British Words and Phrases That Will Confuse Anyone Not from the UK

There are plenty of ties that culturally bind the US to the UK. The main factor is the common language of English but we sometimes differ on the meanings of words and phrases. There are plenty of quirky British idioms, adages, sayings, and slang words that simply do not translate for American ears. Now, that doesn’t mean that the English spoken in the UK is profoundly different from the dialect spoken in the USA, but there are some words that might throw you off the next time you’re in the UK.

We wanted to round up the weirdest British phrases and words that most Americans don’t understand. Now, we use the term British as a blanket one that also includes dialects spoken in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. If you’re planning a trip to the UK and don’t want to be caught off guard while having a conversation, you’ve come to the right place because we’ve got all of the wild British words and phrases that are likely to confound you. Cheers!

Discover the Most Unique British Words and Phrases Below!

Yonks

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Yonks – a long span of time, ages. Example: “I haven’t seen you for yonks.” This one will likely throw Americans because there’s not a word really like in common use in the USA and it sounds a lot like “Yanks.” This one was first found in print in 1960 and a theory as to how it began is that it’s an abbreviation of years, months, and weeks.

Wanker

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Wanker – A term that is of uncertain origin. It literally refers to masturbation but it is commonly used as an insult (almost exclusively for men) that describes an unpleasant, rude, and pretentious jerk. Example: “I really dislike that wanker.”

Wally

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Wally – An insult that is synonymous with fool. It likely derived from London and Essex slang for a large pickle. So, you can think of it as calling someone a gherkin. Example: “Ernest is such a wally, I have no idea how he keeps his job.”

Twee

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Twee – Twee is a term that’s going out of style in the UK but you’ll still hear it used among older generations. It refers to something or someone that is overly dainty and small. It is thought to have come from baby speak for “sweet.” Example: “He’s such a twee little boy that I bet he could fit in my pocket.”

Tatties

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Tatties (commonly used in Scotland) – A fun term for potatoes used like “taters” in the US. The traditional accompaniment to Scotland’s infamous haggis is tatties and neeps, meaning potatoes and turnips (meaning yellow turnips, or rutabagas). Example: “I’d like an order of tatties and neeps.”

Tamping

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Tamping (commonly used in Wales) – Meaning extremely annoyed or hopping mad. It likely derives from another Welsh sense of the word meaning to bounce a ball up and down. Or, it could be a play on the formal definition of the term: The act of one who tamps; specifically, the act of filling up a hole in a rock, or the branch of a mine, with earth, sand, or similar material in order to contain and direct explosive force meant to blast the rock or collapse the mine. Example: “I’m so over it, I’m tamping.”

Swot

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Swot – A descriptor for studying hard. Swotting means cramming for an exam or test. A swot is someone who studies very hard. If you think this word looks and sounds a lot like “sweat,” you’d be correct. The British word comes from Old English and is related to “swat” and “sweat.” Example: “You should swot up on your German before traveling to Berlin.”

Stroppy

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Stroppy – An adjective that means difficult to deal with. It comes from the word obstreperous which means stubborn and disobedient. Example: “His kids are stroppy and unruly.” In addition to the UK, you’ll also find this one in use in New Zealand and Australia.

Spanner

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Spanner – A wrench, likely related to the word “spin.” The British equivalent of our phrase “to throw a monkey wrench in the works” (meaning: to do something that stops a plan from succeeding) is “to throw a spanner in the works.” John Lennon gave one of his books of poems and drawings the punning title “A Spaniard in the Works.” The cover featured him in a flamenco hat and bullfighter’s cape brandishing a wrench, a reference to the term.

Shirty

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Shirty – Agitated, rude, or short-tempered. Probably because someone in a rage could be said to “get one’s shirt out,” while you might also calm a person by saying “Keep your shirt on.” Example: “Why is he so shirty today?” This British phrase will likely throw Americans as it will be confused with a “sh—y.” So, not far off but still a bit different!

Scrummy

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Scrummy – For fans of the Great British Bake Off, the term scrummy is likely familiar. The hosts commonly use it to describe the delicious baked goods they enjoy. Scrummy comes from the word scrumptious. It obviously means yummy but also describes a thing that’s enjoyable. Example: “This cake is scrummy and I will be having a second slice.”

Scheme

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Scheme – Not something sneaky and underhanded as the term is used in the US, but a plan for accomplishing something. Example: “The gas company’s new scheme to improve the power grid seems smart.” This is one of the British words that has a completely different connotation in the UK versus the US. Don’t think they’re discussing a bunch of sneaky plans over there!

Pukka

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Pukka – A descriptor that means genuine or of top quality. Also a reference to hoity-toity. From a Hindi word meaning mature, substantial, ripe, and excellent. This is a real fun one that is virtually unheard of in the US. Example: “This is one pukka glass of Pinot Noir.”

Pear-Shaped

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Pear-shaped – A term that means disastrous. To “go pear-shaped” is to go wrong, as a battle plan, a dinner party, or a business meeting. Originally Royal Air Force slang, of uncertain origin. In the US, you might hear a woman refer to her body as pear-shaped but in the UK it’s a totally different thing. Example: “All of a sudden, the scheme really went pear-shaped.”

Naff

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Naff – A descriptor meaning uncool, unfashionable, or worthless. Telling someone to naff off means to tell them to go away. Example 1: “Socks and sandals are naff.” Example 2: “Nack off back to the hole you crawled out of.”

RELATED: 30 Very British and Royalty-Inspired Baby Names

Minging

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Minging – A term that means stinky or foul. Also, used like “very minging (stinking) drunk.” “Ming” was an old Scottish term for human excrement and also as a descriptor for like stinking. Example: “The public toilets in the British Museum are minging today.”

Legless

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Legless – A term used to describe someone who is very, very drunk. Its meaning comes from the concept of being too drunk to stand up. Example: “After her fourth drink of the night, she was pretty legless in the pub.” It’s one of the British words that we feel would fit right in among Americans today.

Knock Up

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Knock up – In the US, this is generally taken to mean “pregnant,” like “She got knocked up and he better put a ring on it.” It’s got a completely different meaning in the UK. There, it’s used to mean to knock on someone’s door or window to awaken them. It’s a very old phrase that originated at a time when alarm clocks had not been invented yet. The knock was the alarm clock. Example: “Drop round Peter’s house at five in the morning for a knock up.”

Knees-Up

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Knees-up – A term derived from the song “Knees Up Mother Brown” (from at least 1918; published 1938). Suggesting the motions of dancing. Knees-up typically refers to a party with lots of dancing involved. Example: “We had a bit of a knees-up late into the night.”

Knackered

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Knackered – A term that means exhausted, worn out, or in a weakened state. Probably from the sense of a “knacker” which was a term for a person who slaughtered tired or sick horses and sold them for dog food. Not the best history but part of the British past. Example: “After working 15 hours today, I’m knackered.”

Kip

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Kip – A British term that refers to a nap or snooze, or a night of sleep in a place away from home. Probably from the Danish kippe, meaning a hut or an alehouse. Example: “I put the baby down for a kip an hour ago.”

Jumper

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Jumper – In the US, this only refers to a person who is in the act of jumping. For the British and others around the UK, it refers to a sweater. The term originated as a term for a kind of hip-length jacket worn by manual laborers. Example: “It’s getting cold outside, go grab your jumper to keep warm.”

Hob

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Hob – A term for the burner on a stove, possibly related to “hub,” as the round central part of a wheel. It can also mean the top of any cooking surface on a cooker; a cooktop. It typically comprises several cooking elements (often four), also known as “rings.” “It’s time for tea so put the kettle on the hob.”

Gormless

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Gormless – A descriptor for someone without a clue, lacking good sense or discernment. From “gome,” an archaic dialect term for attention or care.  Example: “He’s a gormless fool who couldn’t get a clue even if it was handed to him.”

Goonie

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Goonie (commonly used in Scotland) – A British/Scottish slang term for a nightgown. The word is used almost exclusively in Scotland, and nobody seems to know where it comes from. In the US, we associate the term with “goon” meaning a henchman or bad actor. But, in Scotland, it’s a thing you sleep in. Example: “Let me go slip into my goonie before bed.”

Gobsmacked

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Gobsmacked – A term that means flabbergasted, stunned, left speechless with amazement. “Gob” is an old Celtic term for “a beak,” and by extension, mouth. Something gobsmacking hits you in the teeth, metaphorically. Example: “The news left her gobsmacked.” You’ll hear this British term used rarely in the US but it’s not completely unheard of.

Gaff

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Gaff – Among many other meanings, gaff can mean home, an apartment, or a pad. This probably derives from the 18th-century sense of the word as a fair or music hall. In the US, this one would likely get confused with a gaffe (meaning a faux pas). Example: “We’re going round to Jeff’s gaff later to watch the footie.”

Duff

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Duff – A term for something worthless or not genuine. The word may come from “duffer,” meaning a peddler, especially one selling counterfeit goods, or an incompetent or clumsy person (especially true for those on the golf course). The term may be the source of the name of Homer Simpson’s favorite drink, Duff Beer. Example: “The autographed photo turned out to be duff.”

