The Best of British

The American's guide to speaking British


Anorak - No - not an article of clothing (though it means that too), an anorak is another word for a nerd or a square. Apparently originated from the anoraks that were worn by trainspotters whatever the weather. If you are described as being a bit of an anorak, beware!

Barmaid - A female bartender in a pub is called the barmaid.

Barman - The bartender in a pub is called the barman.

Barrister - An attorney that would represent you in court. Not that I know, of course!

Beefeater - This is the name given to the guards at the Tower of London and a chain of cheap steak restaurants. One is worth visiting, one is worth avoiding!

Bender - A bender is a gay man. Also referred to as a woofter and a few rather unsavoury terms that you'll have to visit England to find out!

Berk - A fool. I remember giggling every time James Burke came on telly when I was kid. Also spelt "burk". The origin is quite interesting - it is another rhyming slang word that many people don't even realise is short for "Berkeley-Hunt", who was an 1890s stage idiot. Hunt rhymes with, well use your imagination! It's OK to say berk.

Big girl's blouse - This is a nice way of saying someone is a wimp. It means someone is being pathetic. It works well for girls and blokes.

The Bill - The police, or the thing you ask for after a meal in a restaurant. In the US that is called the check.

Bint - A bint is a woman or your bird.

Bird - Your bird is your girl. A bit old fashioned and only used by your Dad or Grandad. Not very politically correct.

Bloke - A guy in American. A "good bloke" would be like a "nice guy".

Bobby - Yet another word for policeman.

Boffin - This is the word for a nerd. Usually male, a boffin would be highly intelligent, have no dress sense and probably grow up to be a mad scientist or an HTML programmer!

Bonce - Your bonce is your head! So if someone tells you to use your bonce it means "think about it".

Bristols - This is a good example of a word that most Brits would know, but not necessarily realise it was derived from rhyming slang. Bristols means breasts. If you haven't worked it out yet, bristols is short for bristol city's (a football team), city's rhymes with titties, i.e. breasts! Easy huh!

Brum - Short for Birmingham. People from brum are brummies and they speak brum, a kind of English!

Brummy - A person from Birmingham who speaks brum.

Bum chum - Another name for a gay man. We have lots of other expressions, too numerous to list here. Some of the less offensive include shirtlifter and arse bandit.

Bunch of fives - If you give someone a bunch of fives, you basically thump them with your fist. Basically your five fingers bunched up is where the name comes from!

Buns - Some elderly ladies have buns on their heads. This is not a terrible deformity, the bun is actually rolled up hair in the shape of a currant bun.

Burk - Fool. I remember giggling every time James Burke came on telly when I was kid. Also spelt berk.

Busker - Street entertainer to you. Someone who makes his or her living by singing, playing or acting on the street to amuse the crowds of passers by. Busking is down to a fine art at Covent Garden in London - it's worth the trip. Reminds me of the buskers outside Quincey Market in Boston.

Butterfingers - You would call someone butterfingers if they were clumsy and dropped something.

Cack-handed - Someone who is cack-handed is clumsy. My Mum was putting her buns in the oven one afternoon and tipped the tray upside down and said she was all cack-handed. Also referred to as caggy handed in some places and means left handed in others.

Cake hole - This is another one I heard a lot as a kid. My Dad use to say "Shut your clanging cake hole". Now that I am a foot taller than him he might say something more like "Could you please be quiet"! It basically means your mouth.

Cashier - This is the person in the bank who talks to the public over the counter. You would call them tellers.

Chalk and cheese - This isn't some weird British recipe, it is short for the expression "as different as chalk and cheese". You hear it when people are bitching about other couples they know who are very different to each other. You might say like night and day.

Chap - A guy in American. Men and women are sometimes referred to as chaps and chapesses.

Chav - Another of our lovely derogatory terms for someone from the peasant underclass. Dress code is important - designer or fake designer lables, hoodies and often lots of bling. The name may come from the Council House and Vauxhall acronym as the car of choice is the Vauxhall Nova. The guys are Chavsters and the girls are Chavettes.

Chief - 'Hey Chief, how are you' is how you could great someone you like. It's not just for your boss, it could be anyone.

