The Differences Between American and British English
It’s widely known, if not common knowledge, that American and British English vary. Not only in spelling, but in some of their terms, phrases, colloquialisms, and of course, pronunciation.
It’s completely possible that you walk into a British bar and don’t understand more than half of what they are saying. If you don’t want to be this person and you want to be able to converse fluently with your British mates, then we’re here to help you out!
As mentioned before, British terms, British phrases, British expressions as well as spelling differ by American phrases and expressions, but what else is there? When we think about British versus American English, we think about slang terms and pronunciation.
American English vs. British English
It’s also fun to learn just how different British sayings are. Some very noticeable differences between the two English languages are:
- Vocabulary – While the two may share the majority of words in the English language, there are also some differences. For example, apartment in US English is the same as flat in British English.
- Spelling – For example, the word color. While Americans don’t spell it with an “ou”, British English has words such as colour and honour.
- Past Tense Verbs – The British tend to “-t” instead of –ed. Such examples are learned and learnt, dreamed and dreamt.
50+ British Phrases and their Meanings
Have you ever been the odd one out in a group of British mates not getting the joke? Do they all belly laugh while you are left grinning awkwardly alongside them?
Well, the chances of that happening are much slimmer after you get through our list. That plus looking for online tutors can better prep you for your next British conversation.
Common British Phrases and Words
In this section, we’re going to look at the phrases that will make you sound more British. Some of them might be those British phrases you always hear on TV shows or movies.
- Alright? – Although it may mean “ok” in North America, it’s the equivalent of “how are you?” in British English.
- I’m knackered – I’m tired.
- Cheeky – Mischievous or playful.
- Bloody – This is a very British thing to say – meaning very.
- I’m pissed – Not meaning the regular “angry”, in British talk it actually means you’re very drunk and is used quite a lot when you are out drinking with friends.
- Mate – A common one and quite cliché – mate means friend.
- Rubbish – It could mean garbage or nonsense depending on the context.
- Cockney – A person native to East London.
- Blimey – Similar to the American wow, blimey is used to describe something that takes you by surprise.
- Bloke – Similar to guy in America, it is a blanket term to describe a man in general.
- Bollocks – One of the more well-known British terms, it actually has a multitude of meanings. It could be used to symbolize disbelief, or just to talk about a man’s private parts.
Think about the elegant British phrases you have heard and see if you recognize any in our list below.
- You look smart/You’re smartly dressed – Smart, in this case, isn’t a reference to your mental state but more so about being dressed well.
- He’s as bright as a button – “Bright” in British words and phrases means smart. This phrase is used to describe someone being clever and smart.
- I quite fancy you – Fancy here means like or have a crush on.
- She’s very lush – She’s very attractive.
- I think he’s very fit – Fit not like your physical body, but more along the lines of being super hot!
- She’s quite tidy, isn’t she? – Another term for good-looking and perfect.
- You look smashing tonight – Austin Powers likes to use this term meaning fantastic.
- He is so buff – No so much strong as it is sexy and handsome.
- All to pot – Referring to something failing miserably.
- Brass monkey – A term used to describe extreme cold.
- Brilliant! – Meaning great, it’s not only seen in British English.
- Bugger all – Nothing at all.
- Bugger off/sod off – Go away or the meaner f*ck off.
- Cheers – Sure, it is still said when toasting, but it also means thank you.
- Chuffed – A quintessential word to use when describing how ecstatic you are about an achievement.
- A cock up – Is basically a less formal way to describe a mistake someone has made.
- Do – Not so much a verb as it is a noun, do in England and other British countries actually means an event you are having, such as a leaving do or a birthday do.
- Dodgy – Shifty, shady, questionable.
- Fortnight – Some of you may already know this slang term means two weeks in time.
- Gutted – To describe how you feel when something utterly saddens you.
- Hunky-dory – normal, fine, cool.
- Posh – Another well-known term that extends past the borders Great Britain, posh means something that is fancy.
- Proper – Sure, it can mean something that is not inappropriate, but it also means very.
- To nick – To take/steal.
- Boot – When talking about a car, the boot is the trunk.
- Brolly – British slang term for umbrella.
- Dim – Not a compliment, this is used to describe someone that is not very smart.
- Innit? – An even more contracted form of isn’t it?
- Miffed – Annoyed
Funny British Phrases and Idioms
- I was gobsmacked – The key here being “gobsmacked”. The entire phrase means I was shocked.
- It’s all gone pear-shaped – It’s all gone wrong/something has gone wrong.
- She’s a picnic short of a sandwich – Or he, meaning the person in question is not very clever.
- He’s mad/He’s crackers – He’s crazy/he’s lost it.
- Have a chinwag – Have a chat.
- What a chav! – Not a funny but a mean phrase, a chav is what the Englishman calls a “low class” person.
- That’s smashing/ace! – That’s great!
- I’ll ring you/give you a ring – Don’t get all excited expecting a diamond ring, this actually means the person give you a call on the telephone.
- Have a fag – While the word fag could mean something incredibly rude in America, in London or surrounding cities and countries it means a cigarette.
- He’s so gobby – This is used to describe a mouthy and rude person.
- Oh, she’s whinging on – Whinging is used to describe a person whining and moaning.
- Ta-ta! – Good-bye!
- Taking the piss – Piss and pissed are quite commonly used and do not denote anything inappropriate. Taking the piss means to mock or make fun of someone or something.
- The bee’s knees – A phrase you use to describe something you are very fond of.
- Don’t get your knickers in a twist – Don’t get upset/worked up.
- A curtain twitcher – This funny and unique phrase is used to describe a nosy person.
- Poppycock – Nonsense.
- Quid – Just like we say bucks instead of dollars sometimes, quid is a slang term for the British pound.
British phrases and expressions are extraordinarily interesting to those who aren’t familiar with their terms. The common British words we see already seem so fancy and sometimes even whimsical and learning them will surely give you a leg up next time you have a chinwag with your British mates!
British slang is English-language slang originating from and used in the United Kingdom and also used to a limited extent in Anglophone countries such as Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, especially by British expatriates. It is also used in the United States to a limited extent.
