We’re probably all familiar with something being smashing at this point. (As in, this article is smashing.)
The usage of slang words around the world can be quite amusing to those not in the know. There’s something uncanny about hearing a phrase, word, or object you’re familiar with being used or referred to in a new way.
You've more than likely heard or come across a British slang word or two. Maybe you binge BBC shows, follow The Royal Family, are a total Anglophile, or have a couple of friends from London. No matter, British slang has crossed the pond in more than one way. But, did you know, depending on where you are in England, colloquialisms or slang may differ, or be a completelydifferent kettle of fish. Even visiting different areas within the same city, you'll be gobsmacked as common colloquialisms change their tune. Crack on to find out how to use phrases like “This weather is pants” or what your British aunt means by telling you “It’s parky out there!” when she visits on her next holiday.
30+ Must-Know British Slang Words and Phrases
Interpretation: A geek or nerd. More likely, a person who has a very strong interest, perhaps a bit obsessive, in niche subjects. In use: "Ugh, mum, I don't want to take Ralph to the pub, he's such an anorak."
Interpretation: A way of expressing surprise, amazement, or even wonder. In American English, you'd probably hear a "wow" instead. In use: "Blimey, it's late! I'm knackered!"
Bloke or Lad
Interpretation: “Bloke” would be the American English equivalent of “dude.” It means a "man." While “lad” is used for boys and younger men. In use: "I'm heading to the pub with the blokes."
Interpretation:A common Scottish phrase that means "pretty" or "beautiful" normally in reference to a woman or lass. In use: "She's a bonnie lass."
Interpretation: "A cuppa is the shortened version of the phrase “a cup of tea.” In use: You might have heard the expression “fancy a cuppa?” which more than likely was an offer to have a nice cup of tea together.
Interpretation: If someone calls a person cheeky, they are implying that the person is being slightly rude or disrespectful, though in a charming or amusing way. However, if a child is being cheeky they're behaving brashly or disrespectfully. In use: "Lad, don't get cheeky with me or you'll go to your room."
Interpretation: A multi-purpose word that can be used as a toast, to thank someone, or even say goodbye. In use: "Cheers, thanks for dinner tonight."
Interpretation: When you’re having a very good chat with friends, more than likely with some gossip involved. In use: "I just got off the phone with Sarah. I needed a good chinwag to get that off my chest."
Interpretation: To get started or continue with something. In use: “There's more to learn below, better crack on.”
Cockney Rhyming Slang
Perhaps the most interesting slang you'll hear in England is the infamous Cockney Rhyming Slang. Invented by market traders and street merchants, Cockney Rhyming Slang was probably first used to disguise what was being said by passers-by. Cockney Slang uses language in one of the most interesting ways, by rhyming with what you mean but substituting different (and dissimilar) words. For example, I’m Hank Marvin! translates to “I’m starving” and apples and pears to stairs.
Interpretation: Something or someone a little suspicious or questionable. In use: "This milk seems a bit dodgy, when did you pick it up?"
Interpretation: Wanting, liking, or thinking In use: "Fancy a cuppa?" "Shirly definitely fancies Roger." "I fancy that's going to end up all pear shaped!"
Interpretation: Football - The national sport of England. As in as soccer, as in football, as in soccer. In use: "Fancy a game of footie in the park?"
Interpretation: To be absolutely stunned or surprised and at a complete loss for words. This makes a bit more sense if you already know that the word gob is slang for mouth. Then, take this as a reference to being shocked by a blow to the mouth, or to clapping your hand to your mouth in astonishment. In use: "I was completely gobsmacked that Neal got the promotion."
Interpretation: To be bitterly disappointed about something. In use: "Alice was absolutely gutted when the book ended the way it did."
Interpretation: Being exhausted that you can’t do anything else. Actually, this one has a bit of a dark past as it derives from the slang word knacker which means to kill. So, when you’ve completely tired out or just can’t go on, you’re knackered! In use: "Sorry I'm late, Tom and I flew in last night, and I'm knackered!"
