American/British idiom

We have talked on this forum many times about the differences and similarities between American and British English. Sometimes this has become heated and sometimes it has been a case of give and take.

I have been prompted to raise the matter again because I have just listened to some remarks made by a former senior executive of an oil company who lived in London for 8 years and is an American. He was answering a question about the reaction to Britain by Americans over the recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. His advice would have been for BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward not to have been so involved in publicity statements concerning the disaster but that he should have left it to an American colleague to have handled this. He maintains that the very idiom used by Hayward as a British English speaker causes greater anger among people who are suffering the consequences of the oil spillage and results in a general anti British sentiment although from Hayward’s point of view, he is merely speaking the way he always has done.

This is where differences in idiom rather than differences in language can cause major problems that far outweigh the petty squabbling about how you pronounce the word tomato or the differences in meaning between stupid and dumb.


Hi Alan,
And what was the idiom that he used that sparked the anger?

I wonder as well what is the idiom? In my view English idioms are extremely interesting. I wish our phraseology were as developed as English.


When I say ‘idiom’ I’m not really referring to particular idioms. I’m talking about the style in which someone writes and speaks. For example a British English person could say something which might seem to that speaker perfectly normal and serious but it might sound casual to an American ear. We both speak the same language but there is sometimes a world of difference in which one or other might say. I understand that Tony Hayward might come across as casual in his approach but that is quite different from the seriousness with which he is trying to solve the problem of the spillage.


Hi All!

Aha! I got it. But still I doubt it

If I am not mistaken, it looks like as a perfect English idiom example from my previous post Welcome to My Country when I said that ‘Bule’ means the White.
Fairygirl replied that “blue” has always been known for her as an expression of Blacks not Whites!

Tom came next with his feedback, “Fairygirl, she wrote “bule” not “blue”. In my native “bule” means a recipient used to heat water in the fire.”
Then, Fairygirl answered, “I just see bule as blue, yes, it’s my problem to be blind lol.”

Tom continued, “You’re not blind! Mistakes always happen. Don’t be ashamed.”
I said, “It might be, what she, Fairygirl meant was just ‘misread’ instead of ‘blind’.”
Last but not least, Fairygirl said, “Yes you are right, " misread” is more suitable here and formal as well. The word “blind” which I used, I said it and it was the best word (in my culture) to interpret the situation, when someone like me has the passage before him and read it mistakenly like that, all I want to say that “blind” is an extravagated word to express it!"

Is this where differences in idiom rather than differences in language Mr. Alan? Did I get it correct as an English idiom? What do you mean by how you pronounce the word ‘tomato’ Mr. Alan? Would you pronounce it differently to get a different meaning? A friend of mine, a native speaker said, “You can count on me, I will be in the front row with tomatoes.” He meant that he encouraged us. We should make our best performance, and it didn’t exactly mean he would throw a tomato as American did it at Sarah Palin for dislike expression.

Dear All, please advice as necessary. Many thanks.

Hello Alan,

Your post concerning this matter is, as always, both interesting and informative. I never knew that you could define “using an idiom” as speaking or writing in a certain style until you’ve made this point.

However, I still don’t understand the definition of “minor” itself in American English. The latest report estimates that 20000 to 40000 barrels of crude oil pollute the sorrounding waters. Perhaps what angers Mr Hayward’s listeners is this particular statement?