Top 10 Things Americans Say That the Rest of the World Doesn't
VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild
WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
You know you're in America if you hear one or all of these sayings! For this list, we'll be going over some of the idioms and turns of phrase unique to the United States of America. Our countdown includes John Hancock, Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties, Appetizer, and more!
Top 10 Things Americans Say That the Rest of the World Doesn’t
Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 things Americans say that the rest of the world doesn’t.
For this list, we’ll be going over some of the idioms and turns of phrase unique to the United States of America.
If there’s an Americanism we failed to mention, don’t have a cow! Tell us in the comments!
#10: John Hancock
When visitors to the U.S.A. get asked for their “John Hancock” at a bank or during a business deal, chances are they’ll look at the questioner sideways. Although it sounds like a euphemism or proposition, it’s another term for one’s signature, as well as a reference to an American historical figure. John Hancock was one of America’s founding fathers, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. While everyone else signed their names to it normally, John Hancock’s signature was so extravagant, yet legible, that his name has become synonymous with signatures in America.
When most of the world’s English speakers want to say they’re attending post-high school secondary education, they’ll say they’re attending university. Although Americans do have universities too, and will sometimes use the term to refer to a specific institution, the general term for higher education tends to be “college” instead. This is often inverted elsewhere, though there are exceptions to both cases, depending on the speaker, the region, and so on. But chances are, if someone says that they or someone they know is “in college,” it’s an American saying it.
#8: Plead the Fifth
Foreign fans of American courtroom procedurals and legal dramas may wonder what this phrase is all about. It refers to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which explains why the rest of the world doesn’t get it. The Amendment states that while giving testimony in court, someone can abstain from doing so if it could cause them to incriminate themselves of a crime. It’s a bit of a catch-22, since pleading the fifth is sometimes seen as an admission of guilt, rather than a way to avoid revealing it. For this reason, it’s often used in conversation to admit blame without going into specifics.
#7: Ride Shotgun
When piling into a car or other vehicle, Americans often refer to riding in the passenger seat as “riding shotgun.” They even make a game out of calling out “shotgun!” to determine who gets to sit there. While the idea certainly conjures the image of someone holding a weapon in the car, the expression predates the automobile. Like many bits of Americana, this idiom has its roots in the Wild West. Stagecoaches were often robbed in-transit, and so one of the people riding up front would carry a weapon, frequently a shotgun, for protection. The roads are safer these days, but the expression stuck.
#6: Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties
The English-speaking world has a surprisingly wide variety of names for pre-wedding parties, usually divided by gender. There are stag nights, hen nights, and buck nights. And these are sometimes called parties or weekends, depending on how long the festivities last. However, it’s only in the United States….well, and parts of Canada, that people refer to these celebrations as bachelor or bachelorette parties. Regardless of what you call them though, these parties can range from tame to infamously wild. The idea is to have one last hurrah before marriage, when you’re still “technically” a bachelor or bachelorette. Depending on how crazy the party gets, you may stay one.
#5: Grade Level Names
Throughout much of the world, each year of education is referred to by year – for example “Year 7”. But education in the United States, beginning in high school, has specific names for each year of both secondary school and university. Freshman year is year 1, Sophomore is year 2, Junior is year 3, and Senior is the final year. The students in those years are also referred to by these names, although high schoolers are sometimes called 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders too. Before you go blaming Americans for being confusing, you should know that the terminology originated in England at Cambridge and was spread to the U.S. by Harvard benefactor John Harvard.
Multi-course meals have a lot of terminology for what each part of the meal is called, often derived from French cuisine. Small dishes served before the main course are referred to throughout most of the world as entrées, starters, or sometimes hors d’oeuvres. It’s only in America, and again, some parts of Canada, that these mini meals are called appetizers – probably because they serve to whet the appetite before the meal gets started in earnest. More confusing is the fact that Americans refer to the main dish as the entrée. So if you’re expecting little finger food for your entrée, prepare for a surprise!
#3: Ground Floor = First Floor
Europeans visiting the U.S., or, again, Canada, may find themselves confused when getting directions about which floor to visit. North Americans frequently use the terms “ground floor” and “first floor” interchangeably. This can cause some confusion for visitors when trying to find the right floors in elevators. Much of the world refers to the first floor above ground level as the first floor, or story, essentially treating the ground floor as “floor zero.” Although some American buildings will keep an international naming format, the majority don’t, so make sure you’re keeping the correct count.
#2: Sneakers/Tennis Shoes
The world has a plethora of words for athletic footwear. The U.K., Canada, and some other English-speaking countries call them trainers, runners, running shoes, or sometimes basketball shoes. There’s plenty more too. The United States, meanwhile, tends to refer to these specialized shoes as either sneakers, a term more popular on the East Coast, or else tennis shoes, or even tennies. Again, there are a ton of variations or alternatives, but these labels are most common in the U.S.A. compared to elsewhere. This is another instance where Americans can thank Britain, at least for the term “tennis shoes,” as British aristocrats wore the rubber soled footwear to play their favorite sport.
To most human beings, the sport where you hit the ball with your foot is, naturally, referred to as “football.” However, the British came up with the name soccer as a nickname for “association football” to differentiate it from “rugby football.” When the sports crossed the pond, Americans developed their own spin on rugby called gridiron football, which they just kept calling football. The name soccer stuck too, since, of the two, gridiron was far more popular. “Soccer” is also used in other countries with their own spins on rugby football, such as Australia and Canada. We do understand why people are frustrated about American football’s name though – only a few players even touch the ball with their feet!