British slang is quite a little gem of the language, and deserves a wider user base. Here’s the best British slang words that everyone can easily incorporate into their vocabulary.
Showing the Finger(s)
Showing the middle finger is considered a very rude gesture in the USA. However, its British equivalent is not a one-fingered salute, but showing a ‘V’ sign with the palm facing inward. Making the same ‘V’ sign with the palm facing outwards is the civil gesture for the number ‘2’.
British slang is the collection of words and phrases spoken in Great Britain―mostly in England. Among all the forms of English seen around the world, British slang has fallen behind a bit in the global conscious.
What if I told you that you don’t have to be an anorak to use these phrases, and that my afternoon grub was delicious, or that blowing on a fag looks cool? If your reaction was befuddlement, disgust, and giggles, respectively, you definitely need to get chummy with British slang. And no, I am not talking a load of codswallop here, and I am not even taking the piss out of you!
Here’s the best of the lot.
Best British Slang Terms and Phrases
► Ace: ‘Ace’ stands for excellent. So, you can actually say the phrase “that ace was ace, Ace!” to your tennis partner!
► Aggro: Though this format of abbreviation seems very Australian, this is a British slang for being aggressive or in your face.
► Anorak: A person who knows a lot about a particular profession or avenue. This is a generally used pejoratively, in the sense that the person is generally boring and needlessly nerdy.
► Anti-clockwise: No, the Brits don’t oppose timekeeping. It just means what the Yanks mean by ‘counter-clockwise’.
► Argy-bargy: Quarrelsome, potentially problematic
► Arse: One of the most delightful British counterparts to the American pronunciation, ‘arse’ is a bit ruder version of the American ‘ass’. Needless to say, it means the same thing, but you can sound prim while saying it! It is associated with the following phrases:
- To be arsed: To be bothered (to do something). To be fagged to do something means the same thing.
- Arse about face: Back to front
- Arse over elbow: A more graphic way of saying ‘head over heels’.
- Arsehole: Means the same thing as you-know-what, and is equally rude this side of the Atlantic.
- Arseholed: No, no need for the moral police. It just means ‘drunk’! How the term came to be is genuinely baffling.
- Sad arse: A pathetic, boring person.
► Baccy: A more charming word for tobacco, especially the hand-rolled kind.
► Barmy: Loose in the head, crazy. Weirdly, English fans following their national cricket team choose to call themselves the ‘Barmy Army’.
► (I’m Off to) Bedfordshire: Bed, sleep.
► Belt Up: Used to tell someone to shut up. On a side note, this would have been the perfect riposte to Barney Stinson.
► Bespoke: Custom-made for something or someone. For example, rebuilding classic cars often needs bespoke components.
► Bits and Bobs: Miscellaneous objects that make up the all-inclusive term ‘stuff that’s been lying around’.
► Bladdered: This crude synonym for ‘drunk’ needs no explanation.
► Blimey: Has the same range of meanings as ‘oh my god’. And yes, you remembered right, it’s Ron Weasley’s catchphrase.
► Bloody: This is one of the best words to hear or say with a British accent, and is probably the most used swear word in Great Britain. It is mostly followed by the words ‘hell’ or ‘nora’ when used on its own.
- It is more commonly used to add emphasis to virtually any adjective―a blue-collar alternative to ‘veritably’, if you will.
- ‘Bleeding’ also means the same as ‘bloody’.
- ‘Blooming’ is a synonym of ‘bloody’ to be used when you don’t want to get frowned at.
► Blow Me: Stands for something like ‘you can knock me down with a feather’, but should never be uttered in a room full of Americans, who’ll die laughing. It is short for ‘you could blow me down’, but carries an unfortunately obvious stigma outside Britain.
► Bob’s Your Uncle: This weird phrase is used to end an instruction with a flourish, à la “and that’s it!”. For example, you could direct someone by telling them to go left, then straight for two intersections, then right, “and Bob’s your uncle!”. Might be confusing, though, if you are an American newcomer to Great Britain, and you actually have an uncle named Bob!
► Bodge: To fix something hurriedly and superficially, expending minimal resources (and then uncomplainingly waiting for the next malfunction, because hey, it’s just a bodge job).
► Bog: Yes, marshy swamplands, but it also means the loo.
- Bog Roll: As you can guess, stands for toilet paper.
► Bollocks: Another British gem, ‘bollocks’ technically means testicles, but it is almost never used in the dictionary definition.
- It can be more accurately described as the British equivalent of ‘bullsh*t’. So, someone could be talking absolute bollocks, or their idea may be completely bollocks. Cobblers is a more polite way of expressing this sentiment. Codswallop is an even politer way of telling someone they are talking rubbish.
