Dictionary of British slang

Photo of a man with a sock in his mouth, with the words

This article about British slang was published by the Great British Mag content team on 2 September, 2019

A

Ace – Used to describe something that is awesome. A word that is popular in the north and amongst youngsters.

Any road – When you hear this, the person isn’t asking you to pick a road! They are most likely substituting it for “anyway” and the context could be, “Any road, are you from China or Japan?”

A load of tosh – Used to describe something that is not very good. For example, your lecturer might describe your essay “as a load of tosh.” Harsh!

A kent face – Commonly used in Scotland when a person has seen a person they know, such as, “I saw a few kent faces in the library.” This idiom has nothing to do with the surname or the place. It is taken from an old English word that means “to know.”

Adam and EveCockney rhyming slang for believe. “Can you Adam and Eve it!”

B

Bee’s knees – The phrase does not relate to bees or knees but is an idiom for excellent. It became popular in the 1920s along with “cat’s whiskers.”

Bite your arm off – Don’t be alarmed if someone says this. No one is about to literally bite off any part of your anatomy. It is used to describe willingness. For example someone might say to you, “They will bite your arm off if you offer to write their essay.”

Brassed off – Considering the Brits are good at hiding their emotions we still have plenty of words to describe when we are not happy with something, one of which is “brassed off.”

Bits ‘n’ bobs – Used these days when you want to say you have an odd selection of things for example you could say, “I have a few bits ‘n’ bobs in the fridge. I’ll see what I can make.” However, it was originally used to describe loose change in your pocket.

Bob’s your uncle – This saying originally meant you could get anything or do anything if you had the right connections. It came about after the 20th British Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, famously appointed a nephew into an important political post for which he didn’t have the relevant experience. Today it is more commonly used to say everything is OK.

Butcher’s hook – Cockney rhyming slang for “take a look.”

C

Cheerio – No, it is not just a breakfast cereal! This is one of the many words used to say goodbye in the UK. “Ta ta” is popular in the North of England and you will also hear “laters” and “see ya.”

Cheesed off – A quirky euphemism for being unhappy. Obviously you would be unhappy if your cheese went off! It can be used in casual and formal situations; for example someone could say, “I’m cheesed off that you ate the last piece of cake.”

Chin wag – Means to have a long chat. It is believed that the term originates from a pub in North Wales where the landlady would ensure people drank more than they intended by going around with a jug of ale, claiming that people’s glasses were “gwag” (the Welsh word for empty), and topping them up whether they wanted more or not.

D

Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs – You may hear an older person saying this to a younger person when they feel the youngster is being disrespectful by thinking they can teach the older person something. 

Dishy – Used to describe someone who is attractive. 

Don’t cry over spilt milk – Someone may say this if you get something wrong or accidentally spill or break something. The essence of the saying is that you shouldn’t worry about it because there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Daft cow – An affectionate way of making fun of a female friend when they have done or said something silly. You should only say this to your friends because saying it to a stranger is very offensive! 

Donkey’s years – Apparently donkeys live for a long time. When someone says, “I haven’t seen you for donkey’s,” they are saying they haven’t seen you in a long time. 

Dive – Means a place that isn’t very nice. Someone may say to you, “It’s a dive but the drinks are cheap.”

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” – An expression meaning that you shouldn’t get rid of something valuable or important while disposing of something considered worthless. For example: “You shouldn’t cancel your holiday just because you won’t get to go to that epic music festival. Come on, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” 

Dosh – Slang for money.

E

Easy peasy – A fun and childish way of saying that something is easy to do or understand. We dare you to use it next time your lecturer is explaining something!

Effing and blinding This expression is used to describe someone who is using unpleasant language. For example, you might hear, “She was so angry that she was effing and blinding all the way home!” 

Eejit – An Irish-based pronunciation of the word “Idiot.”  

Elevenses – A mid-morning snack before lunch that normally includes a cup of tea and a biscuit. 

Earful An expression used to describe someone who is being told off. For example, you may hear someone say, “They got an earful for being so loud last night.”

F 

Full of beans– Means someone is very energetic and vivacious. 

For crying out loud – This is a replacement for a rude word. For example, if you discover your bike has a flat tyre, you might yell, “Oh, for crying out loud!” 

Faff around – If you’re faffing around you look busy, but you’re achieving very little. For example: “I told him to stop faffing around and wash the dishes.” 

Flogging a dead horse – To try and find a solution to a problem that is unsolvable. For example: “You’re flogging a dead horse by asking Martha to move to the UK – she hates rain. 

G 

Going to a do – Student life wouldn’t be student life without a fair dose of parties. If someone invites you to a “do,” say yes – they are inviting you to a party! 

Gobsmacked – If you are gobsmacked, you are amazed by something or someone (in a good or bad way!)

Grub – Slang for food and comes from the old English word meaning “dig.” The association with digging for food morphed into the slang we use today.  

Gobby – Used to describe someone who talks a lot and has a lot of opinions, and not necessarily in a good way. 

H 

Hammered – Slang word used to describe someone who is very drunk. 

Horses for courses – This is a popular saying that means that we all have different tastes and what is right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another person. 

