British English in British Songs

“You can hear it in my accent when I talk – I’m an Englishman in New York.” 

from “Englishman in New York” by Sting, an English musician

Differences between American English and British English are curious, aren’t they? It’s always a good idea to try to remember what certain words mean in North America and in Britain. Otherwise, one might simply be misunderstood. For instance, in Britain a public school is a private school that provides secondary education which parents have to pay for. But in the United States, Australia and many other countries, a public school is a school that is supported financially by the government and usually provides free education (source). As you can see, “public school” can mean absolutely different kinds of school, and one should remember the difference.

If you are interested in British English, check out “British English in “A Street Cat Named Bob”,” which is about vocabulary used in the famous book. In this post, we’ll look at some British words and expressions used in songs by Welsh, English and Irish artists. Sing along and learn!

Duffy. “Warwick Avenue”

When I get to Warwick Avenue, meet me by the entrance of the tube.

The tube is the underground railway system in London. (Warwick /ˈwɒrɪk/ Avenue is a London Underground station.)

The lyrics are here.

Joss Stone. “Snakes and Ladders”

Going round and round, and up and down,

Feels just like snakes and ladders.

Snakes and ladders is a British children’s game played with a board and dice. When you go up a ladder, you progress quickly. When you go down a snake, you go backwards.

The lyrics are here.

Jesus Jones. “Asleep On the Motorway”

Asleep on the motorway,

There is a world beyond the glare of these lights.

A motorway (American English: freeway) is a major road that has been specially built for fast travel over long distances. Motorways have several lanes and special places where traffic gets on and leaves.

The lyrics are here.

Paul McCartney. “The Other Me”

But something took a hold of me

And I acted like a dustbin lid.

A dustbin (American English: garbage can) is a large container with a lid which people put their rubbish in and which is usually kept outside their house.

The lyrics are here.

Paul McCartney. “Soily”

Soily, soily

The cat in satin trousers said, “It’s oily.”

Trousers (American English: pants) are a piece of clothing that you wear over your body from the waist downwards, and that cover each leg separately.

The lyrics are here.

Beth Orton. “Shopping Trolley”

I’ve been reeling home

A broken shopping trolley.

A shopping trolley (American English: shopping cart) is a large metal basket on wheels which is provided by shops such as supermarkets for customers to use while they are in the shop.

The lyrics are here.

Pink Floyd. “Vegetable Man”

In my paisley shirt I look a jerk,

And my turquoise waistcoat is quite out of sight.

A waistcoat (American English: vest) is a sleeveless piece of clothing with buttons which people usually wear over a shirt.

The lyrics are here.

You Me At Six. “Always Attract”

We’re like noughts and crosses in that

“Opposites attract.”

Noughts /nɔːts/ and crosses (US and Canadian term: tick-tack-toe or (US) crisscross) is a game in which two players, one using a nought, “O”, the other a cross, ” X”, alternately mark one square out of nine formed by two pairs of crossed lines, the winner being the first to get three of his or her symbols in a row.

Nought (British English) = zero (American English)

The lyrics are here.

Fenne Lily. “Car Park”

I wonder if you saw that I was sorry for the beating of my heart

When it woke you in the car park.

A car park (American English: parking lot) is an area or building where people can leave their cars.

The lyrics are here.

Everything Everything. “No Reptiles”

It’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair old enough to run.

A pushchair (American English: stroller) is a small chair on wheels, in which a baby or small child can sit and be wheeled around.

The lyrics are here.

Tom Rosenthal. “I Like It When You’re Gone”

Took your route to the postbox

Even though I’m not convinced it’s the best way.

A postbox (American English: mailbox) is a metal box in a public place, where you put letters and packets to be collected. They are then sorted and delivered.

The lyrics are here.

Sorcha Richardson. “Petrol Station”

We stepped outside

To the old petrol station.

A petrol station (American English: gas station) is a place by the side of the road where petrol is sold and put into vehicles.

Petrol (British English) = gas/gasoline (American English)

The lyrics are here.

Adele. “Chasing Pavements”

Should I give up?

Or should I just keep chasing pavements?

A pavement (American English: sidewalk) is a path with a hard surface, usually by the side of a road.

The lyrics are here.

Do you know what chasing pavements is? Check out “Idioms in Adele’s Songs” for this and other useful expressions.

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