Here are some of the most well-known British idioms:
- A penny for your thoughts
A way of asking someone to share their thoughts with you. For example: ‘I’ll give you a penny if you tell me your thoughts’
- Actions speak louder than words
What someone actually does means more than what they say.. So someone actually handing you a bunch of flowers rather than just saying ‘ah I’ll get you some flowers tomorrow’.
- An arm and a leg
A phrase used to massively over exaggerate when something might be overly priced. For example: ‘This pint cost me an arm and a leg!!’ When in reality they’re just paying an extorniate amount than what they’re used to.
- Back to the drawing board
Used to indicate that an idea, scheme or proposal has been unsuccesful and that a new one should be devised.
- The ball is in your court
when someone says the ball is in your court it means it is up to you to make the next move.
- Barking up the wrong tree
You’re looking in the wrong place – accusing the wrong person or pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought.
- Beat around the bush
A typical British saying meaning you’re purposely avoiding the topic in subject, not speaking directly about the issue.
- Biting more than you can chew
A classic idiom meaning you’re trying to accomplish something that is too difficult for you.
- Best thing since sliced bread
Basically meaning a good invention or innovation – a good idea or a good plan. Because the best thing to happen to the Brits is sliced bread.
- You can’t judge a book by its cover
A classic saying meaning one should not judge something or someone by how it looks – it’s what’s on the inside/content that counts most (obviously).
- Curiosity killed the cat
Meaning being too inquisitive can lead you to an unpleasant situation. Finding out an answer may in fact ruin the question for you.
- Don’t count your chickens before your eggs have hatched
Basically don’t make plans for something that might not happen. For example, don’t spend all your birthday money before you get it – as you might not get any at all.
- Don’t give up your day job
A saying to imply you are not very good at something, so you shouldn’t try it professionally, or at all.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Don’t put all your hope/resources in one possibility, loose the basket and you’re left hopeless.
- Elvis has left the building
The show has come to end – it’s over
- Hit the nail on the head
A saying that simply means you have done or said something exactly right – matching someone’s feelings/point.
- Hit the sack
The sack would be your bed – and you hitting it would be you going to bed.
- It takes two to tango
Meaning certain actions need more than one person to work successfully. A tango with one person is not as successful as one with two people involved so therefore, it takes two to tango.
- Kill two birds with one stone
When you accomplish two tasks in one go. So if you need to go to te bank, and you drop your library books off on the way – you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.
- Method to my madness
Despite something sounding crazy/absurd there is in fact a structure or reasoning behind it.
- Not playing with the full deck
A saying to suggest someone/something lacks intelligence or common sense.
- See eye to eye
When two or more people agree on something. You see eye to eye because you have the same views.
- Speak of the devil
Used when the person is question arrives right on queue – as if they knew you we’re talking about them.
- Steal someone’s thunder
To take credit for someone else’s work or to take limelight where it’s not deserved.
- Taste of your own medicine
Tasting your own medicine is when you get treated the way you’ve been treating others.
- Your guess is as good as mine
Meaning you basically have no idea. You simply know as much as the next person.
- Another string to your bow
A saying used to imply adding another skill to a good set of already acclaimed skills (which they probably don’t need).
- Look after your pennies and the pounds will look after themselves
Another classic idiom normally coming from your gran – meaning if you take care of small amounts of the money, the capital with quickly accumulate as if by itself.
88 VERY BRITISH PHRASES THAT WILL CONFUSE ANYBODY WHO DIDN’T GROW UP IN THE UK
“A few sandwiches short of a picnic”
Someone that lacks common sense might be described as “a few sandwiches short of a picnic.”
The phrase was first documented in the BBC’s “Lenny Henry Christmas Special” in 1987.
“She’s great fun, but she’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic.”
Although it’s more often used as a synonym for raincoat, an anorak is something slightly different in playground slang.
Someone that’s a little bit geeky, with strong interests or expertise in a niche area, might be referred to as an “anorak.” This probably originates from the “uncool” appearance of anorak coats and the people wearing them.
“Thomas is such an anorak when it comes to train trivia.”
Calling “bagsy” is the equivalent of calling “shotgun” or “dibs” when something, like the front seat of the car, is offered up to a group.
Schoolkids might call “bagsy” on items from their friends’ pack lunches, like an apple or a cereal bar, that the friend isn’t going to eat.
“Does anyone want thi–“
This phrase became mainstream in the USA in the 1920s despite its British origins, but its popularity in the States has dwindled since the turn of the century.
The “bee’s knees” referred to small or insignificant details when it was first documented in the 18th century. Since then, the phrase has evolved and refers to something at the “height of cool.”
“The Beatles are the bee’s knees.”
Someone on a spree of excessive drinking and mischief is “on a bender.”
Benders often last over 24 hours, and so you might say that someone is on “a weekend bender,” or a “three-day bender.”
“I bumped into him towards the end of his four-day bender. He was a wreck.”
To “pull a blinder” involves achieving something difficult faultlessly and skilfully.
The phrase is most commonly used when the individual has been lucky and the person saying it is in disbelief that the first person has managed to pull it off.
“And did you see that equalising goal in the last minute of injury time? He pulled a blinder there.”
“Bloody” or “Bleeding”
This intensifier can be added to practically any sentence in order to demonstrate incredulity or anger.
Some people consider “bloody” offensive (the origins of the word are widely disputed, so we can’t be sure why) and it was considered a profanity until the mid-20th century.
The origins of the word are widely disputed. Some believe it’s derived from the Dutch word “blute,” meaning “bare.” Others believe the word is a contraction of the 17th century phrase “by our lady,” and is blasphemous. This second theory has been disproved, however, by the slang’s documentation predating the popularity of the phrase “by our lady.”
Nowadays, “bloody” is used widely — it’s even used in children’s films such as “Harry Potter” — and is arguably one of the most quintessentially British words on the list.
“That was bloody good.”
Explanation: “Bloody Hell” is a term used to express anger, surprise, or shock
Example of usage: “What the bloody hell was that all about?” / “The dog needs to go out again — oh bloody hell” / “Bloody hell, Amie, I think I’m in love with you”
“Bob’s your uncle”
The very British equivalent to “Hey presto!” or “Et voila!”
This phrase is used to describe a process which seems more difficult than it actually is.
“Press down the clutch, put it into gear, then slowly ease off the clutch again. Bob’s your uncle — you’re driving!”
Meaning: To bodge something together means to do/write/make something quickly so that it’ll just about do. It usually isn’t good enough and probably won’t last.
Something that is “bog-standard” is completely ordinary with no frills, embellishments, or add-ons.
Its origins are somewhat unclear, but a “bog” is another word for a toilet in British slang, adding to the connotations that something “bog-standard” is unglamorous and unspecial.
“How was the hostel?” “Oh, nothing exciting to report. Just your bog-standard dorm, really.”
The “boot” is the compartment at the back of the car known as the “trunk” in American English.
“Shove the shopping in the boot.”
A repair job that’s been completed in a hurry and will probably fall apart reasonably soon is considered a “botch job.”
“Sam did a botch job on these shelves — they’re wonky!”
Abbreviation of “umbrella.”
“Grab your brolly, it’s drizzling outside.”
An informal way of asking someone to make room where they are sitting for you to sit down, too, would be asking them to “budge up.”
It’s similar to “scoot over” or “move over.”
“Hey, there’s loads of room on that bench. Budge up and make some room for us, too!”
The name of a strongly-brewed cup of English breakfast tea with milk — the way that tea is most commonly drunk in the UK.
It’s common courtesy to offer a labourer or builder working on your house a builder’s tea while they’re working — especially if they’re working out in the cold. This is probably how the term came about.
“A bacon sandwich and a builder’s tea. Now that’s a proper breakfast.”
“Butcher’s hook” is Cockney rhyming slang for “look.” Therefore, if you’re “having a butchers,” you’re having a look at something.
“Would you take a butchers at this broken bike for me?”
Meaning: To be slightly drunk or to be excited
Example of usage: “John’s had a couple of pints; he’s buzzin’” / “Evie’s passed her exams; she’s buzzin’”
A task performed in an awkward or uncomfortable fashion, usually clumsily, would be described as “cack-handed.”
“Cack” is old-fashioned slang for faeces.
“He handles a screwdriver very cack-handedly.”
An act which could be deemed as impolite or shameless, but for some reason comes across as funny or endearing to others, would be described as “cheeky.”
“Joe’s children are so cheeky — they tied my shoelaces together last week!”
A “good old chinwag” is a good chat, catch up, or gossip with someone.
The action of chatting away — with the jaw bobbing up and down — resembles a chin “wagging” like a dog’s tail.
“Those two are having a proper chinwag — I haven’t been able to get a word in edgeways for half an hour!”
Meaning: The fish and chips shop, i.e. a no-nonsense place where you can get a bag full of fries, with pies, sausages, and fried cod or haddock
Something full to the brim, or rammed, could be described as “chockalock.”
This is sometimes shortened to “chocka.”
“We should’ve taken the other route. This road is chocka!”
Overjoyed; full of pride.
“I heard you got the promotion. Congratulations! You must be chuffed.”
An obvious and indiscreet mistake or blunder.
Unrelatedly, “Clangers” was also a children’s TV show from the 1970s about pink mouse-like creatures that lived on the moon.
“You dropped a clanger there.”
Something untrue — often made up for dramatic effect.
Although no one is completely sure of the word’s origins, it could derive from the words “cod” and “wallop,” which historically meant “imitation” and “beer” respectively — implying that “codswallop” is the kind of rubbish you make up when drunk.
“Oh, what a load of codswallop!”
“Cost a bomb”
“Your watch is gorgeous.”
“I should hope so, it cost a bomb.”
Cockney rhyming slang for “knackered,” if you’re “cream crackered” then you’re incredibly tired.
A “knacker” was the person that slaughtered worn-out horses in the 19th and 20th centuries for their meat, hoofs, and hide. So, if you’re “ready for the knacker’s yard,” you’re exhausted beyond relief.
“This week’s done me in already, and it’s only Tuesday. I’m cream crackered.”
A nosey neighbour, often caught peering out on their street’s activities from a curtained window, might be referred to as a “curtain twitcher.”
“He’s obsessed with anything that happens on this street. He’s a bloody curtain twitcher, but he still won’t sign for our packages.”
An adjective used to advocate something that is impressive or agreeable, dench is the equivalent of “solid” or “cool” when used in response to someone else.
Its reported creator, British rapper Lethal Bizzle, elusively told the Guardian that the word “means anything you want.”
“I’m going to make us spaghetti carbonara for dinner.”
“Did you just fluff?“
Translation: Did you just fart?
Alternative: Did you just pop?
Someone that lacks common knowledge might be described as “dim,” whilst someone that’s intelligent might be described as “bright.”
“She’s a bit dim.”
An easy task is a “doddle.”
The word could be a variation of “toddle” — like a young child’s first steps.
“This will be a doddle.”
A “dog’s dinner” is a mess or fiasco — sometimes also referred to as a “dog’s breakfast.”
“You’ve made a dog’s dinner of that.”
“Don’t be daft”
Translation: Don’t be silly
Explanation: This slang phrase usually comes about in conversation when you ask someone a favor or apologize for something trivial
Example of usage: A: “Sorry I ruined your tea, Mark” B: “Oh, don’t be daft”
Translation: Get lost
Alternative: Piss off
To “faff” is to waste time doing very little.
“Faff” comes from the 17th century word “faffle,” which means to flap about in the wind.
“We were just faffing about.”
A “fag end” is also the ratty bits towards the ends of a reel of fabric, which are the worst and the cheapest bits of the reel. Historically, “fags” were the cheaper cigarettes made of lower grade tobacco, however, the slang has spread to encompass all cigarettes.
“Could I pinch a fag, please?”
Used to describe someone physically attractive, usually referring to their physique.
To “flog” means to sell something — usually quickly and cheaply.
“Flogging” also refers to whipping a racehorse in order to make it move faster, so there is some speculation into whether you flog goods in order to make them shift faster, too. However, there is no proof for this theory.
“I’m trying to flog my old sofa. Do you know anyone that might be interested?”
After “The Full Monty” film was released in 1997, there was some international confusion over the phrase in which it was taken as a euphemism for stripping. However, “the full Monty” actually refers to pursuing something to the absolute limits.
“The full Monty” historically refers to an old tailor called Sir Montague Burton. Going “the fully Monty” meant purchasing a full three-piece suit, a shirt, and all of the trimmings.
