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If you are preparing to live or work in Britain, it’s not enough to just known the rules of proper British grammar and spelling. Learning English slang words is key to understanding the British people and will enable you to make friends quicker.
If you are more familiar with American culture, you are probably more familiar with American English slang words. You might be confused about the fancy British words your new friends and colleagues use every day.
Many people will also tell you that the best way to learn a language, aside from getting a good tutor, particularly to pick up the slang words is to watch TV shows and movies in that language. Checking out movies like the Harry Potter series can help, but in case you need a British slang translator, check out our list of most common slang words used every day.
This is one of those fancy British words that is used to both refer to a common piece of clothing and as also is a nickname for a certain sort of person.
An anorak is a waterproof hooded jacket, however, it’s also come to mean what the American English slang words “geek” or “nerd” mean. So basically someone who is slightly odd and interested in topics that aren’t necessarily “cool”.
The original Anoraks were train enthusiasts who would often be seen outside, even in bad weather, near train tracks and stations so they could watch the trains go by.
While “arse” is slang for “behind”, it can also be used to describe a mood. The common phrase is “can’t be arsed” and this is the equivalent to the American English slang phrases “don’t care” or “can’t be bothered.”
Our British slang translator tells us that this is the equivalent of the American English slang words “shotgun” or “dibs”. So you’re basically claiming something, like the passenger seat of a car.
This is an abbreviation of the term “banter”. Banter means to joke around or talk back and forth quickly with witty remarks.
This is what you call a wild night of drinking.
This is British slang for girl, but it’s considered kind of derogatory.
This is British slang for man.
These are some of the most common bad English slang words. They are basically exclamations of surprise and anger.
They are common enough that some people don’t bat an eye when using it or hear it used but they are technically British profanities.
This is another common English swear word. While bloody is something you utter in anger, bollocks is something you utter in dismay.
This can also be used as a verb as a “bollocking” means to get upset enough at someone to repraimand or scold them.
Bollocks is an old English term that refers to the testicles and scrotum. It also means a male bull.
This is an English slang word that basically means a bad repair job.
It is common to utter that something is “brilliant” when you mean it is wonderful and exciting. Sometimes, instead of the full word, British people simply go “brill”.
This is basically an abbreviation for an “umbrella”.
This phrase is equivalent to the American English slang words “scoot” or “scootch”.
When you ask someone to budge up, you are asking them to move over, probably to give you a bit more space.
While you can just call someone “cheeky” a common descriptive phrase is “cheeky monkey”.
Not that you are not calling someone a monkey but rather you are calling attention to their behavior which is mischievous and irreverent but also a little rude.
There are two situations where it’s appropriate to say “cheers” in Britain, and both have something to do with being in a pub.
You say “cheers” when toasting with your friends while drinking. But you can also say “cheers” when you mean “thank you”. For example, if someone fetches you a drink, you can say “cheers” and they will understand that you are expressing gratitude.
This one of the most common words used every day to mean to chat with or to catch up with someone. It can also mean gossiping.
This reason that this phrase denotes talking probably came from the observation that, when two people talk, the movement of their mouths causes their chins to wag up and down.
When you are chuffed about something, you are very happy or pleased about it.
This means that you have vomited, mostly after having too many drinks.
This is used as an adjective to call something or someone great or excellent.
This is one of the most common slang words used every day because it refers to that most beloved British of pastimes, to have a cup of tea. All you have to do is say “cuppa” and any British person will understand exactly what you mean.
This is British slang for a girl or boy who is nosy and gossipy. This is probably the equivalent of the American English slang words “nosy neighbor.”
Much like many fancy British words used to describe a type of person, it takes its cue from a behavior that type of person is supposed to display. In this case, someone who’s interested in other people’s business will be seen parting or opening the curtains of their home to get a better view of the street.
This is basically what you call someone who isn’t very bright.
This means a party, any type of party.
This means that something is wrong, if not downright illegal.
This means having made a mess of things.
This is one of the most common words used every day to say that you are wasting time or not doing anything.
This probably comes from “faffle”, which is a 17th century word to mean flapping in the wind. So you are not going anywhere or really doing anything useful.
This means that you had a fight or an argument with someone. Usually a “kerfluffle” is triggered by having different views on a topic.