- Conversely, it is also used to express admiration for something. Someone calling your hairstyle the dog’s bollocks is, however revolting and insulting it may seem, actually a pretty big compliment! But considering the dictionary definition of the word, the usage of this term as a compliment may seem very creepy to the uninitiated.
► Botch: The verb ‘to botch (something up)’ and the noun ‘botch job’ indicate a badly done job, or a job done with less resources than it requires. It may seem the same as ‘bodge’, but the difference is that a bodge job can be excellently done, and a botched up job doesn’t need to have been a bodge job.
► Bottle: ‘To have a lot of bottle’ stands for having ‘courage’ or ‘guts’.
► Budge Up: Means the same as ‘skooch’.
► Bugger: Like ‘bloody’ and ‘bollocks’, ‘bugger’ is a multifaceted and very convenient word in the British slang lexicon. Strictly taken, ‘bugger’ means a person. A friend who gets cheated on by his girlfriend becomes the ‘sad bugger’, and a friend who wins the jackpot becomes the ‘lucky bugger’. It is associated with the following phrases:
- Buggered: If you are buggered, you are extremely tired and worn out.
- Bugger Off: Carries the same connotation as “eff off”, but is much less rude.
- (for) Bugger All: Free of charge.
- The word ‘bugger’ itself is used as a generic expletive, in the same manner as sh*t or the F word.
► Bum: Two meanings of this word―the one related to human anatomy, and the one related to making people bored―are the same in the U.S. as well as the U.K. An exclusively-British meaning is that of a tramp, a person who just loiters around aimlessly.
► Chav: A person, usually white, of lower class and lower social standing.
► Cheeky: Carelessly mischievous or flippant. In other words, someone who has a lot of cheek or an action that requires a lot of cheek.
► Cheerio: In Britain, cheerios are not something you eat, but something you say; it means ‘goodbye’.
- Ta-ra: Means the same thing as ‘cheerio’, and is pronounced something like ‘churar’ (imagine Chewbacca trying to say ‘cheerio’).
► Chin Wag: If you are wagging chins with someone, you are having a conversation with them. The origin of this phrase is fairly obvious.
► Chuffed: Pleased, happy. It is usually followed by ‘over (something)’ rather than just describing a state of mind. Chuffed to bits means the same thing.
► Cock Up: No, that is not an order! The noun ‘cock up’ as well as the verb ‘to cock up’ stand for making a mistake. It is also written as ‘cock-up’ and ‘cockup’.
- Clanger and to drop a clanger also stand for the same thing.
► Collywobbles: A less romantic-sounding version of ‘having butterflies’.
► Cracking: Stunning, brilliant. This is usually pronounced with a silent ‘g’ at the end (no, no jokes about Davy Jones and his crackin’ Kraken). This can apply to anything from the redhead at the bar to the circumstance of meeting the redhead at the bar.
► Crumpet: A ‘cracking’ woman or man, but usually used to refer to women. How cracking can a man be if he stands back and allows himself to be called ‘crumpet’ anyway?
► Daft: A more fashionable way to call someone or something stupid.
► Dear: Yes, it still is an affectionate way to call someone you love, but in British slang it also means ‘expensive’.
► Doddle: A very easy task, one that doesn’t require much of your time, capacity, or attention.
- Easy Peasy is a similar phrase, but it describes the difficulty of the task rather than the task itself. Semantically, it is used as a standalone phrase, whereas ‘doddle’ is used in the form of, for example, “That was a doddle”. “That was easy peasy” is incorrect.
- Snap means the same thing, and is used like ‘doddle’.
► Dodgy: Untrustworthy or dubious. This is particularly used to refer to food that could cause illness or discomfort, but can also be used to describe persons or situations.
► Donkey’s Years: A very long time. For example, if you have not seen your mate for a very long time, you have not seen him for donkey’s years. The phrase is most often used in this fashion, and is not particularly apposite if used to describe the passing of time on a smaller scale, such as hours or minutes.
- Yonks: Means the same as ‘donkey’s years’ or ‘ages’.
► Engaged: If a British person is engaged, it may not necessarily lead to bridal showers and bachelor trips. They simply mean that their phone line was busy.
► Faff: To faff is to procrastinate or to dither. ‘Faff around’ and ‘faff about’ are also used, and mean the same thing.
► Fag: The source of undoubtedly countless comedic Anglo-American encounters, the word ‘fag’ is present in both American and British slang, but means completely different things. While it is a derogatory term for homosexuals in the U.S., the British call their cigarettes ‘fags’.
► Fit: Same as ‘crumpet’, except that it is equally applicable to both genders.
► Flutter: A bet, usually on horses.
► Full Monty: Loosely translated, it stands for ‘the whole shebang’. It means devoting everything necessary to a certain endeavor.