“Our Christmas dinner had everything from sprouts to Yorkshire puddings. If you’re going to have a roast, have the full Monty!”
“Full of beans”
Someone that’s energetic, lively, or enthusiastic might be described as “full of beans.”
This phrase could be a reference to coffee beans, although these claims have been disputed.
“Goodness, you’re full of beans this morning!”
“Gaff” is an informal word for “home.”
Although the origins of this phrase are largely unknown, a gaff in the 18th-century was a music hall or theatre, and so it’s believed to derive from this.
“What are you up to this weekend? We’ve got a party at our gaff, if you fancy it?”
To “gallivant” means to roam, or to set off on an expedition, with the sole intention of having some light-hearted fun.
Historically, “gallant” described someone brave or valiant, so “gallivanting” is a carefree and confident act.
“Off they go again, gallivanting.”
A “geezer” is a man that could be described as “suave” or “dapper,” and is often suited and booted. Men from east London are also commonly referred to as “geezers.”
Geezer is thought to stem from the 15th century “guiser,” which meant well-dressed.
“That guy’s got such swagger — he’s a proper geezer.”
“Give me a tinkle on the blower”
“Give me a call” or “ring me.” The phrase is sometimes shortened to “give me a tinkle.”
“Tinkle” refers to a phone’s ring, while “blower” is slang or telephone and refers to the device that predated phones on Naval ships. Sailors would blow down a pipe to their recipient, where a whistle at the end of the pipe would sound to spark attention.
“Give me a tinkle on the blower.”
Astounded; bewildered; shocked.
“Gob” is slang for mouth, so if you’re gobsmacked, you’re shocked to the point of clasping your jaw in disbelief.
“I was gobsmacked!”
A football fan watches his team lose.
Not to be confused with literally being disembowelled, someone that says they’re “gutted” is devastated or extremely upset.
“I was absolutely gutted.”
While Americans are more likely to say “seven thirty” or “five fifty,” Brits will more often than not refer to times in “minutes past” the hour. Eg, “half past seven,” and “ten to six.”
It’s unclear why Brits appear to favour analogue time-telling while Americans go for the digital format.
“It’s twenty past eleven.”
“Hank Marvin” is Cockney rhyming slang for “starving.”
“I’m Hank Marvin” means “I’m hungry” or “I’m ravenous.”
Hank Marvin is a British musician from the 1960s and 1970s, and is a pretty obscure reference nowadays. Marvin played guitar in Cliff Richard’s backing band in the 1960s.
“When are we going to eat? I’m Hank Marvin.”
“He’s such an anorak”
Translation: He’s such a nerd
“I’ll give you a bunch of fives“
Translation: I’m going to punch you in the face
Translation: I’m exhausted
Translation: I have no money
Example of usage: “Sorry, lads, I can’t go to Ibiza with you this spring — I’m skint”
“Innit” is an abbreviation of “isn’t it” most commonly used amongst teenagers and young people.
This phrase is used to confirm or agree with something that another person has just said.
“It’s really cold today.”
“It’s chucking it down”
Translation: It’s raining heavily
Example of usage and translation: “It’s really chucking it down; I wish I had my brolly” = “It’s raining hard; I wish I had my umbrella”
“It’s parky out”
Translation: It’s cold outside
Alternative: It’s brass monkeys out
Make a run for it; run away; scarper.
“That’s when all of the lights came on, and so we legged it.”
Something that takes a lot of effort and probably isn’t going to be worth all of the effort, either, could be described as “long.” This could be due to the lengths that the person will have to go to in order to complete the task.
Something that is “long” is probably also annoying or aggravating.
“Cleaning the kitchen is long.”
If someone’s “caught the lurgy,” they’re suffering from cold or flu-like symptoms.
“The dreaded lurgy” originates from 1950s British TV show “The Goon Show,” in which one character has to deal with a national epidemic of an unidentified illness.
“Lurgy” is probably based on a mispronunciation of the word “allergy.”
“She’s come down with the dreaded lurgy.”
Making random words past-tense to mean drunk
Brits are known for favouring a drink or two, so much so that almost any noun can be used as a substitute for “drunk.”
In his stand-up show, British comedian Michael MacIntyre said: “You can actually use any word in the English language and substitute it to mean drunk. It works.”
Examples include “trollied,” “smashed,” and “gazeboed.”
“I was absolutely car-parked last night.”
Slightly irritated or annoyed.
“Miffed” possibly derives from the German “muffen,” meaning “to sulk.”
“I was a bit miffed, I can’t lie.”
Something unpleasant, unappetising, or highly unattractive might be described as “minging.”
The term comes from the Scottish slang word “ming,” meaning faeces.
“What’s in that sandwich? Is that ham and tuna? That’s minging.”
“Mint” might be used when referring to something of the highest calibre.
Derived from “mint condition,” which refers to something pre-owned that retains its pristine condition, although something that’s just “mint” doesn’t have to be pre-owned.
“Those shoes are mint!”
Derived from the Newcastle sociolect, “mortal” was made widely known across the country in 2011 by reality TV show “Geordie Shore.”
“Mortal” describes someone highly intoxicated or drunk in a sloppy manner.
“Did you see Scott last night? He was mortal.”
“The Nick” can refer to prison, while “to nick” also means to steal.
The origins of the phrase are largely debated online, however, it’s believed that “to nick” as in to steal influenced the slang term for prison, as being imprisoned is similar to being “stolen” away.
“Did you just nick that?”
“Don’t get caught, or you’ll end up in the Nick!”
“On it like a car bonnet”
This colloquialism might be said by someone that has the situation under control.
“How’s the report going, Steve?”
“Don’t you worry, Alan, I’m on it like a car bonnet.”
“On the pull”
Someone that’s “on the pull” has gone out, usually on a night out, with the intention of attracting a sexual partner.
“Pull” can also be used as a verb. If you’ve “pulled,” you’ve kissed someone.
“You look nice. Are you going on the pull?”
“Over-egg the pudding”
“Over-egging the pudding” means embellishing or over-doing something to the extent that it’s detrimental to the finished product.
Although this sounds like an analogy about the chemistry of baking, or putting too many eggs in a cake batter, “egg” actually comes from the Anglo Saxon “eggian,” meaning to “excite.” This is still used in English in the phrase “egging someone on” to do something.
