British Slang & Other Terms

“England and America… two nations divided by a common language.”

Here’s a fun list of British slang and other colloquial English words and phrases which might be confusing for Americans and others not used to British culture.
These are taken from the Glossaries at the back of my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries books.

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999 – the number to dial for emergencies in the U.K.

A&E – Accident & Emergency department at the hospital (American: ER)

Allotment – a plot of land which can be rented on an individual basis, to grow your own plants and vegetables

“a shambles” – a mess, a chaotic situation

At loggerheads – in a violent disagreement over something, usually when neither side will give in

Barmy – crazy

Bickkies – short for “biscuits”: small, hard, baked product, either savoury or sweet (American: cookies. What is called a “biscuit” in the U.S. is more similar to the English scone)

Bin (Dustbin) – container for rubbish (American: trashcan)

Biscuits – small, hard, baked product, either savoury or sweet (American: cookies. What is called a “biscuit” in the U.S. is more similar to the English scone)

Blast! – an exclamation of annoyance

Blighter – a person who is regarded with contempt, irritation, or pity

Blimey – an expression of astonishment

Bloke – man (American: guy)

Bloody – very common adjective used as an intensifier for both positive and negative qualities (e.g. “bloody awful” and “bloody wonderful”), often used to express shock or disbelief (“Bloody Hell!”)

Bob (“spare a bob or two”) – a pound; (historically, a bob was slang for a shilling but inflation has raised its value!)

Bobby – affectionate slang term for a policeman; derived from the nickname for Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan Police. Often used in the phrase: “village bobby” to refer to the local community police officer who looks after small English villages.

Bog Standard – perfectly ordinary, unexceptional

Bollocking – a strong reprimand, a telling-off.

Bollocks! – an expression of dismissive contempt or disagreement, same as “Rubbish!”

Bonkers – crazy

Bugbear – something that is a source of obsessive anxiety or irritation, a thorn in your side

(a poor) Bugger – there are several meaning for “bugger” but in this context, it refers to an unfortunate person, similar to “poor sod”

Bugger! – an exclamation of annoyance

Bum – the behind (America: butt)

(to have a) Bust-up – to have a big fight or argument

Cake slice – a utensil with a flat, triangular shaped head used for cutting and serving slices of cake

Carpark – a place to park vehicles (American: parking lot)

Cheers – a casual greeting used for both thanks and farewell

Chum – close friend (American: buddy)

(to) Chuck – throw

Chuffed – very pleased

Ciggie – short for cigarette

Clotted cream – a thick cream made by heating full-cream milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in a shallow pan to cool slowly. Typically eaten with scones and jam for “afternoon tea”

Cock-up – a terrible mistake, to make a mess of a situation

Coconut Shy – a game at a fair where balls are thrown at coconuts to try to knock them off stands

Codswallop – nonsense (an old-fashioned expression expressing contempt/ridicule)

Cow – a derogatory term for a woman who is unpleasant, stupid, or annoying

Cripes – an exclamation of surprise or dismay

Cuppa – slang term for “a cup of tea”

Cut up rough – to become very angry

Different kettle of fish – a different situation, a different state of affairs

Dishy – handsome, attractive (used for men)

Dogsbody – a junior or unimportant person who does all the running around and menial tasks for others

Drongo (Australian) – idiot

Elevenses – a break for a snack taken mid-morning, usually around 10:30a.m. to 11a.m., also known as “morning tea”

Fête – a public function usually held outdoors and in the warmer months of the year, often to raise funds for a charity. It includes entertainment in the form of old-fashioned games and stalls which sell goods and refreshments (American: fair)

Fib – to tell a lie (usually small, white lies), also used as a noun

Flat-out – very busy, doing something as fast and as hard as you can

Flutter – a small bet or wager, eg. “have a flutter on the horses”

(to) Fob someone off – to appease someone by evasion or deceit

Full on – intent, relentless (usually in the context of “very busy”)

Get stuck into – to do something very enthusiastically

Git – someone despicable who has taken advantage of you

 (to) Give a toss – to care

Go down a treat – be very well received

Gormless – lacking sense, very foolish

Grub (Australian) – food

Guv’nor – an informal term for one’s boss or someone in a position of authority (particularly used in the police force to refer to a higher ranking officer); occasionally still used as a respectful term of address

Half-arsed – half-hearted, not done with proper effort or thought (American: half-assed)

Have a nosy around – to snoop around, to be curious and sneak into somewhere or to look into something, often without permission

(to be) Having you on – to delude or dupe you, to pretend something is true when it is not, usually as a tease or a joke

Hobnob – a type of traditional British oat biscuit, often dunked in tea. Also used as a verb – to “hobnob with someone” meaning to hang out / spend time in a friendly manner (usually used in the context of being with celebrities or other rich/power/famous personalities)

Hoo-ha – a fuss, a disturbance

Hoopla – a game at a fair where you throw rings from behind a line and try to encircle one of several prizes

Hot toddy – an old-fashioned drink made of liquor mixed with water and honey or sugar, and sometimes herbs and spices

(to be/to have been) “in the wars” – to have suffered in some way, particularly in terms of physical injuries or dishevelled appearanace

Interval – a break between acts of a performance (American: intermission)

Jaffa Cake – a quintessential round British biscuit (cookie) named after Jaffa oranges. It consists of a Genoise sponge biscuit base, covered with a layer of orange-flavoured jelly, which is then covered with a coating of chocolate. They are absolutely delicious, especially with a cup of English tea!

