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British vs. American Parenting Terms: Who Does It Better?

Photograph by Andrea Wada Davies

When I met my husband, I just knew he was the one. He was smart, kind, interesting and funny. And let’s be honest, the British accent didn’t hurt: It helped get my attention, especially when he would say things like, “You look so lovely,” or “I’m so chuffed to see you this weekend!” Yep, he hit me with that British charm.

And here we are, nearly five years later, happily married and parenting my 14-year-old son and our 3-year-old daughter. In our time together, I’ve learned and even adopted many of the common British terms he uses, and he in turn, has (gasp!) switched to using some American terms (“elevator” instead of “lift”).

But little did we know that having a baby together would require each of us to learn a whole new vocabulary of parenting terms, too. Here are 27 parenting terms that are referred to differently by the Brits and Americans.

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1. Mom vs. Mum

In my house, I am both “mom” and “mum,” and I usually respond to either. I’ve gotten used to "mum" as it doesn’t sound all too different from our version. I don’t, however, usually respond to “mummy,” unless I’m wrapped in tattered white fabric and staggering around with my arms stretched out in front of me on Halloween.

2. Cot vs. Crib

He says "cot," I say "crib." "Cot" makes me think of camping. But, at the same time, "crib" makes me think of a phat house featured on MTV.

3. Stroller vs. Push Chair

Having a British husband, I am aware that Americans are ridiculed for using such literal terms (i.e., waste paper basket, sidewalk). But here, the tables have turned, haven’t they?

I like to reserve “shots” for a different type of medicine, the “mommy’s had a rough day” medicine.

4. Pacifier vs. Dummy

We Americans say “pacifier” because that is in fact what they are used for: to pacify the baby. Brits use the term "dummy," I’m assuming because DUH, it’s just the nipple. It’s not really a full bottle, dummy.

5. Potty vs. Loo

I’ve always hated the term "potty." It’s such a cutesy term for an uncutesy activity. The only way this term would be OK is if your kid pooped out a furry cute little puppy. And that’s not what happens. There is nothing cute about poo. "Loo," however, rhymes with "poo," so it seems like the better term to use, even though it otherwise makes no sense to me. Is it short for something? My husband doesn’t know.

6. Pee vs. Wee

We say "pee." They say "wee." This is just a matter of preference. However, the British term does seem more enthusiastic! WEEEEE!

7. Costume vs. Fancy Dress

The first time my son and I heard my husband refer to costumes as "fancy dress," we nearly peed (or weed?) our pants from laughing. This is one of those “only the Brits can get away with saying this” terms. The term itself is too fancy for its own good.

8. Throw Up vs. Being Sick

The difference here is that the literal American term conjures images of the not-so-cute deed of throwing up. "Being sick” doesn’t evoke such imagery. It does sound so much more polite.

9. Biscuits vs. Cookies

"Biscuits" just sounds healthier (and not as yummy—i.e., dog biscuits), plain and simple.

10. Math vs. Maths

This is one that neither my husband and I will budge on. “It’s just one subject, and ‘mathematics’ is a mass noun, so it should be singular: 'math'!” “No, the whole term, ‘mathematics’ ends in an ‘s’ so it should be ‘maths’!” It’s weird how just making the word plural makes a familiar term sound so awkward. And vice versa for my hubs. We let this one lie. No one’s gonna win here.

11. Diaper vs. Nappy

I still say "diaper," even though I want to say "nappy." I’ve said it before, but I felt like a poser.

12. Shots vs. Injections

I’m OK with adopting the British term for vaccinations. I like to reserve “shots” for a different type of medicine—the “mommy’s had a rough day” kind of medicine.

13. Baby Showers vs. ---

Brits don’t do baby showers. Nope, no “guess the candy bar poop” or three-tiered nappy cakes for them.

14. Rucksack vs. Backpack

I don’t know what a ruck is, but here we go again with our literalness.

15. Onesies vs. Babygros

I don’t think either of these terms really knock it out of the park here. I get why they’re called "onesies," but again, why the cute-ification? And "babygros" just looks like "baby gross," which is sometimes true, but not so endearing.

16. Spit-up vs. Posset

This is the only term on this list where the British version sounds grosser than the American term. Just say “posset” out loud to yourself. It’s not cute.

17. Sneakers vs. Trainers

Where did the term "sneakers" even come from? And when do you ever need special shoes for sneaking. You do however, need trainers for “training.” This one goes to the Brits, IMO.

18. Sweater vs. Jumper

Do we put our daughter in a sweater or a jumper? For me, the term "jumper" means a cute little pinafore dress or shorts. But to Brits, it means a sweater.

19. Exhausted vs. Knackered

We’re both. We’re exhausted, knackered and any other word that describes the feeling of being hit by the truck that is shaped like a really active 3-year-old who won’t sleep in her own bed.

20. Pajamas vs. Pyjamas

It’s just the spelling, sure. But this difference is major!

21. Ashes, Ashes vs. A Tissue, A Tissue

The first time we sang "Ring a Round the Rosie" with our daughter, I was dumbfounded to hear my husband excitedly recite “a tissue, a tissue, we all fall down!” Those aren’t the words! It’s "ASHES, ASHES, we all fall down." And then we got into this dark discussion about how our respective versions of the popular children’s rhyme better illustrated the effects of the Black Plague. I think it was then when my daughter started to cry.

22. Z vs. Zed

Why does their version of the letter Z have two more letters attached to it? How is that a letter and not a whole word? I don’t get this one at all.

23. Hershey's vs. Cadbury

As we all know, a chocolate stash is mandatory in parenting. At our house, I stash Hershey’s and my husband (who scoffs at my preference for the lesser chocolate) stashes Cadbury.

24. Coffee vs. Tea

What does this have to do with parenting? Everything. I must have my coffee to sufficiently parent. And likewise, my husband must have his tea.

25. Cute vs. Sweet

Americans like to use the term “cute” to describe something that’s, well, cute. Brits tend to use the term “sweet,” as in “endearing.” Not as in, “SAWEEEEET!”

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26. Undies vs. Pants

I think we can both agree on the term "underpants." But then, it’s like Americans took to the first half of the word, and the Brits claimed the second half of the word to regularly describe what we mostly refer to as underwear. This one has actually proved to be totally confusing to my daughter who is always like, “Which pants—the under or the over?”

27. Pants vs. Trousers

Here is that sneaky pants confusion again. I say "pants." He says "trousers." It doesn’t matter really because, whatever they’re called, my daughter still doesn’t like to wear them.

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