British slang terms and other relevant terms for non-British media consumers. See also: British Accents for the multitude of ways you'll hear them spoken, this site for an utterly exhaustive list of words, phrases, definitions, examples and etymologies, and British Weather, a common topic of conversation.
The sister tropes to this are, of course, American English and G Day Mate. Italicised words are also heard in Australian English. For tropes encompassing all branches of English, see Separated by a Common Language.
open/close all folders
Abseil: Descend a wall on a rope. Equivalent to US "rappel". The word is originally German, but is pronounced "ab-sail", not in the German manner which would be closer to "up-sile".
Across the pond: "In America". "The Pond" is an informality for the Atlantic Ocean; "leftpond" and "rightpond" are sometimes used as slang for America and Europe respectively.
Ironically, this term is actually now used more commonly in America than England. Often when referring endearingly or condescendingly to Britain.
Advert: An advertisement, a commercial. The UK version of America's "ad", though "ad" is sometimes used as well. In addition, down south "advertisement" is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, so it sounds like "ad-vert-iss-mnt". It's very rare for someone in the north of the country to pronounce it like that — up north it's pronounced 'ad-ver-tize-mnt'.
ae spelling: Pronounced "ee" in words of Greek or Latin etymology. Some words in US English eliminated this, for example the prefix "paedo-" often becomes "pedo-" and "haemo-" becomes "hemo-". The pronunciation may or may not change. Posh typesetters will use the ligature 'æ', as in "Encyclopædia Britannica" (which was never done in the original Greek - the æ character is from Old English, and represents a different sound entirely). There's also the oe spelling, as in "oestrogen" or (etymologically incorrect) "foetus" (or œstrogen and fœtus). Also pronounced "ee".
The ash (æ) and ethel (œ) are pronounced very similarly to an 'e', but are not the same sound. Æ and œ are not e, they make a different sound that generally only those who can make it can recognise. The nearest American sound to it would be an 'ee', though, so Ted was wrong.
Aeroplane: US airplane.
Afro-Caribbean: A polite way to say "black" (as a race), similar to the phrase "African American". The difference in terminology is due to the fact that most of Britain's black population can trace their lineage to slaves brought to work the sugar plantations on British holdings in the West Indies, rather than tobacco and cotton plantations in the US. Relatedly, "black" itself is officially not considered offensive, and is the term used on documents where relevant. "Afro-Caribbean" has largely fallen out of use as a result, often being viewed as Political Correctness Gone Mad.
In part, this is due to the more recent influx of Black British whose ancestors came directly from Britain's former African possessions such as Ghana and Zimbabwe.
Alright?: A non-formal equivalent of "hello". Only semi-intended as a question and only expected to be answered in a non-committal vaguely positive but not too positive way and a return of the question itself. Prominent in Harry Potter, for example.
Person 1: Alright?
Person 2: Not bad. You?
Person 1: Not bad.
Alternatively, as with the older "How do you do?", it can just be batted straight back to you; "Alright?" "Alright?".
As with the above or the equally common "How are you?", actually answering with anything other than "not bad" or "fine" will result in confusion. This typically creates fairly bizarre conversations when speaking to someone particularly miserable, injured or otherwise clearly not fine.
Arse: the British version of "ass", as in your backside. "Ass" is sometimes used to refer to a donkey, either literally or figuratively (a foolish or 'asinine' person), often as a joke playing on the double meaning. Shakespeare did it in A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance. Arse is seen as a rather rude word, and "bum", as a conjugation of "bottom", will be used often instead.
Can't be arsed: Can't be bothered.
Articulated lorry or just artic: A semi-trailer truck.
Asian usually refers to someone from South Asia (typically India, Pakistan or Bangladesh), as opposed to the American usage which tends to refer to East Asians (from Japan, China, Korea, etc.). "Oriental" has lesser negative connotations when used to refer to East Asians, but is becoming much less fashionable; you're better off using specific nationalities, or just saying "East Asian".
It is still common to hear the third member of the wartime Axis alliance being off-handedly referred to as "Japs". Asian-Americans visiting Britain need to be aware this is not – now – meant to be pejorative. (Although older people who fought their war in the East will often be vitriolic in their opinion of all things Japanese.) "Jap" is just handy shorthand. (Similarly, Brits visiting North America need to understand that to Japanese-Americans, this is an N-Word).
Autumn: Fall, as in the season; although this is used interchangeably in America, the opposite is not true, in that Brits will never say "fall" to mean the season (though it used to be commonplace, and older literature sometimes includes it).
Bacon: In Britain, "bacon" in most contexts refers to back bacon, which is sliced from both the belly and the loin cut of the animal. American visitors wanting good, red-blooded American-style bacon should ask for streaky bacon.
Barking mad: Not just crazy, completely crazy.
Bath: The name of a city in Somersetnote A spa town in the time of the Romans – some of the Roman architecture, particularly the baths, still exist today, and of what an American would call a bathtub. It's also a shibboleth of sorts; it possesses a long a (as in harm) in the South of England, and a short a (as in ham) in the North. If someone says "Baath" they're likely a Southerner. If it's more like "Beth" with the e swapped out, they're likely from Oop North. If they look like they never Bathe... why are you talking to them?
Be called to the witness box: To "take the stand" in court.
Beer garden: Outdoor area of a pub.
Bell-end: The English equivalent to American "dickhead," in pretty much every context. Also means the rounded end of a small tent, to the great amusement of small boys when confronted with camping equipment.
Another usage is found in the phrase "going on a bender", meaning that a lot of alcohol and/or other mind-altering substances are to be consumed.
Bent: Similarly, this sometimes means homosexual (in opposition to "straight"), but more often means 'corrupt', as in a 'bent policeman' or 'bent copper', very similar to the American term "crooked".
Biff: Very politically incorrect term for someone suffering from spina bifida, a rather unpleasant medical condition. More generally, it just means any stupid, clumsy, or irresponsible person.
Bill: US 'check' (the slip of paper demanding payment in a restaurant, hotel etc.). "Bill" does not refer to paper money – UK says "a five-pound note" where US says "five dollar bill".
This is actually a common usage in the US as well, though more often applied to regular expenses received in the mail (utilities, telephone, etc). Even in areas where "check" is more commonly used, almost nobody will be confused if you ask for your bill in a restaurant.
In the past, you might have said that an Englishman settles his bill by cheque, while an American pays the check with a bill. But cheque use has been declining in the UK for at least a decade now, so...
Not to be confused with the Old Bill. (See police, below).
Billion, trillion, and larger increments: The co-existence of the short scale and long scale large-number terminology systems cause no shortage of confusion.
In the short scale that Americans are familiar with, each successive term equals the preceding term times a thousand. Thus, a million is a thousand thousands (106), a billion is a thousand millions (109), a trillion is a thousand billions (1012), and so on.
Historically, Great Britain employed the long scale, in which each term is the preceding term squared. A million is a thousand thousands (106), a billion is a million millions (1012), a trillion is a billion billions (1018), etc. Complementing these terms are the "-iard" terms, which take the corresponding "-ion" term and multiply by a thousand; thus, a milliard is a thousand millions (109); a billiard is a thousand billions (1015), and a trilliard is a thousand trillions (1018).
In the 1970s, the British government changed their official usage to the short scale. Today, the terms billion, trillion, and so forth almost always refer to the American short scale, and the people who still use the long scale are very much a minority. The antiquated terms "British style" (for long scale) and "American style" (for short scale) only add more confusion, as many people remember the scales being different, but not how they were different. If you want to learn more, Wikipediahas an article about it.
Billy No Mates: Someone with few friends, regardless of their given name, and often used by everyone: the usage is generally more as a friendly rib, otherwise it'd be quite offensive.
Wheatley uses a variant on Chell while attempting to mock her, calling her "Fatty Fatty No Parents".
Bin, Dustbin: Trashcan. References to the overhead lockers on planes as "bins" can be amusing to Brits, although "bin" is also used as a generic reference to any receptacle for miscellaneous items, as in the phrase "Bargain Bin".
Similarly, binman, dustbinman or dustman means your friendly neighbourhood waste collector, i.e. garbageman.
Bint: Girl, young woman, potential sexual partner. Another word brought back from Empire (Arabic: young girl, daughter). Mildly pejorative.
Bird: A colloquialism for a woman. Use (and the politeness thereof) may vary, although one generally wouldn't use the term to refer to a prepubescent girl, an older woman or a family member – compare US 'chick'. Understood by most Americans thanks to the British Invasion (of music).
Also used to mean "prison time": eg "He's doing bird in Dartmoor."
In older works, "bird" may instead be a term for an older man, usually resulting in a modern audience becoming quite confused; "He's a queernote strange old bird", for instance. 'Old bird' nowadays would more likely refer to an old woman, though without the slightly sexualised connotations of 'bird' on its own.
Biscuit: A "cookie" in American English, cookie is still used to describe sweet biscuits, especially the large chewy kind with chocolate chips.
Frasier's Daphne Moon fluctuates between using "biscuit" in the British sense and then in the American sense (to describe what her countrymen would call a "scone").
Bitter: Pale ale, most beers in England are referred to as "bitters" or "lagers".
BME: Official term for everyone who isn't white. It's an acronym for Black and Minority Ethnic.
Bloke: Man, guy. You can refer to "that bloke over there", "some bloke I met earlier" and to your husband or partner as "my bloke"; but unlike 'guy' it is not normally used in the second-person plural, as in "hey you blokes".
Bloody: A very mild swearword, most commonly used in the phrase "bloody hell", and often seen as a way to Bowdlerise things. However, it can still come off oddly when American authors use it in the wrong context. Also used with the "covered in blood" meaning; can depend on context in ambiguous phrases like "A Bloody Mess".
Bob: In pre-1971 works, a shilling. Survives in the phrases "he's worth a bob or two" ("he is rich") and "he's as queer as a nine bob note" for someone pretty crazy ("he is as gay as the day is long", an American version is "queer as a three-dollar bill").
Also used like the word "toss", e.g. "Bob it in there, will you?"
Boffin: A nerd or geek. Believed to originate as an acronym for "Back Office Intelligence", i.e. where a lot of such people found themselves working during World War II. Sometimes shortened to "boff", especially Oop North. A favoured word of lazy tabloid newspaper headlines to describe scientists, as in "CERN boffins find Higgs boson". Boffin tends to have fewer negative connotations than nerd does though, and tends to be used more as a term of endearment. "Those Bletchley Park boffins were bloody amazing"
Bog: Slang for the toilet. Derived phrases include "bog roll", "gone straight down the bog", etc. Or an actual bog, like a more concentrated marsh, where the toilet definition is presumed to originate.
Bog standard: Common-or-garden, unenhanced, nothing special. Not nearly as negative as it might sound.
Bog-trotter: A racial slur meaning an Irish person. This spread to the United States during the 19th and early 20th century eras of mass-immigration, but has since fell out of use. It retains traction in Britain.
Bollocks: Slang for testicles. May also be used in place of the phrase "bullshit" One exception: The phrase "the dog's bollocks" means something good. Compare "Shit" and "The shit", respectively.
To receive a "bollocking" is to get a right telling-off; can be Bowdlerised to "rollicking".
A similar term "Bollix" (meaning foul up) is used in some parts of the US. John Wayne used it in the movie Chisum ("Don't make a bollix of it").
"Bollocks" is also used to denote discontent, as in "Oh bollocks"; similar to "Damn it".
And finally, as per the Sex Pistols obscenity trial, "Bollocks" was used in old English to refer to a Priest. Almost nobody actually uses this sense of the word any more, but you can draw all sorts of conclusions from the mere fact of its existence: it's possibly related to "bollocking", above.
Bonnet, boot: In addition to their traditional sartorial meanings that non-Brits would also be familiar with, these also refer to the hood (lid of the front, usually engine, compartment) and trunk (rear compartment) of a car, respectively. Presumably due to their modernity, car parts are one of those categories which are vastlySeparated by a Common Language.
Bottle: Nerve, courage; e.g. "He wanted to chat up the fit bird but he hadn't the bottle." To chicken out, i.e. lose one's bottle (esp. at the last minute) can be described as "to bottle it".
Brilliant: A more general term roughly meaning excellent, wonderful, amazing, etc. Something described as "brilliant" may not be particularly clever or ingenious; "Here's your tea," "Ah, brilliant".
