25 Words That the 1960s Invented That We Use All the Time Today

Welcome to a linguistic trip back in time, specifically to the iconic era of the 1960s. This was a decade of change and revolution when society witnessed massive cultural shifts from music and fashion to politics and technology. But did you know that the 1960s also brought us a plethora of new words that are still widely used today? Each word captures a piece of the zeitgeist, a snapshot of the societal and scientific changes that defined the era.

We’ll explore 25 words that the 1960s invented, taking a closer look at how the language evolved during this transformative decade. Each term we will delve into was first published and recorded by the trusted Merriam-Webster dictionary during the 1960s. Stacker looked into Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler function to discover the most iconic words from the decade. We can’t wait to share them with you! So buckle up and prepare for a fascinating linguistic journey as we decode the language of an era that continues to resonate with us even today.

Affirmative Action

Words That the 1960s Invented
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Affirmative action is a policy or a set of policies adopted by businesses and institutions to improve opportunities for historically excluded groups within American society. It’s aimed at increasing representation of these groups in areas such as education, employment, and business, where they have been historically underrepresented due to factors like racial or gender discrimination.

The term came into use in 1961 after President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order to enact affirmative action hiring processes for government contractors, regardless of  “race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Afro

Words That the 1960s Invented
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An Afro is a hairstyle that became popular during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly within the Black community. It’s characterized by a rounded shape and a naturally textured, voluminous look. The Afro has been a powerful symbol of Black pride and culture, particularly during the Civil Rights Movement and the Black is Beautiful movement in the United States.

Baby Boomer

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “baby boomer” comes from the phrase “baby boom,” which was used to describe the significant increase in birth rates following World War II, specifically from 1946 to 1964. According to Stacker, the term was first used in a 1963 Newport News Daily Press article. The article was about the impending mountain of college applications as the generation aged into adulthood.

Black Friday

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “Black Friday” has a rather complex history, with different explanations emerging over time. One of the earliest associations of the term comes from 1869, when it was used to describe a financial crisis, specifically a devastating stock market crash related to gold prices.

However, in the context of shopping and the day after Thanksgiving, the term “Black Friday” originated much later. In the 1950s and ’60s in Philadelphia, it was used by traffic police to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.

Bubblegum

Words That the 1960s Invented
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In 1969, the word bubblegum no longer applied solely to chewing gum. It became a descriptor for media, especially pop music, created for a teen and pre-teen audience. The name “bubblegum” comes from the idea that this type of music is like bubblegum: sweet, colorful, and enjoyable for a short period but lacking in long-term substance. The Partridge Family, The Archies, and The Monkees were all lumped into this category.

Cochlear Implant

Words That the 1960s Invented
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Cochlear implants are electronic medical devices that can provide a sense of sound to people who are deaf or severely hard of hearing. They bypass the damaged hair cells in the cochlea (part of the inner ear) and directly stimulate the auditory nerve, sending signals to the brain that are interpreted as sound. According to Stacker, They were first invented in 1961 by American surgeon William House and engineer Jack Urban.

Cyborg

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “cyborg,” short for “cybernetic organism,” was coined in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline. They used it in an article they wrote for the journal Astronautics, titled “Cyborgs and Space.”

Dance-Off

Words That the 1960s Invented
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“Dance-offs” in the 1960s were popular events where individuals or groups would compete against each other, showcasing their best dance moves. These dance competitions became a significant part of the social scene, especially among the youth. They were often held at parties, school dances, community events, and even on television shows. Many think that American Bandstand invented the term.

Down Syndrome

Words That the 1960s Invented
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A person with Down syndrome has an extra chromosome that causes their bodies and brains to develop differently. We get the term from John Langdon Down, a British physician who first thoroughly described the condition in 1866. It was not until the 20th century that advocates for the community lobbied for the condition’s name to be changed from “Mongolism” or “Mongolian Idiocy” to Down syndrome. The World Health Organization officially recognized the updated name in 1965

Dragon Fruit

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The name “dragon fruit” comes from its appearance, which resembles the scales of a mythical dragon. The fruit belongs to the cactus family and is native to Central America but is also grown and exported from several Southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam and Thailand. The fruit first hit the mainstream in the US in the 1960s.

Gaslighting

Words That the 1960s Invented
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Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity. This can lead to the victim feeling confused, anxious, and unable to trust their own memory or judgment.

