English speakers in the U.K. have one of the most researched, documented, and exhaustive slang vocabularies in existence. In fact, a seven-volume British slang dictionary was published in 1889. Since then several other English slang dictionaries, and research studies have been published. Below is a list of common British slang words, and idioms. These may be noteworthy if, for example, you’re an American business that is interested in expanding into British markets. Remember that you shouldn’t assume your Amero-centric website will be sufficient to connect with British audiences purely because it’s written in English. With that in mind, some of these terms may come in handy.
British Slang Words and Phrases:
- All mouth and no trousers — All talk, no action, i.e. Braggadocio.
“Don’t listen to him. He’s all mouth and no trousers.”
- Argy-bargy — An argument or heated confrontation.
“I’m not interested in getting into an argy-bargy over it.”
- Bang to rights — Equivalent of ‘dead to rights.’ Caught in the act. Caught red-handed.
“Police caught Jim Bang to rights outside the bookie’s.”
- Bent as a nine-bob note — Metaphor for dishonesty or corruption that references the nine-schilling (bob) note, which does not exist and must therefore be counterfeit.
“That street vendor selling watches is bent as a nine-bob note.”
- Blinding — An adjective for excellence.
“The Prime Minister gave a blinding inauguration speech.”
- Chuffed — To be very pleased about something.
“Reginald was chuffed about the football match.”
- Conk — A blow to the head or nose.
“He conked his head on the doorframe on his way out.”
- Corker — Someone or something that/who is outstanding. A standout.
“Great job, Jim. You’re a real corker.”
- Do one’s nut — To become enraged. Presumably a reference to doing an impression of a madman (nut). “I gave him the news, and a he did his nut.)
“When I gave Reginald the news, he did his nut, and went home.”
- Damp Squib — Something that fails on all counts. Reference to small explosive charges that fail when wet.
“It looks like the new midfielder is a damp squib.”
- Doofer — An unnamed object. Thing, thingamajig, whatchamacallit.
“What is that doofer?”
- Earwig — To eavesdrop.
“Don’t earwig on my personal phone calls.”
- Eating Irons — Cutlery, eating utensils.
“Do we have any clean eating irons?”
- Fortnight — Very common British slang term for a period of two weeks.
“I’ll be back in a fortnight to check on you.”
- Fence — n. A person who deals in stolen property. v. To pawn off stolen property to a buyer.
“Take this watch to the fence and see what you can get.”
- The Fuzz — The Police.
“Don’t let the fuzz catch you.”
- Gaffer — Boss, foreman, or employer.
“Let’s ask the gaffer if we can go on break.”
- Gutted — A state of extreme despair.
“John was gutted that his girlfriend dumped him.”
- Go to Spare — To become angry, frustrated, distressed, or enraged.
“If his mood is off, he might go to spare.”
- Hard Cheese — An expression of bad luck.
“Hard cheese if he does. We’re entitled to our break.”
- Honk — To vomit.
“Reginald coughed so hard he honked all over the pub.”
- Idiot box — A television set.
“I think I’ll spend the night in front of the idiot box.”
- Ivories — Teeth, piano keys, or dice.
“He sure knows how to tickle the ivories.”
- Jock — A nickname for John in Scotland but widely used as a Scottish everyman term like, dude, or mack, or buddy. It can be pejorative depending on context.
“Listen Jock, I need your group gone in the next five minutes.”
- Joe Bloggs — Equivalent to Joe Blow. A typical, average, or unremarkable man.
“I don’t know who he was. Just some Joe Bloggs.”
- Kerfuffle — A skirmish or fight caused by differing views.
“He and I got into a kerfuffle over politics.”
- Knees up — Adjective for liveliness.
“This party is knees up.”
- Know One’s Onions — To be well versed on a subject.
“Go ask John. He know his onions about cars.”
- Lag — A convict, especially one who served or is serving a long prison sentence.
“The old lag can’t find a job so he sits at the pub and drinks.”
- Laughing Gear — A metaphor for one’s mouth.
“Shut your laughing gear, Reginald.”
- Marbles — Wit, intelligence, or good sense.
“Have you lost your marbles?”
- Miffed — Upset or offended.
“He got all miffed about the football match.”
- Nob — Person of high social status, snob.
“Some nob in a fancy car splashed me.”
- Numpty — An incompetent or unwise person.
“You and your numpty friend should apologize.”
- Odds and Sods — Equivalent to ‘odds and ends.’ Miscellaneous.
“You lot got first picks and left with nothing but odds and sods.”
- Old Bill, The Old Bill — A metaphor for a policeman, or the police in general.
“Old Bill broke up the street fight.”
- Paddy — A temper tantrum.
“Don’t throw a paddy about your team losing.”
- Paste — To hit, punch, or beat thoroughly.
“You can’t just paste every Joe Bloggs who insults you.”
- Penny-dreadful — A cheap sensationalist magazine. Tabloid.
“I read about alien abductions in the penny-dreadful.”
- Queer someone’s pitch — To spoil someone’s efforts.
“I was about to close the deal until you queered my pitch.”
- Richard the Third — Cockney rhyming slang for a ‘turd.’
“Careful not to step on Richard the Third.”
- Rozzer — A policeman.
“A rozzer walking past overheard cries for help.”
- Skive — Feigning illness to get out of going to work or school.
“He tried to skive off school but his mom was wise to the game.”
- Skint — Without money, broke, bankrupt.
“Sorry I can’t join you this time. I’m skint.”
- Spawny — Lucky.
“That was a spawny outcome for you.”
- Steaming — The state of extreme drunkenness, or extreme anger.
“A steaming drunk Reginald, hobbled out of the pub.”
- Take the mickey — To tease or mock.
“Don’t get so upset when someone takes the mickey.”
- Tosh — Nonsense.
“It’s a lot of tosh to act like that.”
- Wag off — To waste time, or play truant.
“I had nothing to do but wag off at work.”
- Warts and all — Equivalent to ‘as is.’ Taken to include all negative characteristics.
“Alright, I’ll keep you, warts and all.”
Learn how Smartling’s translation services can help your business localize its global content for all languages and cultures >
Keep these slang terms, and also the idea of slang in mind when while browsing the in-depth guide to market penetration we recently published. In that guide we emphasize the importance of website localization, and we go into some detail about what that means. Businesses entering new and emerging markets need to translate website content to specifically target native audiences. Studying slang, colloquial language usage, and regional dialects reminds us how tricky it can be to establish a web presence that looks and sounds like it was made by locals for locals. A really native-looking website is one that was set up with an understanding of when to use british slang words, and when not to.
Good localization, means that almost everything goes unnoticed. Your audience will only notice when you fail to do it. The best way to fail is to disregard the local language paradigm. And to do that is to disregard your entire audience. That’s not good for business. Nobody understands better than we do that acquiring and accurately implementing specific knowledge of a regional dialects is no mean feat. Without the right tools, localization is both labor-intensive and costly. Achieving those goals is the main motive behind our Global Fluency Platform.
If your international business is looking to streamline the internet localization process as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, and you’d like to know more about our Global Fluency Platform, you can contact us via email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-707-6278.
If you liked this list of British slang terms you can also check out our other lists from around the globe: