British and American slang terms

Brits and Americans: divided by a common language!

Soon after we arrived in Al Ain we made friends with an American guy called Jake Gilson and his family. During our chats I realised how much British slang I used. And Jake, being Jake, would tease me about the funny words and phrases I used.

Me being me, I never go anywhere without a notepad and pen, so I wrote many of these phrases down, typed them into my laptop and, over the months, kept adding to the list.

So wherever you come from in the world, here is a long list of words and phrases which may help you understand your British or American colleagues better.

Please note: towards the bottom of this list are a few adult-rated phrases

Numbers in square brackets [1], [2]… refer to well known British songs featuring this word or phrase. I have added youtube videos to the end of this article. You may find these songs amusing – and educational!

 

British expressions some Americans don’t understand…

Brits say… –> Americans say…

You’re motoring –> You’re getting results / moving forward

Stop whinging –> Stop whining

We’ll get there under our own steam –> We’ll get their using our own methods e.g. our own car

Middle eight –> The bridge in a song

Top notch! –> Excellent!

That cost a quid! –> That cost one pound = $1.50

That cost a fiver/tenner –> That cost five/ten pounds $7.50/$15

Are you taking the Mickey/Michael/piss? –> Are you making a fool out of me?

That lady went berserk –> That lady went crazy

Are you on your tod? –> Are you the only one here?

My children drive me round the bend –> My children drive me crazy

I fancy a walk. Are you up for that? –> I want to go for a walk. Want to come?

Hello Tosh –> “a friendly expression that grownups used when they ruffled the hair of children”

Jake, I haven’t seen even one of your paintings yet – not a sausage! –> not one!

I haven’t heard a dickie bird from my friend –> I haven’t heard from my friend

You’ve got egg under your chin –> the zip in your pants is down

Give me that right now, or I’ll your guts for garters! –> Pass that over or you’re in big trouble!

An odd job man fixed my blocked sink –>  A handyman

 

Other British slang

I’m dying for a slash –> I have to use the bathroom / I need to pee

I didn’t have the bottle –> I didn’t have the courage (to do that)

My old man said to me… –> My father said to me…

I don’t give a monkey’s what you do –> I don’t care what you do

That cost 3 grand –> That cost 3 thousand pounds ($4,500)

You warm the cockles of my heart –> I feel warm inside!

That story tickles me, it does –> I find that story amusing

You don’t half tickle me –> I find you amusing

Does this tickle your fancy? –> Would you like this?

Oy! Jack it in! –> Stop that!

It’s a hard job. I have to grin and bear it. [22] –> I have to put up with it.

Cor blimey, guvn’r –> said to be an abbreviation of ‘God blind me’.

Did you see that bloke/geezer? [19] –> Did you see that man?

That film/book is the dog’s bollocks –> That film/book is excellent

What’s your crack? –> What’s your story? (comes from craic, Irish for good times)

Do you fancy a fag? –> Do you want a cigarette?

Shut your gob/trap/cake hole! –> Close your mouth!

Keep your trap shut! –> Keep your lips sealed!

I’m gobsmacked/flabbergasted! –> I’m astonished/speechless!

My mate half-inched it –> My friend stole it

You jammy beggar! You lucky bleeder [19] –> You lucky thing!

That flannel is really manky! –> That small towel/face cloth is very dirty!

That bloke is well minted! –> That man is very wealthy!

Did you nick that out of my bag? –> Did you steal that out of my bag?

I was down the Nick the other day –> I was round at the police station the other day

I’m absolutely knackered –> I’m tired out (may come from knacker’s yard: where old horses were taken)

Get on with yer! There’s nowt wrong with yer, my young fella me lad! –> Get away! There’s nothing wrong with you!

Did you get owt while you were shopping?  –> Did you get anything

We had some argy-bargy this morning –> We had some trouble

He argued the toss –> He argued loudly

I pinched it off me mate –> I stole it from my friend

I should have gone out last night, but I couldn’t be arsed –> I couldn’t be bothered

This punter came into my shop –> This customer came into my shop

I’m going to see a man about a dog –> I’m going to a meeting or the bathroom

I’m going to the little boy’s room –> I’m going to the bathroom

Paul McCartney is a Scouser –> Paul McCartney comes from Liverpool

I’m shagged out –> I’m very tired

I’m shattered –> I’m very tired/exhausted

Look at his shiner! –> Look at his black eye!

Don’t slag him off –> Don’t be critical of him

He had the screaming abdabs –> He shouted a lot

We bought a house with all mod cons –> with all the fixtures and fittings

I’ve been all over the shop –> I’ve been looking everywhere

This holiday has gone all to cock/pot –> It has all gone wrong

Is that book any cop? –> Is that book any good?

Any road up… –> Anyway…

Would you like a sarnie? A cake? Whatever takes your fancy –> Would you like a sandwich? A cake? Whatever appeals to you

I don’t give a monkeys what you think [5] –> I don’t care what you think

When we divorced, my wife took me to the cleaners [9] –> When we divorced, my wife got a very large settlement

Blinking heck, what are you playing at? [14] –> Heck, what are you doing?

That deal sounds a bit dodgey to me –> I think that deal could go bad

You need to buck up your ideas, young man –> You need to pull yourself together

I was pipped at the post –> I was narrowly beaten

When we were young we went out on the nick –>  [18] –> We went out to steal

 

Alcohol related…

I was on the piss last night –> I was out drinking last night

I got plastered last night –> I got drunk last night

I was down the boozer/pub last night –> I was in the bar last night

I was out on the raz last night –> I was out drinking last night

I’m really miffed about that! –> I’m pissed about that!

I’ll love you till the cows come home [20] –> I’ll love you forever

Magic our Morris –> That’s wonderful (came from a BBC TV series from 1974 called Oh No It’s Selwyn Froggitt)

 

Rarely, older Brits will say…

“That cost 10 bob.” 10 shillings in ‘old money’ before decimalisation in the early 1970s. Means 50p = 75 cents.

 

Calling people names

You plonker! –> You silly person!

You’re a right pillock, you are! –> You are a silly person!

You silly sausage! –> Ditto!

He’s a slap head –> He’s bald

That’s a bit airy-fairy –> That’s not very specific

She’s all fur coat and no knickers –> She’s rather superficial

He’s all mouth and no trousers –> He’s all talk and no action

You daft apeth! –> Ditto! (comes from haypneeworth (half a penny’s worth))

You right numpty! –> That was a silly thing to do!

You’re a nutter, you are! –> You’re crazy!

You made such an arse of yourself last night –> You made such a fool of yourself

You moron [1] –> You crazy person

That guy is completely crackers –> That guy is crazy

You div head! –> You silly person

Don’t be daft –> Don’t be silly/crazy

You crackpot –> You crazy person

You? Ask her out? You haven’t got the bottle, mate! –> You aren’t brave enough to do that

You daft toe-rag [13] –> You silly person

You little sod –> You annoying person

 

Other British expressions…

There’s many a slip between cup and lip – mistakes can easily happen along the way

How’s that for a bunch of soldiers –> What do you think of that?

I’ll give you a bunch of fives if you don’t watch out – I’ll punch you

Don’t get your knickers in a twist – don’t get all het up –> Don’t get so upset

This is not my cup of tea –> That’s not the kind of thing I like

 

Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’penny worth of tar – don’t skimp and ruin a plan

 

Cockney rhyming slang (quite common)

[A Cockney is someone born within the sound of the Bow Bells (St Mary le Bow Church in the East End of London). Cockney rhyming slang is made by taking an expression that rhymes with a word and then using that expression instead of the word: eg the word look rhymes with butcher’s hook. In many cases the rhyming word is left out – so most Londoners will just say “Having a butcher’s” rather than “Having a butcher’s hook”. The rhyming word is not always omitted though, so Cockney expressions can vary in their construction.]