Christian name - This is your first name. You would see it on forms that require both parts of your name separately. We generally ignore middle initials as fairly irrelevant and avoid the use of additions like "junior" and "IIIrd", unless you happen to be a king, of course.

Chuck - Another term of endearment from up north. Pronounced more like chook. Rhymes with dook! Also if you are going to chuck, then you are going to be sick, to vomit!

Chunder - Just like 'Chuck' this is another way to say you are going to vomit!

Chum - Your chum is your friend. We might also say mate.

Clever clogs - Same as clever dick and smart arse - this is a wise guy.

Clever dick - This is a bit of a wise guy, not performing tricks with certain parts of the body!

Clot - If someone calls you a clot, please be offended. It means you are stupid. A dim wit! Of course, if you really are a clot, then you probably won't notice!

Cloth ears - This is the polite way to call someone a deaf git! Politely put it simply means you are deaf.

Codger - An old codger is an old bloke. An old timer to you.

Copper - Either a policeman or the coins in your pocket that are not silver.

Dapper - If you are particularly well dressed, you would be described as being dapper.

Dim wit - Someone who is thick is a dim wit or just dim. Avoid using this word when addressing police in the UK, but feel free to try it in the US!

Dip stick - Apart from being something you find in your car, a dip stick is someone who is stupid or who has done something stupid. I get called it all the time!

Divvy - This is another word like dip stick for someone who is a bit stupid.

Dog's body - A dog's body is a gofer. Someone who gets all the menial tasks to do, like fetching and carrying. It doesn't mean they have four legs and a tail.

Don - I recently took a friend from Austin to Oxford to punt up the river and have a cream tea in the university. We ate in the main hall of one of the colleges and at one end there is separate table for the dons. They are the professors at Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Duck - Another term of endearment from up north. Pronounced more like "dook". Rhymes with "chook"!

Duffer - An old duffer is either someone who is not very good at something or someone who is old. Like an old geezer.

Dustman - The man who empties your dustbin. garbage collector in the US.

Estate agents - The people who can make even the most disgusting property sound desirable - real estate agents to you.

Father Christmas - Santa Claus in America, though I'm not sure he's the same bloke. I saw him in London when I was leaving for New York, and when I arrived, hey he was there too!

Fire brigade - This is the fire department. Dial 999 for a demonstration.

Flat mate - This is what you call a room mate. It's someone you share your flat with. After all the clue is in the name. Whenever an American tells me they have a room mate I worry about them sharing a room at their age - or even question their sexuality!

Flower - Whenever I visit my relatives up north I seem to be called "flower" quite often. It is simply a term of endearment. I reckon they call you that when they can't remember your real name!

Forehead - Actually this is the same word in both languages. It is just the pronunciation that is different. Generally in the US it is pronounced fore-head and in the UK it is forrid.

Fresher - During your first year at university you would be referred to as a fresher. You would be called a freshman in the US.

Gaffer - This is a word for an old bloke or a workman's boss or the foreman of a team of labourers. A "good gaffer" would be a good boss.

Geezer - Another word for bloke but mostly heard in London.

Git - I have never been able to describe this northern term for someone who is a jerk, an undesirable, a prat. "You ignorant git" is a popular use of the word.

Gob - This word is used as a noun, meaning your mouth, hence the gobstopper is used to fill it up! The other use is as a verb. You would not gob your gobstopper out as it would be rude. Some people gob on the pavement, meaning they spit green stuff out in public. Not nice.

Gooseberry - To be a gooseberry is to be the third person on a date. If two guys are in bar and one of them successfully chats up a girly, his mate becomes a gooseberry and feels a bit awkward! You would feel a bit of a gooseberry if you accompanied a couple on a date.

Grockles - This is a word I heard a lot when I was a kid in the West Country. It means tourists. So if you hear someone in the UK mention the word "grockles" they are probably talking about you!

Guard - When travelling by train, the man that collects your tickets is called a guard, not a conductor as you have in the US. Strangely if it was a bus we would call them a conductor, even though they don't have a baton and there is no orchestra in sight!

