As an American, reading books set in England – particularly historical England – could sometimes be confusing. Once I started researching the time period, I realized that certain words had different meanings “across the pond”. So for everyone like me, I’ve put together a list of a few things that used to confuse me. Hope they help!
Hall is one of those words that seems simple, but has vastly different meanings on each side of the Atlantic. I always wondered why people spent so much time standing around in the hall. Wasn’t it cramped?
Because in America a “hall” is a passageway – usually on the narrow side – that rooms open off of. In Regency England the hall was the area the front door opened into. Similar to an American foyer or vestibule. In large English homes, the hall is a room in an of itself, often a fairly large one since visitors were sometimes required to wait there a while before being admitted further into the house.
Living “in” the street
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jane Bennet mentions that her aunt and uncle live in Grace Church Street. In American English, that implies Grace Church Street is neighborhood or even an apartment building or some other such collection of living spaces.
What is actually means is that her aunt and uncle have a house with a Grace Church Street address. In America we would say they live on Grace Church Street. It’s a distinction that some modern day Regency authors use and others don’t, but now you won’t be confused if you ever come across it.
It’s just that: your home in town. When Americans normally think of as being townhomes are actually called terrace houses in England. These are houses that share a wall with another house on one or both sides. Many homes in Mayfair are terrace houses, but not all. So when the heroine heads to her townhome for the season, she’d probably sharing a wall with her neighbor, but not necessarily so.
Have you ever seen characters going up to the first floor? Or looking down from a first floor window? For an American that can be quite confusing – to the point that I try to avoid saying which floor they’re on at all.
The “first floor” in America is actually the “ground floor” in England. So people had to actually go up stairs to reach the first floor.
What other terms do you find yourself stumbling over? Any other words you’ve found have a double meaning?