19 March 2019

‘Brenglish’ – 5 very British English words

new york

The English language is spoken as a primary language in many nations but there are certain words that are so British that they will mean something else entirely to British English speakers.

To demonstrate, here are 5 words that are commonly used by British English speakers but would never be used by American English speakers.

1. ‘Keen’, as in: We are keen to explore your ideas further.

A UK business negotiations must-have… but an American-English “can’t-have”! Unless, of course, you’re trying to sound British. I admire how the word “keen” conveys a high level of interest with a low level of commitment. The American alternatives – “excited,” “eager” or even “interested” – can seem charged with emotional investment which might not be intended.

2. ‘Cheers’, as in: Could you please print off an extra copy for me? Cheers.

Using this light, casual word in place of “thanks” is a great way to conserve emotional energy and save that deep heartfelt gratitude for the big stuff. But in the US, “cheers” is only used when proposing a toast or when – yep you guessed it – trying to sound British. This is why, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I usually respond with a full blown “thanks” if anyone so much as holds the door for me.

3. ‘Reckon’, as in: I reckon the whole project will take about two weeks.

The sentence above shows how “reckon” is commonly used in offices in the UK. But until I came to London I had only heard this word used in historical novels and films set in the Deep South or the American Frontier. For this reason, whenever I hear how long someone reckons this project will take, I just feel like I’m floating down the Mississippi on a makeshift raft, without a care in the world.

4. ‘Fancy’, as in: Anyone fancy a cup of tea?

Without going into the full range of uses for “fancy”, I wish I could bring myself to use this beautifully subtle way of saying what you want – or don’t want. Like keen, it suggests interest or enthusiasm without committing to outright desire. When used negatively it can be very helpful for making expressions of dislike less harsh. For example, “That’s looks like a nice restaurant, I just don’t fancy their menu”.

5. ‘Shall’, as in: “Shall we start the meeting?”

Rarely used in American dialogue, this auxiliary verb has connotations of nobility, Victorian novels, and the Bible. Why do I like it? Because the American English equivalent – “should” – implies an ethical obligation, whereas “shall” merely suggests a possibility without introducing any moral pressure into a situation. In a business context, “shall” comes across as less personal and less domineering.

Using or learning Business English on both sides of the Atlantic will give you firsthand understanding of how important cultural context is to language learning. One common stereotype suggests that Americans are more effusive in the workplace while Britons are more reserved, and it’s interesting that the Brenglish words listed above tend to diffuse intensity whereas the American alternatives are more emotionally charged. It happens that my personality does align with this stereotype, which may be why I wrote this blog. However, as language, culture and personality evolve together, I still have hope that one day, I’ll be able to speak Brenglish without feeling like I’m trying too hard.

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