I was saying to my Swedish teacher yesterday (på svenska, klart) that I like the word duk ('cloth') because I can guess a lot of duk words: näsduk ('nose cloth' = 'handkerchief'), halsduk ('neck cloth' = 'scarf'), bordduk ('tablecloth'), handduk ('hand cloth' = 'towel'). Thinking about duk got me thinking about a similarly useful word in English, bin. The tricky part is figuring out in which things Americans call bins and which things the British call bins.
Bin on its own in BrE is usually short for rubbish bin--i.e. AmE trash/garbage can or waste basket. In these you put a bin liner, which in AmE is garbage/trash bag (or in some parts of the US: garbage sack). A wheelie bin is the kind with wheels that you put outside by the (US) curb/(UK) kerb. I know someone who takes part in wheelie bin protests in Brighton. I'm afraid to tell him that I'm pro-wheelie-bin. The bins are a lot less ugly than rubbish (US trash) strewn all over the pavement (US sidewalk) by seagulls. Big wheelie bins would be called dumpsters in the US, but so would the things that are called skips in Britain. (Click the links for pictures.)
In BrE, bread is stored (not thrown away) in a bread bin, which in AmE is bread box.
Another bin I see a lot in the UK, but haven't heard in the US (though maybe an oenophile will tell me it's used there too) is a wine bin, which is a stack of bottles of wine. This gives rise to the notion of a bin end, that is, the last bottles of a certain wine, which are offered at reduced price. One of the big British off-licence (AmE liquor store, and many regional variations on this) chains is called Oddbins.
Both countries have storage bins and recycling bins, but only Americans name a part of the fridge the vegetable bin. Some Americans call the same fridge part a crisper. While I have found vegetable bin in fridge specifications in the UK, I believe that it's US copy. The UK equivalents I've heard are vegetable drawer (also good in the US), vegetable tray and vegetable box.
So, the moral of the story is that bin is a very useful word, but not so useful that you can predict with confidence which things will be called bin in another English-speaking country and which things won't. Containers in general suffer a lot of transatlantic name shifting, but I'll write about pots and cartons and jugs some other time...
Getting back to the Swedish start of this entry, I ought to give a little credit where it's due. Part of the inspiration for this blog is a lovely blog on the expatriate experience called How to Learn Swedish in 1000 Difficult Lessons. (I found this by chance when I started learning Swedish, then by chance found out that I'm two degrees of separation from its author, Francis Strand, but I've never had any contact with him.) As the name of the blog suggests, it does have a linguistic perspective, with a Swedish word of the day relating to whatever was discussed.