Parent to child: “Time to go up the dancers”(at bedtime)  –> dancing bears = stairs

or “Time to go up the apples and pears”  –> stairs

Would you Adam and Eve it?  –> Would you believe it?

I fancy a nice cup of Rosie –> Rosie Lee = tea

Don’t be daft! Use your loaf! –> loaf of bread = head

Come and have a butcher’s in this shop window / at this! –> butcher’s hook = look

Don’t tell porkies! –> pork pies = lies

Have you got any bread? –> bread and honey = money

That boy’s a right tea leaf!  –> thief

Come here, my current bun! –> son

What are you rabbitting on about? [4] –> What are you talking about?: rabbit and pork = talk

I’m off for a Jimmy Riddle –> piddle = urinate

They had a right old barney (argument) last night –> Barney Rubble = trouble

 

Cockney rhyming slang (less common)

Take off your titfer –> tit for tat = hat

What a lovely whistle! –> whistle and flute = suit

Let’s go eat a Ruby –> Ruby Murray = curry

She has a pretty boat race [3] –> face

I’m going home now to my trouble and strife –> wife

Look at his barnet! –> barnet fair = hair

Hold on a sec! I’m just on the dog and bone –> phone

jam jar –> car

Can you lend me a lady? –> Lady Godiva = fiver (five pounds)

I got Brahms and Liszt last night –> pissed (drunk)

Hello, me old china! –> china plate = mate

Poo! You don’t half pen and ink! [7] –> stink

 

Want to know more?… See the Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang, published by the Oxford University Press.

 

Common British words…

Brits say… –> Americans say…

boot of the car –> trunk

stand (at an exhibition) –> booth

crisps –> chips

biscuits –> cookies

chips –> fries

nursery –> kindergarten

shopping centre –> shopping mall

full stop –> period (at the end of a sentence)

courgette –> zucchini

aubergine –> eggplant

Please will you get me the bill?  Please will you get me the check?

iced lolly –> lollipop/popsicle

I’ll have a take out –> I’ll have it to go

I’ll have a 99 –> vanilla ice-cream in a biscuit cone with a stick of flakey milk chocolate added

I’ll ring you on my mobile   –> I’ll call you on my cell

Let’s go to the flix/flicks [flickering images] –> Let’s go to the movies 

shandy [15] –> a mix of beer and lemonade

Hoover –> vacuum cleaner

what’s on the telly? –> TV

nappy –> diaper

dummy –> pacifier

small garden –> back yard, yard

estate agent –> real estate agent, realtor

tuck shop –> snack shop

bovver boots –> jackboots

dressing gown –> robe

trainers –> sneakers

track suit –> sweats

vest (under shirt) –> T-shirt

plimsolls –> tennis shoes

zip –> zipper

waistcoat on a suit –> vest

tick –> checkmark

blackboard –> chalkboard

rubber –> eraser

first year at college –> Freshman

second year at college –> sophomore

Maths –> Math

I’m reading Philosophy at Cambridge –> I’m majoring in…

state school –> public school

public school –> private school

headmaster/headmistress –> principal

 

American expressions Brits don’t understand…

Americans say… –> Brits say…

Teeter totter –> seesaw –>

7th, 10th grade –> Brits have no idea! Say, “When my child was x years old…”

valedictorian –> (a student, typically having the highest academic achievements of the class, who delivers the valedictory at a graduation ceremony)

heads up –> can you update me?

rain check –> “let’s try this another time”

nickel or dime –> 5 cents or 10 cents

boo boo –> a bruise on a child

car is fully loaded –> has all the accessories/luxury additions

 

American expressions or words Brits understand but don’t say…

Americans… –> Brits say…

“my son went back to school at the age of 23” –> –> college: ‘school’ stops at age 18 approx

 

Other words Brits may use…

anorak – waterproof coat with hood

conkers [2] – horse chestnuts on string. Each child has one and each takes turns to whack their conker against their opponent’s to see which conker smashes first. If one conker has smashed nine others, it’s a niner etc.

