British slang is a niche of its own, evolving and transforming and adapting from city to city and from year to year, just as the English language itself has done.
While American slang has become nearly universal with the influx of TV shows, films, and other media filling the screens of a significant majority of the media-viewing global population, there is so much more available once you dig beneath the surface of British slang terms and can discover some real gems beneath the surface.
So, if you’re an aspiring Anglophile looking for some new lingo to help fuel your love for all things British, or you just fancy seeing what kind of words the British find themselves using their day-to-day, check out our 50 best British slang terms for you to start using and incorporating into your vocabulary immediately.
‘Ace’ – a British slang term that means something that is brilliant or excellent. Can also mean to pass something with flying colors.
For example, ‘Jenny is ace at the lab experiments’, or, for the latter definition, ‘I think I aced that exam’.
2. All To Pot
Slightly more of an outdated version, this British slang term is still used, and its meaning remains relevant today. ‘All to pot’ refers to a situation going out of your control and failing miserably.
For example, ‘The birthday party went all to pot when the clown turned up drunk and everyone was sick from that cheap barbecue stuff.’
‘Blimey’ is used as a way of expressing surprise at something, often used when seeing or looking at something surprising or impressive instead of shocking or upsetting.
For example; you might say ‘Blimey! Look at that!’
‘Blinding’ – a slang term that is far from something that physically causes someone to lose their sight. ‘Blinding’ is a positive term meaning excellent, great, or superb.
For example, ‘That tackle from the Spanish player was blinding.’
Bloke is an extremely common term denoting a man, usually it is used in reference to an ordinary man, akin to the US ‘average joe’, but it it not uncommon to hear it used to describe a man generally.
As such, you can use it like this, ‘That bob is a good bloke.’
You probably don’t need me to describe this, out of all British slang, this is by far the most popular and most commonly used. In the past it was regarded as a swearword but now, due to its common usage, it is generally acceptable. It is often used as an expression of anger or is used to emphasize a comment.
In anger you might say, “oh bloody hell!”
Or to use it as emphasis, ‘that’s bloody cool!’
7. Bob’s your uncle/Fanny’s your aunt
The first form of this is far more common, and is sometimes used internationally. For those unaware, the expression essentially used in the end of a series of basic instructions. The origin of the expression is unknown, and is quite old, but is still in general use.
In context, ‘Get the food, put in the microwave, heat it up, then bob’s your uncle, ready to eat.’
Perhaps one of the most internationally famous British slang terms, ‘bollocks’ has a multitude of uses, although its top ones including being a curse word used to indicate dismay, e.g. ‘Oh bollocks’; it can also be used to express derision and mocking disbelief, e.g. ‘You slept with Kate Upton last night? Bollocks…’; and, of course, it also refers to the scrotum and testicles.
For example, ‘I kicked him right in the bollocks when he wouldn’t let me go past.’
Very different to the ‘bollocks’ of the previous suggestion, a ‘bollocking’ is a telling-off or a severe or enthusiastic reprimand from a boss, co-worker, partner, or anyone you like, for a misdemeanour.
For example, ‘My wife gave me a real bollocking for getting to pick up the dry cleaning on my way home from work.’
10. Brass Monkeys
A more obscure British term, ‘brass monkeys’ is used to refer to extremely cold weather. The phrase comes from the expression, ‘it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’.
For example, ‘You need to wear a coat today, it’s brass monkeys outside.’
‘Brilliant’ is not a word exclusively in the British lexicon, but has a very British usage. Specifically, when something is exciting or wonderful, particularly when something is good news, ‘brilliant’ can mean as such.
For example, ‘You got the job? Oh, mate, that’s brilliant.’
Sometimes brilliant can be shortened to just “brill” to give it a more casual feel.
12. Bugger All
‘Bugger all’ – a British slang term used to be a more vulgar synonym for ‘nothing at all’.
For example, ‘I’ve had bugger all to do all day.’
13. Butchers hook
This is the cockney rhyming slang version of having a gander, to look at something. Though it may seem strange at first, it’s pretty simple, it is constructed out of the expression’s second word, in this case the way ‘hook’ rhymes directly with ‘look’ however, perhaps contrary to expectations, the word ‘hook’ is often removed, so you may hear someone say ‘have a butchers at this.’
But like most things cockney, it’s becoming less popular.
14. Car Park
One of the more boring and technical terms on this list, a ‘car park’ is in effect, the place outside or attached to a building where people park their cars. The British equivalent to the American ‘parking lot’ or ‘parking garage’.
For example, ‘I left my car in the car park this morning.’
‘Cheers’ doesn’t quite have the same meaning that it does in other counties – of course, it still means ‘celebrations’ when toasting a drink with some friends, but in British slang, it also means ‘thanks’ or ‘thank you’.
For example, ‘Cheers for getting me that drink, Steve’.