Hunky-dory – A way of saying that something is just fine.

I 

I’ve come over all peculiar – Means that you were feeling fine a little while ago, but now you feel unwell. 

I’m not being funny but I haven’t got all day – This is a popular saying in Wales; it simply means hurry up! 

I’m easy – Next time you are in a restaurant and your friends are debating what to order, just say, “Order whatever. I’m easy.”  That’s a signal that you’re happy to eat whatever they order. 

I’m off to Bedfordshire – Cockeny rhyming slang for when someone is tired and wants to go to bed.  Get it? 

It’s brass monkeys outside! – Means bitterly cold.  The origins of this saying refer to the brass handles on doors which get very cold. This bit makes sense, but the monkeys bit of this saying is baffling, even to the Brits. 

J 

Jammy – If you are a lucky person you might be described as flukey or jammy. 

Jim jams Slang for pyjamas. As a student you’ll hear the phrase, “I think it’s time to put on my jim jams and get into bed – I’m exhausted,” a lot! 

Jar Slang for a pint of beer. For example: “Let’s meet after the lecture for a few jars.” 

Jiffy – This is a quintessentially British saying meaning you’ll do something immediately. You might say it to show you are keen, for example: “If you’re cooking dinner I’ll be there in a jiffy. 

K 

Knees up – If someone says they went to “a right knees-up over the weekend,” they are talking about a wild party.  Your response should be, “Why wasn’t I invited?”

Kerfuffle – A fuss or commotion. For example: “What’s all the kerfuffle about? I’m only two hours late!” 

Keep your hair on – Can you lose your hair if you get too angry or excited? That’s what this idiom suggests. For example: “Keep your hair on – I only accidentally deleted your dissertation.” 

Kip – Means sleep.

L 

Last order – You will hear bar staff, in pubs, shout this and ring a bell at 11pm (or at 10.30pm on Sunday) to let customers know they have 20 minutes in which to finish their drinks. 

Lurgy – If someone has the lurgy, stay away. It means they are ill and possibly contagious. 

Let down – Means something was not good. For example: “That film was such a let down. 

Lairy – Used to describe a loud/brash person. For example: “Tom gets a bit lairy after a few drinks.” 

Leave it out Means you want someone to stop doing or saying something that you find upsetting or annoying.  

M 

Minted – If someone is described as minted it means they are rich, so become their best friend immediately! 

Mitts – A mitten is a kind of glove. But Brits have shortened the word and made it slang for hands. For example: “I’d love to get my mitts on a new camera!” 

Mind your P’s and Q’s – Means to be on your best behaviour. For example: “My parents are very conservative – mind your P’s and Q’s.” 

Miffed – Another way of saying you are confused or annoyed. For example: “She’s really miffed that she’s not been invited to the party.” 

N 

Not my cup of tea Means that something is not to your liking. For example: “My boyfriend loves football but it’s not my cup of tea.”

Numpty – If someone does or says something inappropriate, wrong or a bit silly you might hear a Brit saying, “You numpty!

Naff Used to describe something that is of poor or inferior taste. Example: “I don’t like my flat, the furniture is a bit naff.” 

Nosh – Slang for food. For example: “Shall we get some nosh before our lecture?” 

O 

Old chestnut If you tell the same joke or story too many times your bored friends may say, “Oh, no, not that old chestnut again,” in a sarcastic voice. 

On the lash Means to drink excessive amounts of alcohol. You may hear Brits saying, “Are you out on the lash tonight?”  

On your bikeA rude way of telling someone to go away. For example: “You’re asking me for a tenner when you still owe me thirty quid? On your bike! 

Oh my giddy aunt – An alternative to saying, “Oh my God!” Used to show shock or surprise. 

One off An expression used to describe something unique. For example: “I bought this one-off dress from a student studying fashion.”

Odds and sods – Another way of saying “bits and pieces.” For example: “My glasses were in the drawer with all the odds and sods.” 

P 

Pear-shaped – If something’s gone pear-shaped, it’s gone horribly wrong. For example: “My skiing holiday went pear-shaped after I fell off a cliff and broke both my legs.”

Piece of cake – If you describe something as a
“piece of cake” means you think it’s easy to do.  For
example you might say, “This essay is a piece of cake.”

Pip pip An old-fashioned way of saying goodbye. 

Plonk – Used to describe wine and the reference is that it isn’t the best quality wine. 

Porkies – If you are accused of telling a “porkie,” it’s means someone thinks you are lying.

Put a sock in it – If you have had enough of someone talking, you can tell them to put a sock in it.  It is totally fine to use amongst friends, but even you think your lecturer is going on a bit, we advise you keep the thought to yourself! 

Q 

Quid Slang for one-pound sterling.  

Queenie – Affectionate term Brits use to refer to Queen Elizabeth II (the current Queen).

Quasimodo – Cockney rhyming slang for soda water. 

Quack – Slang for a doctor that is suspected of not having the correct qualifications.

Queen mumCockney rhyming slang for the backside (bum). 

Queen of the southCockney rhyming slang for mouth. 

