Discovering unique words in a language can help you learn more about the culture of the people that speak it. Here are some interesting and fun English words you'll encounter in the U.S.

Eating together for a potluck

A potluck is a type of gathering where each guest brings a dish to share. The word “potluck” comes from the “luck of the pot,” meaning you never know what you’re going to get! The first known use of this word was during Shakespeare’s time, when it meant “a meal with no planned menu,” like one you might offer to an unexpected guest with whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand. Later, it took on the modern meaning of “a communal meal.”

Potlucks are especially common in the U.S. for large gatherings of family and friends, since they can be easier on the host—they don't have to prepare all the food for the party. But potlucks can turn out better or worse depending on what people bring! 😅

Illustration of a man giving a woman a gift

Celebrating a new space with a housewarming

In the U.S. and other countries, it’s common for new homeowners to host a housewarming party. It’s an opportunity to let friends and family come see your new house and celebrate together. And they bring gifts! In the past, when homes were heated by fireplaces, guests would often bring firewood as a housewarming gift. All the fireplaces would be lit, and the house would literally be “warmed.”

Today, the gifts are a little different—you might give someone a plant, candle, or bottle of wine—but the spirit of the party is the same: Your friends and family come to metaphorically “warm up” the house and make it feel more like a home!

Getting in the spirit by tailgating

Tailgating is the activity of gathering socially to eat and drink before watching a sports game (usually American football). “Tailgating” originates from the word “tailgate,” the part of a pick-up truck that folds down and can be lowered or removed when loading or unloading the vehicle. This is because while tailgating, people usually load food and drinks into their cars to enjoy with friends and family in the parking lot before the game.

But you don’t have to own a pick-up truck to go tailgating! Many people just pack folding chairs and tables into their car and set up a picnic in the parking lot to enjoy before the game.

Illustration of a house that is in bad shape: Its door is falling off the hinges, a tree has fallen on the roof, a windowpane is cracked, and there is wood and debris in a bush next to the house.

Embracing a challenge with a fixer-upper

A fixer-upper is a house that you can buy at a relatively low price because it needs a lot of repairs. You’ll need to “fix it up” after you buy it. It’s a good option for buyers who don’t have a lot of money but are up for a challenge, or for buyers who want to make improvements and then sell the house at a profit. Sometimes, the term “fixer-upper” is used to refer to other things too, such as cars or even people!

When “-er” is added to verbs, it usually indicates a person or thing that does an action – for example, a teacher is a person who teaches. But “-er” can also indicate a person or thing that the action is done to. For example, a “keeper” is someone or something worth keeping. The “er” suffix in “fixer-upper” works in this way: It’s a house that needs to be fixed up. The doubling of “er” in “fixer-upper” doesn’t have any special meaning—it just makes the word rhyme!

Illustration of Falstaff the bear sitting happily on a log in front of a small fire. He is holding a long stick with a marshmallow on the end, above the fire.

Enjoying the outdoors with a s'more

S’mores are a classic snack to eat while camping in the U.S. and Canada. They consist of a roasted marshmallow and a piece of chocolate between two graham crackers—thin, sweet crackers often flavored with cinnamon or honey. “S’more” is a contraction of “some more,” as in “please give me some more of that!”

It’s been a popular treat in North America for about a century and a common sight around campfires. If you don’t want to bother with building a fire outside, you can always roast your marshmallows in an oven or microwave!

Unique words connect language and culture!

In addition to learning grammar and basic vocabulary, digging into culture will make you a more well-rounded speaker and allow you to connect with people on a deeper level. These unique English words might be difficult to translate into other languages directly, but they provide a fascinating glimpse into U.S. culture—and learners in our English courses for Spanish and Portuguese speakers can look out for these words in their courses!