Sometimes the same words just don’t have the same meaning to two different people. This happens to me less than it used to, but from time to time when I use a British expression my (American) husband will look at me and say, “That sounded like English, but I have no idea what you just said.”
I remember once suggesting we get some ‘pot plants’. My husband looked shocked. He’s not interested in gardening and plants at the best of times, but shock is not the usual reaction when I talk about plants. It turned out that while I was envisaging a row of terracotta pots filled with the colorful varigated of leaves of a coleus, or a tall, sharp mother-in-law’s tongue, he was imagining the neighbors calling the police.
Lesson learned: in American English pot plants = trouble, potted plants = leafy attractiveness.
In fact pots cause me linguistic trouble in general. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I end up in utter confusion in the kitchen when one asks the other for a pot (him to me) or a pan (me to him):
Annov: “Can you pass me the small pan?”
Husband: “Pan? We only have this large one.”
A: “No, the saucepan.”
H: “That’s a pot.”
A: “It’s a pan – a sauce pan.”
H: “But you say frying pan, not frying pot. So a pan is wide and flat.”
A: “OK, yes. Well, can you pass me that small pan?”
We laugh about that, and a whole load of other things:
A: “I feel like chips.”
H: “Do you mean chips as I understand them, or as you understand them?”
Like I said, sometimes the same words just don’t have the same meaning to two different people.