R 

Reem – Slang for something being nice, good or cool and originates from Essex. To learn how to speak Essex, you should watch The Only Way Is Essex. 

Rank – Slang for something that is horrible, in bad taste or actually smells unpleasant. 

Rosie lee – Cockney rhyming slang for a cup of tea.  

S 

See a man about a dog What you jokingly say when you don’t want to reveal where you are going, such as going to the toilet. 

Stop faffing around – If you hear this and it’s aimed at you, finish off whatever you are doing fast! The implication is you are taking too long or you are not doing it efficiently. 

Skive – If you don’t want to go to that 9am lecture (understandable) or would rather spend the afternoon in the student’s union, then suggest skiving off to a couple of like-minded people (but be prepared to be labelled a skiver by your more studious class fellows). 

Shirty – Shirty is one way to describe someone who is ill-tempered. 

Stitched up – When someone has taken advantage of you. For example, when a classmate nominates you to lead a presentation, you can certainly claim to “have been stitched up.”

Shagged – This can mean a number of things, some ruder than others. But the most common use is when someone is expressing how tired they are. 

SquidgyMeaning soft, spongy, and moist. For example: “We had a squidgy cream cake with our tea.” 

T 

Taking the piss If you hear this being used it means one person is shocked at what another person is doing or saying. 

Throw a spanner in the works – You are likely to hear this saying when something goes wrong or someone makes a mistake. 

Tickety-boo – Means OK. This term may have originated from a Hindi word meaning “everything is fine.” It’s one of those nice-sounding words you will hear when someone wants to express everything is going exceptionally well.   

Tidy – This word is often used in Wales to mean great or fantastic. For example, “They’ve done a tidy job organising this Pride festival.” 

TippleMeaning to drink alcohol, especially habitually. For example: “I do like a tipple on the weekends.” 

The offie – Short for “off-licence,” which is the equivalent to an American convenience store, licenced to sell alcohol. 

Trundle – Means to move slowly and clumsily. 

U 

Umpteen Means a relatively large but unspecified amount of something and is generally used when someone is annoyed. For example, you may hear a Brit saying, “For the umpteenth time, I said no, I will not take the dog for a walk!” 

Up for it – Slang for being enthusiastic or willing to participate. For example: “I like bowling, I’m up for it tonight.” 

Uncle ned slang for bed.

Up the spout – When you have wasted something such as money. For example,Everything I earned over the summer has gone up the spout trying to keep this flat warm.”

Under the cosh – Means to feel under pressure or restricted. For example: “She is under the cosh to deliver that project on time.”

V 

From the valleys An expression used to describe people from Wales, owing to the number of valleys (which is the low area between hills) in Wales. 

V.A.T – Slang for vodka and tonic. 

Veg-outIs slang for relaxing. As a student, you’ll want to veg-out every time an essay has been submitted. To veg-out properly you have to order pizza and find a really naff movie to watch in your jim-jams. 

Vibe – Slang for feelings, atmosphere, mood. For example, you may go to a club and say, “I like the vibe in here, the music is reem.”

VinoSlang for cheap wine. 

W 

Watering hole – One of the many slang words for a pub.

Wonky – Another word for shaky or unstable. You can use it to refer to a person or an object. For example you might say a chair has a wonky leg. 

Wrangle Means to get or do something that is a bit devious. For example: “I wrangled an extension on my essay by telling the lecturer my cat died.”

Wee – This one has two meanings. In Scotland, it means “small,” but in England it’s a euphemism for urine. If a Scottish person says they want a wee dram, they want a whiskey. If an English person says they want a wee, direct them to the nearest toilet! 

Wind-upIf you wind someone up it means you are teasing or taunting them. 

Well in it – Expression used when someone is in trouble.

X 

X-ray eyes You might use the expression “have you got X-ray eyes?” to question what a friend is telling you. For example, “How do you know Yinbo ate the rest of the pizza – do you have X-ray eyes?”

Xtra Is used to describe something that is very good. You may hear, “That double chocolate chip ice cream is xtra!”

Y 

Your round – If you go to a pub with a group of friends it is most likely that one person will buy the whole group a drink. This will continue until everyone in the group has bought a drink. If it is your turn someone may say, “It is your round.”

You’re a keeper – Used affectionately to describe someone who is nice or someone who has a good attribute. For example, you might hear, “You can cook – you’re such a keeper.”

You what Mostly Brits use this when they haven’t heard or understood what was said. On some ocasions it might be used when someone disagrees with you. You’ll know which one it is by their tone and body language. 

Yakking – Used to describe someone who talks too much about things that aren’t of interest to you. Example: “My lecturer wouldn’t stop yakking on and on today.” 

Yonks When you haven’t seen someone for a long time. Example: “God, I haven’t been to a lecture for yonks!” 

Yank my chain If you tease someone about something they are sensitive about, they might say, “Stop yanking my chain,” to tell you to stop it. 

Z 

Zonked – Is used when someone is sleeping or by someone who is expressing they are super tired. 

Zebra crossing – Is often used to describe the black and white horizontal markings on the road where pedestrians can cross. 

Catch a few Z’s Is used when you want to go to sleep.