NYfireworksIndependence Day marks the separation of the USA from British rule and is a celebration of all things American. The US declared independence on 4 July 1776, and since then the individuality of the English spoken there has grown and grown. To mark the occasion, we have found some all-American sayings and idioms that might trip you up when speaking to our friends across the Atlantic. See if you can guess what they mean!

John Hancock

This is a saying inspired by the declaration of independence itself. John Hancock was the President of the Continental Congress at the time the declaration was signed. He provided the authenticating signature for the document on 4 July. His signature was and still is so prevalent on the declaration that his name has become a synonym for a signature in America.

Armchair Quarterback

A Quarterback is a position in American Football and an armchair quarterback, as you may have guessed, is someone who constantly offers advice without ever proving that they are able to do better themselves.

From Missouri

If someone tells you they’re from Missouri, don’t just assume that they’re telling you their life story! If someone is ‘from Missouri’ it can also mean that they want to see proof before they believe something. This comes from the nickname for the state Missouri, the ‘show me’ state.

Saigon moment

When someone talks about a ‘Saigon moment’, bear in mind that they’re probably not planning a trip to Vietnam. This saying comes from the Vietnam War, when helicopters had to evacuate US soldiers from its embassy in Vietnam. It is used to describe a moment when things have gone wrong and you suddenly realise that you’re going to fail. The saying has also been used in British English in military contexts (for example here) but can also be used more broadly, like in this article.

New York minute

In New York, the city that never sleeps, the pace of life is quicker than in other places. A New York minute, then, is faster than your average minute and has nothing to do with time zones and time differences, it just means that something needs to be done especially quickly.


American idioms are not only a problem for outsiders. ‘The devil is beating his wife’ is a saying sometimes used in Albama and Mississippi to describe the weather when the sun is shining and it is raining, while the rest of America don’t have a fixed term for this.

Here at Business Language Services we are happy to translate documents to and from American English as well as British English. Contact us today for a quote.

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