George Bernard Shaw, so they say, remarked that the British and Americans are two nations divided by a common language. Now this is normally the time for a lot of tired jokes about "fanny", "fag" and "pants". (We English think it is very funny when Americans talk about their pants). But I shall rise above that. One thing I’ve noticed living in the United States is that there are some words, and some ideas, which mean subtly different things on each side of the Atlantic – nuances you might not notice at first.
There doesn’t seem to be a word for this in the US. In Europe people take maybe 6 weeks a year of holiday. Americans have two weeks of something called "vacation" which means they do their email with a blackberry instead of their PC.
An insult to many Americans but never in Europe. In the US, liberal means left wing and is associated with large-government. To Europeans, liberal means someone primarily concerned with freedom and choice, and is often associated with small government (q.v.)
- Middle class
When Americans talk about the middle class, they mean the middle class and below. Europeans mean middle class and above. Europeans aspire to join the middle class; Americans aspire to leave it.
When Americans talk about whether the Constitution includes a right to privacy, they mean what Europeans would call freedom. For an American, privacy is whether you can do certain things (eg to have oral sex, anal sex, same-sex relationships, abortion, polygamy) without finding yourself in prison. For Europeans, it is whether you can do these things without finding yourself in the newspapers.
To Americans, this means "very". To the English, it means "not very". Which is quite an important distinction. When Clinton said that Kerry would make "quite a good President", this was a compliment. It sounded to Europeans like an insult.
- Small Government
In America, this apparently means a Government small enough to fit in your bedroom.
Other contributions welcome in the comments section.