In “over-egging the pudding” analogy, someone is over-exciting, or over-mixing, the batter too much before it bakes — resulting in a tough or dense cake.
“We get it — you’ve injured yourself. Don’t over-egg the pudding.”
Rubbish; trash; garbage.
“That is pants.”
A “par” breaches social and common courtesy, eg, a disrespectful comment could be seen as a “par.”
“Par” can also be used as a verb, eg, “You just got parred.”
This slang term could be a British abbreviation of the French “faux pas,” meaning an embarrassing or tactless remark in a social situation.
“I don’t mean this as a par, but did you remember to wash this morning?”
A situation which has quickly evolved into an accident waiting to happen might be described as “gone pear-shaped.”
The phrase is reportedly old slang from the Royal Air Force and was used to described awry expeditions and flights.
“Well, this has all gone a bit pear-shaped.”
A “pea-souper” is a thick fog, often with a yellow or black tinge, caused by air pollution.
The idiom was first used to describe the thick, choking smogs that settled over London, caused by lots of people burning fossil fuels in a close vicinity, as early as 1200. The smogs were compared to pea soup due to their colour and density.
“Be careful when you’re driving — it’s a pea-souper out there.”
“Pinch punch first of the month”
“Pinch punch, first of the month. No returns of any kind” is a school playground rhyme often exchanged between friends on the first day of a new calendar month, accompanied by a pinch and a punch to the recipient.
If the joker forgets to say “no returns of any kind,” the recipient can say “a slap and a kick for being so quick,” accompanied by a slap and a kick.
According to the Metro, the playground ritual originates from the medieval times, when a “pinch” of salt was believing to make witches weak, and the “punch” resembled banishing the witches entirely. As a result, “pinch punch, first of the month” was a way of warding off witches and bad luck for the near future.
Nowadays, it’s mostly a way for kids to pull pranks on their friends.
“Pinch punch, first of the month!”
“Ha! A slap and a kick for being so quick!”
“Pissed” usually means “angry” in the US. However, in the UK, someone that’s “pissed” is most probably drunk.
“Oh leave him alone, he’s pissed!”
“Pop your clogs”
To “pop your clogs” means to die.
This cheery phrase is widely believed to originate from Northern factory workers around the time of the industrial revolution. When they were working on the factory floor, employees had to wear hard clogs to protect their feet.
“Pop” has evolved from “cock,” and when someone “cocked” their clogs, the toes of their clogs pointed up in the air as they lay down dead.
“Did you hear what happened to John’s old man? He popped his clogs, didn’t he…”
Something that is nonsense, rubbish, or simply untrue might be described as “poppycock.”
This quintessentially British idiom derives from the Dutch “pap” and “kak,” which translate as “soft” and “dung.”
“What a load of poppycock!”
Someone who’s “quids in” has invested in an opportunity which is probably going to benefit them massively.
“Quid” is British slang for “pounds,” eg, “five quid” means £5.
“If it all works out as planned, he’ll be quids in.”
You might buy a “round” of drinks for your friends at the pub, in the understanding that they will each buy you a drink as part of their “rounds” later on.
“Whose round is it? Is it Steve’s?”
“No way, these pints were my round.”
A disorganised mess or chaotic environment might be described as a “shambles.”
“What’s happened here? This is a shambles!”
Someone short-tempered or irritated might be described as “shirty.”
The meaning of this slang has been debated at length. The word “shirt” is derived from the Norse for “short,” hence short-tempered. However, other people believe that “shirty” has connotations of being dishevelled.
“Don’t get shirty with me, mister.”
Something that is “skew-whiff” is askew.
“Is it just me or is that painting a bit skew-whiff?”
“Skiving” is the act of avoiding work or school, often by pretending to be ill.
“Skive” is derived from the French “esquiver,” meaning “to slink away.”
“He skived off school so we could all go to Thorpe Park on a weekday.”
“Slagging someone off”
Meaning: To say horrible things about someone behind their back
Alternatives: Shitfaced / Arseholed / Trollied / Legless / Pissed / Battered / Steaming / Hammered / Leathered / Squiffy / Lubricated / Rat-arsed / Pickled / Well-oiled / Merry, etc.
Lacking in energy; usually after a long period of exertion.
“Do we have to go to the dinner party tonight? I’m slumped.”
Someone that comes across as scheming or untrustworthy might be described as “smarmy.”
Although the adjective’s origins remain largely unknown, early documented uses seem to use the word as synonymous with “smear,” further suggesting that someone who is “smarmy” is also “slick” or “slippery.”
“Don’t trust him — he’s a smarmy geezer.”
Meaning: A snog is the equivalent of making out. Full-blown, tongue-wrangling kissing.
A British axiom that boils down to the idea that: “If anything can go wrong, then it definitely will go wrong.”
“Sod’s law” is often used to explain bad luck or freakish acts of misfortune. This is more commonly known in the US as “Murphy’s law.”
“Of course my toast had to land on the floor butter-side-down. It’s Sod’s law.”
“Spanner in the works”
An event that disrupts the natural, pre-planned order of events could be described as a “spanner in the works.”
The phrase describes the mayhem caused when something is recklessly thrown into the intricate gears and workings of a machine.
“By getting pregnant, Mary threw a spanner in the works.”
“Spend a penny”
To “spend a penny” is a polite euphemism for going to the toilet.
The phrase goes back to Victorian public toilets, which required users to insert a single penny in order to operate the lock.
Although it sounds crude, the phrase is actually considered a polite way of announcing that you are going to visit the bathroom. Historically, only women would announce they were going to “spend a penny,” as only women’s public toilets required a penny to lock. Men’s urinals were free of charge.
“I’m going to spend a penny.”
To “splash out” means spending significant amounts of money on a particular item or event.
If you’re “splashing out,” it’s implied that you’re spending money on a treat to mark a special occasion or celebration.
“Wow — you’ve really splashed out on this party!”
Similar to “nerd” or “geek” but less derogatory — someone that takes academic study very seriously might be described as a “swot.”
“Swot” can also be used as a verb.
“I haven’t seen Tom since he started revising for his exams. He’s turned into such a swot!”
“Yeah, he’s been swotting like mad for his Spanish exam.”
“Take the biscuit”
If someone has done something highly irritating or surprising in an exasperating fashion, you might say that they’ve “taken the biscuit.”
