Ask your doctor: US vs. UK vocabulary?

Hi, I’ve just come across the following exercise and I wonder what you make of it. The students are given a list of words which they have to put into two separate columns one of which is labeled as ‘US’ and the other ‘UK’. Since the students are German, the German translation for these words is given too. This is what the solution is supposed to look like and I’m not so sure it’s that clear-cut:

German: Notaufnahme
US: emergency
UK: casualty

German: krank
US: sick
UK: ill

German: Hausarzt
US: family doc
UK: general practioner

German: Arztpraxis
US: doctor’s office
UK: doctor’s surgery

German: Pflaster
US: baind-aid
UK: sticking plaster

My point is this: I don’t think that you can just say that the American translation of ‘krank’ is ‘sick’ while ‘ill’ is British and so on.

What is your take on this exercise?

TOEIC listening, question-response: When will the sale start?[YSaerTTEW443543]

Hi Torsten
I’ve commented in [color=blue]blue on American usage (and also corrected some spelling) in the quote. The British words (usage) that I highlighted in [color=red]red are ones that I think would sound odd to (or the intended meaning might even be misunderstood by) most Americans.

That’s the pair (ill/sick) for which I think the difference is least clear-cut. For that one, I think the difference is mainly frequency of usage.

Assuming you’ve got the British terminology right, I’d say the rest of them are OK – i.e. to me they are real differences.

When there are differences between BE and AmE, the “degree of difference” varies. Differences range from minor differences (i.e. unlikely to result in any misunderstanding) to more significant differences (i.e. ones that tend to result in either misunderstanding or non-comprehension).

I am not attempting to claim that BE and AmE are extremely different. They are far more similar than they are different. Nevertheless, there are differences.

Artzpraxis would probably just be “surgery (n)”.

We British still say “sick”, but we say “ill” more often.

Casualty is correct, so is A&E (accident and emergency).

And for Pflaster we just say Plaster i.e. “Give me a plaster.”

“General practitioner”, yes; but “GP” more often; and “doctor” probably more often than GP.

“Sick” in some formulations, “ill” in others: “I called in sick”, “I was off sick”, “I feel ill” (very unwell), “I feel sick” (about to vomit), a “sick note”, etc.

“Sticking plaster” in metaphorical contexts; but “plaster” is probably more common in requests, etc.


I think I’ve seen elsewhere that in the UK, if I say “I was sick” it means I vomited, correct? “Sorry I missed the meeting yesterday. I was sick,” would give more information that I intended to share. But if I say “I was home sick” it would mean what I intended? That I was home ill?

Hi Barb,

On this side of the pond you say ‘I missed the meeting yesterday because I was sick’ to say that you were feeling physically ill (nausea) as well, but not necessarily that you had to throw up. Feeling ‘ill’ is generally used to describe that you are not well. But you’re right, usually ‘sick’ means you’re tummy’s acting up.

There are several things that annoy me about bogus “British vs. American” lists like this:

  1. They frequently give some American slang term (such as “family doc”) as a phony equivalent to the British professional term. In many of those cases, the professional term is the same in the US as in the UK, and it may even be used by Americans more than the slang term in the list.

  2. They often give two words that are used in both countries and say that one is British and the other is American. “Sick” and “ill” are both used in both countries.

It is relatively easy to find out from Google searches that the part of the hospital that does “Notaufnahme” is called the “emergency department”, the “emergency ward” or the “emergency room” in both US and UK hospitals. I get 131,000 UK hits for “emergency department”, but only 12,000 UK hits for “casualty department”. The term “casualty department” may be British, but it’s not clear that “emergency department” is exclusively American.

  1. They give two words that aren’t even equivalent and say one is American and one is British, as if they meant the same thing. The words “emergency” and “casualty” by themselves don’t mean “Notaufnahme”, both are used in both countries, and they don’t mean the same thing.

Hi Jamie

Can you imagine an American mother ever telling her eight-year-old child that she’s going to put a “sticking plaster” on his skinned knee? I certainly can’t.

And when have you heard Americans talk about going to the “doctor’s surgery”? Come on! That sounds like you’re planning to attend some sort of operation performed by a surgeon in an operating room. A heart transplant maybe? :lol:

Right. There are some differences. However, those “American vs. British” lists include many things that do not differ between the two countries, and they include things that are not equivalent. How many times did anyone in your family ever refer to the GP as the “family doc”?

Not “family doc” but certainly “family doctor.”

Does our British cousins use that phrase as well?

And thanks for the confirmation about “sick,” Ralf.