50 Americanisms That Don't Make Sense To Foreigners

"Pocketbook! How on earth is a handbag called that? It’s not a book, nor does it fit into a pocket.”
Many non-native English speakers and English speakers from outside the U.S. find certain Americanisms confusing.
Many non-native English speakers and English speakers from outside the U.S. find certain Americanisms confusing.
Dmitry Ageev via Getty Images

The English language is a complicated beast. Often, it makes no sense at all to non-native speakers. And even those who grew up speaking English find it confusing when they hear the way Americans use the language.

We asked HuffPost Facebook followers from outside the U.S. if there are any words or phrases Americans use that don’t make sense to them as non-native English speakers or as native English speakers from elsewhere in the world.

We’ve rounded up some of their most interesting answers below. While some of these words, phrases or language customs may not be exclusive to the U.S., Americans have certainly made an impression with them.

1. “When I first moved here from Russia, I used to think the expression ‘it’s a piece of cake’ was extraordinarily confusing.” ― Anastasia Grady

2. “Working the graveyard shift.’ A friend told me once that her husband was doing that and I thought he got a job at the cemetery. Makes zero sense to me!” ― Josiane Rocha

3. “A vast majority of Americans I’ve met say ‘I could care less’ to mean they don’t care. This makes no sense. In order to achieve the intended meaning, it should be ‘I couldn’t care less.’” ― Georgie Kempton

4.“‘Flammable’ and ‘inflammable’ used like they mean the same thing.” ― Margarita Durán

5. “When you pronounce the ‘h’ in ‘house’ and ‘herd’ but not herbs. Explain yourselves, America!” ― Becca Sophie

6. “‘That’s sick, man.’ It took me long to make my peace with this phrase. I mean referring to something great as being sick is just weird! I am not sure if this is limited to America anymore, but I reckon the origin is American.” ― Vitasta Ghosh

7. “Pocketbook! How on earth is a handbag called that? It’s not a book, nor does it fit into a pocket.” ― Angela Miller

8. “When you refer to ‘fanny packs.’ Here in the U.K. fanny literally means vagina. I found that hilarious and struggled to keep a straight face whenever any of my American colleagues used the word fanny.” ― Sonia Atkins

9. “‘Bi-weekly’ for every two weeks. In Australia/U.K. we stay fortnightly. Bi-weekly would mean twice a week, like bi-annually. But this may just be the American friends I’ve met overseas, not all?” ― Yasmin Gillard

10. “When I’m on a plane run by an American airline and they say ‘the plane will be taking off momentarily.’ As a British person that means for a brief period of time i.e., only for a moment! (A scary concept!) but in the U.S. it means ‘soon’!” ― Helen Williamson

11. “Math! It’s not just one calculation ― it’s mathS! As in mathematicS!” ― Rhonda McDougall

12. “Even though I know what it means, taking rain check still makes absolutely no sense to me.” ― Schirin Jungclaus

13. “Jelly is ‘jam’ to us. In the U.K., ‘jelly’ is a wobbly dessert.” ― Vicky Bluff

14. “Hitting everything i.e., ‘hit the gas’/‘hit the light’/‘hit the button.’” ― Eliza Connolly

15. “When people say ‘Yeah nope.’” ― Leah Gillen

16. “I told my British wife once to get that ‘shit-eating grin’ off her face. She asked me why on earth she would be grinning if she’d just eaten shit. Made me question my whole life lol.” ― TJ Richards

17. “Tennis shoes ... for everything but tennis!” ― Michelle Morant

18. “Restroom! Are you really resting?” ― Liz Carr

19. “When you say to table something you mean to shelve it. When I say to table something I mean to put it on the table for discussion i.e., put it on the agenda.” ― Mary Shirley

20. “Sidewalk. It’s a pavement.” ― Susan Power

21. “Horseback riding. Where else would you sit?” ― Jaclyn Currie

22. “Chai tea. According to Hindi language chai means tea. So basically you are saying Tea Tea which is stupid. Basically one should say milk tea with sugar instead of chai tea.” ― Debagiti Bhattacharya

23. “Entree means beginning, not main course!!” ― Mary Black

24. “‘I cannot put my finger on it.’ It took me a few months to know the meaning of it.” ― Sandra Davis-De Avila

25. “Being greeted with ‘hi, how are you?’ when you enter a shop and then getting funny looks when you give a polite answer. Took me a while to figure out that they just mean ‘hi.’” ― Nynke Bottinga

26. “Chips! They are crisps damn it! Chips are hot chunky oblongs of fried (or oven cooked) potatoes with plenty of salt and vinegar in England.” ― Lorien Heasman

27. “Fall! The correct term is autumn.” ― Rhonda McDougall

28. “Counterclockwise? We Brits say anticlockwise. Sounds like a battle.” ― Gypsy Al

29. “Fixin’ to.” ― Natalie Wall

30. “Saying the date backwards drives me up the wall. Very confusing until after 12th of the month.” ― Robin Amos

31. “Gas does not go in a car. We put petrol in a car.” ― Vicky Bluff

32 “I don’t know why, when Americans are making a statement some feel the need to say ‘period’ at the end of that statement. It sometimes makes their statement have less of an impact, where it seems to be intended to make more of one.” ― Stacy Stacy

33. “‘Write me.’ No. You’re going to ‘write TO me.’” ― Gemma Munro

34. “Faucet ― we call it a tap.” ― Andrea Gladwin

35. “Calling a koala a ‘koala bear,’ it’s a marsupial not a bear.” ― Tiffany Schäfer-Howley

36. “‘Can I get a coffee/milkshake/etc’ when ordering. No, you can’t go and get it; you can have it.” ― Kate Slaney

37. “Candy. We call it lollies/chocolate in Australia.” ― Lisa Payne

38. “For me it’s ‘leader of the free world’ (applied to U.S. presidents). What? Why? He/she is the leader of ONE country of the free world, right?” ― Ana Leitão

39. “Purse is a small thing for holding money and cards. It goes into a handbag.” ― Vicky Bluff

40. “Using ‘turtle’ when you mean tortoises, then arguing all testudines are called turtles.” ― Laura Pyrah

41. “Trunk. We call it the boot.” ― Jillmaree Mitchell

42. “We don’t call it the hood of the car. It’s a bonnet!” ― Rosie Lewis

43. “Yard when you mean garden. Someone said I had a nice yard when seeing a photo of my garden on Facebook. A yard is just dirt, bricks, concrete or stone flags.” ― Jean Reddy

44. “Check mark. It’s a tick.” ― Vicky Bluff

45. “It’s amazing for a Spaniard how you create verbs. ‘I OK’d your proposal this morning’ or in On The Road, “She whored a few dollars together.” ― Ángel Martínez Castro

46. “Fags. That means cigarettes.” ― Dianne Cowan

47. “I always found the phrase ‘Don’t be a stranger’ confusing. The first time a classmate told me that, I replied ‘What do you mean? I can’t help it if I’m a foreigner.’” ― Mathilde Titi Ehrhard

48. “Biscuits. These are what you would call cookies. Your biscuits are scones.” ― Vicky Bluff

49. “Pants. In England they are underwear not trousers.” ― Rosie Lewis

50. “Silverware! what the heck? When most of the time it is plastic? It’s cutlery!” ― Claire Hunt

Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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