 

Different spellings

Americans say/write… –> Brits say/write…

The check is in the mail –> The cheque is in the post.

One hundred seventy nine –> One hundred and seventy nine

I have 30-some oranges –> I have 30-odd oranges


Adult slang

Brits say… –> Meaning…

She lost her cherry –> She lost her virginity

Don’t be such a tosser –> Don’t be such an idiot

How are your meat and two veg? (parents sometimes say this to their children if they get hit there) –> Male genitals

She was in the nuddie/buff –> She was naked as a jay bird

I got my end away –> I had sex

I had a shag with x –> I had sex with x

fanny –> vagina; [fanny = butt in US]

She’s a right old slapper/tart/slag –> She’s a hoe

I had a good snog –> I had an enjoyable French kiss

He went apeshit –> He got very angry

He went arse over tit on the ice –> He fell over on the ice

arty farty –> pretentious

I’m going for a piss/leak/wee –> I’m going to the John

He’s an effin’ thicky! [8] –> He’s a f–king idiot!

I was scared shitless [21] –> I was very scared

She’s a nice bit of posh! [12] –> She looks like she came from a good part of town

randy [15] –> aroused

I passed her a Mandy [16] –> Mandrax, “a tranquiliser notorious for reacting with alcohol” according to http://starling.rinet.ru/music/ianduryc.htm

goolies, knackers –> testicles

hard on –> boner

They were fishy kissing outside the pub –> Their mouths were open and moving like a fish as they kissed

 

Adult insults

Brits say… –> Meaning…

You silly sod/twat –> You foolish person

Get stuffed/Sod off –> Go away

He’s a right tosser/toss bag/arsehole –> He’s an idiot

He’s an arselicker –> He’s sycophantic

He’s a right yob –> He’s a lout

 

Check if Americans understand these

I’m going for a number one / number two –> stand up job vs sit down job

I’m going for a kip –> I’m going for a short nap

Cast your eyes over this –> Look at this

 

 

Songs referenced

[1] Jilted John by Jilted John, the singer, Graham sings, “Gordon is a moron”. Which lead to a front page headline in The Sun newspaper in the spring of 2010, referring to the outgoing Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Here’s a version of the song set to simple stick figures…

 

Or there’s this live-ish version from the BBC TV show Top Of The Pops with crackly sound…

[2] The song Stringing Up Conkers by the British band The Boy Least Likely To was featured in the first longish iPad advert shown on Apple’s website. Here’s a video of the whole song…

 

An instrumental version of this song was used in an ad for the Apple iPhone a year or so earlier…

 

[3] One hit wonder song: Nice legs, shame about the face by The Monks which has the line, “Nice legs, shame about the boat race”, at 1 min 19 secs into the song here…

 

[4] Chas N Dave have a song called Rabbit, with the lines, “You won’t stop talking, why don’t you give it a rest. You got more rabbit than Sainsbury’s, it’s time you got it off ya chest.” (Sainsbury’s is a well-known supermarket chain.)

[5] In Chas n Dave’s The Sideboard Song, they sing, “You’re sister’s courtin’ a scruffy looking ted, father don’t give a monkeys [doesn’t care] and this is what he said: I don’t care.”

[6] Ian Dury also uses some Cockney Rhyming slang. In the song My Old Man, he sings, “My old man wore three piece whistles [suits]”.

[7] In Blackmail Man by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Ian Dury sings, “I think you stink. You pen and ink.”

[8] In Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury, he sings, “I ain’t an effin’ thicky”. Here’s a live version of this song…

 

[9] In Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury, he sings, “She took me to the cleaners, and other misdemeanours.”

[12] From Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury: “Oh golly, oh gosh come and lie on the couch, with a nice bit of posh from Burnham-on-Crouch.”