Knackered is a shortened version of the phrase “ready for the knackers.” The knacker and the knacker yard are the old English words for a slaughter house and slaughter house workers.
Back before the industrial revolution, when horses were used to pull carriages and wagons, when a horse was old and could no longer work, they were taken to the knackers. So basically, if you are knackered, you are dead tired.
If you American or are more used to American English slang words, hearing people say “I’m going outside to have a fag” could really confuse you.
Fag is a slightly derogatory term for a gay man in American English, but it isn’t a bad English slang word, in British English it simply means cigarette.
This is a British phrase that means lively and enthusiastic. It’s thought that the use of this phrase to describe someone energetic came from the idea that coffee or coffee beans energized you.
When someone is gobsmacked they are stunned and shocked, mostly due to something totally unexpected happening.
Gob is a slang word for mouth in Britain and it is assumed that when you are so stunned your “gobsmacked” your mouth falls open in surprise.
This means that you are devastated or upset by a particular turn of events.
This phrase means to use your legs to get away from a situation. In other words, it means to run away.
While in America, a mate means a romantic life partner, in Britain your mate is a lifelong friend.
It can also, however be used more casually to address someone who’s name you don’t know, like “buddy” or “pal” in the Americas.
This means to be irritated or annoyed by a person or a situation. It’s thought to have come from “muffen” which is the German word for “sulk.”
This could be considered one of the bad English slang words as it’s basically the equivalent to calling something “shitty”.
Minging means you find something unappetizing or unattractive. It comes from the Scottish word for feces, “ming”.
When you call something “mint” in British English you are praising it. Calling something mint is describing it as high quality.
The full phrase is actually “mint condition” which means something that is in pristine condition.
This means dirt, so you can say something is “mucky” when you mean it is dirty.
When you nick something, you steal it. This is probably also why to be at “the Nick” means that you are in prison -- where thieves end up.
This is a situation that has gone bad. This British slang phrase supposedly originated as something members of the Royal Air Force would say when flight situations changed for the worse.
This is one of the most common slang words used every day to say that someone is drunk. This is different for how it’s used in the America’s where it means you are angry.
Something that is “posh” is usually associated with the aristocratic classes. So if you call something posh, you are also implying that it is fancy and expensive – often unnecessarily so.
If you are at a pub and someone asks “whose round it is”, they are asking who will be buying the drinks. British pub etiquette means that everyone takes a turn buying people a drink.
This probably originates from the fact that, people sit and drink at “round” table in the pub. When you buy the drinks, you go to the bar and back to the table to pass the drinks around.
This is a British phrase for a girl or boy who is short-tempered or is feeling grumpy.
This probably evolved out of the fact that the Norse word for “shirt” is actually “short”
This means that someone is untrustworthy or a schemer.
This phrase is the equivalent of the American slang phrase “Murphy’s Law”. If you evoke Sod’s law you are currently experiencing bad luck or misfortune.
If you were using American English words, you would say that you were splurging when you “splash out”. This means that you are spending a lot of money on something.
This is the British English phrase for a nerd or someone who is very studious. This can also be used as a verb so “swotting” means studying.
In Britain, if you are calling something sick, it has nothing to do with disease. Your saying that it is cool.
If you are taking the piss out of something, you are basically mocking it. If you are being sarcastic, you are taking the piss.
This British English slang is the equivalent to the American English phrase, throwing a tantrum. The difference being is a wobbly is something an adult does, while a tantrum is usually thrown by a child.
This is an insult in Britain, it is the equivalent to the American English slang words of “asshole” or “jerk”.
This means that you’ve accomplished something using your wits or powers of persuasion. A common way to use it is in the phrase “wangle a favor”.
Whinge is the equivalent of the American English words “whine” or “groan about”.
Someone who is “whinging” is complaining excessively about someone, probably in a high-pitched, “whiney” voice.
Language is ever evolving and many phrases and words that used to mean one thing back in the Victorian ages became British slang words in 2019 that mean something else entirely. Keeping up with the new slang can be challenging but it’s also fun!
Arsed, Bender, Bloody, Bollocks, Cheers, Cuppa, Dodgy, Fag, Leg it, Mint, Posh, Taking the piss, Wanker
It's a phrase used by teenagers to tell older people that their phrases are outdated and old fashioned.
Extra, Ok boomer, Basic, To cap, Cancelled
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