n abbr articulated vehicle, usually a large hauling truck or semi.
adj semi truck which is able to bend in the middle. Of course, I just wrote pretty much the same thing two seconds ago. I’m beginning to understand why the guy who wrote the first Oxford English Dictionary ended up going mad and cutting his penis off.
n yellow flashing lights on sticks that are positioned next to zebra crossings and flash constantly to alert drivers. They were named after Hore Belisha, who was Minister of Transport when they were introduced. Perhaps a more interesting derivation was put forward by an episode of the BBC radio programme “Radio Active,” which featured an unwinnable quiz, one of the questions being “From where did the Belisha Beacon get its name?” Answer: “From the word ‘beacon’.” I was younger then, and in the cold light of day it seems less funny now than it once did. You can’t take away my childhood.
n the end of the conrod, which is attached to the crankshaft in a conventional combustion engine. The other end, attached to the piston, is called the “small end.”
n small concrete or metal post generally used to stop cars from driving into certain places. While used only in a nautical context in the U.S., it is accepted universally in the U.K. When not on boats, Americans call them “pylons,” which to Brits are the giant metal structures used to hold up national grid electricity wires.
n hood of a car; the part of a car which covers the engine. Confusion arises in the U.K. when dealing with rear-engined cars; it’s difficult to determine whether to call it a bonnet or, as seems perhaps more logical, a boot, on account of it being at the back. The trials of modern life. To encourage confusion, “hood” is used in the U.K. to describe the convertible top of a convertible car.
n trunk of a car. The boot of a car is the part you keep your belongings in. So called because it was originally known as a “boot locker” — whether it used to be commonplace to drive in one’s socks is anyone’s guess.
n motorised caravan in which you can take your entire family for a horrible holiday. Americans call them “R.V.s,” but the average European camper is significantly smaller than the average American one. Also, the average European is, of course, smaller than the average American, as proven by statistics.
n parking lot. The large buildings composed of many floors of just parking spaces are called “multi-storey car parks” in the U.K. but “parking garages” in the U.S.
1 n terrible device which attaches to the back of your car and allows you to take your whole family on holiday at minimal expense and with maximum irritability. They’re more popular in Europe than they are in the U.S., where they’re called “trailers.” Be careful not to confuse a touring caravan (which a family will generally keep outside their house and drag behind their normal car somewhere for a few holidays a year) with a static caravan, which is generally deposited once by a truck and left there. Americans call both of these things “trailers,” and where a distinction is needed they’ll call the touring variants “travel trailers.” The devices that Americans call a “fifth wheel” — caravans which attach to a conventional diesel truck — are pretty much non-existent in the U.K. Another caravan variant common to both sides of the Atlantic is the “trailer tent,” which is like a caravan except the walls and roof fold out like some sort of ghastly mobile puppet theatre. No doubt you’re much less confused now. I could go on about caravans for days. 2 v the act of staying in a caravan: Doris has taken it into her head to go caravanning this weekend.
n little reflectors mounted in the centre of the road, amid the white lines. When you’re driving along at night your headlights reflect in them to show where the road goes. When you’re driving like a screaming banshee they gently bounce the car up and down in order to unsettle it, causing you subsequently to lose traction and crash the rented 1.3-litre VW Polo through a fence and into a yard. Everything goes black — your senses are dead but for the faint smell of petrol, and the dim glow of a light coming on in the farmhouse. Somewhere in the distance a big dog barks. As you slowly regain consciousness, you find that you’re in a soft bed, surrounded by candles and with a faint whiff of incense drifting on the breeze from the open window. You see a familiar face peering down at you — could it be Stinky Potter, from down by the cottages? Wasn’t that corner just about where they found poor old Danny’s motorbike? And how does this guy know your name? If you try to run, roll the dice and turn to page seventeen. If you choose to kiss the old man, turn to page twelve.
n median. Far from being a sought-after restaurant booking, this is in fact what Brits call the grassy area in the centre of a motorway which is there to stop you colliding with oncoming traffic quite as easily as you might.
n bus. Generally used in the U.K. for longer-haul buses (50 miles or more). The difference between a coach and a “bus” is that a coach tends to have a loo, not so much chewing gum attached to the seats and fewer old ladies hacking up phlegm in the back. Brits do not use coach to refer to economy-class seats on an aircraft; that’s a peculiar American thing.
n shock absorber. The part of a vehicle’s suspension system that stops the suspension from bouncing (rather than actually absorbing any shock).
n defroster. The little network of electrical wires that weave around your car’s rear window and are intended to remove frost. They are perhaps referred to as such in the U.K. because any devices attached to British-built cars have precious little chance of getting rid of frost, and, indeed, don’t stand much of a chance against mist, either.
v disembark from an aeroplane. A very antiquated term, it’d be met with a vacant stare by most Brits under forty, as would its antonym, “enplane.”
n bumper-car. Once used in U.S. English too, but now chiefly British. Odd that it should imply an aim to the game that is quite the opposite of what it is.
n divided highway. There is generally very little difference between a dual carriageway and a motorway except that learner drivers are not allowed onto motorways.
n ground. Only in the electrical context – this is the wire that zooms off into the planet somewhere and somehow stops people from electrocuting themselves in the bath.