong phrase can raise a wry smile from friends and family members, and make for great conversation.

For example,

In the US you  “putter around” and in the UK it’s “potter”; the American “meat and potatoes” becomes Britain’s “meat and two veg”; and “Main Street” is “High Street”.  So far so good, but it’s a bugger trying to keep them straight after more than a decade or two.

There’s the American “downtown” which becomes the “town centre”, “talk shows” are “chat shows” in the UK, and “business casual” becomes “smart casual” (or “casual smart” in some cases). Did you know it’s “hodge podge” in the States and “hotch potch” in Britain? Or “tid-bit” instead of the more risqué British “tit-bit”?

Some are not only hard to keep sorted, but bloody irritating at the same time, like the US’s “Every little bit helps” versus Britain’s  “Every little helps”.

To quote Mike - “This one drives me nuts.  There is an advert on the telly -- Tesco, ASDA, LIDL or one of the other low-budget shops--that ends "every little helps" and I want to scream at the TV--"Every little WHAT helps?"

Toni’s pet peeve is “I could care less” which is oft-heard in the States. Do Americans realise what they’re saying? They’re trying to convey a deep sense of well, not caring, yet they’re telling you they could actually care a little bit less than they do?  There is a suggestion that it’s a highly sarcastic phrase meaning "as if I could care less about this", but since Americans generally don’t employ sarcasm, it’s doubtful.

And the worst thing about it is...well, David Mitchell says it so much better than we could:


  1. That phrase ("I could care less") bugs the bejabbers out of me, as well, and I'm American.

  2. is it bad that when I hear the phrase "meat and two veg" my mind goes straight into the gutter? teehee!

  3. To quote Mike - “This one drives me nuts. There is an advert on the telly -- Tesco, ASDA, LIDL or one of the other low-budget shops--that ends "every little helps" and I want to scream at the TV--"Every little WHAT helps?"

    Tee hee. I think Tesco would be mortified to hear themselves described in the same bracket as LIDL! Clearly spending millions on those Jane Horrocks/Prunella Scales ads hasn't helped at all.....

  4. I love David Mitchell. He is so intense!

    Perhaps people should change *I couldn't care less* to *I don't give a damn*! That is a popular phrase in England and the more refined say *I don't give a jot*. What does it mean literally?
    It really means *I couldn't care less*!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  5. Or there's "I don't give a stuff", or " I don't give tuppence", or "I don't give a sh**" or even "I don't give a f***".

    Take your pick!

  6. @nappyvalley Yes, that's the irony of those commercials (adverts); "every little helps" is the only thing I remember about them. I thought it might have been Tesco, but I wasn't sure. I just knew it wasn't Marks and Spencer or Waitrose.

  7. Then there's "I can't imagine" versus "I can only imagine". Can't remember which way round that one goes. Or perhaps it's not a tidy divide between the two.

    And is tenterhooks vs tenderhooks a US/UK thing too? Or a regional UK thing?

    I get Mike's point. After a while, it's hard to keep things straight in their categories!

  8. Haha. I am confusing German and English catch phrases and sayings at the moment . Very much to the amusement of my husband. Whatever makes 'im 'appy!


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