The term “gaslighting” originated from the 1938 stage play “Gas Light,” written by British dramatist Patrick Hamilton. The play was later adapted into two films, both named Gaslight – one British version in 1940 and a more widely known Hollywood remake in 1944.

The concept in its real-world context was published in the 1960s.

Jack Russell Terrier

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The Jack Russell Terrier is a small breed of terrier developed in England by a clergyman named John “Jack” Russell in the 19th century. Reverend Russell had a passion for fox hunting and wanted to create a terrier that could bolt foxes out of their den and also keep up with the hunt horses. These popular family dogs officially got their breed name in 1961.

Knockoff

Words That the 1960s Invented
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In the mid-1960s, the word “knockoff” started referring to cheap imitations, reflecting the casual way these items were produced.

Magnetic Levitation

Words That the 1960s Invented
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Magnetic levitation, often called “maglev,” is a method by which an object is suspended in the air with no support other than magnetic fields. The magnetic force counteracts the effects of the gravitational force and any different accelerations. With Sci-Fi exploding in the 1950s and ’60s, it’s no surprise that the concept and the term entered the lexicon.

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Midlife Crisis

Words That the 1960s Invented
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Elliott Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst and social scientist, is credited with coining the term “midlife crisis.” He first used the word in a paper he presented in 1957. Still, it gained more widespread recognition following his 1965 essay “Death and the Midlife Crisis,” published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

Military-Industrial Complex

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “military-industrial complex” was first used by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He introduced the term in his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961. He warned of a close relationship between the government and its defense industry in his speech. This term has since been used to denote the relationships between governments, armed forces, and industrial sectors that produce military equipment and supplies.

Monkeypox

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “monkeypox” was first used in the 1960s when outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys kept for research. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Today, the condition is known as mpox.

Ob-Gyn

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “Ob-Gyn” is an abbreviation that comes from the medical specialties of obstetrics and gynecology. This combination and shortened, abbreviated form was coined in the 1960s.

One-Liner

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “one-liner” refers to a short, succinct joke or witticism that is typically expressed in a single sentence. It’s commonly used in comedy and is designed to be quick and humorous. The term took hold for the first time in the 1960s.

Sleepover

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The modern concept of sleepovers was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s, alongside the rise of suburban communities. With homes being large enough to include bedrooms for children, the practice became extremely common.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Words That the 1960s Invented
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“Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” (SIDS) is a term that was first used in the early 1960s to describe the unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy infant, usually during sleep. Before the term SIDS was coined, such sudden deaths were often attributed to various causes, such as suffocation or smothering in bed. However, after medical research failed to confirm these causes in many cases, the term SIDS was introduced to provide a diagnosis when no other cause could be found.

Telenovela

Words That the 1960s Invented
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Telenovelas are popular Latin American dramas whose melodramatic storylines, beloved for their twists and turns. We have these programs to thank for American soap operas today. Telenovela became a widely used word in the US in the 1960s.

Theme Park

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The term “theme park” originated in the mid-20th century after the creation of Disneyland in 1955. Before Disneyland, most amusement parks were a collection of assorted rides and attractions without a unifying theme. Walt Disney revolutionized the industry by creating a park where all the attractions were related to the themes of his movies and TV shows.

Vibe

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The word vibe has an interesting history in the US. It was first used as another name for the vibraphone in the 1930s. But, its meaning had changed by the 1960s with the rise of the counterculture. At that time, a “vibe” was the emotion or discharge of energy they were giving off to others.

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Ziplock

Words That the 1960s Invented
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The word “Ziplock” is derived from the brand name Ziploc. Ziploc was formed to develop and market a plastic zipper, which was notably based on a set of patents purchased from an inventor named Borge Madsen. In 1965, the word “ziplock” was added to the dictionary for the first time.

This vibrant decade left an indelible mark on our language. These 25 words, first recorded by Merriam-Webster during those transformative years, reflect the cultural, social, and technological shifts of the time and continue to enrich our modern lexicon. From “flower power” to “moon landing,” each term carries a piece of history, a memory of a time when society was in flux. So the next time you use one of these words, remember, you’re not just speaking—you’re echoing the voice of an era. Here’s to the 1960s, a decade that continues to live on, one word at a time!

For even more fun concerning language, keep reading! We’ve got common British words and phrases that most Americans will not understand.

Discover the Most Unique British Words and Phrases Below!

Yonks

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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.”

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Minging

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases

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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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

British Words and Phrases
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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).”

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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.”

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