Interpretation: Used in mainly Scottish English or Northern English to mean a girl or young woman. In use: "Every young lass or bloke needs to go to a football game at least once."
Lost the Plot
Interpretation: If someone says you've lost the plot, you're probably coming off as angry, irrational, or acting ridiculously. In use: "My boss lost the plot when I showed up late to this morning's meeting."
Practice Your Vocabulary
The best way to learn a "new" language is to immerse yourself in the culture! Visit the UK and keep your ears open for new phrases to add to your list.
Interpretation: Cockney Slang relating to Newton Heath, an area of Manchester, England, which translates to "teeth." In use: "Wash your face & brush your Newtons because it's time for bed."
Interpretation: Nosh means food or a bite to eat. In use: "That's proper good nosh, mum!"
Interpretation: In the UK, the word "pants" typically refers to underwear. However, you'll also find the term is used to describe something that isn’t very good or maybe didn’t turn out how you thought it would. In use: "That’s pants! I just washed my car and now it’s raining!"
Interpretation: A beer. Beer is served in pints, or pint glasses, in the UK. In use: "Heading to the pub for a pint, fancy joining?"
Interpretation: Cockney rhyming slang using the phrase "pork pies" to mean "lies." In use: "Blimey, Luise tells some real porkies now and then!"
Interpretation: An alternative to "very" or "extremely." In use: "That was a proper good footie game yesterday."
Interpretation: Short for “public house”, a pub is a place to meet and drink pints and grab some nosh. Unlike a bar in the USA, you'll find that pubs typically serve food, are open all day, and are more of a place to gather than party. In use: "Angus eats his breakfast at the pub every day before work."
Interpretation: Slang for the British pounds. In use: "Taylor paid 50 quid for that shirt."
Interpretation: To make a profit or be in a very favorable or advantageous position where you stand to make a lot of money from a bet or business venture. In use: "If win the lotto, we'd finally be quids in."
Interpretation: Contrary to being quids in, you can also be skint which means to be broke or out of luck. In use: "Sorry, I won't make it to the pub tonight, I'm a bit skint this week."
Interpretation: To be extremely good, attractive, enjoyable, or pleasant. In use: "That last chapter was smashing, I didn't see that twist coming at all!"
Throw a spanner into the works
Interpretation: A problem that prevents something from happening the way that it was planned, similar to the phrase throw a wrench in the plans. It could be a person that foils the plans or the lost wallet right before a road trip, regardless, it’s best to keep spanners out of the works. In use: "I thought I'd finish the project sooner, but Susan really threw a spanner in the works with that data."
Interpretation: This term is primarily used in Wales and means "fantastic." In use: "That was a tidy bit of fun."
Interpretation: A Scottish phrase, also popular in Northern Ireland, that means "little." While it mostly refers to something diminutive, it's also a descriptive word to add to a phrase to mean you're fond of it. In use: "Sam loves to take his wee dog to the park to watch the blokes play footie."
If you read even half of those words in a British or Scottish accent, you’re definitely ready to blend in with the locals on your next trip to the UK.
Email Sign-up Travel Credit: Receive a $125 per person ($250 per couple) discount toward your first tour (operated by Trafalgar or Insight Vacations) when you sign up for GET emails; valid for each full-paying adult who signs up with a unique email address. Valid for new bookings only for travel through December 31, 2024; full payment is due within three days of booking. Discount is not combinable with any other discount or offer, including our GETAWAY Deals, Limited Time Offers, AARP member discount, Past Traveler discount or Multiple Trip discounts. Offer cannot be booked online. Savings not valid on all itineraries and/or departure dates, are subject to availability and may be withdrawn at any time without notice. Offer excludes Edinburgh Tattoo and Floriade departures. GET reserves the right to validate bookings and will remove any additional offers added online that are not combinable. Other conditions may apply.