Gumby - This is mild insult that is safe to use in public when someone is not using their brain. Used with people you know usually, though you could try calling your British waiter a gumby when he brings you water with no ice in it - see where the water ends up!

Guv - I've been called "Guv" or "Guv'nor" a few times by taxi drivers in London. It's an East End expression, short for "Governor" which roughly translates as Sir, used to address a man when you don't know his name.

Gypo - A Gypsy. In England they are generally not welcomed by people. They stick their caravans on the odd bit of green space, wreck it and come around the neighbourhood offering tree cutting services and leaving a wake of suspicion.

Hooray Henry - I am not aware of an American equivalent to a hooray henry. It is a phrase that came in a few years ago to describe the young upper class. They talk like they have a plum in their mouths and say things like "OK yar"! Similar to yuppie.

Hooter - Your hooter is your nose. The clue is in the noise you make when you blow it! Some people even have one that looks like a hooter, just for effect I think. It's also the horn on a car. Just imagine how shocked Brits must be when they go to the bar you have called Hooters and they find that the waitresses all have normal noses - disappointing!

Jammy beggar - You may hear people being called a jammy bugger, jammy beggar or jammy bastard. It just means they have been lucky!

Job's worth - A job's worth is a person who is inflexible in their job, even if it means upsetting their customer. For example, if a restaurant served custard with apple pie and you wanted ice cream instead, a job's worth would be the kind of waiter who would refuse to give you ice cream because it wasn't listed like that on the menu. The excuse would be that it was more than their job's worth.

Konk - This is not a very nice way of describing someone's nose.

Lad - A young man who is somewhat boisterous and crude. As in "he's being a real lad".

Ladette - The female equivalent to the lad. Not terribly ladylike!

Landlady - The lady owner (or these days more often the manager) of a pub is called the landlady. Stems from the origin of most pubs being inns with accommodation. Many still do of course, though the name landlady applies to all pub owners, even if they have no rooms to let.

Landlord - The same as landlady except where the proprietor is a bloke!

Loaf - My Dad was always telling me to use my loaf. It means use your head and comes from rhyming slang. Loaf is short for loaf of bread, which rhymes with head.

Lollipop man - Every kid loves the lollipop man (or lady of course). They stand in the middle of the street and hold this huge lollipop up to stop the traffic as the kids cross the road. Actually it's not a real lollipop - it is a sign that tells the traffic to "STOP, CHILDREN CROSSING". Sometimes called a crossing guard in the US.

Long sighted - We say long sighted when you would say far sighted.

Lug holes - These are your ears.

Mate - Buddy or friend. You might go to the pub with your mates for a few lagers followed by a greasy doner.

Mean - We often say people are mean if they are tight fisted, stingy or hold on to their money. This often confuses my American chums who think I'm talking about people being horrid.

Minger - Not a nice word for someone who is butt ugly. Rhymes with "finger". Or you may also hear that someone is "minging", which is just another way of saying the same thing.

Morris dancer - Around May, you are likely to see a group of morris dancers, seemingly sane men who dress up in knee length britches, long socks, with ribbons flying from various parts of their bodies. They dance around poles with long sticks in their hands much to the amusement of passers by. Then they go home and don't come out until the following May.

Mother - Don't be alarmed if a British bloke says "Shall I be Mother?". This would happen when the family sit down to a pot of tea or a slice of cake and someone needs to pour or cut for everyone. Whoever gets to do the honours is being "Mother".

Mum - Mom in the US.

Namby pamby - Avoid being called a namby pamby when visiting the UK. It means you are acting like a big girl's blouse! You're being a wimp - like not having the courage to try haggis or black pudding.

Naughty bits - If you have seen the British TV show "Monty Python" you may have come across this rather silly expression for describing ones genitals.

Nobby no-mates - An imaginary name for someone with no friends. You call people this when they have not been invited to something you have, just to be horrid!

Nosey parker - Someone who sticks their nose into everyone elses business.

Numpty - A numpty is someone who is a bit stupid. A bit nicer way of calling someone a Moron. But don't call people this when visiting the UK or you may get a bunch of fives!

Nutter - Someone who is crazy would be described as a nutter - you might say a nutcase.