“Taking the biscuit” is the equivalent of taking the nonexistent medal for foolishness or incredulity.
“I could just about deal with the dog barking at 5:30a.m., but the lawnmower at 3 a.m. really takes the biscuit.”
“Take the Mickey”
To “take the Mickey” means to take liberties at the expense of others — and can be used in both a lighthearted and an irritated fashion.
“Take the Mickey” is an abbreviation of “taking the Mickey Bliss,” which is Cockney rhyming slang for “take the p***.”
“Hey! Don’t take the Mickey.”
Translation: Telling lies
Explanation: This slang phrase comes from the Cockney rhyming slang “pork pies” which rhymes with “lies”
“This is mint”
Translation: This is awesome
Example of usage: “The concert was mint, mate”
Something that is “tickety-boo” is satisfactory and in good order.
This classic British idiom may seem stereotypically twee, however, some sources believe that “tickety-boo” in fact derives from the Hindu phrase “ṭhīk hai, bābū,” meaning “it’s alright, sir.”
Meaning: Weed, pot
Explanation: The term is a little bit old-fashioned. Don’t use it if you want to look cool.
When someone makes a great speech while skirting around a subject or saying little of any value, you might say that they’re talking “waffle,” or that they’re “waffling.”
In the 17th century, to “waff” went to yelp, and quickly evolved to mean to talk foolishly or indecisively.
“I wish he’d stop waffling on.”
“What a load of waffle!”
Someone silly or incompetent might be described as a wally.
Although its origins are largely debated, the term’s meaning has evolved over the last 50 years alone.
In the 1960s, someone that was unfashionable might be nicknamed a “wally,” according to dictionary.com.
“Don’t put down a leaking mug on top of the newspaper, you wally!”
If you’ve “wangled” something, you’ve accomplished or attained something through cunning means.
“I wangled some first-class seats by being nice to the cabin crew!”
To “whinge” means to moan, groan, and complain in an irritating or whiney fashion.
“Wind your neck in”
If you want to tell someone to not concern themselves with issues that don’t directly affect them, you might tell them to “wind their neck in.”
This classic phrase is another way of telling someone that their opinion is not appreciated in the given scenario.
“Wind your neck in and stop being so nosy!”
Someone that makes comments just to spark controversy or argument might be labelled a “wind-up merchant.”
The “wind-up merchant” will often claim to be making their comments as a light-hearted jest when the recipients start becoming irritated.
If you’re “winding someone up,” you’re making them tense or irritated in the same way you wind up a Jack-in-the-box before it pops.
“Stop being such a wind-up merchant and be serious for one second!”
Translation: How are you?
“I was going to go out tonight but when I finished work I was absolutely zonked.”
Things British people say that Americans don’t understand
Explanation: In the north of England, “tea” is another word for dinner
Explanation: Again, in the north of England, “dinner” means lunch
I’ve got the hump
Meaning: Feeling blue and grumpy
Explanation: This British expression often refers to feeling grumpy for no real reason
Note: Be careful with the word “hump” because to hump someone means to have sex
Going up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire
Meaning: Going to bed
Explanation: Heading up the wooden hill (the stairs) to Bedfordshire (bed)
I’ve got to go see a man about a dog
Meaning: I need to take care of some business, and I don’t necessarily want to share all the details
Let’s have a butcher’s
Translation: Let’s have a look
Explanation: This slang phrase comes from the Cockney rhyming slang “Let’s have a butcher’s hook” which rhymes with “look”
Example of usage: “Let’s have a butcher’s at your new dress”
I’m off to spend a penny
Translation: I’m going to the bathroom
Alternative: I’m going for a slash
Sweet Fanny Adams
Example of usage: “My boyfriend got me Sweet Fanny Adams for Valentine’s Day. Can you believe it?”
He’s a bit dishy
Translation: He’s good looking
Going up the apples and pears
Translation: Going up the stairs
Explanation: This slang phrase is an example Cockney rhyming slang as “apples and pears” rhymes with “stairs”
Funny British sayings and their meaning
You’re all bum and parsley
Translation: You’re a loud know-it-all
Example of usage: “You don’t know what you’re talking about; you’re all bum and parsley”
She’s a picnic short of a sandwich
Meaning: She’s not very bright
Alternative: She’s a slice short of a loaf / She’s not the full shilling
Pop one’s clogs
Meaning: To pop one’s clogs is a euphemism for dying or death
That went down a treat
Translation: It was very enjoyable
Example of usage: “That cake went down a treat”
Cheap as chips
Meaning: Very cheap, or a bargain
Example of usage: “Only a fiver for a concert ticket — cheap as chips, mate!”
Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves
Meaning: If you take care not to waste small amounts of money, then it will accumulate into something more substantial
Happy as a pig in muck
Translation: Very happy
Example of usage: “When he’s left alone to read, he’s happy as a pig in muck”
Not give a monkey’s
Translation: I don’t care
Example of usage: “I don’t give a monkey’s about your baby’s sleeping schedule”
That’s the badger
Translation: That’s it
Example of usage: “That’s the badger! That’s the name I could not remember!”
Bob’s your uncle
Translation: There, you have it
Example of usage: “Just flick that switch and Bob’s your uncle”
Making a right pig’s ear of something
Translation: To do a bad job
Example of usage: “He made a right pig’s ear of this plumbing job. Everything’s leaking!”
Dirty and rude British sayings and their meaning
As the actress said to the bishop
Meaning: This is the British equivalent of “That’s what she said.” It highlights a sexual reference, whether it was deliberate or not.
Example of usage: “Blimey, that’s a big one — as the actress said to the bishop”
For shits and giggles
Meaning: For fun
Pull your finger out of your arse
Meaning: Get on with it
Translation: Oops, shit, f*ck, crap, oh no
You’ve got your knickers in a twist
Translation: You’re overreacting
Careful, he’s on the chunder bus
Translation: Watch out, he’s going to throw up
He’s the dog’s bollocks
Translation: He’s great
Alternatives: He’s the dog’s danglies / He’s the mutt’s nuts
He’s such a plonker
Translation: He’s an idiot
Alternatives: He’s such a ponce / pillock / tosser / twit / knob / bellend
To get a bollocking
Meaning: To get told off
I can’t be arsed
Translation: I can’t be bothered
Arse about face
Translation: Back to front
They don’t know their arse from their elbow
Translation: They are stupid
It’s piss poor
Translation: It’s not very good
On the piss
Meaning: Going out on the town with your mates to get drunk
Example of usage: “We have not seen Alice all evening. She’s been on the piss with the girls from school.”