Dog’s Dinner

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Dog’s dinner – A descriptor for a real mess or serious confusion. Another way of saying it is “dog’s breakfast.” Example 1: “The party last night turned into a dog’s dinner.” Example 2: “He was dressed up like a dog’s dinner.” This British slang is virtually unknown in the US but we think it could work here!

Cuppa

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Cuppa – A term for a cup of tea. If someone asks if you “fancy a cuppa,” they’re asking if you’d like a cuppa (cup of) tea. Example: “Fancy a cuppa with your biscuits?” This British term is not limited to use in the UK, you will find it in just about all British Commonwealth Nations, except for Canada.

Codswallop

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Codswallop – A term for a load of nonsense or baloney. The origin is uncertain but might have something to do with a colloquial, primarily Scottish, meaning of the word “wallop,” meaning to flop about or wobble. In that case, perhaps “cod” is the fish of the same name, and the reference is to the ultimately futile movements of a freshly caught fish on the deck of a boat. Hogswallop is also commonly used in the same manner. Example: “The British authorities fed the public codswallop about the politician.”

This can also be used as a term for nonsensical speech or as a way to express disbelief.

Clanger

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Clanger – A term for a mistake or social faux pas, presumably related to the noise something heavy might make when it hits the ground. “To drop a clanger” is to make an embarrassing mistake. Example: “In his speech, the best man got the bride’s name wrong. What a clanger!”

Chuffed

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Chuffed – A happy term meaning pleased, delighted, and happy. The term is of military origin, probably related to an old dialect word for swollen or chubby. Confusingly, “chuffed” can also sometimes mean displeasing. So, feel things out before dropping this British word. Example: “Mary was chuffed after winning the game.” It’s one British word we’d love to hear more often.

Chopsy

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Chopsy (commonly heard in Wales) – A descriptor meaning cheeky or overly chatty. A term used mostly in the Welsh capital, Cardiff.  Example: “I sat next to chopsy man on the train this morning and I’m still not over it.”

Buck eejit

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Buck eejit (commonly heard in Northern Ireland) – Eejit means idiot. “Buck eejit” is sometimes used endearingly for friends or loved ones who are silly and good-humored. Some of these British terms are easy to understand but for most Americans, this is one that will likely sound downright exotic. Example: “I love that Buck eejit.”

Breeks

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Breeks (commonly heard in Scotland) – In the singular, originally a garment covering the loins and thighs. Now used only in the plural to mean “trousers” (probably from the same words as “breeches” or “britches”). Example: “Will you come shopping with me because I need new breeks?”

Bonnet

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Bonnet – A term with many meanings, most of them having to do with headgear, but also the hood of a car. To be “on it like a car bonnet” means to have the situation under control. Where we use “hood,” the British use bonnet. Example: “There is smoke coming from under the bonnet.”

Banjaxed

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Banjaxed (commonly heard in Northern Ireland) – A colorful term that means destroyed or confounded or tired. The origins of the term are unknown, but it doesn’t seem to have been used until the 1950s. Does Northern Ireland have the best words? We’d say banjaxed is pretty rewarding to say! Example 1: “The car was banjaxed after the bonnet flew off.” Example 2: “I’m banjaxed after the pub last night.”

Arse Over Elbow

British Words and Phrases

Arse over elbow – “Arse” is a Briticism for one’s rear end. Arse over elbow is how you might end up after a few too many pints in the local pub. It can mean to clumsily fall, to be stupid, or a variety of other meanings but almost always in connection with too much drinking. Example: “She was arse over elbow last night at her hen do (bachelorette party).”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: See Queen Elizabeth Young in These Remarkable Photos

Anorak

British Words and Phrases
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Anorak – A term for an article of clothing, a short weather-proof hooded jacket or parka (the term is borrowed from the Inuit of Greenland) – but also a nerd, someone obsessed with a boring, niche hobby, like watching planes or being obsessed with soccer statistics. Anoraks have a lot of pockets for holding notebooks, pens, etc. that such people would use. Example: “I could not suffer another minute of that anorak talking about trains.”

There you go! We hope you learned more about some common British phrases and words. They are just so fun and it’s wild how differently Americans speak! If you want to learn more about British culture, take a look back at Queen Elizabeth II through the years and learn some fascinating facts about the monarch!

See Queen Elizabeth Through the Years In These Amazing Photos!