Brew, a: A cup of tea. Note that it is only used when it is given an ordinal indicator (so someone would speak of "a brew" or "some brews": they would never call their drink "my brew", unless you're Peter Kay and your biscuit (see above) has fallen in it). Can also be used to refer to a cup of coffee, or a hot drink of whatever specification, and can also mean the act of making a round of such; "I'm doing a brew, who's having what?"
Stock phrase: "Ay love, make us a brew."
More a Northern expression than a UK-wide one. Also very common in Wales.
Though very widely used in the Army and RAF; the "brew bitch" is someone - often the most junior - who is expected to make the tea. In the Navy and Marines the equivalent is a "hot wet." The "brew whore", or "wench", conversely is usually the best at making the rounds, and it's quite an honour.
Brummie: Someone from Birmingham, England's second city.
Bugger: Semi-offensive swearword, literally meaning sodomise but pretty much divorced from that meaning in everyday conversation as it's usually only used as an interjection. It's one of the ones that Americans might think sounds "quaint" but is actually reasonably offensive, although nothing like the word "fuck". Offensiveness also varies by region, as in many Northern areas (e.g. Yorkshire), bugger is barely swearing at all (although you still wouldn't want to take tea with the vicar and say it then), and its offensiveness tends to vary by context and intonation.
Most commonly used in the phrases "Oh bugger", "bugger off" and "buggered up", by the way. Be careful; using it as a verb without a preposition on the end, it does mean "sodomise", although it can also mean the same thing as "bugger up" – pretty much the same situation as "to fuck" vs "to fuck up".
It's not entirely unused in the U.S., but on the rare occasion you hear someone here say "bugger" it's not even a mild curse but more of a euphemism for "fucker" along the lines of "dang" or "darn" for "damn". It's also part of a long-standing southernism, often used to refer to children in an entirely inoffensive way, e.g. "The little buggers were playing in the backyard."
A bugger, likewise, is just anyone who you can claim to be annoying at the moment, "the old bugger", "the little buggers". Also used to describe body parts sometimes, like a pronoun when the part has been established. If you're talking about your hips, say, you may go "ah, the bugger's been hurting all day": you can't say you've buggered it in these circumstances, but any other time "I've just buggered my knee" is perfectly normal.
Builder: A fairly specific term for certain types of construction workers.
"Builder's bum" is called when someone is showing their bumcrack, like a "plumber's bum" to Yanks.
Bum: bottom. Backside. Rump. Sit-upon. Inoffensive (similar in strength to "butt"), but works produced and set in America often have the word "bum" (used in the American sense) altered to "tramp" if they're intended to reach British audiences, if only because the original word would sound unintentionally humorous.
May also be used in a colloquial sense as slang for the act of anal sex (typically with homosexual connotations; one who does so is a "bummer", so that word as used by Eaglelanders tends to raise a laugh), and by extension as a way of indicating a preoccupation with something (neither use is very polite). For example "Stop bumming that album."
Can also be used to mean "borrow/scrounge", as in "Can I bum a fag [q.v.] off you?" Common in American English as well, especially in conjunction with cigarettes. This usage probably derives from the archaic usage of "bum" to mean "bailiff", as seen in one Agatha Christie novel.
Burgle: What a burglar does. Known in the states as "burglarize", referring to common housebreaking. Americans always think the word is terribly funny, and in turn, Brits find the word "burglarize" utterly ridiculous.
Caravan: A US trailer or RV.
Candyfloss: Cotton candy.
Cashpoint: ATM. Also known as a "cash dispenser", "cash machine" or "hole in the wall". It should be noted that "Cashpoint" and "Hole-in-the-wall" are actually registered trademarks, of Lloyds and Barclays banks respectively.
Chap: Old-fashioned term for a man. Tends to be confined to the upper classes or TV adaptations of c.1920s-'50s literature. "Old chap" is a common form of address in these contexts. In 'Allo 'Allo!, it is signified that characters are speaking "English" when they start talking this way. Expect to see "old bean" or "old boy" in the same context.
Can also be a lower-class form of address/greeting, as in "Orright chap?"
Chav: Depending on who you ask this can range from a thuggish individual to a member of a particular working class subculture to a general insult directed towards anyone who lives on a council estate. The closest American equivalent would be "trailer trash". See the other wiki for details - the only thing anyone can agree on is that calling someone a chav isn't intended as a compliment. Other types of Lower-Class Lout by region include;
In East Anglia they were called "barries" (like the man's name; females were "sharons") in the late '90s and early '00s, but this has been replaced by "chav", to the extent that people have forgotten "barries" ever existed, with one tiny exception: The phrase "Barry Boy" is used as an adjunct to "Boy Racer" in certain areas. A "Boy Racer" buys a cheap car and attempts to make it perform better by ludicrous means; A "Barry Boy" is someone who buys a cheap car and then tries to make itlooklike a high performance vehicle (usually degrading its performance by screwing up the aerodynamics) by incredibly ludicrous means. The installation of a stereo system costing twice as much as the vehicle itself is usually a reliable indicator of Barryhood, in this particular sense.
The North-West likewise had "scally" - possibly derived from "scallywag" - which quickly fell out of use shortly after the turn of the millennium, except by teens.
Scallywag is now almost a compliment, a sweet thing you might refer to someone else's kid as while talking to them, e.g. "How're your little scallywags doing?"
In Belfast, they're "spides" or "chip-eaters", the latter referring to their copious consumption of chips.
As well as this, there are "millies" a term that's fallen out of use recently, but refers to females and comes from the days when working class women worked at the mills.
In Scotland they're Neds. Opinions differ on origin but mostly either Non Educated Delinquent or Ne'er-do-well.
May also be called "asbos" (short for Anti-Social Behaviour Order, a type of civil order (i.e. injunction) given to people who engage in anti-social behaviour).
Cheers: As well as a salute to other drinkers of alcohol, means "thank you" in informal usage.
Cheque: British spelling of "check" (in the sense of a written form of payment). A Briton would say "bring me the cheque", if it weren't for the fact they'd actually say "bring me the bill" (see above).
Chips: Used to describe what would be called "French Fries" in the US; as in "Fish and chips". "Fries" in the UK refers specifically to the thin-cut variety they sell at McDonald's, although these are also referred to as chips. Do not call chips as bought from a fish and chip shop fries, this is a matter of deep importance to some and will not hesitate to correct you. See "crisps" for what Americans call "chips" (confusingly, "corn chips" or "tortilla chips" refer to the same thing as they do in the States).
Clunge: A vagina. More generally used refer to attractive women, as in "Yeah, that's a good club. Plenty of clunge on a Friday night." Used by teenagers, tosspots and teenage tosspots.
Clot: Slightly old fashioned slang for an idiot.
Coach: Privately hired and/or long-haul bus; thus the signs all over England reading "No football coaches allowed". No, it's not a prohibition against Rex Ryan, nice as that may sound. Football coach = bus full of soccer fans.
The difference is mainly that a bus is generally for public use and within towns/over short distances, whereas a coach is typically either hired privately and/or used for longer journeys (London to Manchester, or London to Edinburgh for example). If you have to book it in advance, it's a coach; if you buy a ticket when you get on, it's a bus.
Although that isn't necessarily the case - you can privately hire a bus/double-decker and you can publicly find coach services which you pay for as you step on. It mainly denotes the style of the vehicle. Coaches are often faster, more comfortable, less noisy for the passengers and sit higher off the ground than buses.
The Continent: shorthand for the rest of Europe, although "Europe" is also used to mean the rest of Europe as distinct from Britain, or to the EU.
Cowie: A North England word meaning, depending on geographical context, ectasy, cocaine, a thing, a policeman, or an ugly woman. Generally, it refers to drugs or being on drugs, as in:
Stoner: Pull yer maddest cowie face!
Then you get people whose name it is... Ouch.
Chuffed: Means "happy" or "pleased". "I'm just chuffed about it." The legally-mandated response to success in a reality TV show.
Be advised though that "to chuff" is to break wind.
Chunder: To vomit. Originally a rather upper-class, Etonian piece of slang, it is now generally used ironically amongst young people thanks to a memetic YouTube video satirizing Yahs (see below).
Colour: This is spelt with a U in UK English, as are several other similar words such as "Armour", "Honour" and "Neighbour" plus derivatives like "Colourful" and "Neighbourhood". But beware - words like "humour" still decline to "humorous", and honour to "honorary". As "Technicolor" is a trademark, credits of British movies don't alter its spelling. The same goes for English spelling in most other other Commonwealth nations.
Crapaud: French for "toad." Archaic English for Frenchman.
Crisps: "Potato Chips" in US English.
Crown: "The Crown" refers to the reigning monarch and/or the property held by the monarch, e.g. "These ships belong to the Crown." However, before 1971, a "Half crown" was also a 2.5-shilling coin. The latter is because there was also a coin called a "crown" (face value 5 shillings or 25p), but although this coin was (and is to this day) legal tender, it hasn't been struck for circulation in decades. It has been replaced with a new crown coin (face value £5), but this likewise has only been struck as a commemorative coin.
It also denotes the prosecution in English and Welsh criminal trials, where it is rendered as Regina ("The Queen"; Rex meaning "The King" when the monarch is male), written simply as R. For instance, if O.J. Simpson was accused of murder in London rather than Los Angeles, the case would have been written Regina v Orenthal James Simpson, abbreviated to R. v. Simpson (Orenthal), rather than The People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson, abbreviated to People v. Simpson.
Crumpet: A griddle cake made with flour and yeast; see The Other Wiki's article. Similar to an English Muffin, although that name is deceptive as those are fairly rare in English cuisine (and "muffin" generally refers to the same thing as it does in America).
Also used, somewhat quaintly now, to refer to an attractive woman (see also Totty, below). An attractive and highly intelligent woman, particularly one with a prominent role in the media, is sometimes referred to as being "Thinking Man's Crumpet" - originally coined in reference to Joan Bakewellnote now Baroness Bakewell, DBE, who didn't think much of the appellation.
Cunt: See Country Matters for more details; it's still extremely rude, but is used to refer to either gender (although it's typical for men to be thought of as behaving more "like a cunt") and thus doesn't come off as unspeakably misogynistic as it does in America. It's also frequently used as a term of camaraderie in certain groups as a way of expressing strong friendship.
"Bloody hell, how the fuck are you, you miserable old cunt?! I've not seen you in donkeys!" *men will now hug and imbibe at least three pints each*
Its use is so ubiquitous in the Armed Forces as to be more-or-less relegated to the role of punctuation or a placeholder noun for pretty much anything and everything. The same has happened in parts of Scotland, particularly Glasgow.
Occasionally used in its traditional sense, referring to that part of the female anatomy. There are even some historic streets in English towns and cities called "Gropecunt Lane" because this was where one solicited and used prostitutes in the olden days.
Daft: A very mild, and clean term meaning silly, stupid or of poor judgement.
Dago: In America and Australia, this is generally used as a derogatory term for an Italian. In Britain it's a somewhat outdated slur for Latinate people, generally those of Spanish or Latin-American descent. It was revived after a certain Argentinean footballer earned the hatred of England fans by illegally guiding the ball into the net with his hand while playing England in a World Cup decider, hence the borderline-racist headline You Cheating Diego!
Related is the archaic Don, referring to a Spaniard. Comes from the Spanish honorific.
Divvy: This can describe either (i) an abbreviation of "dividend" now most commonly used by and referring to the biannual payout to members of the Cooperative Society, also to their divvy or divi card, or as a verb for dividing something up e.g. "we divvied up the loot" means the same as "we split the loot between us" or (ii) an idiot (e.g. "What a bunch of divvies", "He's a bit of a divvy"). The latter is sometimes shortened to "div".
Sometimes shortened to div, used as a noun or adjective.
"Divvy" as a verb is used in some parts of the US.
Down tools (verb): Stop working. Traditionally understood as a synonym for "go on strike", but it may now also mean "clock out for the day". In sports contexts, the American equivalent is holdout.
Dodgy: Synonymous with "shifty" or "shady". Generally used to describe something untrustworthy or unreliable, generally "not right". Usually used in the sense that what it's describing is disreputable. (e.g. "That run-down shop looks pretty dodgy" or "I can't eat now, I have a dodgy stomach."
Envisage: US "envision".
Exclamation mark: Exclamation point.
Eyetie: (Iti). Slang word for an Italian. Derived from World War II. Now frowned upon and considered a little bit politically incorrect; unknown in North America but can carry the same pejorative force as wop or spic.
Faff: As a noun, a hassle; an inconvenient or dull task. As a verb, "to faff about" means to mess about, often in a procrastinatory fashion.
Fag: Slang for a cigarette. Don't be alarmed if someone says they're going outside to "suck on a fag".
As a verb, means having a younger boy act as a servant to an older boy in a public school (one of the common jobs was lugging firewood, or faggots); considering the US meaning, this has even more potential for humorous confusion, especially since there's been some recent controversy regarding the practice for those exact reasons.
Then there's the surprisingly common and inoffensive meaning of "a difficult and laborious task", as in "listing all the myriad meanings of this word is a real fag."
One should keep in mind that calling a person a fag is still considered wildly offensive (and 'faggot' possibly even more so, notwithstanding the below).
Faggots: A much-derided traditional foodstuff, semi-meatballs made with minced (US: ground) meat and offal with breadcrumbs and herbs, often served in gravy and with mashed potato. Also refers, as noted above, to chunks of firewood.
Fancy: Multiple meanings:
"I fancy [thing]": saying "I fancy chips/a new car/a holiday/going out/etc." is the same as saying "I'd really like..."
"I fancy [person]": saying this is the equivalent to the US term "I have a crush on [person]" (i.e. means the speaker has a strong romantic/sexual attraction to said person).
"That's fancy": use as an adjective means the thing is very nice, classy, and/or expensive-looking.
Fanny: Female genitals. This can lead to reasonably inoffensive American humour becoming far more amusing to a British audience.
Particularly in 'The Nanny' in which every episode announced that Fran was cast out "on her fanny." That's why your Empire chums always snigger during the opening credits.
The US "fanny pack" becomes "bum bag" in the UK, except among young people using it ironically.
Also a girls' name, more common in Ireland than GB, but still has hilarious results. Who knows if Enid Blyton had evil intentions when Aunt Fanny kept meeting young Dick in her 'Famous Five' series of books?
Father Christmas is the progenitor of the figure known worldwide as Santa Claus, although in modern times there's not much of a difference.
First Floor: The floor above the ground floor, known in America as the second floor. Ground floor is also interchangeable with first floor in the American usage.
Fit: Attractive, in describing a person. Equivalent, in that sense, of the US 'hot', though the latter would also be easily understood in Britain. Can lead to puns really easily. A Fitty is an attractive person. Sometimes substituted with Bonny in Scotland, though this is generally restricted to females describing males.
Fiver/Tenner: A five-pound or ten-pound note (Brits call paper money notes, not bills. A bill is an invoice for payment). In Australian English, refers to five-dollar notes and ten-dollar notes, respectively. A twenty-pound note is simply called a "Twenty" rather than "Twentier" and a fifty-pound note is likely to simply be called that, given how rarely they're seen.
Flat: A one-story apartment. As in, "Hey, babe, want to come up to my flat and snog?" For the purposes of Estate Agents (or, for Americans, Realtors), a flat has a front door that opens onto a shared area; if your front door opens onto the world at large, then it might be a maisonette, bedsit, or studio, but it is not technically described as a flat. Given that Estate Agents are nigh-universally considered the spawn of Satan, even by those who don't believe in Satan, this technical distinction is often overlooked in normal conversation, where it means any small residence that can't be described as a 'house'.
Well there is Soccer city, in Trafford, a brand name of an indoor training facility. Probably American, too.
Fortnight: Two weeks. Unsurprisingly derived from 'fourteen nights'. Surprisingly useful.
People still use it in America, but it's considered formal and relegated to the world of literature.
One really cannot discuss British English without referring to the never-printed but universally-used Fuck. This can mean almost anything, depending on context. It is an expletive, an insult; a modifier - as in when someone is said to have "fucked off" - which can convey anything from mild disapproval to stirring condemnation. It can be an imperative, as when telling someone they can fuck off (note that "go forth and multiply", a Bible quote, is a euphemism for this). It can mean damaged or worn out, beyond use; hence "Fuck, the fucking fucker is fucked!" which is incapable of translation but makes sense to a Brit. Non-native speakers always get this word wrong or completely out if context, and are well advised not to try.
"You know, Minister, I believe that in the long view of history, the British Empire will be remembered only for two things... The game of soccer. And the expression 'fuck off.'" - The last Governor of South Yemen, in conversation with then Defence Minister Denis Healey on the eve of South Yemen's independence.
Full Stop: Period, as in the punctuation mark; thus the final words of 1066 and All That: "History came to a ." Britain is aware of the word 'period', however, particularly the usage "Period!" to put an end to an argument, going at least as far as having really bad puns on certain adverts for feminine hygiene products.
Similarly to how the Yanks use "period" to mean 'end of conversation, that's it', the Brits say "full stop" to say the same thing, e.g. "X are the best, full stop."
Fuzzy-wuzzies: A generally out-of-use term for Africans. It is derived from the term used by British soldiers to describe Hadendoa tribesmen fought during the wars with the Sudanese Mahdi in the says of British involvement in the Sudan, as they wore their hair rather fuzzy◊. Since popularized by the Rudyard Kipling poem Fuzzy Wuzzy and Corporal Jones in Dad's Army, who fondly reminisces of his days fighting them, and their distaste for bayonets. Technically racist, but in a kind of endearing way.
Gaol: Archaic spelling of 'Jail', pronounced the same way. Rarely used nowadays, most often seen on old buildings and the job title of "gaoler". Not to be confused with the character from Kid Icarus: Uprising, which is pronounced "Gowl".
Gaff: Strictly, one's domicile, although it is also used in the sense of "territory", as in "My Gaff, My Rules." Originally Cockney, but now fairly widespread in London and the South-East of England. Unrelated to the identically pronounced gaffe, meaning a mistake or error.
Gaffer: from the Northern English shortening of "Grandfather", extended to cover certain types of older male authority figures where a friendly and respectful relationship is implied. Epithet universally used by football players in interviews, to describe their manager or coach.
Sometimes just means "boss" in general, especially in manual occupations.
Gardening Leave: A type of forced holiday sometimes used to keep people away from the office in between handing in their notice and their contract actually ending, or when a public servant is threatened with demotion or suspension, for example, in 'Yes Prime Minister'. Nowadays most often seen in reports of a football manager or coach being "placed on gardening leave" after some indiscretion or falling-out with their club, a sort of purgatorial prelude to being sacked.
Geezer: Man. Comes across quite Cockney-ish, or working class. Often has connotations of the geezer in question not being entirely trustworthy. In America, this specifically is an insulting term for an old man.
Geordie: A native of certain parts of Tyneside. Exactly who can be considered a Geordie is a topic of some debate, but you're usually pretty safe using it to refer to natives of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It doesn't refer to just anyone from the North East, and whatever you do, do not use it to refer to a native of Sunderlandnote Because they dislike the actual Geordies. The Geordies are totally fine with that. See also Geordie Shore.
It can also be used to refer to the distinctive dialect spoken in the city. Some people actually call it, 'Geordie English'.
Git: A stupid, obnoxious, incompetent, or childish person. As an insult it's somewhere between "twit" and "wanker," but it can be softened by changing the spelling slightly to "get," which is the preferred form in some parts of the United Kingdom. Not to be confused with the American South's corruption of the verb "get" or a software version control system.
Though it's derived from the word "get", in the sense of offspring (cf. "begat") as a euphemism for "bastard".
A popular insult in Ireland: Dubliner Brendan Behan uses the longer form whore's get, as a killer insult.
Gob: The noun form is a synonym for the mouth ("Oi you, shut yer gob!"), while as a verb it means "to spit," typically a viscous wad of phlegm.
Hence the British term "gobstopper" for the large spherical sweet (candy) known as a jawbreaker across the pond.
Government: the current Prime Minister and his Cabinet. In America, this is referred to as "the administration", while "government" is reserved for what Brits call "the state".
Grenade: Small bomb thrown by hand or launched mechanically. In British English, it also has the meaning of the solitary ugly girl in a group of fitties, usually encountered in clubs. Generally, her friends will not engage in the bizarre club rituals of drink-buying and ultimately coitus if she will be left out. In order to ensure that the rest of one's fellows in a group have a chance with the attractive ones, one member of the group will be required to court her. This is referred to as "jumping on the grenade", taken from the military context of a soldier jumping on a grenade, thus cushioning the blast and saving the lives of his kameraden. As you might imagine, deeply offensive especially if you're the "grenade". Much like clunge above, mainly used by teenagers, tosspots and teenage tosspots. This has since spread to the U.S.A.
Grub: Food. "Grub('s) up!" = I say, chaps, it appears there's freshly-prepared food available. "Pub Grub" = Meals served in pubs that can range from well-prepared and tasty (in so-called "gastropubs") to virtually inedible (like the cheese sandwich in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), but usually with an emphasis on being heavy and filling. If you do get the inedible sort, the classic British approach is to not make a fuss and simply vow never to eat there again.
Guv: Short for "governor". Used for a boss, especially in cop shows. Note that outside of particular contexts, this is pretty archaic/clichéd. A tourist using it will get odd looks, in the same way a Brit would if they were to say "golly" or "swell" to an American. However, it does still sometimes persist for pub landlords, a fictional example being Al Murray's pub landlord persona.
Denotes some respect: 'Boss' if he's neutral / unliked, 'Guv' if he is liked/respected. Can be used for female leaders.
In Victorian upper-class slang "The Guv'nor" meant "my father". Appears in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Gloria Scott", a couple of Flashman stories and elsewhere. In more modern settings, the London Gangster may be addressed as such by his underlings.
Formerly used by Cockney street-urchin types in place of "sir", as in the Stock Phrase "Shine ya boots, guv'nah?".
Half: A half-pint. To go for a quick drink down the pub is often called going for "a swift half", usually with the tongue-in-cheek implication that it will not be very swift and will involve consuming rather more than a half-pint.
Handbag: Lady's clutch bag of infinite capacity for all manner of mysterious items, US "purse". UK purse refers to the actual money-containing receptacle, known for men as a wallet.
Hard man: Tough guy, Badass. No relation to the Mega Man 3 boss of the same name.
Hen night/do/party: Bachelorette party. Usually seen stumbling around town on Friday and Saturday nights in a skimpy uniform involving pink bunny ears. Tackier variations add an L plate to the bride-to-be. *shudder* Male equivalent is stag night.
Just visit Newcastle-upon-Tyne on a weekend. Go on, I dare you.
Herb: is pronounced with an "h" at the start. Brits find it slightly odd/amusing when an American mentions "erbs". The same tends to apply to other words with an unpronounced "h" sound. See Eddie Izzard's take on this one here.
Puffing the herb – smoking pot. Only ever used ironically by non-hippy types.
In the classic northern accent where 'h's are religiously dropped from everything because, easier, y'know, there will be a sound that Americans can't make (like æ) that implies an 'h' so well it's the most enunciated thing compared to a Yank's "erb garden".
Hiding: A beating or spanking: "I ought to give you a good hiding". As used metaphorically, can describe an umpteen-nil football match.note The synonymous American term for this use is a "blowout" (Note that the verb "hide" itself is not used as a synonym for "beat" or "spank".)
Holiday: A day off from work, whether prescribed by tradition (e.g. Christmas) or taken on the employee's own volition. "He's on holiday/on his holidays" in Britain means the same thing as "He's on vacation" in America. There are roughly 17 bank holidays scattered through the year, from New Year's Day to Boxing Day (December 26th), which are public holidays that are not observed by every business but may see time off given or extra pay in lieu of this.
Holidays: "On my holidays" means on a vacation trip, as above, while "the holidays" refers to a break (recess) between school terms: "the summer holidays start next week". Provokes cringing, spontaneous vomiting, etc. in the UK if used as a non-denominational synonym for 'Christmastime', regarded as one of the chief indicators of Political Correctness Gone Mad.
How d'you do?: Common semi-formal greeting in certain circles, almost never pronounced as the original "how do you do?", but closer to "Howjadu?". Contrary to popular belief, it's meant as a rhetorical question and the only response should be either a polite nod or a reciprocal "How d'you do?". Shortened even further to "How do?" Oop North, particularly in Yorkshire and nearby areas.
In a bit: In a minute. Not unheard of in the U.S., but in that case it tends to be "in a little bit", whereas the British drop the "little".
Innit: Shortened form of "isn't it?" used most commonly in London and South East Wales., often as a largely rhetorical verbal punctuation mark. Overused to the point of stereotype by some, in the same way that Canadians like the word "eh".
-ise/-isation: E.g. "Bowdlerise", "Bowdlerisation". Spelt (that's the British spelling, by the way) with Zs in the Oxford English Dictionary, but the S variation is otherwise more common in British usage. Most worldwide dialects of English favor this spelling, although Canadian English makes use of both with a bias towards Z and American English uses the Z-spelling almost exclusively.
Iti (pron and often spelt Eyetie). A derogatory World War II-derived reference to Italians, unknown in North America. This is meant as an insult, unlike modern usage of "Jap" or the nearly-archaic "Jerry". Some British-Italian people consider this to be an N-Word.
Jerry: Germans. Common in World War II movies, as in "look out squad... Jerry's likely to be flying patrols on a day like this. Keep a weather eye open, pip pip".
Jizz: To ejaculate, or the liquid product thereof. Can means semen and urine, so if your mate jizzed in a bottle, it could be gross in more than one way.
Jobsworth: Unhelpful public service employee, from their catchphrase "it's more than my job's worth to do X", where X is usually "anything at all that would help you in any way".
Jock: Someone from Scotland, deriving from a common name north of the border. The American usage has crept into British life too, thanks to Eagleland Osmosis.
Johnny: A 'rubber johnny' is a condom.
A typical sex-ed show will feature a personified condom named Johnny Condom, squick.
Juggernaut: A very large lorry/truck. From the more common meaning of a huge and unstoppable force.
Jumper: A sweater, a jersey. All three words are used, but the former is more common.
Kerb: Curb, though only the roadside kind rather than, say, curbing one's speech. It’s a homonym.
Kerb-crawling: Driving slowly by the kerb', i.e. soliciting prostitution.
Kerfuffle: Commotion or fuss.
Khazi: Another word for toilet, corrupted from Hindi.
Kip: A quick nap or snooze, or to have such.
Knickers: Ladies' underwear, i.e. panties.
Knob: Slang for the penis, or, in verb form, vulgar slang for sex. Slang form can also be spelled "Nob". Also commonly used as an insult – usually to describe males who frequently make mistakes, similar to "boob", or someone who is unpleasant, similar to "dick".
When spelled as "Nob", can also be used to refer to an unpopular superior, or as a general term for the upper classes (from 'nobility'), i.e. "the nobs" and "hob-nobbing", the act of socialising with said social class.
Knock up: To knock on somebody's door in order to wake them up. The "knocker-up" was an employee whose duty was to go round the town knocking on people's doors to awaken shift workers whose shifts started at ungodly hours, in the days before alarm clocks were common/reliable.
Kosher: Used much more (in the idiomatic sense of 'legitimate') in Britain than in the States.
Similar to 'pukka' – truthful or correct. 'Kosher' – 'the real thing'/'legal'/'legit'.
So much so that some Orthodox Jews Hebraicize to "Kashrut" when they specifically refer to Jewish dietary law ("I keep Kashrut at home").
Lag: Doesn't just refer to latency in online gaming; in British English it can also refer to a prison inmate. In the form "old lag", this means someone who has been in prison for a long time. A staple of British crime dramas.
New inmate: Who's that?
Older inmate: What, 'im? Oh, you don't wanna try to mess around wiv 'im, lad. He's an old, old, lag, 'im. Knows all the tricks, and, if you can pluck up the courage and the ready, where to get all the good stuff too.
Larry: Southern teen slang for a loner, as in "Come sit with me, I don't want to look like a larry" or "She's such a larry; no-one hangs out with her".
Leg it: Essentially, run like hell. A close American analogue would be to "book it."
Lift: "Elevator" in US English. Also the equivalent of "ride", in the car sense, as in "I'll give you a lift to the station".
Although 'taken for a ride' means to be tricked or exploited.
Both "I'll give you a lift" and "taken for a ride" would be perfectly understood by Americans. As would 'lift' to mean 'elevator' for that matter, although it is not the usual term.
"Lift" is sometimes used in American media (Star Trek being an example with its turbo-lifts), but only to refer to the more spartan sorts such as service elevators or dumbwaiters.
In Scotland, being "lifted" can denote being arrested, generally in the context of being taken off the streets when drunk. It can also denote stealing, specifically shoplifting or casual, petty theft.
Suspicious Scot: Whaur did ye get thae Playstations?
Thieving Scot: Lifted 'em oot the back o' the Tescae's oan Maryhill Road.
Loo: Toilet, lavatory, "the gents'" or "the ladies'". The "bathroom" is the room where the bath is (and it's a "bath", not a "bathtub"). See khazi, above.
Unlike in America, the most common use and the least rude. Saying "toilet" in public isn't very nice. There is no such thing as a 'restroom', ask for one and you'll be presented with a rest room, or break room, if you're allowed in.
Lorry: A truck. Something knowingly stolen is often said to have Fallen Off The Back Of A Lorry. Pickup trucks and the like are called "light trucks", though.
Interestingly though, what the British call railway trucks are freight cars.
Love: As a noun, a term of endearment, mostly used by older folk to younger ones in a similar fashion to "dear". Particularly practised Oop North. Can also, between friends, be largely similar to mate. Mostly used by any member of the opposite sex to the other when their relationship is only friendly, but otherwise used amongst hetero friends or relatives.
"Put the kettle on, will you, love?"
Luvvie: an actor, as they are stereotyped as being too snobbish to learn the names of the "little people" and so end up addressing everyone as "love".
Mackem: Slang for a person from Sunderland (usually preceded by Dirty Monkey, when used as an insult). One folk etymology is that it derives from the phrase "We mackem an' tackem"note "We make them and take them", proudly referring to Sunderland's shipyards and sailors. See also '"Geordie... and never'' confuse the two.
Mad: In both the USA and Britain, it can mean either 'angry' or 'insane'. In America, it usually means 'angry', but Britain it's more often the latter (while using it to mean 'angry' is generally seen as an Americanism). Thus to be "mad about" something means to be crazy about it, also expressed as "mad for", especially in Manchester ("mad fer it!").
Manc: Slightly derogatory term for someone from Manchester (who are rightfully called Mancunians, by the way), England's third city.
Manky: Filthy, disgusting. One unintentionally funny consequence of this comes about when you realise that there's a Pokémon called Mankey...
Mate/Chum: Friend, pal, companion. "Mate" can also be a mode of address, or an exclamation of surprise, approval or disgust, depending on the tone ("Ah, MATE!" equivalent to "dude").
It doesn't mean partner, unless you're talking about animals. This is one of the most confusing things when reading this word written by American authors!
Manor: In addition to meaning a big house with extensive grounds, "manor" is sometimes used to indicate either a policeman's area of beat or someone's turf: "Frankie Fraser reckons he can do over the Alliance & Leicester on main street. Not on my manor!" Originally a London-based term, it is now spreading thanks to shows like Eastenders.
Maths: Universal British way of shortening mathematics, not "math".
Meat and two veg: Slang for the penis and testes.
Mick: An Irishman. Considered offensive.
Milliard: Back when the Long Scale (see billion above) was still in use, "a milliard" was a way of saying a thousand million. Today, you'd just say "billion".
Mince: Ground beef (by default; other meats can be specified, as in "turkey mince"). As a verb, to grind up. Also, to walk effeminately.
Minced meat: Also ground beef/other; in this case usually specified as "minced beef/lamb/pork". NOT to be confused with:
Mincemeat: A dark and sticky mixture of chopped dried fruits, suet (or vegetarian substitute), distilled spirits, sugar and spices, most commonly used as the filling in the small Christmastime staple foodstuffs mince pies – so called because they were originally filled with actually minced-up/ground meat, however meat became too expensive, so the meat-free mincemeat mixture was created to replace it and the new recipe caught on. The More You Know.
Minge: Female genitals.
Minger: Ugly person. Pronounced like "singer", not "finger" or "ginger". Mingin' is the equivalent adjective. Unrelated to the above word.
Mini-break: A vacation lasting less than a week.
Mobile phone: A common mistake among American writers is to have British characters refer to handheld phones as "cell phones" or "cells". Brits tend to just refer to them as "mobile phones", "mobiles", or simply "phones".
A cell, said by a Brit, means what it actually means: the basic unit of living organisms, or one of two elements to a battery (though the singular are commonly called batteries, too).
Mohican: Another name for the mohawk hairstyle. Both words are used and understood.
Mong: Short for "mongoloid", an archaic and now offensive term for people with Down's Syndrome. May be used as a semi-offensive insult, similarly to the way "retard" is used on both sides of the the Atlantic. "Mongo" (pronounced mong-go) is a variant.
In recent times "mong" has become more offensive since, being based on the apparent physical similarities between people who have Down's Syndrome and people of Mongolian descent ("Mongols"), it manages to offend both groups quite spectacularly.
Still popular in the Army, at least according to ARRSE. Squaddies combine it with chav (see above) to form chavmong, a particularly aggressive and stupid breed of chav..
Monged: Very high (on drugs). Rhymes with "wronged", and not directly correlated with the above.
Monkey hanger: A derogatory term for people from Hartlepoolnote pronounced Heart-Li-Pool, not Hartle-Pool; the term refers to an infamous incident in the 1800s where a group of Hartlepudlians, unsure if a monkey found on a French vessel was actually a French spy, placed it on trial and hanged it for its crimes when it (obviously) didn't testify. The term even has its own wiki page.
Motorway: The equivalent of a US "freeway" or "interstate highway". Motorway numbers are always preceded by a capital M, such as the M1, the M25, and so on. Other roads that have been later upgraded to meet Motorway specifications have M suffixed to their designation, most commonly used with the A1(M) among others.
Muff: Slang term for female pubic hair or genitalia – also North American, but rarer.
Unrelated to Mufty Day which is a regional name for a day when children (and teachers) need not wear school uniforms (or dress like a teacher). Some parts of the country simply use "non-uniform day" or "civvies day". (This is from the older military term 'mufti', meaning 'civilian clothes', from the habit of off-duty colonial officers in the days of The Raj of wearing clothes vaguely resembling the garb of muftis, Muslim jurists.)
Also, that woollen thing you shove your hands in when it's cold and you don't have pockets or gloves (or are posh).
Or Mam in much of northern England and Wales too.
Mom in the West Midlands, but pronounced differently, a mix of ma'am and morm.
Often Mammy in Scotland – but Mum is just as common.
Mammy also tends to apply in Ireland and its Northern counterpart.
Munter: An unattractive person, analogous to minger above. Also related to munted which implies someone who is so chemically imbalanced on drink and/or drugs as to have become physically unattractive, itself also similar to monged.
Naff: Garbage, useless, worthless, pointless. Popularised by Porridge, which used it as a placeholder for more serious profanity. Said to be derived from NAAFI, the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, by implying the low quality of the merchandise sold by said body.
Can be used, and has been used by annoyed royalty, in the pejorative ''Naff Off!" Interestingly, Afrikaans has a similar-sounding expletive imperative. So ultimately derived from Dutch?
Nappy: A diaper. Derived from the word "napkin".
Nicked: Arrested. Prison is "the nick", or "chokey"/"stir" in P. G. Wodehouse-era works.
Also "stolen", generally in the context of petty theft: "nick" as a verb in this sense means to steal.
Nig: Can be a pejorative for "black-skinned person" in the form of nig-nog (note: highly offensive and now frowned upon). These days, used in the Army to describe a new soldier just passed out as a recruit, and new to his unit (American "greenhorn" or French "bleu"), an acronym for New In Green.
Nigger: Means exactly the same thing it does in the United States and should not be used. However, there are some uniquely British circumstances surrounding it. Mainly, it was not widely recognized as being as offensive (by white people...) as it is until the 1970s in the UK, which is why it persists in British media rather longer than it does in America - Ralph referring the boys as "a bunch of painted niggers" in Lord of the Flies for instance. British tailoring, drapery, and haberdashery had a shade of brown called "nigger-brown" until the mid seventies. This may explain a couple of recent North American controversies involving Chinese-made clothing being labelled as "nigger-brown".
Nonce: Slang term for child molester (or gay man), of uncertain origin more It has been creatively suggested to originate from prison officer slang for a sex offender who was kept in segregation for their own safety and is thus Not On Normal Communal Exercise, but such acronymic etymologies are almost always spurious — compare "Ship High In Transit", "Fornication Under Command of the King" etc. It's more likely to derive from the word "nonce" (stupid person, from "nonsense") or "nance" ("nancy boy", homosexual). It is now a general purpose insult, though it retains its connotations of paedophilia.
Nought: "Zero" in American. In Australia, "zero" is for numbers, and "nought/naught" is used the same way as "all for nought". Strikes many Americans as odd, even though the phrase "all for nought" is fairly common in America. Although when reading out a string of numbers (like a telephone number), most British speakers will substitute "Oh" (as in the letter O), e.g. "oh-one-six-oh-two..."; this is not used where the string being read out is alphanumeric. 'Zero' is becoming more common, though.
Noughts and Crosses: Tic Tac Toe. (0s and Xs, get it?) Still, Americans call their "noughts" in Tic Tac Toe after the letter "O".
Noughties: An uninspired name for the 21st century's uninspiring first decade. Americans may find this humorous – it was (meant to be) humorous for Brits too when it was coined, but became so commonplace it lost most of its punny association. Sometimes substituted with the even more uninspired The2000s.
Numpty: Extremely mild term of abuse, very similar to "plonker" (see below) but is usually gentler with more of an implication of affectionate exasperation.
Used mainly in Scotland, Northern England and Wales.
Other favourites include "prat" and "muppet".
Off-licence: Liquor store: the name comes from the fact that they're licenced to sell alcohol to be consumed off the premises. Sometimes called an "offie".
This can also mean the licence the shop holds that allows it to sell booze. Pubs and restaurants are instead granted an "on-licence" (to sell alcohol to be consumed on the premises) but are never called that.
Old money: Literally, the predecimal system of currency used prior to 1971, when pounds, shillings & pence were replaced by pounds and (new) pence. Figuratively, may be extended to describe imperial systems of measurements, e.g. length, weight, distance, temperature.
"It's a warm 25ºC, or about 77ºF in old money."
"What's that in old money?" can mean the questioner thinks you asked a stupid or unclear question.
It also refers to a person's background/'breeding', i.e. possessed of ancestral wealth. Distinctions are often made between families of 'new' (i.e. upstart, ostentatious) and 'old money', with the quiet 'got-nothing-to-prove' attitude of 'old-monied' folk seen as something to aspire to.
Oi!: Cockney word for, "Hey!" No connection to the Yiddish term "oy". Sometimes written as "Hoi!" for cases where someone is surprised (as in "H-[uh?]...OI!") or hailing someone from afar. And for the record, if it's missing the exclamation mark (point) at the end, it's spelt wrong. Also common in Wales.
If you're Northern it's written like that but any vague sound is made. They all have different meanings, like teenage grunts, seemingly indecipherable to Yanks.
On the take: Open to bribery; frequently interchangeable with the corrupt definition of bent above.
Oriental: Adjective for an ethnically East Asian person or people. Possesses no negative connotations, unlike in American English.
P45: The document you get from the taxman after termination of an employment contract, often mentioned in allusion to a dismissal. Similar (at least in terms of symbolically) to the American Pink Slip.
Paddy: An Irishman. Considered offensive.
Paki: An extremely offensive term for people of South Asian descent, comparable to "nigger"; one survey ranked it as the most offensive word in British English. Tends to cause trouble when Americans believe that it's merely the short version of "Pakistani".
Pants: As a noun, refers to underwear, either male or female, i.e short for 'underpants'. For the things Americans call 'pants', see trousers. The difference is the source of much British humour at American works: just consider the difference in meaning of "pulling his pants down" on either side of the Atlantic.
As an adjective, also used as derogatory slang similar in strength and meaning to rubbish.
Pavement: Sidewalk. Literally one with stone or concrete 'paving slabs'. Usually used to refer to the road surface in America.
Pensioner: A retired person, i.e. one old enough to receive their state pension. OAP (Old Age Pensioner) is also heard.
Pikey: Originally a term for Irish Travellers, it's been of late spreading out into a general insult implying low social status and lower morals – the kind of people trailer trash look down on.
Pillock: similar to "plonker" below.
Pint: An imperial pint, 20 imperial fluid ounces, the standard serving size for beer (along with the half-pint). Whereas Americans say "A pint's a pound the world around,"note and are wrong about this, Brits say "A pint of water's a pound and a quarter."
Alternatively, "A pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter", which has the advantage of rolling off the tongue rather better, as well as being better chemistry.
Pissed: Slang for "drunk". For "annoyed", use pissed off. As with pants, this can be a source of amusement when the American and British mix (e.g. "Why is his boss pissed at work?").
Side note: in the appropriate context, every single word (or phrase) in British English is acceptable slang for "drunk", with the letters "-ed" added on where needed, from "trollied" to "smashed" to "wankered". Make of this what you will.Michael McIntyre comments on this precise phenomenon here.
Plaster or sticking plaster: What Americans call a Band-Aid. The equivalent British Brand Name Takeover would be Elastoplast.
Band Aid to a Brit is "that-Africa-song-thing-Bobby-Geldof-and-everybody-did-in-the-'80s-oh-weren't-the-eighties-great,-love?"
Plastered: Drunk. See "pissed", above. It might be taken to imply that the subject is falling-down drunk, and thus will require plasters (see above), or that the subject is so drunk that alcohol is adhering to them like builder's plaster.
Plonker: Someone who is oafish or foolish (e.g. "Rodney, you plonker!"). Broadly similar to 'wanker', with the added insult of being a fool. Less offensive than wanker, however. Allegedly originated as a slang term for a particular World War I artillery shell that happened to be somewhat phallic in shape, and from there came to mean a penis, a meaning that's almost entirely disappeared since.
Poof or poofter: a gay man, generally a derogatory term, but mild. Slightly outmoded now. Usually implies some level of Camp Gay-ness.
Porridge: Jail time. As in: "Aye, he's doing porridge up in Barlinnie." (Also, obviously, a hot breakfast foodstuff made from oats and liquid.)
Posh: Upper-class; stylish; materialistic. Famously applied to Posh Spice.
Potty: In Britain, exclusively a chamber pot (usually a child's plastic one), never a toilet.
Can also mean 'insane' when used as an adjective, as in "Have you gone potty?", but this is becoming obsolete.
Prod or Proddy. A Northern Ireland Unionist. Coined by Irish Nationalists as a term of abuse, but often used by the British in a "plague on both your houses" spirit.
Provo: A member of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army, the main terrorist organization active during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Considered insulting when applied to Irishmen generally and considered one of the worst insults in the world when directed at Ulster Loyalists.
Pub: Short for public house. The difference between a bar and a pub is sometimes contentious, but pubs tend to have an older style to them, with wooden decor, and will primarily serve beer and cider, with a more relaxed atmosphere. Most will serve a specific kind of stodgy food during the day - "pub 'grub" - and may have an outdoor section, or beer garden''. You also sit at tables, never around a bar, a.k.a. The Great Distinction.
Public school: Private school, confusingly enough. They are 'public' in that they are technically open to anyone... just not everyone. That is, mediaeval schools were originally controlled by the Church, providing education for sons of the clergy, or by the trade guilds e.g. Haberdashers, Merchants, and entry was restricted accordingly. Public schools were, conversely, open to any child – at least, any child whose parents could pay the fees – regardless of background (it is a myth that the term originates with "free schools for the poor", although many current public/independent schools and former or current grammar schools did start that way, to confuse matters). "Private School" means something slightly different and colloquial usage in Scotland is more in line with the American usage. Use "Government school"/"state school" (which genuinely are open to all) and "independent school" if you want to be unambiguous. Not all independent schools are public schools, in England and Wales, but all public schools (E&W) are independent.
Public schools are more accurately defined as a particular class of independent schools; they do have a special legal status, as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868. But hardly anybody knows that. In general usage "public school" = "fee-paying school". Most often used pejoratively regarding the upbringing of the privileged classes, including the Prime Minister David Cameron and many of the present Government.
-pudlian: A suffix for those from places ending in "-pool"; the most famous examples are probably Liverpool, Blackpool, and Hartlepool, which contain Liverpudlians, Blackpudlians, and Hartlepudlians respectively.
Pull: Can mean either "attempt to persuade someone to have sex with you" or "succeed at persuading someone to have sex with you"; the latter's American equivalent is "score": "I'm on the pull / I pulled last night".
Increasingly used to imply make out with or snog. "I pulled her", "They pulled," etc
Pumps: Only ever used to refer to a certain variety of (usually) canvas, rubber-soled flat shoe used in indoor sports (primarily in school.) Never used to describe any other kind of shoe.
Also refers to passed gas, along with 'fart', 'trump', etc...
Can be used as a verb - to pump - when referring to sexual intercourse, generally in the North and Scotland: "I pumped her" etc...
Punt: A gamble: "I'll take a punt on that".
Also, a small flat-bottomed boat that is propelled by a very long pole. Punting is a very popular in the rivers around Cambridge University.
Punter: Customers or clients, usually of a business providing entertainment, gambling or illegal goods/services. Funfair owners, casino bosses and the suspicious-looking bloke in a pub selling DVDs of questionable origin might refer to their customers as "punters"; the managers of Harrods or Selfridges are less likely to do the same.
Also a term for a prostitute's client ("john" in the US).
Purse: A woman's wallet. A US 'purse' is a British handbag.
Quid: A pound sterling, £. Remains the same in plural: "ten quid" is ten pounds. Generally speaking, "quid" is the Brit slang for pounds in the same way that "buck(s)" is the American slang for dollar(s).
It is also Irish slang for the euro (€), because the currency up until 2002 was the (Irish) pound or punt (nothing to do with punt above) and had similar slang to the sterling. Most of these (quid, notes, fivers, tenners, etc.) carried over – some older people even refer to the euro as the pound – and very few new slang terms (save maybe "yo-yos") were created for the euro.
Common in quite a few countries in fact. "Quid" being latin for "What", it probably simply means "Ten whatever they call their money over here".
Rah: Short for "Hoorah/Hooray Henry", a stereotypical posh youth, esp. if loud, extrovert and prone to Conspicuous Consumption. A folk etymology of the term is that it comes from everything they say (in their clipped, nasal upper-class accents) sounding like "Rah rah rah".
Ring Road (a.k.a. orbital motorway, the latter most often applied to London's M25): A "beltway" or "loop". US newspapers' references to politics "inside the beltway" confuse Britons. References to the "beltway echo chamber" translate roughly as the "Westminster bubble".
Root: Have sex with. More Australian than British, it has nevertheless gained some traction as a euphemism in England, but is still thought of as being Antipodean.
Rubber: An eraser, those pink and generally oblong things you use to messily undo pencil writing.
The comedian Rene Hicks mentioned how when she was in Britain a local asked if she had a rubber and promised to bring it back. Of course to the American mind this means condom, so hilarity ensued.
Sack: To fire, dismiss etc. As in "Given the sack", i.e. to put your belongings in. There was much complaining about "Americanisms" when the UK version of The Apprentice retained the catchphrase "You're fired!", but in reality that phrase is just as common nowadays, if not more so, as "You're sacked".
In the sack, however, means in bed, particularly in the "yeah, s/he's great in the sack" type of construction. "I'm going to hit the sack" just means you're going to go to bed, presumably coming from where those down on their luck or working on farms would sleep in barns and stables; "hit the hay" has the same derivation.
School: Education establishments up to the age of 18. Never refers to (higher education) college or university, unlike in the US; the latter use can therefore provoke a "what, you're still in school at your age?" auto-response in the British mind. See British Education System for more info about actual schools; it gets quite complicated because different parts of the UK do it very differently.
Scouse / Scouser: A resident of Liverpool. Short for 'lobscouse' (derived from Norwegian 'lapskaus' and similar words in other Northern European tongues), meaning a meat stew eaten by sailors that became popular in port cities such as Liverpool.
Scouse in general is the slow-cooked meat and veg stew, traditionally based on mutton but also made with beef etc. – used as far away as Cornwall and Norfolk. 'Blind Scouse' is the vegetarian version with no meat whatsoever in it.
Series: When talking about TV shows, a 'series' is both the show as a whole and what Americans would call a 'season'; perhaps because they don't last for several months. This has caused mild panic among American fans of British television, because when an American hears the term "Series Finale," it means the show is over for good, as opposed to being finished until next year. 'Season' is increasingly gaining traction in the UK as well. Incidentally, in British English you tend to talk about TV 'programmes' rather than 'shows'.
Set square: In UK English, this refers to a measuring tool which is essentially a right angled triangle shaped ruler (known as a triangle in the USA). The device sometimes known in US English as a set square (essentially a ruler with a brace on the end) is always known as a t-square.
Seven shades: A large quantity of shit. Something you don't want beaten out of you. This legendarily includes the two shades nobody has been able to find yet, with the added air of menace that implies there's always room for experimentation. (If you find yourself producing seven shades of shit without being beaten up, this website recommends seeking medical attention.)
Shag: Inoffensive word meaning "to have sex with".