Alternatives: Slap and tickle / Bang / Bonk / Rumpy-pumpy / A bit of how’s ya father / A good rogering
Example of usage: “God, I can’t believe I almost shagged that guy last night.”
What a cock up!
Explanation: Something got messed up
Alternative: It’s all gone pear-shaped
Example of usage: “We went to the theater and all the actors forgot their lines and the orchestra played the wrong songs. What a cock up!”
I just went arse over tit
Translation: I fell very badly
30 Most Common British Idioms & Phrases
A Penny For Your Thoughts
This expression is used in situations when you want to ask someone to tell you what they are thinking at the moment. It means that the person is even willing to give you money to find out what is on your mind, that’s how bad he wants to know.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
When you just talk about doing something but you actually don’t do a thing about it, that is the ideal case when you can use this phrase.
For example, telling someone you love him but not showing that at all isn’t worth it.
An Arm And a Leg
This idiom is usually used when people exaggerate about something and that it is overpriced when it actually isn’t worth that much.
Another String to Your Bow
In situations when you have two or more skills or abilities so that you can use another if the first one doesn’t work.
Back to The Drawing Board
When an idea or proposal isn’t good and when the new one has to be provided, this expression is ideal for it.
The Ball is in Your Court
In other words, ‘now it’s your turn’ and you have to make the next move.
Barking up The Wrong Tree
You’re looking in the wrong place – accusing the wrong person or pursuing a mistaken or misguided line of thought.
Beat Around The Bush
When you don’t want to answer or you avoid talking about a particular topic is one of the typical British expressions.
Better Late Than Never
It is used to explain that it is better to arrive late or finish something even after the deadline than not to do it at all.
Biting More Than You Can Chew
This idiom is used in situations when you are trying to accomplish something that is too hard for you or you don’t have the right knowledge or experience to achieve it.
Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
There’s a good reason why the best thing to the British is sliced bread.
Therefore, when you say ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ it means that the thing, object, or opinion is really that good, almost ideal.
Comparing Apples And Oranges
Just like apples and oranges aren’t the same and you can’t compare them, the same you can compare two different things.
Curiosity Killed The Cat
Did curiosity really kill the cat? Perhaps not but we will never know for sure.
What this expression wants to say is that you have to be careful in finding out the answer you are interested in because you can find many unpleasant things or situations.
Don’t Count Your Chickens Before Your Eggs Have Hatched
Here’s another great idiom. It’s a bit realistic, shoeing you should be careful and
don’t make plans for something that might not happen.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Don’t put all your hope/resources in one possibility, lose the basket and you’re left hopeless.
Elvis Has Left The Building
This expression became the catchphrase since Elvis Presley’s concerts.
The idiom refers that something has ended as the show has ended and we can all go home.
Hit The Sack
This expression dates back centuries ago when people were sleeping on sacks. Therefore, it means that you would be going to bed.
It Takes Two to Tango
Can you dance the tango alone? Of course not. You need a partner.
That’s how it is in real life, too. It means that for some actions it needs more than one person to work successfully. Therefore, in some cases, teamwork is better.
When you successfully finish two tasks at once or solve two problems at the same time. If you, however, think that it is against animals and living beings, you can use ‘feed two birds with one scone.’
Look After Your Pennies And The Pounds Will Look After Themselves
Here’s one idiom that refers to what it is really about- the money. It means that if you start saving small amounts of money, you’ll accumulate it.
In other situations, it refers to concentrating on small things to get the bigger ones in the end.
Make a Long Story Short
In situations when you have to say something briefly without getting into the details, you use this expression.
No Pain, No Gain
The phrase means that if you want something really hard, you have to try and give your best to get it.
Not Playing With The Full Deck
When you want to somehow show someone that he doesn’t think in common sense or lacks intelligence.
Pull Someone’s Leg
You don’t really pull other people’s legs. It is enough to joke with someone, for which you can use this idiom.
Even though many would think that this expression is used to meet someone, it actually means when people agree on some subject because of the same view.
Speak of The Devil
This phrase is used in situations when a person arrives just after he is being mentioned, as he knew you were talking about him.
Steal Someone’s Thunder
When you take someone else’s work or idea and turned it into your own for which you get all the credits while the person whose work or idea originally was, says without the promotion.
Taste of Your Own Medicine
You don’t have to try mixing your own medicine and try it for real, but the meaning of this expression refers to the fact that people should treat others the way they want to be treated.
You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
No English student who hasn’t heard of this expression.
And an explanation is really simple: don’t judge people or objects by their look but what’s inside because that’s what matters.
Your Guess is As Good As Mine
In cases when having no idea or you don’t have the answer, just like the others, feel free to use this expression.
1. “Fancy a cuppa?”
meaning: “Would you like a cup of tea?”
Everyone knows that Brits love tea, but nothing can prepare you for the ferocity of their addiction to the drink. Tea is more than a beverage. It’s a way of life. Whether you’re at work, visiting friends or simply spending a relaxing day at home, if a British person is around, it won’t take long until you’re posed the question: “Fancy a cuppa?”
The act of brewing and drinking tea brings British people together, and they like nothing more than to pop the kettle on and enjoy a nice “cuppa” (a cup of) tea while putting the world to rights or sharing some juicy gossip. Brits like to think that tea possesses magical qualities that can help solve any problem. No matter how grave the situation, anything can be conquered with a cup of tea in hand!
meaning: “Hey, how are you?”
Sure, Shakespeare was British, but modern-day Brits are decidedly less wordy. Long gone are the days where we would greet each other in the street with a formal “How do you do, Sir?” (while tipping our hats and waving our handkerchiefs in the air). Nowadays, your average Brit under the age of 40 is far more likely to greet their friends or loved ones with a curt “Alright?”
