British Slang That Confuses Americans

That chav you were snogging is such a wanker. I thought he was a poofTer but he got her up the duff. Learn what this means and other British expressions!

 

I must have a thing for British nannies. I collected two of them as good friends in my first years in Chicago: edgy and artsy Heather and the sassy, glam party girl Jo.

There were definitely some communication issues between me and my new mates — like mixing up snog and shag (there’s quite a difference between kissing someone and having sex with them).

For instance, it took me a while to realize that whenever a Brit said they were pissed, they actually meant drunk and not upset.

And then there’s wally, my name, which turns out to be an insult in Britain. It’s what you call someone’s who’s silly or inept. Heck, maybe it’s accurate after all.

Here are a few of my favorites British slang terms that you might want to add to your vocabulary.


Alright?: What’s up?

Like our expression, you don’t have to actually answer the question. People don’t really care if you’re alright or what is up. Responding, “Alright” right back to them is common, or you can just offer up another greeting.


Bender: Gay guy

The term is offensive, but I’m not sure if it’s as bad as calling someone a fag. I assume it comes from the idea of bending over. Not to be confused with what we call a bender in the States — an extensive alcoholic binge.

 

On the blob: On the rag, having your period

This disgusting term was one of Heather’s favorites. It’s funny that Americans focus on the product (rag meaning tampon or pad, one imagines), while the Brits have evoked a vivid image of the blood and uterine lining that come out during that time of the month.

Bollocks: Testicles; nonsense

I guess it’s like us seeing something ridiculous and yelling out, “Balls!”


Bugger: To butt-fuck

This word gets used in a variety of expressions, from telling someone to “bugger off” (go away) to a person who knows “bugger all” (nothing).

 

Chat up: to flirt

A guy at a bar might see a girl and say he’s going to “chat her up.”

Chav: Britain’s version of white trash

Chavs are label whores, wearing designer sportswear (sometimes just the knockoffs). They’re known for being loud and obnoxious. Chavs can be hot, in a trashy way.

 

Chuffed: Pleased

I don’t know why, but I always thought this meant upset. Turns out it’s the opposite.


Cock up: Mess up

No, this isn’t a term for an erection. You might say you really cocked something up.


Cracking: Excellent

We might not want something that’s cracked, but the Brits think it’s a desirable state.


Daft: Silly, foolish

Guess this gives new meaning to the band Daft Punk.


Up the duff: Pregnant

What’s odd is that a duff is a flour pudding boiled or steamed in a cloth bag. Coincidence?

 

I’m easy: I’m flexible, I’ll do what whatever

In the United States, this would be stating that you’re a slut. In Britain, it means you’re a go-with-the-flow kind of person.

Fag: Cigarette

When someone wants a fag, it’s good to know what they’re asking for.

 

Fagged: Tired

Maybe it’s cuz gays are so dramatic all the time, it’s exhausting. (Though it probably has more to do with the concept of the “fag end,” or the very end of something.)

Fancy dress: Costume

If you get invited to a fancy dress party, they’re really saying to wear a costume. Weird, I know. How is dressing like a sexy nurse being “fancy”?


Fanny: Pussy, vagina

This one really cracks those Brits up. We say fanny for butt (though it’s not very common anymore). But we do talk about fanny packs when we travel — which is like saying you’re going to wear your pussy pack.


Fit: Hot, good-looking

It doesn’t necessarily mean the person is in good shape, but maybe that just goes with the territory.


Get off: Have sex

It sounds crass when you say it that way. But when you get off with someone, you’ve gotten lucky.


Gutted: Disappointed, upset

Just like a flayed fish, I guess.


Jammy: Lucky

This doesn’t mean you’re slathered in strawberry preserves — unless that’s your idea of good luck.

 

Jumper: Sweater

In the U.S., a girl might wear a little dress we call a jumper, but the word has another connotation in England.

 

Kerfuffle: Commotion, fuss

This is a popular expression from one of our favorite sketch comedy shows, Little Britain. The characters always seem to be getting into a right kerfuffle.

Knackered: Extremely tired

Jo always seemed to be “bloody knackered.” I didn’t dub her the Rock ’n’ Roll Nanny for nuthin’.

 

Knob: Penis, jerk, idiot, dork

We call someone who’s a jerk a dick, but knob seems to be a more general insult for anyone you don’t like.

 

Prat: Dumbass, idiot

Don’t feel like one if you don’t know this word. But it’s always nice to know when you’re being insulted.

Pissed: Drunk

When you’re pissed in America, you’re really upset about something. In Britain, you’ve just had too much to drink.


Pissing around, pissing about: Wasting time, acting immature

No, it doesn’t mean urinating in a circle.


Taking the piss (out of someone): Making fun of someone

Oh boy, this one was an odd one to hear. I have no idea why removing someone’s urine would translate to teasing, but every language has its bizarre expressions.

Poof, poofter: Fag, male homosexual

Usually used to describe someone overly effeminate.

 

On the pull: Trying to get laid

Guess you’re trying to lure someone in.


Quid: Pound

We’re talking currency here, folks. It’s the equivalent of how we call a dollar a buck in the U.S.


Read: Major in

I read English in college, so I had to read a lot of English literature. It sounds weird to me that you can read business, medicine, law or the like.


Made redundant: Get laid off

The American expression just doesn’t seem as brutal as the British one. It’s like, Sorry, you’re no longer useful; you’re superfluous. That’s just kicking someone when they’re down.

Shag: Fuck

Don’t confuse this with snog. Brits can shag on a shag carpet.

 

Get shirty: Be annoyed, in a bad mood

I wonder what about being like this particular article of clothing translates to a foul mood.


Slag: Slut, promiscuous person

Slag is a byproduct of the smelting process. Maybe the connotation with people is that they’re castoffs. 

 

Slag someone off: To bitch someone out, criticize

If your significant other is always slagging you off, they’re not worth your time.

Go for a slash, have a slash: To take a piss

Not sure what the connection to slashing is, but this is a colorful phrase Duke and I have adopted.

 

Snog: To kiss

Keep in mind that snogging isn’t shagging. The definitions I found online add an element of cuddling to this verb.

 

Tosser: Idiot

This is literally a guy who masturbates. Not sure why that got equated with a general insult.


Trainers: Tennis shoes, sneakers

The British word probably makes more sense than ours. I mean, how many people actually play tennis or sneak around in their gym shoes?

 

Trolleyed: Wasted, very drunk

We have these trolleys in Chicago that you can rent for the night and get drunk on. Though somehow I don’t think that’s the origin of this word.

 

Twee: Too stinkin’ cute

Listen to She & Him or go to Anthropologie to experience this word in action. I like to mix American slang with British to say something is totes twee.

 

Wanker: Jerk, dick, asshole

Again, like tosser, this is someone who jerks off. And again, why is that an insult? I mean, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, etc., etc. –Wally