Also a kind of carpet. Some believe there is a connection between the two terms.
And a sort of coarse-cut tobacco.
And a seabird (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) closely related to the cormorant. Thus "cormorant" can sometimes be heard as a euphemism for sexual intercourse, especially of an illicit variety.
Shite: Pretty much the same as "shit", but more often used to describe something, so "That's shite" is a bit more common, and a bit stronger, than "That's shit". Some people think it sounds nastier than 'shit', and it causes massive dissonance when Groundskeeper Willie uses it onThe Simpsons, though it is admittedly more common in Bonnie Scotland.
So a "gobshite" is someone who talks a lot of shit.
In Glasgow patter, a gabshite is a gossipy person, coming from the word "gab", meaning talk.
Silly: In Britain, the word is more often used dismissively, in similar contexts to "dumb" or "stupid". In America it's acquired a meaning more along the lines of "goofy" or "wacky". Not likely to cause Separated by a Common Language, as both definitions are generally understood on either side of the Atlantic.
Skint: Broke, as in no money.
Slag / Slapper: Slut, US "tramp", etc. Has connotations of less-than-desirable appearance as well as promiscuity.
Not to be confused with the term for scrap metal, usually partially molten, left over from some industrial processes. This sense is known in Britain, especially in the iron and steel industry, and yes the engineers and scientists have a sense of humour about it. The similar byproduct of the coal industry has left large mounds all over the countryside, especially of South Wales, known as "slag heaps".
"To slag something/someone off" means to disparage it or them.
Slash, to have a/go for a: A piss. This kinda makes Slash Fiction sound like it's something it's not.
Sleeping policeman: Speed bump (US), ramp (Ireland). 'Kipping cop' is also heard.
Snigger: US "snicker". Used less nowadays, as like the word "niggardly" it has an unfortunate potential for being misheard.
Snog: Make out, kiss with tongues. Used a lot more by teenagers than adults, however, so can come off a bit childish. A Northern term with a similar meaning is "pash", probably derived from 'passionate'.
In some parts of the UK, it sounds a bit totally radical, and the act is more commonly referred to as pulling. Which causes a bit of confusion regarding the other meanings of pulling.
Sod: Used in "sod off", a relatively polite way of requesting that someone should go forth and multiply (see fuck off); alone, it tends to refer to an idiot, moron, or someone who can be unpleasant ("he's a daft old sod" vs "he's an absolute sod"). Comes from "Sodomite"; it is a curiosity of the modern British swearword lexicon that this most traditionally taboo sexual act tends to be the source of words at the milder end of the expletive spectrum; see also bugger.
Sot: A drunkard.
Spanner: A wrench, as seen in the title of Spanner in the Works. May also be used as an insult, with implications of incompetence (e.g. "Don't do that, you spanner!").
Spastic: In America, it means hyperactive or out of control, but to British ears, this is a major insult for the mentally disabled (like "retard", or worse). Used to be the official term for sufferers of cerebral palsy – the charity The Spastic Society changed its name several years ago to "Scope". In American the term "Spaz" has the same meaning, it's an insult like "retard".
Spraff: To ejaculate.
Spunk: Semen. Of course, this one has double meanings, but can be hilarious when a character (especially female) is described as "full of spunk". Especially if followed up with "...I like spunk".
Although "spunk" is occasionally used to mean semen in America, it's far less common.
Stag (also buck) night/do/party: Bachelor party. See hen night for the female equivalent. Stag party was common Stateside during the mid-20th century, but has faded since. These days many take a stag weekend and go to a cheap European destination like Prague – and, since the decline in Football Hooligans, have filled the niche of "rowdy drunk guys who give Europeans the worst possible impression of British people".
Stone: A unit of measurement equal to 14 lb, mostly used in the context of personal weight. So one says "I weigh 10 stone 4 pounds", not "I weigh 144 pounds" – to a Brit, the latter seems as odd as saying "I'm 74 inches tall" instead of "I'm six foot two" would.
Brits usually measure their weight in stones, distance in miles, their height in feet and inches, and milk, beer and blood in pintsnote that's 20-fluid-ounce Imperial Pints, not those wimpy 16-fluid-ounce U.S. pints, but everything else in the metric system. (Blood is also popularly measured in Imperial standard armfuls.)
Stroke: A term for the "/" character, also known as slash, oblique or solidus. Tropers may know the term from Stroke Country (or Northern Ireland/Ulster/The Province/etc/etc/etc...).
Subway: Often means "underpass", and interchangeable with the latter. Not generally used for subterranean rail: the subway/metro system in London is always known as the Underground or the Tube (after the shape of the tunnels and trains).
In Glasgow, the underground is actually known as the subway (when it's not being referred to as the Clockwork Orange...) Cue amusement upon discovering there's a Subway (as in, the sandwich shop) right next door to the actual subway.
Take the piss (out of): To make fun of or mock someone or something. "Take the mickey (out of)" is a common euphemistic variant, which can be shortened to "take the mick" or euphemised still further to "take the michael" or similar.
In Scotland, a tin can refer to a can of beer or lager. The plural form is tinnies. Foster's actually put the word "tinnies" on their packaging to try to appeal to the local market, an effort doomed from the outset because Foster's tastes like piss.
Tip: (Garbage) dump. Also applied, as is "dump" in America, to any unkempt area: "My room looks a complete tip".
Tit: As in every other English dialect, means "breast" (or more specifically a nipple, as in 'teat', though it can be used interchangeably for either), but it has many different uses in British usage.
Can be used as a general (mild) insult: "You're such a tit".
Mean a button or knob control, usually in an aircraft (though this is old-fashioned now).
Can mean something has died or gone wrong in the expression "gone tits up".
"Arse over tit(s)" as a synonym for "head over heels". More logical, too – heads are normally found above heels, are they not?
Can describe a person who is heavily under the influence of drugs, as being "off their tits"
Can be used to express annoyance at someone: "He really gets on my tits". Obviously the phrase is a corruption of "gets on my nerves" or "gets on my wick", and can be used regardless of gender.
European birds of the genus Parus, the same as the American chickadees, are commonly called tits. There are Great Tits, Blue Tits and Coal Tits, amongst others. Some people find this titillating.
"Tit" generally only means "nipple" when referring to non-human females, eg. "a three-titted 'un" for a cow with only three functioning teats. In a human context it means "breast".
Toff: Posh, upper-class person. Often landed, horsey, etc.; may well be an Upper-Class Twit.
Torch: A flashlight, shortened from "electric torch". Can completely change how a scene is imagined by American readers, as in a scene with a child reading by torchlight under the covers; it also doubtlessly caused a bit of confusion for American gamers when Donkey Kong Country featured a level named "Torchlight Trouble" which contained no (burning) torches but a very prominent flashlight.
Toss off: To jerk off. Except in the sense where it means casually producing a great work, say: "He tossed off another painting in an afternoon".
Tosser: Very similar to wanker, i.e. jerkoff, though fractionally friendlier.
Toss-pot used to mean "heavy drinker" (from "pot" meaning a drinking vessel, especially a pint glass, and "toss" being the action of draining it very quickly as if throwing the contents down one's throat – see The Hobbit for instance), but now has the same meaning as "tosser", albeit milder.
Totty: Attractive woman or women, e.g. in the construction "posh totty". Almost universally used as a plural noun.
Trainers: Short for training shoes, called "sneakers" in US English. Used to be called "plimsolls", but this usage seems to have died out, certainly in regard to adult footwear. "Sneakers" in British English tends to be reserved for small, thin shoes like Converse or clunky Skechers trainers too American to be called anything but.
Plimsolls are a specific kind of sports shoe – black rubber-soled slip-ons used primarily by primary school children – and as such the term is still very much in use regarding the under-twelves at least. Tennis shoes used to be called plimsolls too but this seems to have died out as well.
Tramp: A homeless person, equivalent to the US "bum". Means the same thing in the US (see Lady and the Tramp), but much less common after the 30s. Since there are rather unfortunate alternative meanings to both "bum" (in the UK) and "tramp" (more in the US) there is much potential for Separated by a Common Language amusement here.
Transport: Used in the sense where Americans would use 'transportation' (which always sounds amusingly redundant to Britons). 'Transportation' in a British context also has the now somewhat archaic meaning of being forcibly sent to a colony (usually Australia) as punishment for a crime; thus the US "Department of Transportation" can sound unintentionally sinister to British ears. "Public transport" (buses, railways, etc.) is what Americans would call "public transportation" or "mass transit".
Trousers: Any long legwear. Pants [q.v.] invariably refers to underpants.
Truck: A railway freight car. What Americans call trucks are called lorries in Britain (see above), though "truck" in this sense has gained more and more use in recent decades in the UK too.
Twat: As in America, but pronounced to rhyme with 'hat', 'bat', 'cat'. Almost never used in the American gynecological sense, but rather as a slightly harsher form of twit.
Curiously it can also be used as a verb; "to twat someone" essentially means "to hit someone very hard".
Uni: Short for university. The older form "varsity" has almost vanished now, except for in the 'Varsity Boat Race', the annual rowing clash on the River Thames between the rival crews of [[Oxbridge Oxford and Cambridge Universities]].
Vanilla Slice: The name for a pastry also known as a Custard Slice, Napoleon, French Slice or Mille-feuille. It consists of two or three layers of puff pastry sandwiching whipped cream or confectioner's custard.
Wally: An idiot. Used most often in the '80s. Also sometimes used to refer to a pickled gherkin, as sold in Fish And Chip shops.
Wanker: The most British of insults. "To wank" is to masturbate, so calling someone a wanker implies that they spend a great deal of time playing with themselves. Often used where an American would use "Asshole," or, appropriately enough, "Jerk-off."
Wank: Shortened version of wanker.
Winston Ingram: Shut yer hole, Boaby. If ah wis Long John Silver you'd be first tae walk the plank ya wank.
Wank-stain: Means basically the same as wanker. Ironically, nobody would ever use it to talk about actual stains produced by wanking.
Wanking chariot: A bed. Infer from context.
Wank bank: Either a Porn Stash, a sperm bank, or a sex shop.
-ward: In UK English this suffix tends to have an s added to the end much more often than in US English (e.g. Forwards/Forward - in UK English "forwards" is an adverb ("to move forwards") and "forward" is an adjective ("forward movement")).
Washing: Laundry – "I'll just put the washing in the machine".
... week: When preceded by a weekday (e.g. "Tuesday week"), means "next [weekday]". Although, the further North you go or in Australia, it will probably mean "[weekday] after next [weekday]". Just as there is potential for confusion with the American format, it is wise to clarify with the speaker.
Well: Sometimes takes the place of "really", such as "I had a well good time". For pronunciation, in almost any sentence it appears in in this context, it will have the emphasis. (Above, "I had a well good time.")
Wellingtons/Wellington boots: Rain boots, rubber boots, billy boots, or gum-boots in the USA. Named after the Duke of Wellington, who popularised them in Britain. Commonly abbreviated to "Wellies".
Also can be used in the phrase "Give it some welly!", meaning to "put your back into it", i.e. put a lot of physical effort into something.
Whilst: While. Although in use in all English-speaking countries, in America it has dropped out of widespread use and is now seen as archaic or pretentious, the stuff of Upper Class Twits. Generally speaking, North American English speakers lean towards "while", and English-speakers from other countries use both words, with a slight tendency towards "whilst".
Similarly applies to the likes of "amid/amidst", "among/amongst", etc.
Yah (also rah, see above): A slang term denoting an upper-class public school boy or girl. Semi-equivalent to US "preppy", but rather louder and more obnoxious. Commonly associated with an irritating, braying voice (usually speaking a mangled Received Pronunciation), which renders "yeah" (or year) as "yah". Often found cluttering otherwise charming Scottish university towns, much to the resentment of the localsnote except criminals, who find them trivially easy to mug/con, due to their general unfamiliarity with the "real world". Common stereotypes including getting "Daddy" (or "Pater" if they are really upper-class) to pay for things and going on gap yahs.
Zebra crossing/Pelican crossing: US "crosswalk", as seen on the cover of "Abbey Road". Zebra crossings are named for their white stripes on the dark tarmac, and have no traffic lights, only yellow flashing globes known as Belisha beacons: pedestrians must rely on drivers voluntarily haltingnote The Highway Code actually requires drivers to stop, if it is safe to do so, if someone is waiting to use this type of crossing. Sadly, many drivers choose to completely ignore this, especially in London. London drivers also fond of stopping right over the crossing, forcing pedestrians to walk around - this is also technically against the code.. Pelican crossings have a button to trigger the traffic lights, and indicate to the pedestrian when it is safe to cross. Another major transatlantic difference is that the lights on a pelican crossing display a (standing) red man or a (walking) green man silhouette (similar to the ones on a toilet door) rather than "Walk" or "Don't Walk". 'Pelican' originated as an acronym, "pelicon" (pedestrian light-controlled), but soon mutated into the animal-themed "pelican" by analogy with "zebra".
