American English vs British English – Baby Edition

American English vs British English

When I lived in Japan I expected to have difficulty communicating. I don’t really speak Japanese and most Japanese don’t really speak English (or Dutch). It was quite a relief, when we moved to the States, to be able to comfortably communicate with everyone. Now that we live in England we are of course able to communicate with the English, but surprisingly not nearly as smoothly as with the Americans. The Dutch education system teaches us British English, but I consciously taught myself American English a very long time ago and have been speaking that ever since. Of course, I knew they pronounce and spell things differently here, but I did not expect so many words to have a different meaning in England than they have in the States.

I am about to be a mom [mum in British English] and I am having an especially hard time trying to understand baby-related things lately. People keep telling me what baby items to stock up on, yet I don’t understand what they are talking about. Apparently, each baby needs a certain number of ‘babygrows’ and ‘vests’. Yet, I never heard of babygrows before and wondered what on earth a baby need any vest for? Then when I confusedly respond that I already got the baby a bunch of onesies, the English look at me confused. Total miscommunication.

Apparently, to them onesies are weird adult jumpsuit pajamas that are very popular here for some reason. But to me it means the quintessential infant garment that looks like an elongated T-shirt with enveloped shoulders and closes over the crotch with snaps. The snaps give easy access to the diaper [nappy in British English] when baby needs changing, and if baby has messed up the onesie a tad too much, the enveloped shoulders enable you to roll the garment down over baby’s shoulders instead of having to pull it (and the mess) up over baby’s face. After some research online, I found out that the English call this a ‘vest’. So they weren’t suggesting I should get my baby that sleeveless garment that makes the third piece to a formal three-piece suit: a vest [waistcoat in British English]. And as far as I can figure out from online shops in the UK, a ‘babygrow’ is long-sleeved, footed, one-piece baby bodysuit. Alright then, that makes more sense.

This is not the only baby-related confusion I’ve had over the last few months when talking to the English about baby preparations in my American English. The English keep correcting me when I talk about the baby a travel system consisting of a baby carriage [pram or carrycot in British English], a stroller [push chair or buggy in British English], and an infant car seat. We also got the baby a bassinet [Moses basket in British English] and a crib [cot bed in British English], but we’re still deciding on whether or not to get him pacifiers [dummies in British English]. Yep, all different terms. I’ve also been advised to get plenty of ‘flannels’ and ‘muslins’ [wash and burp cloths in American English] to clean up ‘sick’ [vomit in American English].

Last Monday we had our first regular parenting class arranged by the National Health Service (NHS) and Yasu asked me why they’re called ‘anti-natal’ classes. I’m sure that confused him as it sounds pretty negative, I had to explain that ‘antenatal’ is British English for prenatal. Next Monday, we’ll have another class and we’ll learn all about the menu of pain medication the hospital provides during delivery (no thanks) and Caesarean sections. I learned from my Maternity Ward tour that if one needs a C-section in England they should expect to be wheeled to a theater?! Yes, an operating room is called an ‘operating theatre’ here. I guess that makes it sounds less scary or there will be an audience cheering you on? In any case, I hope not to end up there.

Then after the baby is here it can get confusing too. I was given advice on what to do what happens if the baby gets wobbly?! I was thinking about when he starts to walk and he isn’t stable on his feet yet, but no they meant when baby throws a tantrum. When I talk about the nursery I mean the baby’s bedroom, but when the English talk about nurseries they mean daycare/child care and preschool. You know, where parents send their children during work hours before they attend compulsory education. And even more surprising to me, Kindergarten does not seem to refer to the first one or two years of compulsory education at elementary school [primary school or junior school in British English] in England and several other European countries (Netherlands not included). Although hardly used here, when the term Kindergarten is used they seem to be talking about non-compulsory preschool or daycare [nursery in British English] again.

These are just a few examples that have come up recently, I have loads more American vs British English anecdotes from the last 1.5 years. Stay tuned ;).

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17 thoughts on “American English vs British English – Baby Edition

  1. Yeah, those difference can make life hard. Then imagine also what other languages do by reusing English terms. Onesies are in German “Bodies”…and so on, it is rather confusing for me who is used to British English and American English and now have to deal with those terrible terms wrongly in German..

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  2. British versus American English. That really is very hard. Not only do you pronounce things with different accents, there are different words for things too as you pointed out. It’s funny, onesies is a term that has seemingly become popular in the last few years, and people don’t really associate with baby clothing :)

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    • Most of my friends are Americans, especially those with babies. Did a lot of babysitting for friends in the States over the last years. And these last 8 months I have been doing almost all my online baby research on American websites and American pregnancy apps. So I have only been around people who do currently still very much associate the word onesie with the baby garment. I had no idea about the British baby garment terms until a few weeks ago. So you mean that in Australia the word onesie used to mean the baby garment as well and now means something different? What has it become popular for in the last few years in Australia? Perhaps also the onepiece adult pajamas. They’re silly I think, especially the superhero and animal versions but people wear them here sometimes even on the street!

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      • Onesie is usually referred the onepiece adult pajamas, ever since article of clothing became popular. I’m not a huge fan of them. For a costume party, it’s okay, but for everyday wear even at home, no thank you. A newsagent not far from where I live in the city sells adult onesies – hanging by the window for all to see.

        Baby onepieces in Australia are just called that – onepiece. They’ve always been called that :)

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  3. I somewhat get you on that. In South Africa, people for the most part use British English. Obviously due to tons of exposure to the US, I’ve developed a knack of using mostly the American style. Antenatal sounds sooo… weird :p I’ve never heard that one before!

    It’s interesting how even the English dialects are so different!

    Funnily enough, my boyfriend sometimes incorporates direct Chinese translations whilst speaking English which can cause even more confusion. I can’t think of a really good example, but he’ll say ‘babe, can you open the light?’ instead of ‘babe, can you turn the light on?’ :O

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    • Yes that happens with my husband too! He sometimes translates straight from Japanese and their verbs don’t always make sense in English in the same situation. Ah well, it keeps things interesting doesn’t it?!

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  4. WOW This was so eye opening!!! There’s almost a different term for every baby item ever! I can’t believe pacifiers are called dummies that sounds so bizarre.

    As an American, this post really was a shocker to me. I knew words were different over there, but I guess when it comes to babies it’s almost relearning an entire set of vocabulary!

    Best of luck to you!

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    • It is crazy sometimes how different the language is. Not just with baby things. I will have to write another post soon about the miscommunications I have had here simply because regular words mean other things. It can lead to funny and even embarrassing situations.

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