But don’t get your knickers in a twist. This greeting is simply an expeditious, modern version of “Hello!” The greeter is not asking you for an in-depth explanation of your well-being. An authentic “Alright?” can only truly be achieved if the greeter gives a slight nod of the head, while the word itself is to be voiced as a short groan — none of this “top-of-the-morning” chirpiness!
Not sure how to pronounce it yourself? Then listen to the master: Karl Pilkington.
3. “I’m knackered!”
meaning: “I’m tired.”
This is a great one to break out when you’re catching your breath after a serious amount of physical exercise. Nothing could be more British than running for the bus while holding multiple bags of shopping in your hands. Once you’ve made it aboard, sit down next to the little old Granny in the front row, exhale loudly, turn to her, roll your eyes and exclaim, “I’m knackered!”
meaning: playful; mischievous
Brits are famous for their sense of humour, and we like to take life a little less seriously than other nations do. We take pleasure in being playful, so we often use the word “cheeky” to describe small, fun, frivolous activities that make us smile.
- British person: “Do you want to join us for a cheeky pint?”
- Translation: “Would you like to come to the pub to have a pint of beer with us?”
“Cheeky” can also be used as an adjective, of course, and as Brits are always trying to inject our upbeat outlook on everything we do, you’ll often hear optimistic individuals described as “cheeky,” or “having a cheeky smile” that suggests they’re up to a bit of mischief.
5. “I’m chuffed to bits!”
meaning “I’m very pleased.”
This is the perfect phrase to use when describing a great deal of pleasure about something, or displaying immense pride in one’s own efforts. For example, if you’re about to tuck into a delicious full English breakfast, then you could say that you’re feeling “chuffed to bits.” Or, perhaps you’ve just won over someone’s heart by introducing them to your favorite cider. Boom! You could now say that you’re “chuffed to bits with yourself.”
There are no two ways about it: If you want to sound quintessentially British while emphasising a certain characteristic or quality of an object, location or person, then you have got to use the word “bloody.” Have you just finished eating an exquisite portion of Fish n’ Chips? Then smack your lips and exclaim that they were “bloody delicious!” Have you just had the misfortune of seeing a terrible performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet? Then you’ll have to turn to your fellow theatre aficionado, tut loudly, and say, “Well that was bloody awful, wasn’t it?”
7. To bodge something
meaning: to mend, or repair something clumsily
In the past, Britain bequeathed onto the world the steam train, the telephone and, most importantly, the chocolate bar. So it’s fair to say that modern-day Brits have got a pretty impressive standard to live up to when it comes to the world of inventions and mechanics. Most Brits are therefore mortified by the thought of hiring an expensive expert to mend an item in need of repair, and we take pride in giving the repair job a go ourselves. But what if this repair job is of a low-quality, and doesn’t really get the job done? That’s what we call “to bodge something.”
This verb perfectly describes the clumsy and invariably futile attempt to mend a broken item. For example, if the tape has come off the handlebars on your bike, don’t go to a professional bike repair shop and pay through the nose for the application of expensive “bike tape” by a man who knows what he’s doing — perish the thought! Instead, grab some cheap sellotape from the newsagent’s and affix it to your handlebars yourself! Who cares if the end bits continue to flap in the wind? You’ve just perfected the British art of “bodging it,” and that’s far more important right now.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel would be proud of your inventiveness.
8. “I’m pissed.”
meaning: “I’m drunk.”
This one isn’t just confusing for non-native English speakers — it regularly trips up Americans too! In American English “to be pissed” means to be extremely angry about something. In British English, the phrase is used to describe the feeling of having had a few too many lagers down the pub, and the resulting struggle to walk in a straight line.
meaning: beautiful; attractive
Spend more than five minutes around any British woman over the age of 40, and you are very likely to hear the word “lovely.” This extremely popular word conveys a feeling of affection or approval on behalf of the speaker towards an object or person, and it’s perhaps best summed up in the phrase, “that’s a lovely cup of tea.” However, the word is more popular amongst older generations, and even more so amongst older women. For instance, the following exchange is definitely happening right now on the streets of Oxford:
- Woman #1: “Ohhh look at that lovely young man by the bus stop!”
- Woman #2: “Right! And look how lovely his shoes are!”
- Woman #1: “Yes! They’re lovely!”
However, be careful because British people are famously over-polite, and the innate fear of being rude is so ingrained within our national psyche that most Brits are terribly afraid of registering their dislike at anything. So whether it’s bad service, undercooked food or crap weather, if we want to keep up appearances and not offend the company we’re with, then rather than expressing our disappointment or disgust at something we’re far more likely to say “Oh it’s lovely!” when asked for our opinion. If you want to blend in and “do as the British do,” then you’ve also got to master the art of hiding your disappointment like a true Brit.
- Excited child returning home from school: “Look mummy, I drew a picture of the family!”
- Mum: “Oh that’s lovely dear. Let’s hang it on the fridge right away.”
Brits are always thought of as being formal and stiff, but modern-day Brits are casual, cheery and honest folk who will stick by those they hold dear. Take for instance the word “mate.” Yes, you could use the word “friend” to describe someone you’re close to, but the British word “mate” suggests a more nuanced relationship shaped by trust, loyalty and lots of laughs.
Yup, Brits are far more likely to describe friends as “mates” because the word “friend” seems… a bit naff (tacky). A “mate” will share a pint with you down the pub, help you move flats, tell you if your bum’s too big for that pair of jeans and definitely give you an earful when you make the silly decision go back to your old ex for what must be the sixth time already. Seriously mate, stop doing this to yourself!
11. “That’s rubbish!”
meaning: “I don’t believe you!”
“Rubbish” is the British word for “garbage,” so if you want to point out that an idea or suggestion has no quality or is blatantly false, this is the British phrase you’ll need. You’ve just heard someone describe Oasis as “the greatest band who ever walked this Earth”? There’s only one recourse for you: Stop them dead in their tracks by exclaiming, “That’s rubbish!”
chapter-living.com, “28 CLASSIC BRITISH IDIOMS.”; mondly.com, “50+ Common British Phrases to Impress your British Mates.”; independent.co.uk, “88 VERY BRITISH PHRASES THAT WILL CONFUSE ANYBODY WHO DIDN’T GROW UP IN THE UK.”; justlear.com,”30 Most Common British Idioms & Phrases.”; babbel.com, “11 Bloody Brilliant British English Phrases.” By David Sumner;