American Words I Picked up in the US and Scottish Equivalent

USA News

Initially, I didn’t know how to respond when my US friends greeted me by saying: “What’s up?”

Mikhaila in the US

Mikhaila and her friends at Millersville.

Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Growing up, I heard the phrase “what’s up” said by characters in American TV shows and movies.

But when it was said to me in real life, I realized I didn’t know how to accurately respond because I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be taken literally or not. Was it the same as saying “hey,” or “how are you doing?” My American friends later told me it was both. 

Looking back, I suppose it’s the same thing as a Scottish person saying: “You alright?” which is a common way to greet someone and simultaneously ask how they are.

Similarly, “y’all” is something we don’t say in the UK.

mikhaila US thumb

Mikhaila Friel spent four months living in the US in 2016.

Mikhaila Friel/Insider

The word “y’all” — an abbreviation of “you all” — is most commonly used by those in southern states. And while many people consider it to have originated in the south, some of the earliest uses of the word can be traced back to literary works published in the 17th century in London, according to Atlas Obscura’s David Parker.

The Scottish equivalent of this would be the word “youse,” a plural form of “you,” which is most commonly used in my home city of Glasgow, according to The Scotsman.

“Yinz” is similar to a common term used in Scotland.

The Pittsburgh skyline

The Pittsburgh skyline.

Steven Adams/Getty Images

Similarly, “yinz” is a term meaning “you all” which originated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh City Paper. I was surprised when a friend of mine first told me about the phrase, because it sounds similar to “wee yin,” a term used in Scotland to describe a child or a small person.

I started to say “garbage” or “trash” instead of “rubbish.”

A stock image of a garbage bag

A stock image of a garbage bag.

Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Thanks to American TV, most British people are aware of terms such as “garbage bag” and “trash can” to describe what we would refer to as “rubbish” or a “rubbish bin.” Nonetheless, my family made fun of me when I automatically started using the US terms after four months of living there.

I asked my friends for “a ride” instead of “a lift,” which is what I would usually say at home.

mean girls

A still from the movie “Mean Girls.”

Paramount Pictures

In the US, asking someone for “a ride” is a common way that people ask to be driven somewhere as a favor. But in Scotland and most of the UK, we would be most likely to ask somebody for “a lift” instead.

The word “lift” has several meanings in the UK, as it’s also another word for an elevator.

In the UK, nobody refers to their university as “college.”

Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Victoria Pappas/Millersville University of Pennsylvania

While in the US, I found it surprising that people referred to their university as “college.” In the UK, we refer to it as university or “uni” for short. We also have colleges, however, these types of higher-education institutions don’t usually offer degrees like universities do.

I knew what a freshman was, but it took me a while to learn the terms used to describe the other year groups in schools and universities.

College graduates tossing their caps

A stock image of graduating students.

Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

In England, most people study in university for three years, and in Scotland, it’s four years. Someone who’s in their first year of university is often referred to as a “fresher,” which is similar to the US term, “freshman.” But other than that, we don’t have any official terms to describe the different year groups other than “second year,” “third year,” and so on. 

It took me a while to learn the difference between a junior and a sophomore while in the US, but I figured it out eventually. 

I learned many slang words that aren’t used in Scotland, such as “trifling.”

I was near the end of my time in the US when a friend taught me the slang term “trifling,” which has a couple of different meanings. It’s often used to describe someone who is cheating, lazy, or false, according to NPR.

It was used by former President Barack Obama in his 1995 book, “Dreams From My Father,” and by Destiny’s Child in the 1999 song “Bills, Bills, Bills,” NPR reports. Even though it’s pretty mainstream in the US, I had never heard or noticed the phrase before while in Scotland.

We have different words for clothing items in the UK, and I had to remind myself to use the word “pants” instead of “trousers” in the US.

Curvy Stovepipe Jeans

A stock image of jeans.


In the UK, pants are called “trousers,” and underwear is known as “pants.” These weren’t the only clothing terms I had to get used to.

For example, in the UK we don’t use the term “sweater,” as we say “jumper.” And we also say “trainers” instead of “sneakers.”

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