What does it mean when a dictionary indicates that a word is British English? Does this mean Americans do not use it at all?

For example: Do Americans use the word dodgy as a synonym of the word shady or is it used only in the UK (and also in some other English-speaking countries maybe) even though some Americans know what it means?

  • I've edited the question so that, hopefully, it comes across as not just asking for opinions. – user6951 Feb 15 '15 at 22:01
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    Do Americans use the word dodgy? Well, there are 300 million of 'em, so it would be hard to say for sure that no American uses the word. (That said, I agree with the general answers you're getting so far.) – J.R. Feb 16 '15 at 0:04

(Native American English speaker here.)

With one possible exception, I don't think I've ever heard an American say “dodgy”, and this includes Americans who deliberately include bits of British English in their speech as an affectation. For example, Americans I've known who say “petrol” don’t say “dodgy”. However, I think most Americans I know personally would understand “dodgy”, especially in context. And if someone wanted to fake a British accent, some might well go out of their way to use the word “dodgy”, though probably not all of them would think to use it.

The one possible exception is an American housemate I had on long trip to Scotland last year. I can't remember for sure if she said “dodgy”, but in six weeks, she had unwittingly picked up some Britishisms, including “got it sorted”. “Dodgy” seems pretty easy to pick up unwittingly.

I certainly do hear “dodgy” from British friends and co-workers all the time. I think I'd use the word with them without it seeming like an affectation.

Other Americans' experiences will be different, of course.

  • "dodgy" shows extremely rare in both AmE and BrE, although gaining recently in BrE.. "Shady" is more common in both, and resurgent since 1980 after a long decline.books.google.com/ngrams/… books.google.com/ngrams/… – Brian Hitchcock Feb 16 '15 at 5:28
  • @BrianHitchcock That Ngram doesn't show that “dodgy” is extremely rare; it shows that “shady” is much more common. This Ngram shows “dodgy” recently becoming more popular in BrE than “flaky” (in books, not speech). Ngrams, ngrams, ngrams… – Ben Kovitz Feb 16 '15 at 5:46
  • sorry, I should have just said relatively rare (compared to "shady"). Like about 30:1 in 1980 and only 5:1 in 2000 (BrE) and 100:1 and 30:1 for same years (AmE) – Brian Hitchcock Feb 16 '15 at 7:20
  • @BrianHitchcock Indeed, it's tough to make good sense of Ngrams, and tough to even discuss how well-established a regional usage is in nations with (internally) diverse populations of 300,000,000 and 60,000,000. I almost don't even try… – Ben Kovitz Feb 16 '15 at 7:48

I would say yes, but not very often. In everyday speech I think the words "Shady", "Suspicious", "Shifty" or "Fishy" are more likely to be used in this context.


As the Oxford Dictionary Online (US English) states in her definition, the word 'dodgy' is used in BrE.

From which one could conclude that the American public at large does not use this word. An exception could be Americans exposed to the word via a) friends who speak BrE and/or b) television programmes (see what I did there) that emanate from the UK. But in the case of b exclusively, Americans would probably use dodgy only with folks who belong to groups a or b. We tend to use words that we expect others include in their everyday vocab.

Summary: I know what dodgy means, but I would only use it when communicating with other people whom I expect would know what it means. I expect that less that 10% of Americans know what it means.

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    Dodgy is regularly used in programming circles. – tchrist Apr 17 '15 at 9:49

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