Sack vs. fire (different versions of English)

Hi, I remember scanning that discussion about British English in business English books and it has just occurred to me that sack might be a British expression for the American word to fire. Is that correct, I mean is to give somebody the sack a British business English expression?
Thank you, my friends and have a good Saturday.

Hi Nicole,

I think there is a growing tendency in these forums of people getting hung up on this British/American English thing. There are only a very few examples where words from either variety cause total confusion. Fire and sack are both used in informal English. No doubt both varieties can provide slang examples for the same idea. The formal word of course is dismiss.

Hopeful of helping


I agree with Alan about people getting hung up on British and American differences, many of which are phony. In the US we usually say fire, but we also say sack. You can fire somebody, sack somebody, pink slip somebody, give somebody the axe, and quite a number of other things. There are a lot of ways to say it.

It is not always easy for EFL speakers to make the difference between the two Englishes. What bothers us, I think, is that we don’t want to end up speaking an odd mixture of both. For example, speaking with a British accent and saying words like trash-can, anyplace, sidewalk, skillet, hobo, closet or drugstore must sound peculiar. Likewise, saying love, governor, wellington boots, rubber (now this word can cause confusion!), trousers, queue or rubbish bin with an American accent is a little incongruous, I should think.

By the way, I’m very interested in knowing how it sounds to natives when they hear someone speaking a hodgepodge of Englishes and how frequent this is.

We are told to be coherent and stick to one form of English. And that’s what we try to do, I mean once we’ve surmounted the more difficult phases in learning, like grammar, and can start relaxing – OK, let’s not deceive ourselves: we can never completely relax. We should sleep with one eye open and watch out for hurdles or we’re in for a bit of stumbling!

It’s not two Englishes. It’s one English that shares vocabulary from one continent to the other. The Americans pick up things from the UK, and the British can’t say very much anymore without using words of American origin. Half the time nobody knows which word came from where.

The real problem is that non-native-speaking English teachers tend to wildly exaggerate the importance of the differences.

If the Americans and the British speak an odd mixture of both, then why can’t foreigners? Besides, you can’t be internationally understandable if you DON’T speak a mixture of both!

It doesn’t sound peculiar. Nobody cares.

Because I’m an unusually good accent mimic, Latins claim my accent in Spanish sounds authentically Mexican. Does that mean that when I go to Spain I’ll sound funny if I say “el autobus”? Do I have to say “la guagua” or something, so that I won’t be funny?

Well, if as a Spaniard you used “love” and “governor” the way you hear them in British slang, then the Americans will think it’s funny no matter what accent you have. We even think they’re silly when the British say them.

I wore Wellington boots when I was a teenager. We use “pants” and “trousers” interchangeably. We say “trash can”, “garbage can”, “rubbish bin” and sometimes “ash can”, and remember that President Reagan proclaimed that he wanted to see communism land in “the dustbin of history”.

To be understandable with complete clarity by everybody everywhere, you have to make some very small accommodations to both varieties. If you say “pants”, Americans will think you mean trousers, but if you say “underpants” and “trousers”, you’ll be understood everywhere, even if you’re not precisely matching the local dialect. Don’t ask for a “chemist”, because to us that’s a scientist. Ask for a pharmacy, and everyone will understand you. Those are just two examples.

In addition to that, hardly any foreigner ever picks up a native-sounding accent in English anyway, so people will likely think of foreigners as having a Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Arabic accent, etc.

People don’t notice, and they don’t care. There are so many kinds of Englishes (not just two!) that people only care whether they understand you or not. If your English is too full of one country’s slang, then you might not be understood, or else you’ll be humorous. Otherwise, people don’t think about it one way or another.

It’s impossible. Even the English and the Americans don’t stick to one form of English – not even in their own countries. Non-native-speaking teachers are making a very artificial distinction.

The only thing I would advise against is acquiring a very, very aristocratic British accent. That accent has a very comical effect on Americans (and maybe even on some of the British). Once I had to attend a function where the CEO of a huge Japanese corporation gave a speech. This guy could afford the most expensive interpreter available, and the man he got spoke completely flawless English, with a perfect British accent. The problem was that the particular British accent he had was extremely aristocratic, and hearing this accent come out of a Japanese – or out of anyone who was not a British nobleman – was outrageously funny to us, and we had to try very hard not to laugh when he said some of the words. It would have been much better for him (at least in the US) if he had had an easily understandable, slightly Japanese accent. That would have sounded more dignified to us, believe it or not.

Wow! Jamie, I’m having a taste of what your students (do you still use the term ‘pupils’, by the way?) must feel when you teach them. It’s almost like the little sparrow being chased by a bird of prey (only half joking!). A little challenge is always good, anyway.

Who is exaggerating now? Anyway, could you please give me some examples?

:lol: I just had to laugh at that! I never got used to saying those myself, though I would hear them a lot when I lived in England. Actually I liked people calling me ‘love’ or ‘dear’. They don’t sound silly at all to me, perhaps because people often do that in Spain, too, especially to women or children (men might start getting funny ideas!). In fact, I used to think that these (informal, be it said) forms of address didn’t sound very British. You somehow don’t expect the English to address strangers like that, known as they are for their reserved demeanour.

Well, there is a distinction. As far as I am aware (and correct me if I’m wrong), in your posts you don’t normally use any typically British expressions, and, apart from the informal ‘hi’, which once was especially American and is now probably used everywhere, Alan doesn’t usually employ Americanisms. The distinction is prevalent in Dictionaries (see the note below), grammar and coursebooks and I’m happy for it. As I often say, “vive la diff?rence”! When teaching English, I don’t point out (if I do at all) the different forms of English for my students to avoid using terms from one or the other (far from that!), but for them to know about all these, to be aware of the richness of the language. I might also tell them about the Cockney rhyming slang! Least important, but not to be disdained, all this makes up for additional class materials!

The following article might interest someone out there:

Conchita, I thought of some other examples later. Try to talk about computers without using American English. It’s impossible. Almost all of the terms come from the United States.

If there are more ways of speaking english, why should there be only Brithis and American? What about Yamaican, Irish, Canadian, and any other?
All of english I know I’ve picked up in Canada and when I arrived to England non of their word I understood, but I don’t think if I had been to Australia it would have been different.
My country (Hungary) is much smaller than for example, England, but there still are differences between pronounciation and vocabulary when people speak in Budapest, or in a city in the other side of the country, I still wouldn’t teach them as different kind of Hungarian language.
Jamie, would You laugh if a Japanise spoke to You with American accent?
I think if anyone can learn and use a real,existing accent, and lose his original accent, it should be appreciated , because it’s much harder than knowing grammar or whatever they teach you in school.
I know it could be funny in some way, but all the strange things are funny at first, if You get used to it you’ll start to respect it as well.
My language is harder to learn than english (as they say)
so if anyone is trying to speak it, I could laugh at them, but if a black guy speaks perfect Hungarian I consider it an amazing thing.

No, I wouldn’t laugh at a Japanese with a perfect American accent. For one thing, if his accent was perfect, I wouldn’t even know he was Japanese unless he told me. I’d just think he was American.

I would also not laugh if a Japanese spoke with an ordinary accent from somewhere in England. I would either think he was British born or else that he was an amazing accent mimic.

However, if a Japanese talks like Lord Ducksworthy, you KNOW that he’s NOT Lord Ducksworthy. That was the source of the humor. Some Russians used to be trained with that accent of elderly English nobility, and we used to find them funny too.