[13] From Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury: “I know a lovely old toe-rag, obliging and noblesse, kindly, charming shag from Shoeburyness.”

[14] From Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury: “I’m not a blinking thicky, I’m Billericay Dickie, and I’m doing very well.”

[15] From Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury: “ I bought a lot of brandy, when I was courting Sandy. Took eight to make her randy, and all I had was shandy.”

[16] From Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury: “Another thing with Sandy, what often came in handy, was passing her a ‘Mandy’, she didn’t half go bandy.”

[17] From Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury: “So you ask Joyce and Vicki if I ever took the mickey” [You’ll find that this Aussie ad for Spray’n’Wipe uses the tune of this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIp4CMLd6W8&hd=1]

[18] From Razzle In My Pocket by Ian Dury: “In my yellow jersey, I went out on the nick.”

[19] From There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards by Ian Dury: “Lucky bleeders, lucky bleeders… That was an Italian geezer… Okey-dokey!”

[20] From That’s Not All by Ian Dury: “I love you till the cows come home.”

 

[21] From There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards by Ian Dury & The Blockheads: “Einstein can’t be classed as witless. He claimed atoms were the littlest. When he did a bit of splittingness: frightened everybody shitless.”

[22] From Reasons To Be Cheerful by Ian Dury & The Blockheads: “A bit of grin and bear it. A bit of come and share it.”

 

[For some funny anecdotes about Dury, go here.]

What have I missed out? Which popular songs, either British or American, feature some interesting slang? Do let me know!

[Thanks to Emalee for her help with this page.]

6 Comment

  1. John says:

    Just a correction:

    “You’ve got egg under your chin –> the zip in your trousers is down”
    I’m American, and we seldomly – if ever – use the word trousers. We say pants.

    Also, I always said seesaw when I was kid. In fact, if you hadn’t written down the British version of “teeter totter” I wouldn’t have understood what you meant. Yet again I’m from New England and maybe it’s referred to a seesaw in the other parts of the country.

    Lastly…
    She’s a right old slapper/tart/slag –> She’s a bit loose
    When I read this I thought they were BOTH British sayings. Americans don’t say “a bit” as often as Britons – we usually say “pretty” (such as in pretty loose in this case). It’d also be rare for someone to call a woman “loose” here. We’d simply call her a slut, hoe, slag, or skank. There are other words, definitely, but those ones probably same the same level of vulgarity as the British selection of words to describe a loose woman. Lol.

    Anyways… Thanks and great article!

  2. admin says:

    Thanks John!
    I have now corrected my article based on your comments! 🙂
    Chris

  3. John H. says:

    Just another small correction: nickel or dime;;you said 10 cents or 25 cents. Actually, a nickel is 5 cents, a dime is 10 cents, and a quarter is 25 cents. These are used in various expressions: they’re nickel and diming me to death–picking at someone in small ways until it finally affects them, or monetarily, sending texts (SMS’s) nickel and dime me to death (small charges add up to big bill). Other example, dropping a dime on someone, means informing on someone to the police (pay telephones (anonimity) used to cost a dime (a long time ago).

  4. admin says:

    Hi John,

    Oops! My mistake. I have fixed that now. Thanks for the other examples!

    Chris

  5. Christa says:

    Your article was really interesting! However, there were a few little mistakes (most of which were in the “Americans Say” bits. We don’t use such formal language, just have a different slang term.) For example, we don’t usually say “the zipper in you pants is down” unless we’re trying to be very polite. You just say XYZ (presumably short for “examine your zipper”). Also, I just wanted to let you know, that in your “Things that Americans Say That British People Don’t Understand” section, “grades” are actually years in school. So a child in the 7th grade isn’t 7, they’re in the their 7th year of school (so 11-12). Overall, it was a pretty fascinating article!

  6. admin says:

    Thank you Christa! 🙂
    Chris

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