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14 American Sayings That Don’t Make Sense Outside the United States

When are cows coming home? And you want my what?! You never realized how silly these sayings sound to people outside the United States.

Group of hog waiting feed. Pig indoor on a farm yard in Thailand. swine in the stall. Close up eyes and blur. Portrait animal.krumanop/Shutterstock

 “You can put lipstick on a pig”

The full saying is, “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” If you live outside of the United States you’re probably wondering who on Earth would put lipstick on a pig? Well, no one is (we don’t think!). The saying means that no matter how much you try to make something seem nice, it is what it is. You can’t sugar coat everything—uh oh, these American sayings probably don't make sense to anyone outside of the United States either! You should also make sure you never say the most annoying phrases in the English language.

Misty graveyard,crosses and graves backlitPeter Cripps/Shutterstock

“Working the graveyard shift”

If you’re not from the United States, you might hear someone say this and think that they work in a cemetery. How morbid! Really, this saying just means that someone is working from midnight until about 8 a.m., when where they work might be as silent and dead (meaning empty) as a graveyard. If you are from the states, you might want to learn the meaning behind each state motto. 


“ …Will happen momentarily”

In the United States, when someone says something will happen momentarily, they mean that it will happen in just a few moments. But to a British person, it means something will only happen for a moment or a short period of time.

Cup of aromatic tea with cinnamon, milk and fresh bread on tablePixel-Shot/Shutterstock

“Chai tea”

In Hindi and many other languages, "chai" literally means "tea." So when people from the United States ask for a chai tea, they’re really asking for "tea tea." Which sounds hilarious! The correct way to ask for chai would be to ask for milk tea with sugar. Here are more common phrases that you never knew were redundant.

Soup saltwort with lemon, meat, pickles, tomato sauce olives in a bowl on a sacking, bread on a wooden board background Nadya Kubik/Shutterstock

“Order an entrée”

In the 18th century, the British used this French word that means entrance to describe the food that was served right before the main meal. However, in the United States, Americans have decided to call the first part of the meal an appetizer and the main course the entrée. The next time you bring your French friend out to dinner, make sure you let them know to order their entrance meal after their appetizer. Here are 70 more words and phrases that you’re probably using all wrong.

Woman's brown casual pants. Brown trousers on wooden background. Pants made of natural material. New item at low


You might be thinking how the word pants can be confusing. It’s just a piece of clothing, right? Well, technically yes. But in England pants mean underwear; it’s not synonymous with jeans or trousers. If you talk to someone about your new pants in England, they might tell you that you’re sharing way too much information.

Abstract background of autumn leaves. Autumn background.Artens/Shutterstock

“Fall is my favorite season”

Fall is a season that doesn’t really exist outside of the United States. To the rest of the world, the time of year when the weather gets a little chilly and leaves start changing colors is typically, and correctly, called autumn. If you want to sound even more proper, and maybe even a little outdated, you can call this season harvest.

green leather fanny pack on black backgroundmocker_labs/Shutterstock

“Fanny packs”

Between the 1980s and '90s, fanny packs became a major fashion trend in the United States. In England though, the British definitely thought we were wacky and a little rude. In British English, fanny means vagina. You could only imagine what came to mind when they heard people all over the United States were wearing fanny packs. Yikes! Here are 17 more English words that have totally different meanings in other languages.

Bored European girl student wearing stylish pink sweatshirt touching face with hand, looking annoyed, tired of listening uninteresting stories. Body languageCookie Studio/Shutterstock

“I could care less”

People in the United States often say this when they describe something they do not care much about. However, what they’re actually saying is that they do care and they could just care a little less. If you want to say that you don’t care much about something, the proper phrase is, “I couldn’t care less.” 

hungry blue tit eating from garden bird feeder ( Cyanistes caeruleus )taviphoto/Shutterstock

“That’s for the birds”

Wait, but what is for the birds? This U.S. saying is meant to describe something that doesn’t matter or is trivial. But when heard by someone who isn’t from the United States, they could think you literally have something for birds. Have a laugh at more common sayings that are total nonsense.

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