Old Lag - Someone who is a bit old fashioned or behind the times. A bit of a laggard.

On your tod - If you are on your tod it means you are all on your own. A more recent expression is to say you were Nobby no-mates. Ahh, sad!

Page three girl - One of the cheap and cheerful newspapers in the UK is The Sun. It is most famous for it's page three girl, a different topless girl every day. Of course, most people buy it for the news. Mmmm!

Pikey - A Pikey is a Gypo or someone who acts like one. Buys cheap, own brand goods and has no money. Shops in the the "cheap" shops and looks like it. A nice meal out might be to KFC for a bucket!

Pillock - Another mildly insulting name for someone. If someone had just done something stupid you would say "you pillock". This one is safe in front of grandparents.

Plod - The police. This one originates from an Enid Blyton character in the Noddy stories - Mr Plod the Policeman. I hope the Teletubbies don't make their way into the English language in the same way - just imagine - "I'm off to clean the carpet with the Noo Noo" or "I'm out of the closet now everyone knows I'm a Tinky Winky".

Plonker - Either another word for your penis, your John Thomas or your dick. Or an inoffensive term for someone who is a bit of a wally. Most well known in the phrase "Rodney - you plonker" from the British sitcom - Only Fools and Horses. If someone is taking the piss, or making fun of you, they would also be "pulling your plonker".

Po-faced - When we were kids, if someone told a rude joke at the dinner table and everyone laughed - sometimes my Dad would sit there po-faced. In other words he was not amused and would keep a straight face. Actually he would remember the joke for work but wasn't going to admit that to the kids was he now!! Probably derived from "poker faced".

Ponce - Poncey things and poncey people are a bit girlie! It is not exactly another word for gay but it's getting close. A ponce is also another word for pimp, who lives off a prostitute's earnings. And it also has another meaning and that is to scrounge so one might try to ponce a fag off your mate, meaning you would scrounge a cigarette.

Poofter - An extended version of the word "poof", this is how you could refer either to a gay man or to a guy who is being a bit of a nancy boy or woofter.

Pop your clogs - This means to die. My my Grandad popped his clogs about 20 years ago!

Posty - Your postman is the posty. You would call him the mailman.

Prefect - I hated the prefects at school. They are your peer students who are allowed to stay in at lunch times and guard the doors to keep the rest of us out in the cold and the rain - and that was just the summers! You might call them monitors though I'm not sure there is a direct translation.

Punter - Punters are customers. Originally came from the betters at the racetracks but has extended in use to mean anyone who should be persuaded to part with their money.

Rabbit - This means to talk or really to talk a lot. It's used for people who can't shut up. Chas and Dave did a song called 'Rabbit' - look up the lyrics to see this word in proper use. My favourite line is "You got more Rabbit than Sainsbury's" - brilliant!

Randy - A friend of mine visited a company in the US and was asked to wait in the reception with a cuppa whilst the receptionist went to "get Randy". My friend said he was just hoping for a biscuit! Randy is not a name in England. It means you're horny or you're ready for sex. If your name is Randy, try alternative approaches with Brits!

Red Indian - This is an Indian from America. You just call them Indians. We use the word "Indians" to mean people from India! Well the clue is in the name!

Room mate - This is someone you share your bedroom with in a flat. We think you all share rooms because you use this expression to mean someone you share the whole flat with - get it right!

Rozzer - The Rozzers are the Police, the Cops. It's such an old word nobody seems to know it's origin!

Scatty - I know lots of scatty people. Otherwise known as scatterbrains. You would probably call them whacky but probably not whackerbrains!

School leaver - This is what we call a college graduate. Next stop - work or university.

Scouse - This is the language used by Liverpudlians (people from Liverpool, like me!). It is basically English but hard to understand. Rhymes with "house".

Scouser - Someone from Liverpool would be a scouser.

Scrubber - This is a nasty way of referring to a loose woman. Similar to tart or floozy.

Septic - Try not to be offended, but this means an American. It's actually the rhyming slang for yank. Septic is short for "septic tank" and tank rhymes with yank. Now you know!

Shareholder - Someone who owns shares in a company. You would call them stockholders.

Short sighted - We say short sighted when you would say near sighted.

Sideboards - Sideburns in the USA - though we say both words here.

Skiver - A skiver is someone who evades something. For example a truant is someone who skives off school instead of studying - I should know!

Slag - A slag or an "old slag" is not a very nice way of describing a woman who is a bit loose, a bit of a slapper.

Slapper - A less offensive word than slag, this is another way of calling someone a tart, a major flirt.

Smart arse - No - not a "clever bottom", this is someone who is a bit too clever for their own good. A wise guy. Often used to describe someone who has an answer for everything.

Solicitor - This is our word for an attorney. So when we see signs in the US that say "No Soliciting" it sounds like attorneys are not welcome there. Well where are they welcome exactly?

Sponger - Someone who borrows or begs and does nothing to earn their own money. People sponge off their friends or some who refuse to work and collect dole money sponge off the state.

Spotty youth - This is a generic term used by older people to refer to teenagers. The "spotty" refers to the fact that they may well have acne.

Sprog - A baby. Most people have between 2 and 3 sprogs in the UK. Except the Catholics who have lots!

Squire - "Morning squire" is something you may hear in England. Squire is used to mean Sir.

Staff - We use this word to refer to the employees in a company in general.

Swot - We used to call the boys at school "girlie swots" if they preferred to do homework and study, rather than proper kids things like shoplifting and hiding from teachers. It was not cool to be a swot. Funny how they all ended up with the best jobs though - must be a coincidence!

Tart - You old tart! That's what you'd say to someone whose morals are a little loose. A bit too much flirting. Normally you'd hear people being described as having been a tart after the office Christmas party, if they were caught snogging their secretary! People may also dress like a tart - maybe if their skirt is too short! Used to apply only to women but these days it is a mild insult used for both sexes.

Thick - If someone is thick it means they are stupid. You might hear it said that someone is "thick as shi*" - that means they are really stupid! Thicko is a nicer way of saying someone is stupid though - try it on your friends!

Toff - A toff is someone who is rather well spoken, upper class and looks down on the rest of us. My mate calls them "posh gits".

Trainspotter - Not your mate. Not that you'd admit to anyway. A trainspotter is a particularly sad breed of middle-aged man, usually wearing a cardie and an anorak. He stands on the end of railway station platforms and writes down the registration numbers of trains. Fun eh? Pretty close to a nerd in American.

Tramp - This is a homeless person who begs on street corners. We don't use this word in the flirting sense that you have.

Turf accountant - This is one of the words we use to describe a bookie. You will see it outside their shops. We also use the expression "betting shop". The best place to bet, though, is on the racecourse - great fun.

Ulcer - When I got an ulcer in Austin I went to about 5 drug stores before I found someone who had a clue what an ulcer might be. After speaking to all the pharmacists it was the spotty faced youth stacking the shelves in Albertson's who told me what I had was a canker.

Up the duff - If a woman is up the duff it means she is pregnant.

Very well - When someone says hello to you in England and asks how you are, please don't say good. Say you are "very well". Good is a behavioural thing, which would mean you are a good boy or girl and haven't been naughty today!! Which doesn't really answer the question, does it?

Vet - In England, vets look after the health of our animals and pets. They are rarely seen loitering on street corners, begging for work or money. The first American who told me he was a vet heard all about my dog before he put me straight! Whoops! You call them veterinarians I believe.

Wally - This is another term for someone who has been a bit stupid. Unlike the previous examples, this one is safe with the elderly or the young.

Wazzock - The same as a pillock - it's someone who has done something stupid. Not too offensive.

Weed - Every school has their fair share of weeds. They are the skinny little wimps that wear glasses and get picked on. A healthy part of growing up, I'm sure.

Woofter - If you are a gay man you might be called a "woolly woofter" or just woofter. This is one of the less offensive terms.

Wuss - Pronounced "woos" this is another word for a big girl's blouse, or namby pamby.

Yank - An American. The Brits refer to the Americans as "yanks" in general. Whether you are from the north or the south!

You lot - You guys. My Dad would often come and find my brothers and I up to no good. He would say "what are you lot up to"?