Queen’s Dispatch Box

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The Queen receives a constant stream of Despatch Boxes containing documents from the Government, Parliament, and The Queen’s Private Secretary. These red, leather-bound boxes have looked nearly identical for decades.

A (Somewhat) Modern Monarch

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She is the longest-serving monarch in British history. She received that bragging right in 2015 when she outdid Queen Victoria’s 63-year run.

Official Business

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Queen Elizabeth has received over 3.5 million items of correspondence over the length of her reign. That’s a lot of work and a bunch of full Dispatch Boxes.

Princess Elizabeth

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In the above photo we get a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth young, so young she was then Princess Elizabeth. She is pictured with her mother, The Duchess of York, as they meet a veteran at a sale of work organized by Friends of the Elderly, a charity, in the 1930s.

Behind the Camera

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If you saw season one of The Crown, the show finds the Queen and the late Prince Philip with a camera that they used to document their travels. The Queen has long been interested in home photography and home movies.

World Cup

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In the above photo, the Queen Awards the World Cup to Bobby Moore. “55 years ago I was fortunate to present the World Cup to Bobby Moore and saw what it meant to the players, management, and support staff to reach and win the final of a major international football tournament,” she wrote of the experience.

With the King

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We find Queen Elizabeth young with her father, King George VI, and Prince Philip watching a young Prince Charles sitting on a statue at Balmoral in 1951.

Coronation

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The coronation of Elizabeth II took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey in London. Elizabeth acceded to the throne at the age of 25 upon the death of her father on 6 February 1952. This is why her birthday is celebrated in June, even though she was born in April.

Bright Colors

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You might have noticed that the Queen wears bright colors for public events. You’re not imagining it, the bigger the event, the brighter the color. The reason is that the Queen draws huge crowds and bright colors are more easily seen from a distance.

Marriage

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The engagement of Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten to Princess Elizabeth was announced in July 1947 and the marriage took place in Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947.

The Heirs

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In this photo, we find Queen Elizabeth young with her two oldest children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. She later would give birth to two more children, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Grandchildren

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In addition to her four children, the Queen has 12 grandchildren. In 2017, the family celebrated as Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth became the first couple to celebrate a Platinum Anniversary (70 years of marriage).

Enterprise

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In 1965, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, invited The Duke to chair a committee to design a scheme rewarding industrial and export achievement. The scheme became The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. We find Queen Elizabeth young in the sixties at the award ceremony.

Commonwealth Games

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The Commonwealth Games Federation was formed in 1932. This photo finds the Queen and Prince Philip enjoying a game organized by the federation.

RELATED: Queen Elizabeth Makes Shocking Request as She Celebrates the 70th Anniversary of Her Accession

The Estates

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The Queen’s Private Estates include Sandringham and Balmoral, as well as Windsor Great and Home Parks. This picture finds Queen Elizabeth young with Prince Philip at Balmoral in 1972.

A Love of Performing Arts

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The Queen, Princess Margaret, and The Duke of Edinburgh are pictured leaving a performance of Guys and Dolls at the London Coliseum in 1953. It appears the Queen enjoyed the show.

Queen Mother

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Here we find Queen Elizabeth young enough to be in school, pictured with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

In the Library

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Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh are pictured in the Library at Balmoral Castle in 1976. We wonder what she’s flipping through here.

Annual Christmas Message Through the Years

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In addition to the Queen being the first monarch coronated on television, she was the first to do an annual televised Christmas message. Here’s a look at her through the years.

A Princess Who Would Be Queen

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Here, we find Queen Elizabeth young, aged just 3 years. This was an annual Christmas card from the future King and Queen with their daughter who would also go on to reign. This was mailed in 1929.

On Honeymoon

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The Queen and The Duke are pictured here in 1947 on their honeymoon at Broadlands in Hampshire. She was just a princess then.

Baby Prince Charles

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The Prince of Wales is pictured here with his mother. He was born November 14, 1948, before his mother was Queen and before he would become heir to the throne.

Remembrance

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In the above photo, Queen Elizabeth young, just after her Coronation, lays a wreath of remembrance of those lost in two World Wars for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Princess Anne Is Married

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This photo finds Queen Elizabeth and her daughter, Princess Anne, on Anne’s wedding day. The Princess married Captain Mark Phillips in 1973. This photo proves it was a most dazzling affair.

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From 1950

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This photo was taken shortly after the birth of Princess Anne in 1950. The Queen seems to be beaming with happiness following her first and only daughter’s birth.

There you have it! What did you think of these Queen Elizabeth photos? Hasn’t she lived the most storied life? We hope you enjoyed taking a look back at the monarch’s remarkable life.

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