American crosswalks are slowly abandoning signals that display "walk" or "don't walk", in favor of signals that display a white (or green) walking man for "walk", and a neon-orange hand for "don't walk."
There are also Puffin crossingsnote similar to pelican crossings (in fact they're technically an improved version), except that they use sensors to tell whether or not someone's actually crossing the road or just pressed the button and ran off, have the little green man sign next to the button rather than perpendicular to the traffic lights and use much more detailed silhouettes., Toucan crossingsnote designed for cyclists to cross as well as pedestrians; they have an extra light to indicate when cyclists can cross and are double the width: "two-can" cross, geddit? and Pegasus crossingsnote similar to toucan crossings but with horse riders replacing cyclists; they have an extra control box 2 metres above the other so riders don't need to dismount to press it., which are like Pelican crossings but with minor differences. Most Brits don't know they exist unless they live in an urban area which has had them installed (and actually needs them).
Zed: Pronunciation for the twenty-sixth letter of the alphabet (not "zee"). Also applies to Canadian English.
Misc & Grammar
NOTE: These generally overlap with Australian and Canadian terminology and syntax rules
US "a couple things" is always "a couple of things".
Similarly, while Americans write their Congressman, Britons write to their MP.
An event may happen on Saturday, not just "Saturday".
When reciting numbers, and is always placed in between the hundreds or thousands and the smaller ones; so while 158 could sometimes be read as "one hundred fifty-eight" in America, it's always "one hundred and fifty-eight" in Britain.
In writing, quotation marks include the exact phrase they are quoting, and don't include extraneous punctuation. Some examples can be seen on this page, where the full stop (period) is not included in the quotation: the line below is a good one, where the final full stop appears after the closing quotation mark and bracket (parenthesis).
A few past tenses tend to use -t rather than -ed, and the two forms are interchangeable in modern British usage; for example spelt (spelled), burnt and leant (a homophone with "Lent").
Nouns that refer to groups always use third-person singular verb forms in America, but tend toward third-person plural forms in Britain. Happens invariably with sports teams, such as "England are winning this game" (not "England is winning this game"), but also in other phrases like "The staff are all busy" or "The band are awful"/"this band rock".
Dates are either "the fifteenth of May" or "May the fifteenth", unlike in America where one can drop the "the". It can be particularly jarring hearing it without "the" on trailers and suchlike. And of course, the dates are numerically Day/Month/Year, not Month/Day/Year – so 7/8/2010 is August the seventh, not July the eighth.
Additionally, when speaking the year Brits will say "Two Thousand and Eleven" (or sometimes Twenty Eleven), rather than the "Two Thousand Eleven" used by the gravelly-voiced men in the aforementioned movie trailers.
"Only..." is sometimes used after a question to mean "The reason I ask, is..." (In American English, "Because..." would more likely be used for this.)
Wallace: Have you been peckish during the night? Only someone's been at me cheese...
British dictionaries and other references tend to be (viewed as) descriptive, rather than prescriptive: it's the dictionary's job to usefully explain what words you encounter were intended to mean by the author, not necessarily to tell you the "correct" way to use it yourself. While neither British nor American English has an official definition from a language academy (unlike French), these are the respective positions of the two most popular dictionaries in each country, Oxford and Webster's. (However, other dictionaries do exist with varying points of view.) This means that the "rules" of British spelling and grammar are, for practical purposes, much more flexible.
While in America talking about condiments and the like uses "with [X] on it", British English often drops the "it". So, a hotdog with ketchup and mustard on.
In Britain and Australia, the metallic element 13 is a-loo-MIN-i-um or a-loo-MIN-yum instead of the American a-LOO-min-um. Note that the International Union on Pure and Applied Chemistry (the global authority on all things elemental) agrees with the British usage; that said, IUPAC uses the American 'sulfur' and derived usages for element 16, not the British 'sulphur'.
Americans bias towards "I haven't", "You don't have a chance", etc. The British bias towards "I've not", "You've no chance", etc.
Cockney Rhyming Slang
Note that the actual rhyming part of the name is dropped in common parlance, just to make things more impenetrable.
[Aunt] Joanna: Piano. Down under, it's mutated to "Goanna", a kind of lizard. (Hence Joanna the lizard in The Rescuers Down Under.)
Barclays [Bank]: Wank. Also Barclays Banker – wanker, useless person, City banker.
Battle cruiser: Boozer; i.e. pub.
Berk: Literally, cunt, from Berkeley Hunt. Nowhere near as insulting as the origin might lead you to believe, and never used to refer to a literal vagina; in fact is a mild and pretty affectionate insult calling someone silly or stupid.
Sometimes misattributed to the term 'Berkshire Hunt' which makes less sense – note that, while 'berk' is pronounced as "burk", the county of Berkshire is said "Barkshire".
In more recent years, this has been (appropriately) replaced with "James Blunt".
Boracic [lint]: Out of money – see "skint" above.
Brass tacks: Facts. This is one of the few examples to have made it into American English; John W. Campbell used it as the name of the Astounding (later Analog) letters page.
Bristols: Tits – "Bristol City": tittynote though one wonders, of all the British Footy Teams titled "City", why Bristol was chosen. Why not call them Hulls? Or Stokes? Or Chesters?).
Have a butcher's: Have a look at something. "Butcher's Hook" – look.
Charlies: Inoffensive term for a woman's genitals, or sometimes breasts. From "Charlie Hunt", whoever he was. Also "Charlie" meaning "twit", as in Berk above.
Me old China: Mate or friend ("China plate" – mate).
Harry Rag, a Harry: A fag, strictly meaning a cigarette. Also a jolly song by the Kinks. The American meaning of fag is covered by:
Iron: "Iron hoof" = Poof. Gay male, derogatory.
Dustbin lid (quid), Alan Whicker (nicker): £1
Lady Godiva (fiver): £5
Ayrton [Senna] (tenner): £10
Bag of sand (grand): £1000
Shrapnel: loose change.
Nuclear sub: Pub.
On one's Tod [Sloan]: Alone.
Pete Tong: Wrong.
Named after a British dance music DJ. Also the name of a Canadian Mockumentary and a Paul Kaye film, "It's All Gone Pete Tong".
Porkies [Pork pies]: Lies.
Ruby [Murray]: Curry. Named after an otherwise obscure singer from Stroke Country.
Septic [tank]: Yank; derogatory term for Americans. (Yank itself is rarely intended to be offensive, neither is Yankee. If they call you septic, however, well, it already sounds bad anyway).
Sherbet [dab]: Cab (taxi), though "sherbet" can also refer to cocaine.
Tin tack: Sack; as in, the metaphorical one you're given when you're dismissed from your job.
The Police have many nicknames. Some are geographical, others affectionate, others downright offensive, some used by the police themselves.
Bacon/Jam Sandwich: A fast response car, so called because of their old colour scheme - white, with an orange or red strip down the side.
Or perhaps because a bacon sandwich contains pig products...
Bait: Either the police themselves or something that will attract their attention. Largely confined to England.
Battle Taxi: Liverpool slang for heavy police vans or minibuses, due to their similarity with pensioner minibuses.
Batty Squad: London slang for police motorcyclists.
Bizzies: Liverpool slang. So named because the police are either too "busy" to help or because they are "busy"bodies.
Black Maria: these days, often used without the colour commentary; heavy police vans, as per Battle Taxi above. The police themselves use this version from time to time, and can be heard from Inspector Lestrade in the Guy RitchieSherlock Holmes film. When a Maria is summoned, it is because a large number of arrests are expected to follow in short order.
Blue berets: Police slang for officers of the Specialist Crime and Operations Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19), the Met's equivalent of a S.W.A.T team.
Bluebottles: Uniformed police, probably cross-referencing their navy-blue uniforms with the type of fly. Older Than Radio, thus not a reference to the The Goon Show character. Now somewhat quaint.
Bobbies: Refers to the founder of the modern police (and later Prime Minister), Sir Robert "Bobby" Peel, who established the Metropolitan Police Force while Home Secretary in 1829.
Boys In Blue: Duh.
C.H.I.M.P.S: Police Community Support Offices, PCSOs, who were introduced by David Blunkett as a way to cut the police but keep numbers up. Stands for "Completely Hopeless In Most Policing Situations."
Cuntstubble: Deliberate mispronunciation of "Constable". Some people try to use it on the fly to actual officers. This is a silly thing to do.
"No cunts here, drugstable!", a delightful Spoonerism reflecting this deliberate mispronunciation, is sometimes used by those detained on suspicion of possession of drugs. As with the primary above, this is a silly thing to do.
Dibbles: Used in and around Manchester, from Officer Dibble in Top Cat.
Feds: Eagleland Osmosis means that people will know what you are talking about. However, since there is no federalism in Britain (much as the Lib Dems wish there were) this term just means all police.
Filth: The nastiest non-swearword name used. Denotes the police in general, as in "leg it lads, its the filth". Never used by police officers themselves. Using it in "polite" society will generally get you disapproving looks and perhaps a sermon on how wonderful the police are from some righteous soul. Using it to the police themselves will likely get you a threat, a bollocking, or a truncheon/CS gas spray in the face.
The Flying Squad is a special division of the London Metropolitan Police that served as a kind of quick-reaction force, responding quickly and often violently to armed robbery. Some of the most famous British crimes have been busted by or connected to the Flying Squad - the Millennium Dome robbery, the arrest of the Kray Twins and the investigation of the Great Train Robbery. Because of the glamorous nature of this high-risk policing, they are often featured on film and TV, with the most famous example being The Sweeney (see below).
Scotland Yard: A term which refers to the London Metropolitan Police as a collective, as in "Last night, Scotland Yard warned the public that escaped murderer Adolf McMachete is not to be approached under any circumstances." Due to the "we all live in London" mentality of the British press, it is sometimes used to refer to the UK Police Forces as a whole. It comes from the location of the old public entrance to the Met headquarters opened on Great Scotland Yard (a street in St. James's, Westminster, which was apparently so-called because the London diplomatic offices of the Kingdom of Scotland had been there before the Union). When the Metropolitan police moved to a new and deeply ugly building in Victoria, it was dubbed "New Scotland Yard". In old dramas, famous detectives will sometimes be referred to as X of the Yard.
Scuffers or Scuppers: An old Liverpool term, popularized by Z Cars, a classic British Police Procedural. Starred BRIAN BLESSED as "Fancy Smith". The second form may be connected to the verb "to be scuppered".
The Thin Blue Line: Presumably a reference to "the thin red line", an Imperial-era name for the British army. Nothing like the American Thin Blue Line, which is the "brotherhood of the police" and often ends up being more like "police joining together to hide other officers' sketchy conduct."
Tit-heads: Derogatory and rare term referring to the characteristic traditional shape of a policeman's helmet.
This is what Scotty meant in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode when the warp engines got pushed too hard and broke down, and he said "My poor, poor bairns!" He thought of the engines as his children.
Beggar: Local and euphemistic pronunciation of bugger, used informally in the same context, i.e. a person ("that silly beggar!")
Besom: Originally a rough broom made by tying twigs to a pole, the classic witch's broomstick. By extention a witch, or a feasome old woman of the Norah Batty persuasion, see Apron Matron.
Bob: Unrelated to the meaning on the main list. A floater, presumably because that's what it does, and by extension an adjective meaning "crap".
As an adjective, it means "rather good"; saying someone is canny means you think they're friendly and/or nice in a non-specific way, whilst saying something is canny means it's pretty good (again in a general sense).
As an adverb, it means "rather"; finding something to be "canny bad" is like saying it's "rather/pretty bad".
Elsewhere it means something more like "cunning", which usually isn't meant as a compliment.
Not to be confused with Scots "cannae" (can't); see below.
Charver: The northern version of chav.
Dee-dar: Native of Sheffield, so called because they supposedly pronounce 'th' as 'd'.
Divvent: Do not. The equivalent word for 'do' is dee, not 'div'. Not to be confused with:
Divvy: Informally, 'idiot'. Occasionally shortened to div or pronounced divot.
