7 weird American English words that the British (and the rest of the world) don’t understand

The development of the English language in the United States was very rapid. After the end of the Revolutionary War, American English itself began to develop separately from British.

In the early years after the revolution, Americans were very fond of creating strange new words. That it was not like the British. And some of the Americanisms today cause sincere bewilderment not only among the British, but also among the whole world. But they are still used in live speech. Today we will analyze them. Go.

Lollapalooza – a miracle, an awesome thing, something drop dead.

Many American olds know this word because of the rock festival of the same name in Chicago, which has been held with varying success since 1991. This festival has helped to achieve popularity for many music groups, including “Red hot chili peppers”, “Green day”, “30 seconds to Mars”.

When Perry Farrell, the festival’s founder, came up with a name for it, he caught on to an unusual word he heard in The Three Stooges.

The strange thing is that the etymology of the word “lollapalooza” is unknown. That’s right at all. There is an assumption that it came from the Irish provincialism “allay-foozee”, which means “strong guy”, but how it spread in the United States in this case, the question remains open …

But in the 1930s, neologisms like “kidzapalooza”, “parentspalooza” and other “palooza” with the meaning “something cool for a certain circle of people” became very popular. Even a comic book character appeared under the name Lola Palooza.

Now the word is used in the context of “something very cool and unusual.”

– What a lollapalooza this book is. – It’s just an amazing book.

Sockdolager – a decisive argument, a fatal blow.

Here, the origin is a little more clear. But only a little. The word comes from the lexeme “sock”. But not its most common meaning – “sock”, but more rare – “strong blow”.

Where “-dolager” came from is a mystery. Because there is no such root in English and related languages. This is probably a modified “doxology” – “hymn”, “praise”, but it is not exactly clear.

Sockdologising – This is one of the last words that President Lincoln heard before his death. At the theater, he watched Tom Taylor’s Our American Cousin. And after the line “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, you sockdologizing old man-trap” John Booth shot Lincoln, as a result of which he died.

On the eve of the US elections, the following example of the use of the word can be thought of:

President Trump’s win came as a surprising sockdolager to both Democrats and Republicans alike.

President Trump’s victory was a devastating blow to both Democrats and Republicans.

Catawampus – oblique, curved, diagonal, completely, categorically

This expression is often translated as “down the drain”, but this is not entirely true – there is no “cat” here.

The word comes from the outdated “cater” – “diagonal”. And the part “-wampus” supposedly comes from the Scottish “wampish” – “flounder”, “spank”.

In general, in the original meaning of the 1830s, “catawampus” was translated as “zealous”, “ardent”, but today it means “crooked” or “oblique”. Why the values ​​have changed so much is a mystery.

If J.K. Rowling were American, then “Diagon Alley” from “Harry Potter” could very well turn into “Catawampus Alley”.

In today’s English, the word is used to emphasize the curvature or randomness of something:

Her filing system was all cattywampus and no one in the office could find anything.

Her filing system was so crooked that no one in the office could find anything.

Hornswoggle – cheat, cheat, fool.

Another meaningless word that entered the English dictionary. Because it doesn’t really make sense. Supposedly created as a joke in the 1820s, How? Who! What for? These questions will remain unanswered.

If you try to translate it directly, you get a “horn tied in a knot” or “a horn with a knot.” It looks a little like “deception”, but there is nothing you can do about it.

You can use it as a complete replacement for the word “cheat”. True, there is always a problem with such artificially created “joke” words: writers can use them at all at random. For example, here’s an excerpt from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

‘Then you’ll know all about it,’ said Mr Wonka. ‘And oh, what a terrible country it is! Nothing but thick jungles infested by the most dangerous beasts in the world – hornswogglers and snozzwangers and those terrible wicked whangdoodles.

“Then all the more you must know this country well,” said Mr. Wonka. “God, what a terrible place this is! Continuous impenetrable jungle, teeming with the most cruel creatures in the world – protobeasts, blatikars and fierce tulumbas.
(trans. And Bogdanov, S. Kibirsky)

Although the word is well-known, it does not make much sense, so the translators simply created a completely new lexeme in Russian. Because the devil knows what it really means in the context in which the writer intended it. And does it mean anything at all.

Foofaraw – noise from nothing, trick

Linguists believe that this word comes from the French “fanfaron” – “bouncer.” The sound is similar, the meaning is roughly the same. But how it turned into “something naked (or vulgar) somewhere far away” (foo far raw) is completely unclear.

And yes, if we have already hooked on Rowling, then why not remember the English “our everything” – Shakespeare. He has a wonderful piece, Much Ado About Nothing. If it had occurred to anyone to adapt it to American English, its name could have been shortened to just one word – “Foofaraw”.

Discombobulate – upset, confuse, confuse

Apparently, Americans in the 19th century were experiencing a severe crisis of self-determination. And then they have their own country, and they use the language from the British colonists! Disorder, it needs to be changed urgently. There is simply no other explanation why it was in this century that a huge heap of meaningless, but cool words was invented.

Discombobulate is a great example when something ugly was perverted from a normal and widespread word, but something of its own. How from “discomfit” and “discompose” came “discombobulate”, linguists cannot understand.

The word “combobulate” appeared around the same time. How is still unclear. But the thing is, its meaning is not the opposite of “discombobulate”. Because it means “to pile up”, “to think intensively.” There are only more questions, but we will not get the answers.

When the student looked at the difficult test, she felt discombobulated.

When the student saw this difficult test, she was simply confused.

Bumptious – arrogant, impudent, self-confident

In British English, there is a word “bump” that has a huge variety of meanings. Depending on the context, it can mean: “push”, “bump”, “die”, “kill”, “knock”, “fuck”, “get promoted”, “sign a contract”, “jump”, “launch ”,“ Smack ”,“ twist the booty ”,“ dance an erotic dance ”. And these are not all meanings.

“Bumptious” is a kind of linguistic parody of “bump”. With a subtle meaning “and the Shvets, and the reaper, and the gamer on the pipe.” Kind of like “self-confident and arrogant”, but at the same time he really can’t do anything. This mocking context is a must to the word.

Maybe he was questioning the rationalism imposed on him by Professor Bumptious.

Maybe he questioned Professor Overconfidence’s rationalism.


American English is full of weirdness. In it, Present Simple can be used as Present Perfect and Past Perfect without any problems. The letter “u” in the words “color” and “neighbor” is constantly being destroyed in it. Yes, the meaning of many words is radically different.

These nonsensical, artificial words like the ones we discussed above are also a feature of American English. And although they are not included in the “must have” dictionary, you still need to know them. Because it is simply impossible to logically guess their meaning.

Improve your English. And don’t let these lollapalooza, but catawampus words discombobulate and hornswoggle you.

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