Chuffed is used more or less all over the UK, it seems to be decreasing in popularity, but is still in relatively common usage. Essentially, it is an expression of pride at your own actions or achievements.
For example you could say ‘I’m feeling proper chuffed I won that.’
If you’re talking to someone else you can use it as such, ‘I bet you’re pretty chuffed you won!’
Not a wonderfully melodic word, ‘chunder’ is part and parcel of British slang terms. Meaning ‘to vomit’ or ‘to be sick’, ‘chunder’ is almost always used in correlation with drunken nights, or being hugely ill and sick.
For example, ‘I ate a bad pizza last night after too many drinks and chundered in the street.’
18. Cock Up
‘Cock up’ – a British slang term that is far from the lewdness its name suggests. A ‘cock up’ is a mistake, a failure of large or epic proportions.
For example, ‘The papers sent out to the students were all in the wrong language – it’s a real cock up.’ Also, ‘I cocked up the orders for table number four.’
19. Damp Squib
More of an usual term, a ‘damp squib’ in British slang terms refers to something which fails on all accounts, coming from the ‘squib’ (an explosive), and the propensity for them to fail when wet.
For example, ‘The party was a bit of a damp squib because only Richard turned up.’
A “do” is essentially a party, to my knowledge it doesn’t refer to a particular form of party, so feel free to use it as you like.
For example, you might say ‘I’m going to Steve’s birthday do tonight.’
In British slang terms, ‘dodgy’ refers to something wrong, illegal, or just plain ‘off’, in one way or another.
For example, it can be used to mean illegal – ‘He got my dad a dodgy watch for Christmas’; it can be used to mean something food-related that is nauseous or nauseating – ‘I had a dodgy kebab last night and I don’t feel right.; and it can also be used as a pejorative – ‘He just seems dodgy to me.’
‘Fortnight’ – a British slang term more commonly used by virtually everyone in the UK to mean ‘a group of two weeks’.
For example, ‘I’m going away for a fortnight to Egypt for my summer holiday.’
‘Gobsmacked’ – a truly British expression meaning to be shocked and surprised beyond belief. The expression is believed by some to come literally from ‘gob’ (a British expression for mouth), and the look of shock that comes from someone hitting it.
For example. ‘I was gobsmacked when she told me she was pregnant with triplets.’
This is cheating, it is almost exclusively used in the English county Devonshire, but I’m including it as its fun to say. It is used as a derogatory word for tourists.
For example, ‘I don’t go over there anymore it’s full of grockels these days.’
‘Gutted’ – a British slang term that is one of the saddest on the lists in terms of pure contextual emotion. To be ‘gutted’ about a situation means to be devastated and saddened.
For example, ‘His girlfriend broke up with him. He’s absolutely gutted.’
26. Have a gander
I believe this expression originates in the English county of Cheshire. The word relates to the way a goose (a male goose is called a gander) cranes its neck to look at something. As such a form of this expression ‘Have a goosey’ also exists, but is much more uncommon.
In context it works like this, ‘Come here and have a gander at what he’s doing.’
‘Hunky-dory’ – a neat little piece of British slang that means that a situation is okay, cool, or normal.
For example, ‘Yeah, everything’s hunky-dory at the office.’
Jammy is in semi-common use in the north west and south west of England. It is a descriptive word, used to describe someone who is extremely lucky for something, without putting in much effort for it.
For example, ‘I can’t believe you won that, proper jammy.’
Another rather delightful and slightly archaic words in this list of British slang terms is ‘kerfuffle’. ‘Kerfuffle’ describes a skirmish or a fight or an argument caused by differing views.
For example, ‘I had a right kerfuffle with my girlfriend this morning over politics.’
‘Knackered’ – a great word and phrase used by Britons to describe their tiredness and exhaustion, in any given situation. Often substituted in friendly circles for ‘exhausted’.
For example, ‘I am absolutely knackered after working all day.’
31. Lost The Plot
‘Lost the plot’ is one that can actually be discerned by examining the words themselves. To ‘lose the plot’ can mean either to become angry and/or exasperated to a fault, or in a derogatory – if slightly outdated sense – to mean someone who has become irrational and/or acting ridiculously.
For example, ‘When my girlfriend saw the mess I’d made, she lost the plot.’
‘Mate’ – one of the commonly used terms of endearment and affection in British slang terms. Used when you are talking to a close friend, and is often easily substituted for the American ‘buddy’, ‘pal’, or ‘dude’.
For example, ‘Alright, mate?’
Minging (pronounced: ming-ing) is a lovely alternative to the word “disgusting” or “gross”. I feel there is something appropriate about it.
For example, ‘Don’t it that mate it looks minging.’
Muck is a substitute for “dirt” however, in many ways I find it a superior word. There is something oddly onomatopoeic about it and seems to have a dirty quality of itself.
In context, ‘I can’t come in, my shoes are all mucky.’
35. Nice One
‘Nice one’ – used almost always sarcastically in common British lexicon, although it can be used sincerely depending on the context.
For example, ‘You messed up the Rutherford order? Nice one, really.’
36. Our Kid
I’m cheating a bit with this one, as this is used almost exclusively used around Manchester and the North of England. But there is something wonderfully tender and endearing about it.
It is a term denoting your younger brother/ sister, or close family member such as a cousin.
For example, ‘Did you hear about our kid Kevin? He got a new job.’
37. Pork pies
This term comes from cockney rhyming slang, a form of communication originated in old east London by merchants to communicate with each other in a way that is disguised and incomprehensible to outsiders. Unlike most rhyming slang expressions, it is still in semi-popular use both in London and outside.
The expression is a synonym for ‘lies’. Note how the second word ‘pies’ rhymes directly with ‘lies’. As such when you hear it in use, even if you aren’t familiar with expression you can often tell what is being said by the rhyme and the context it is being used in.
For example, ‘Don’t listen to him he’s telling pork pies.’
Generally, ‘posh’ denotes the English upper classes. However it can be used to describe anything flashy or needlessly classy or expensive. It is similar to the American word ‘fancy’, however it has a much more entrenched class basis.
In this way “posh” can be used in the following two ways:
- I’m going to a posh restaurant tonight.
- Have you met Bob’s girlfriend? She’s pretty posh.
This has two different meanings depending on location or social classes. From a higher social class, ‘Proper’ denotes actions appropriate to certain circumstances. For example, ‘Don’t do that, it’s not proper!’ However such a usage is becoming less common.
More common, and common in the north and southwest England. “Proper” is used as an alternative to “very” or “extremely”, something that can give a term extra weight. For example, ‘that meal was proper tasty’ or sometimes ‘that was proper.’
One of the most commonly-used British phrases, ‘rubbish’ is used to mean both general waste and trash, and to also express disbelief in something to the point of ridicule (in this sense it is a much-more PG-friendly version of ‘bollocks’.)
For example, it can be used respectively, in, ‘Can you take the rubbish out please?’, and ‘What? Don’t talk rubbish.’
One of the more delightful British slang terms in this list, ‘scrummy’ is used as a wonderfully effusive term for when something is truly delicious and mouth-wateringly good.
For example, ‘Mrs Walker’s pie was absolutely scrummy. I had three pieces.’
This is a relatively newer entry to the lexicon of British Slang, most often used by youth. In this case something being “sick” is actually a good thing. It’s like a stronger form of “cool”
For example, .Yeah I’d love to do that, it sounds sick.’
‘Skive’ – (Pronounced sky-ve)a British slang term used to indicate when someone has failed to turn up for work or an obligation due to pretending to fake illness. Most commonly used with schoolchildren trying to get out of school, or dissatisfied office workers trying to pull a sick day.
For example, ‘He tried to skive off work but got caught by his manager.’
44. Taking The Piss
Given the British tendency to mock and satirise anything and everything possible, ‘taking the piss’ is in fact one of the most popular and widely-used British slang terms. To ‘take the piss’ means to mock something, parody something, or generally be sarcastic and derisive towards something.
For example, ‘The guys on TV last night were taking the piss out of the government again.’
45. The Bee’s Knees
The bee’s knees – a rather lovely term used to describe someone or something you think the world of.
For example, ‘She thinks Barry’s the bee’s knees’. Can also be used sarcastically in this same sense.
46. Throwing a wobbly
This phrase means the same thing as having a tantrum. However there is one notable difference is that throwing a wobbly tends to be used when describing tantrums thrown by adults, or people who should otherwise know better.
For example, ‘I left when Darren threw a wobbly.’
47. To nick/nicked
Depending on how it is used, “Nick” can mean one of two things (three including the name). The most commonly used form is as an alternative to “steal”. As in “I accidentally nicked this pen from work.” Another way it can be used is as a term for being arrested.
For example, ‘I got nicked a year ago.’
What I like about this term and its two/three usages is that the following sentence, “Nick got nicked for nicking something” makes grammatical sense.
A nifty little British term that means ‘rubbish’ or ‘crap’.
For example, ‘That’s a load of tosh about what happened last night’, or ‘Don’t talk tosh.’
Trainers are the British equivalent of the American sneakers denoting athletic shoes. In some ways, “trainers” is the more appropriate term, after all, athletes tend to wear them while training, not sneaking.
In use, ‘I just brought some new trainers.’
Oh, ‘wanker’. Possibly the best British insult on the list, it fits a certain niche for a single-worded insult to lobbied out in a moment of frustration, anger, provocation, or, of course, as a jest amongst friends. ‘Wanker’ fits the closest fit by ‘jerk’ or ‘asshole’, but to a slightly higher value.
For example, ‘That guy just cut me up in traffic – what a wanker.’
If you’re interested in languages and slangs, you shouldn’t miss these articles:
Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com
|||^||Cockney Rhyming Slangs: What Is it?|