► Gammy: Used to describe painful or injured body parts, particularly limbs.
► Get Stuffed: Basically means the same thing as ‘eff off’ or ‘get lost’.
► Gobsmacked: Astounded, surprised.
► Gormless: A phrase lying somewhere between ‘clueless’ and ‘spineless’, it can be used either way.
► Grub: Brits call their food ‘grub’, but still have the temerity to praise their cuisine! It is almost always used to refer to a meal or generically to ‘some food’ rather than a particular food item.
► Hard Lines: Hard/bad luck.
► Hash: It does not refer to screwing something up, or to something you can smoke. It is a term used for the sign of the Sterling Pound.
► Her Majesty’s Pleasure: This pleasure of being at Her Majesty’s pleasure is not very pleasurable, since it means being in jail!
► The John: Allegedly arising from the name of the inventor of the flush toilet, ‘the john’ means a toilet.
Khazi also means the same thing.
► Jolly: A stereotypically British word, ‘jolly’ is used to add emphasis to adjectives.
► Knackered: This is the state you are in when you wake up after a Saturday night of drink-filled bliss. ‘Broken’ or zonked is one way of expressing it, ‘tired’ or ‘exhausted’ are more conventional synonyms.
► Knock Off: In America, this means copying something, but in Britain it stands for theft.
► Know Your Onions: Knowing a lot of stuff, being more than sufficiently knowledgeable.
► Legless: For obvious reasons, this term means being exceedingly drunk.
► Lurgy: A mild general malaise, feeling under the weather.
► Moggy: Your feline buddy.
► Murder: No, this kind of murder wouldn’t get you to the gallows. This simply means to ravenously eat something. It is generally used to describe the state of being hungry rather than describing the meal itself, i.e., “I could murder some bacon and eggs right now” is more accurate than “I just murdered some bacon and eggs an hour ago”.
► Ponce: Showoff, usually used to describe men who are posers.
► Porkies: Cockney rhyming slang for ‘lies’, which rhymes with ‘pork pies’.
► Prat: A stupid or (often deliberately) irritating person.
► Queer: While the word does indicate homosexuality in British as well as American English, the old Nigels also commonly use the word to tell someone they look unwell. So if a Brit tells you that you look queer, peek into a mirror before assuming that he is commenting on your flamboyant fashion sense. Of course, looking ill doesn’t necessarily mean that the comment was not about your flamboyant fashion sense…
► Right: Another intensifier, ‘right’ is little more than a slang synonym of ‘very’.
► Shirty: Insolent, disrespectful, excessively mischievous.
► Slapper: A promiscuous woman. The closest translation into American colloquial would be ‘tramp’ rather than the more offensive ‘slut’.
► Smarmy: Usually followed by ‘git’, this stands for someone who acts in a sleazy manner. This is how James Potter and Severus Snape would have described each other.
► Snookered: Defeated or beaten. More accurately, it describes a condition where all your avenues are blocked by your opponent.
► Sod: In many ways, ‘sod’ is a slightly ruder version of ‘bugger’. The word ‘sod’ itself means the same as ‘bugger’.
- Sod Off or Sod You: Means the same as ‘bugger off’
- ‘Sod’, like ‘bugger’, is also used as a generic expletive, sometimes as sod it.
- Sod All: Means the same as ‘bugger all’―naught.
- Sod’s Law: A pessimistic ‘rule of life’ stating that whatever can go wrong will go wrong.
► Spend a Penny: This means to go to the john. It probably originated from the old practice of actually having to do the former in public toilets before doing the latter.
► Starkers: This is just a less polite form of the phrase ‘stark naked’.
► Stonking: This weird word is usually only used to emphasize adjectives describing size, for instance ‘stonking great’. It can also be used on its own to describe large size.
► Ta: Used as an abbreviation of ‘thanks’, particularly in the North.
► Taking the Piss (out of someone): No, it’s not related to severe dehydration. It actually means making fun of someone or something, usually the former.
- Taking the Mickey/Mick/Michael: All three phrases mean the same thing, and are used in the same way.
- To Wind (someone) Up and Wound Up have the same relationship as ‘taking the piss’ and ‘pissed off’.
► Throw a Spanner in the Works: To mess up or destroy something.
► Tosser/Wanker: Both these terms have the same dictionary and colloquial meaning. Technically, they denote a guy who masturbates (wank), but they are more popular as ‘things to call someone when you don’t like them very much’. It refers to jerks in general.
► Twee: Generally used by older generations, ‘twee’ stands for dainty or quaintly pretty.
► Welly: To give something welly/a welly means trying harder at that activity, giving it more than you are right now.
These were some of the most common phrases and words in British slang. Some of these have become or are starting to become famous in a larger community, and if you don’t use any of these, you definitely should!