Divvy up can also mean divide.
Duck: As an informal honorific used mostly by mature women. Comes from the same root as the title 'Duke'
Eejit: Idiot, often said as yeejit (you're an idiot) and not meant to be mean.
Ginnel/Snicket/Entry/Back Entry''': Dialect words for a narrow alleyway, especially a shortcut in suburbia or rural areas as opposed to town centres. The often cobbled alleyway running behind lines of terraced houses.
Gaumless: Stupid. Outside the North East, it's typically spelt Gormless.
Jessie: Derogatory term for a somewhat fey male, ie Canal Street's full of jessies.
Marra: A Cumbrian word for a trusted friend.
Midden: Dungheap, refuse dump, by extension a slovenly house or unkempt ill-groomed person.
Nettie: 'Toilet.' Often used as a shorthand way of identifying a character as northern. Also lav, lavvy, privy, bog, khazi.
Nowt: Nothing, from nought (the negative counterpart of owt).
Owt: Anything, from the archaic aught (the positive counterpart, obviously, of nowt).
This and nowt lead to the northen phrase: "Whatda we know? Owt or nowt?" which can be used as a greeting.
Or the other one: "You can't get owt for nowt." No such thing as a free lunch, in other words.
Pillock: Fool, idiot, unworthy person.
Skelf: Splinter or fragment. (Cumbria, Northumberland)
t': In many Northern dialects, particularly Yorkshire, the definite article the is reduced to this – which is either a glottal stop, or nothing. Most commonly happens after a preposition, such as in t' kitchen or to t' pub.
A common mistake is for non-northerners, upon seeing this written down, to pronounce for example down t'pit as "down tuh pit" - it's actually more like "downt pit", with a glottal T-sound added to the end of the preceding word.
Thee/Tha: Yorkshire is the only major English dialect to preserve the T/V distinction common in European languages (French tu/vous etc), with thee/tha being the modern evolutions of thee/thou, used instead of you but only in informal situations between social equals. Thouself has become Thissen, myself becomes missen.
That basically tells you that Tykes (people from Yorkshire because Yorkshireans is annoying, or little kids) still use 'thee' and 'tha/thou', which art informal 'you's, like most European languages have. There is also 'ye' for plural you, and "ya'll" (I.e. you all, or Billy Ray Cyrus' favourite word).
Tha knows is a quintessentially Yorkshire phrase, tacked on at the end of the sentence and equivalent to a smug 'you know'.
The Toon: Newcastle-upon-Tyne, local pronunciation of town.
Us: Me. "Give us a minute". Also said Is (pron. "iss" not "iz").
also used as a possessive pronoun replacing "our", as in '' We got us kit" , for "we have our equipment".
(almost finally) Scottish
Back of: A time reference, the back of twelve is anything from 12:01 to 12:59. Very hard to organize things when people are listing their plans in this kind of time frame.
Buckie: Short for Buckfast, a cheap tonic wine full of chemicals which is infamous for being involved in antisocial behaviour offences. Other names are Commotion Lotion, Wreck the Hoose Juice, Coatbridge Table Wine, Sauce, Lurgan Champagne, Mrs. Broon, and Buckie Baracas.
Cannae, Dinnae: Can't, don't. There are a few more equivalents like this for the other n't contractions.
Crivens: General exclamation
The full expression is "Jings, Crivens, Help Ma Boab!"
Meaning 'Jesus, Christ, so help me God!'
Dobber: Glaswegian slang denoting either a certain part of the male anatomy or a stupid/unpleasant/both person e.g "Don't have another bottle of buckie, ya dobber." Generally considered highly offensive unless among the most informal company.
Drink/Bevvy: Alcoholic beverage.
Firth: Estuary or fjord. Edinburgh is built on the shores of the Firth of Forth, while Glasgow is near the Firth of Clyde, and that big triangular indentation in the north of Scotland is the Moray Firth.
Glaikit: Vacantly stupid.
Exasperated Clyde Foreman: Oi! Lennon! Stop being such a glaikit wee bastard and get aff yer arse and dae some welding!
Guts of: Most of, or the main part of. As in:
Judgemental Scot: How long were you in the pub?
Alcoholic Scot: From about ten till five.
Judgemental Scot: Jesus! That's the guts of a day!
Hen: Slang for a woman; compare bird and hen night from the main list. Often used in the same way that one would refer to a guy as "mate".
Specifically, someone from the highlands (i.e. north) of Scotland. Someone from southern Scotland is a "lowlander", natch.
Also known as the more pejorative "Teuchter" from "Teutonic".
Hole: Intercourse. As in "Where's Billy?" "Och, he's away getting his hole." Also sometimes referred to in rhyming slang as Nat King: "Fancy yer Nat King the night, honey?".
Jag: A jab, or injection.
Jobby: A turd. As in: "I'm off for a jobby." Definitely ranks among the Inherently Funny Words. Can also be used to denote something rubbish, as in "that film wis pure jobby," or as an insult: "Alright ya fucking jobbystain."
Juice: Any non-alcoholic beverage.
Poof Juice: A politically incorrect but very common term referring to alcoholic drinks that do not taste like such, for example, WKD or Bacardi Breezer. Lassies may drink such things, but men should not (although mixeds are acceptable amongst younger people).
It's acceptable to drink Whisky and Coke as it's a well known rock star drink.
Pure: A superlative, usually meaning very. As in: "That's pure mental", meaning "very mental".
Lassie: Woman, usually young. Also used in Northern England, although usually as "lass".
"Och, aye ye ken, she's a bonnie wee lassie": you can figure the subject of the discussion has a nice figure.
Loch: As in Loch Ness, means lake. Or sea inlet, or fjord, sometimes. There are only a handful of lakes that are actually known by the term "Lake" in Scotland. Oh yeah, and "loch" does not sound the same as "lock": the ch is pronounced as in Bach, i.e. the composer or the Welsh word for 'small', or as in the Hebrew toast "l'chaim".
Munter: An ugly and/or promiscuous woman.
Ned: The northerly Chav. "Chav" is also used in Scotland, and much like with "Geek" and "Nerd", people come up with their own personal definition. The acronym "Non Educated Delinquent" is often trotted out; it's almost certainly a backronym, however. Ne'er-do-well is another explanation.
Noo, The Noo: Now. "The Noo" or, more often "the now" is often used to mean "just now", as in shortly or presently.
Nyaff: Unworthy or insignificant person. May now be archaic.
Och or Ach: Often used in place of 'Oh', and it is also the Gaelic form of 'Alas'.
Piece: A penis, or a euphemism for sex: You piece people using your piece. "For piecing."
It also is used traditionally to mean sandwich, or packed lunch.
Sassanach: An English person, usually one who is clueless to Scottish culture; from 'Saxon'. Originates from when the English tried to invade Scotland. Offensive, but when said it is usually in a jokey way.
Shilpit: Scruffy or dirty or disreputably slovenly. As in "ye shilpit wee nyaff, ye".
Sleekit': Untrustworthy, cunning, especially in relation to women.
Gosspiy Scot: D'ye hear aboot auld Wullie Mc Manus? He's bin' shaggin' his secretarie whilst his wifie's doon the hospital!
Judgemental Scot: Sleekit auld bastard.
Walloper: A penis, or sometimes a stupid person: "Do ye no have tae have a big walloper to be in thae internet movies? Bobby's only got a daft wee 'ane."
Wean: Another word for child, possibly deriving from wee one.
Weegie: A Glaswegian person. Not to be confused with Weegee.
Winch/Winching: Similar to England's pull/pulling. Example: winching up a close = sexual contact in a dark alley.
Yin: One. Used as part of a name rather than a number. Say two men with the same name or brothers can be referred to as Big Yin and Small Yin. This was the case with Billy Connolly who was Small Yin until he got bigger than his dad and became Big Yin
(penultimately) Yiddish and slang words derived from the Jewish community
Kosher: Real, legitimate (they really did fall off the back of a lorry. They're kosher!)
Ology: Any form of intellectual higher learning, university degree. Derived from the 1980's BT advert, in which Maureen Lipman played Beattie, a Jewish Mother determined to stay in touch with her family by phone, whether they wanted it or not. In one well-remembered advert, she is talking to her recently university-graduated grandson:
So you've got an ology. Ology,schmology. Just so long as you ring up your old grandmother for a talk.
Schmatter: Cloth, material, tailoring in general.
(and now finally) Welsh
Dialect English as spoken in Wales – and there are strong regional variations – has been called "Wenglish", although "Wenglish" traditionally refers to the dialects found in the South Wales valleys.
Ach-y-fi! (ak-uy-vee) or Ych-y-fi: An expression of surprise, exclamation of alarm, or irritation, or disgust.
Butty: Friend, companion
By: A peculiarity of Wenglish grammar is use of by when giving directions, i.e. down by there, over by there, it's by here and so on.
Clecs: Lies, or 'tall tales'. To carry clecs is the same as to tell tales (in the sense of making things up, not as in being a tell-tale.)
Cwtch (cootch, cutch): In Welsh, a hug, kiss or embrace; comes into American English as cootchie-coo, a twee lover's expression. Can relate to anything across the non-romantic and romantic spectrum in Wenglish from a chaste embrace to rampant uninhibited intercourse. Often used as a catch-all expression describing the search for a suitably understanding romantic partner, as in He's on the cwtch tonight. In pre-pubescent deep suspicion and horror of intimacy with the germ-laden and filthy opposite gender, this might well be the origin of American English cooties, as in those unspecified germs obtained by kissing a girl/boy. It's also very common to see it used by adults towards comforting children or upset fellow adults, as in "come here and let me give you a cwtch" or "fancy a cwtch?".
Daps: Plimsolls, especially if used for P.E. and gym. They're kept in a dapper-bag, which is traditionally a cloth drawstring bag, but these days can be any bag you keep your gym kit in.
Dacu (da-key): Grandfather. Also "grancha/gransha", "grampi", or "Taid" in North Wales.
Gweddol: Fair, as in how you feel in answer to the question "how are you today?".
Heth: Police(man) singular or plural. From Welsh heddlu (heth-lee, with a hard 'th' as in "them"). American English heat may be derived.
Mamgu (mam-gee, hard 'g' as in "good"): Grandmother (South Walian, it's "Nain" in North Wales).
Mitching: Playing truant.
Mochyn: Pig. Often used by adults (especially more elderly adults) towards little rascals, especially little rascals that have come home covered in mud. It can also be used more angrily towards a child who's giving an adult lip, especially if they're using tawdry language. "Dirty little mochyn", "mochyn brwnt" and "mochyn bach" are variants (where "brwnt" means "dirty" and "bach" means "little"). It can be used affectionately, rudely or offensively but isn't considered polite language even if used affectionately.
Pwdied: Sulked. As in "He pwdied when I didn't let him have the sweets". May be related to "have a paddy", i.e. have a sulk.
Sglods: One of few Welsh words to make it into English, from sglodion meaning potato chips (french fries, or in this case Flintshire fries).
Tidy: A useful little slang word that can be used for many things, such as "Fine! Excellent! Great!" or a long period of time/large number/long distance, a decent person, or the absolute classic "talk tidy!" ("speak properly!").
Twp: Daft. Dopey. If someone comes up with a harebrained scheme, they might be accused of being "Twp in the head!", if you're Not a Morning Person you might be described as a bit "twp" or "twpsyn" (that's slow and befuddled).
Twt: Small or tiny. Unexpectedly pervasive: even non-Welsh-born adults who have lived in Wales for only a year or two make remarks like 'Elsie's a bit twt' or 'didn't like the house, too twt for me'.
Wareteg: Fair play. It comes from the Welsh "chwarae-teg". Pronounced wa-ruh-teg: the 'a' as in "rabbit" and the last 'e' as in the 'ai' of "air".
Polari: Slang used by homosexuals to avoid detection when sodomy was illegal.
Polari, previous a secret language, was outed by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick in 'Julian and Sandy' radio sketches in the BBC's 'Round the Horne' in the 1960s. Many terms have since entered into daily vocabulary.
Barney: A fight.
Basket: The bulge of male genitalia through clothes.
Butch: Masculine lesbian.
To cottage: To have sex in public lavatories.
Ecaf: Face (back-slang), abbreviated to 'eek'.
Mince: Walk with affectation.
Naff: Not attractive.
Rough trade: Working-class or potentially aggressive sexual partner.
Zhoosh: To make something/someone more attractive (maybe from 'bijou', jewel in French, or 'zhouzho', clean, neat in Romany).