Joe Bloggs – the everyday man on the street (American: Joe Nobody)

Jumper – a warm, often woolly garment, which is worn by being pulled over the head, similar to a sweater. Contrast this with a cardigan, which has buttons down the front. (NOTE: this word has a different meaning in the United States, where it refers to a type of girl’s dress, a bit similar to a pinafore)

Knackered – very tired, exhausted (can also mean “broken” when applied to a machine or object); comes from the phrase “ready for the knacker’s yard”—where old horses were slaughtered and the by-products sent for rendering, different from a slaughterhouse where animals are killed for human consumption)

Knickers – underpants, panties (usually for women)

Knobhead – idiot

Ladybird – a small beetle with a distinctive red coat covered in white spots (American: ladybug)

Lie-in – when you remain in bed, lazing around, even after you’re awake, often done as a special treat on weekends (American: sleep-in)

Lift – a compartment in a shaft which is used to raise and lower people to different levels (America: elevator)

Locum – a person who stands in temporarily for someone else of the same profession, especially a cleric or doctor

Loo – toilet

Miffed – to be offended and annoyed

Moggie – a mix-breed cat

Mug – face

Mugging – an assault and robbery in a public place

Nappies – a piece of disposable absorbent material wrapped round a baby’s bottom and between its legs to absorb waste. (American: diapers)

Natter – to gossip, have a friendly chat

(to) Nick – to steal

Off your trolley – crazy, mad (American: off your rocker)

One sandwich short of a picnic – a derogatory term to describe someone who seems simple, stupid, or crazy

Packed lunch – home-made lunch packed into a bag or lunchbox to take to school or work.

Peaky – tired, pale,

Pillock – an idiot, a stupid person

(to) Pinch – to steal

Plonker – an annoying idiot

Poncy – pretentious, affected

Pork Scratching – crispy, salty snack made of roasted pork skin (American: pork rinds)

Porter – usually a person hired to help carry luggage, however at Oxford, they have a special meaning (see Special terms used in Oxford University below)

Post shop – post office combined with a shop selling a variety of everyday items and groceries, often found in small towns and villages

Poxy – riddled with pox, third-rate

Prat – idiot, often a superior, condescending one

Pub grub – food served in a pub

Pudding – in the U.K., this refers to both “dessert” in general or a specific type of soft, jelly-like dessert, depending on the context.

Punter – colloquial term for a paying guest or customer, particularly in a pub

Queue – an orderly line of people waiting for something (American: line)

Ring – call (someone on the phone)

Rotter – someone to be regarded with contempt

Row – an argument

(to do a) Runner – to run away, escape

Run-in – a confrontation

Scrounge – to try and obtain something (typically food or money) at the expense of others or by stealth

Scupper – to spoil, often used in the context of plans

Shag – (v) to have sexual intercourse with or (n) the act

Skip (Bin) – giant metal container for construction waste and other big items of rubbish, often used in building & renovation (American: dumpster)

Smarmy – behaving with a superior attitude

Shandy – beer mixed in equal parts with a soft drink, usually lemonade, ginger beer, apple juice

Shattered – very tired, exhausted

Snug – a small, comfortable area in a pub or inn

Snog/Snogging – kiss/kissing

Sod a term used to describe someone foolish, idiotic or unfortunate. Can be used in both a contemptuous manner (“He’s a lazy old sod!”) or in an affectionate or pitying way (“Poor sod—he never saw it coming.”)

Sod off – “get lost”, go away, stop bothering me; milder version of the phrase using the F-word.

Sodding – am adjective used as an intensifier, usually in a negative context

Sop – something done or given to appease someone who didn’t get what they really wanted

Sort-out – the activity of tidying and organising things, especially sorting them into categories

(to be) Stuffed – to be in deep trouble (milder form of the F-word version)

Stuffed shirt – a pompous, righteous person

Swine – (pig) someone to be regarded with contempt

Ta – slang for “thank you”, more often used in the north of England

Take a punt – to take a gamble at something, make a guess, give it a go

Takeaway – food that’s taken away from the restaurant to be eaten elsewhere (American: takeout)

Telly – television

Torchlight – light from a torch, a portable battery-powered electric lamp. (American: flashlight. NOTE – different from the American usage of “torch” which is a blowlamp

Tosser – a despicable person

Tuck into – to eat with great enthusiasm

Twit – an idiot, often used in an affectionate context

Union Jack – the national flag of the United Kingdom, formed by combining the red and white crosses of St George, St Andrew, and St Patrick and retaining the blue ground of the flag of St Andrew

Wee – small, tiny

Willy – penis

(to) Wind someone up – to tease somebody and get them agitated on purpose

Works a treat – works very well, very effectively

Yob – rude, uncouth, thuggish person, often used by snobs to describe the lower classes (It was coined in 18th century England as part of the fad amongst upperclasses to speak backwards. Formed by spelling ‘boy’ backwards)

Yonks – a long time, “ages”

 


Arvo (Australian) – afternoon

Barbie (Australian) – barbecue

 

 

 

A British biscuit is an American cookie and an American cookie is a British cookie and an American biscuit is a British scone and an American scone is something else entirely. Simple!

~ Oxford Dictionaries blog

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