V is for Vest

There is a special look that people here have when we use a word that is common in both US English and UK English, but the meaning is not the same. This look, it’s kind of half way between the start of an eye-roll and a half of a wink. It’s that moment when you think you can see the gears shift in someone else’s brain. The most recent example of this arose between Child 1 and his drama teacher Miss C.

The dialogue went something (not a lot, but something) like this:

Miss C: Here is the tutu you are to wear in Act II, Child 1, notwithstanding the fact that you are 5ft 9 and a strapping 12 year old boy. The part calls for it, so wear it you must.

It looked quite a lot like this:


Child 1: Well, I’ll do it, Miss C. I’ll do it. I have seen Twelfth Night on Broadway where all the women are played by men and I know that I can carry off this pink tutu like the true Thespian I am.

Miss C: Great.

Child 1: But…

Miss C: Yes?

Child 1: Would it be okay if I wore a vest under it?

It was at this moment that the strange eyeball of wonderment effect happened. I was right there and saw it. But the real question is what Miss C saw, in her mind’s eye, under the aforementioned tutu, when we heard the word ‘vest.’

Did she see this?


Or this?


Because she definitely didn’t, as we did, see one of these:


Sadly, we may never know for sure. Child 1 quickly explained that he meant an undershirt and, with Miss C agreeing that an undershirt would be swell, the show, in the way of shows, went on.

But later Child 1 and I did discuss it further. The first picture, I would call a waistcoat. It is beyond me to imagine calling it anything else. It is not a vest.

And that puffy thing in the middle is not a vest either, although Child 1 says it definitely is a vest in these here parts. He knows this, because he got one for Christmas. It’s just it wasn’t presented as a vest. It was a gilet. (Think France and pronounce gilet to rhyme with filet as in filet mignon).

It was my mum, Mrs T Snr, who gave Child 1 said gilet/vest but do you know, it has been bugging me ever since Chrimbob that I would never in a million have called it a gilet either. And I have wracked my brains and finally it has come to me that when I had one back in the 80’s in Edinburgh, I’m pretty sure it was a bodywarmer.

Who knew living in an English speaking country could be so complicated?


3 Comments Add yours

  1. It is a bodywarmer babe or a life preserver if you are a fan of Back to the Future

    1. Matt Lidster says:

      Yup, a body warmer it is. I have been hearing them called gilets recently, but we are in shooting country and I think there is a misuse of the word for the item that the gamekeeper’s and ‘Gillies’ (itself an adaption of the word gilet) wear, which tends to be tweed and have many pockets.

  2. anpedant says:

    Yup, garment 2 is definitely a bodywarmer.
    Garment 3 is also a wife beater (charming!), or apparently in some circles a tank top. Which is a different garment entirely in the UK

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