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One of the things I enjoy when I visit other countries is the accent of the locals. The Scottish, Irish and British all speak English, and yet they sound very different from each other and from Americans.
Beyond their charming accents, it’s interesting to hear unique words, expressions and colloquialisms common to the region. I’m typically in a country for a day before I begin to understand the dialect enough to respond properly!
I have British kinsmen and friends. I spent three amazing days in London, England on a girls’ trip with family. And those wonderful British shows that I love are sprinkled with colorful language. Thanks to all of these sources, I’ve picked up a few common sayings.
Check out these fun British phrases and what they mean, before your next trip to England.
British Words We Know
Most of us know a handful of British phrases, thanks to movies and television, and some even caught on in the US. The loo is the toilet…or as it’s more commonly called in the US, restroom or bathroom. In England a cookie goes by the name biscuit and chips are french fries while the British use the word crisps for chips. And when looking for the elevator in a building, call it the lift.
We use the British word cheers as a drinking toast but not often in place of goodbye or thank you. As we know, a flat is an apartment and a frock a girl’s dress. The word gobsmacked, meaning amazed, crossed the pond 40 years ago. President Obama apparently uses the word.
Mate, as in friend, roundabout, queue and knickers, all words originating from England, are fairly common in the US now too.
British Words and Phrases We May Not Know
See how many of these words and phrases you know!
Although it’s more often used as a synonym for a raincoat, an anorak carries a different meaning in slang.
The geeky person, with strong interests or expertise in a particular niche, is called an anorak. This might originate from the perceived uncool appearance of anorak coats and the people wearing them.
Calling bagsy is the equivalent of calling dibs on something, like riding in the front seat of the car. A kid might call bagsy on food from his friend’s lunch, that the friend isn’t going to eat.
Someone who goes on a spree of excessive drinking and mischief is on a bender. Benders may last more than 24 hours, so you might hear that someone is on a weekend bender or a three-day bender.
This word, considered a mild curse word, pairs with practically any other word to demonstrate incredulity or anger. I’ve most commonly heard it paired with hell, as in “bloody hell”.
Bob’s Your Uncle
I love this comical phrase! It is the British equivalent to “there you go” or “voila”. The phrase accompanies a process that seems more difficult than it actually is. “Balance on the bicycle, start peddling, and Bob’s your uncle…you’re riding a bike.”
Brolly is simply the abbreviated form of umbrella.
A strongly brewed cup of English breakfast tea with milk is called builder’s tea. It’s common courtesy to offer a builder working on a house builder’s tea, especially during cold weather. This practice most likely originated the phrase.
When someone feels joyful or pleased with an accomplishment, she is chuffed.
A nosy neighbor (neighbour in England), spying on what’s going on in her neighborhood from behind a curtained window, is called a curtain twitcher.
Faff or Faffing
To faff is to waste time doing very little. It comes from the 17th century word “faffle” meaning “to flap about in the wind.” If you are hanging out, not really doing anything, you are faffing about.
I’ve heard this phrase a lot. The abbreviation of “isn’t it”, people use innit to get agreement from someone OR to agree with something said. For example, “It’s cold today, innit?”. Or a person says, “It’s cold today” and another answers “Innit.”
Something unpleasant, unattractive or unappetizing is minging. The word comes from the Scottish slang word “ming”, meaning feces. “What is that you are eating? It’s minging.”
When someone says “that’s pants” they aren’t referring to trousers. It means rubbish, trash or garbage.
When fog covers London, especially a yellow or dark fog caused by air pollution, it’s a pea souper. This phrase originated in the 1200s due to the burning of coal, which contributed to heavy, dirty looking fog.
I think I first heard this British word as a child, while watching a movie. Poppycock comes from two Dutch words, “pap” which means soft and “kak” which translates to dung. It means nonsense or implies an untruth. When someone says “that’s poppycock”, they literally mean “that’s soft poo”.
Something that hangs crookedly or seems askew is skew whiff.
From the French word esquiver, meaning “to slink away”, skive is the act of avoiding work or school by faking an illness.
This British axiom means “If anything can go wrong, then it definitely will go wrong.” In the US we call it Murphy’s Law.
Spend a Penny
Another charming saying, spend a penny is the polite way for women to say they are going to the loo or toilet. The phrase originated in Victorian England when it cost a penny to open the lock on a public toilet for women. Men’s urinals were free.
This phrase means spending a significant amount of money on an event or an item.
Something satisfactory and in good order is tickety boo. The phrase may originate from the Hindu phrase, ṭhik hai, babu, which translates to “it’s alright sir”.
Wind Your Neck In
Americans might say “mind your own business”. The British say “wind your neck in”, meaning the same thing. This tells a person his opinion is not wanted or that the issue doesn’t concern him.
Did You Learn New Phrases?
Aren’t these words and phrases fun? Of course, there are many more. I intend to share unique fun phrases and what they mean from each of the countries I’ve visited. Watch for those posts.
I love adopting words, phrases and customs from other countries. One of my favorite practices, afternoon tea, came home with me from Scotland in 2014.
Do you have favorite phrases you enjoy, from countries you’ve visited? Share them in the comments!
More Tales from England:
10 Things You May Not Know About Buckingham Palace
Daring Escapes from the Tower of London
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