[from UK shoe retailer Office] This, in BrE is a court shoe. In AmE it would be a pump. (Or call them high heels wherever you are.) Next slide, please!
Office] In AmE this is a flat, more specifically a ballet flat. In BrE this is a pump. More specifically, a ballet pump. Very confusing. (And don't forget that ballet is pronounced differently in AmE & BrE.) What BrE & AmE pumps have in common is that they are low-cut--baring the top of the foot--but I think that the AmE definition is now so closely associated with heels that you can probably find AmE 'pumps' that aren't low-cut. (In fact, you can.) Next slide, please!
Office] This is a trainer in BrE. (Yes, people who train people are also called trainers in BrE.) In AmE, it's a bit more complicated:
Dialect Survey shows the distribution of words for that kind of shoe in the continental US. Red = sneakers, light blue = tennis shoes, green = gym shoes. (Click on the link for the other colo(u)rs.)
These terms for the red shoe above can also be applied to this one:
UK site for the US brand Keds] But in BrE, they can also be called plimsolls, (which Marc L wrote to ask about recently--thanks).
Next slide, please!
These kinds of things can be called flip-flops in BrE or AmE (sidenote: in South Africa, they're slip-slops). But in AmE (and AusE too, I believe), they can also be called thongs. I suspect that that term is being used a lot less these days because usage has mostly shifted to this.
I've had some correspondence with Erin McKean about whether the meaning of kitten heel differs in BrE and AmE. There are definitely two meanings out there, but dictionaries tend not to be very specific about kitten heels, so the AmE definitions are about the same as the BrE ones. Looking at on-line retailers, I have found both senses in both countries. The sense I use (and which I think Erin's agreeing with me about--so definitely an AmE sense) refers to this kind of thing [from Mandarina shoes]:
The heel is very short, very slim and is inset from the end of the shoe. It might also flare out a bit at the bottom. But one also finds any stiletto with a moderate heel label(l)ed kitten heel in some places, like this one, which comes from (UK retailer) L.K. Bennett's 'History of the Kitten Heel':
If you'd like to enjoy some transatlantic shoe shopping, remember, that the sizes are different. Wikipedia has comparison charts and explains what the sizes are based on.
The last shoe-related thing relates to an email from Peregrine in 2008 (*blush*), who wrote:
I was reading (as I do from time to time) an English-Japanese/Japanese-
English dictionary yesterday.What came up was the Japanese for shoe and variants of it. What it said was, essentiallyVariant a = AmE low shoe, BrE shoeVariant b = AmE shoe, BrE bootVariant c = AmE boot, BrE high bootFor reference this was the Sanseido Gem 4th edition. I can't find a date but it's definitely post-War, I would guess from the '50s.
As far as I know, not much work has been done on regional variation in prototypes. The only example I can think of is a small study by Willett Kempton (reported in John Taylor's Linguistic Categorization) on Texan versus British concepts of BOOT, showing that even though both groups considered the same range of things to be boots, there was variation in their ideas of what constituted a central member of the BOOT category, with the Texan prototype extending further above the ankle than the British one.
And undoubtedly I've forgotten or missed some footwear differences. But that's what the comments section is for!
Late addition--thanks Anonymous in the comments! Just a few days ago, this was my Twitter Difference of the Day, but I somehow forgot to mention BrE football boots. In AmE these are cleats or soccer shoes. Perhaps this is what the distinction in the Japanese dictionary was about. In BrE, my Converse Chuck Taylors are referred to as basketball boots, where I would call them (AmE) high-tops.
Another P.S. (13 Sept 11): I forgot mary janes! This was originally a trademarked term in AmE for a brand of girls' shoe, which came in patent leather and had a strap like this:
According to the OED, this is still a proprietary term in BrE--so it often has lower-case initials in AmE but should have upper-case (and be more restricted in application) in BrE. I've had to explain the term to BrE speakers a couple of times, making me think it's more common in AmE. These days, of course, it's used for any shoe with that kind of low-cut front and a strap across--even if it involves a heel, an asymmetrical or double strap, velcro. Mary janes (I kind of want to hyphenate that--some people make it one word) are very, very Lynneguist.
A couple of notes before I go:
- I had a great time discussing how English and American folk "do" politeness at The Catalyst Club this week. Great audience, great night out!
- I am about to begin The University Term from Hell. The (orig. AmE) upside is that I don't have to teach in the spring. The (orig. AmE) downside is that it's unlikely that I'll get much blogging in. But I will try!