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"Getting high" vs "getting stoned" - comparing linguistic differences in the UK and US

Relative Insight can supplement your social listening tool by providing an additional layer of analysis that goes beyond frequency and sentiment analysis. While social listening tools provide sentiment analysis on a negative-neutral-positive spectrum, Relative Insight can take it further, providing advanced emotional classification.

While the potential use cases are endless, geographical analysis is especially interesting because it enables you to spot crucial linguistic differences between how two like-minded audiences choose words - Americans and Brits are a great case in point, united in many things, but divided by a common language.

So we wanted to show you something - the number 420 is synonymous in the US with smoking weed, and has cemented itself into American culture with its own holiday on April 20th. This recreational celebration is fully legal in 16 of the 50 states (plus Washington DC), with New York being the latest to fully legalise the drug. 

However, in the UK it's still firmly illegal to possess, grow, distribute or sell, so we were keen to see how American opinions differ from British thinking. The topic of cannabis is fascinating too because on so many topics - alcohol, LGBTQ+ rights, religion, patriotism, race, etc. (and the list goes on), Americans are usually considered so much more conservative than their British counterparts, yet when it comes to cannabis culture, so incredibly liberal. 

Therefore, this type of geographical comparison is the perfect application for Relative Insight. Our comparison-based text analysis platform highlights the linguistic differences between two or more sets of written data. This method will uncover the unique opinions and linguistic tendencies of Americans and Brits in regards to cannabis use. 

For this analysis, we pulled 200,00 tweets – more than four million words – using social listening software. We uploaded the file directly to Relative Insight, using a pre-formatted data structure upload tool. Within the platform, we split the file by location to compare tweets from the US and UK. 

Here’s what we found:


Brits appeared to be fairly accepting of cannabis use… as long as it’s not a personality trait. In the UK, there is a stigma associated with people who use weed as a defining characteristic. So if you’re gonna smoke, smoke – but you don’t need to tell everyone about it.

Smoking weed seems to be a community-oriented activity in the UK, and we saw frequent use of words like neighbour and neighbourhood. Some Brits complained of strong smells permeating from people next-door, while others deemed themselves lucky to be the recipient of a generous neighbours gift.

Our analysis also found that Brits are more likely to discuss flavoured weed. While opinions were polarised – some loving a good tangerine strain, others despising it – the topic was much more likely to be discussed within the UK.


As legality expands across the states, Americans are more likely to discuss the topics of crime and law, using specific words like legal and misdemeanour. Many of these references were in support of New York’s recent decision to legalise recreational marijuana, while others pleaded with their respective state governors to follow suit.

With recreational use largely still illegal, most purchases are made with independent and unregulated dealers. This results in inconsistent pricing across regions and customers. Most Americans complained about high costs, while some women bragged about their ability to score lower prices with a little flirting.

While legal recreational use is limited to 16 states, 36 allow the sale and possession of medicinal marijuana. Many Americans found cannabis to aid physical and mental ailments like depression, anxiety and bodily pain.

High or stoned?

The biggest linguistic difference we observed across the US and the UK is how they describe their drug-induced state. Americans described inebriation as getting high, while Brits were more likely to use the term stoned. While both effectively mean the same thing, this reveals a significant difference in national dialect.

Understanding the language used by a target demographic, allows your brand or agency to craft effective marketing materials, using the values, concerns, questions and language of that key audience.

Relative Insight’s unique language comparison approach helps you extract actionable qualitative insights from unstructured language data - whether this is from your social listening tools as we've done here, or from surveys, news coverage, forums or review sites, the possibilities are endless.

Get in touch with the team or request a demo o find out how comparison can transform your business.

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