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English Slang

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If there's one thing the English thoroughly enjoy, it's mucking around with their language. Horrified by what the Australians and Americans have done to the language of Shakespeare and Dickens, the English continue to assert their authority over their native tongue by inventing words that no self-respecting Australian or American would ever use (yes, we're talking about 'fags').

This Babelian state of affairs might be entertaining, but it can cause anything from mild embarrassment to divorce, so here's a selective list of words that the English know and love, but which might prove eye-opening to those who don't speak the Queen's English. As ever, if you know of any other words or phrases that the English use to the confusion of the rest of the world, post a message below and we'll incorporate them at the next revision.

A

  • Adam's ale - Water.

  • Anorak - A geek or nerd. A term that has been used since the 80s, an 'anorak' is always male, unfashionable and possibly a trainspotter, though now often attributed to the type of people who spend their days surfing the net.

B

  • Backhander - A payment given, normally in a secretive fashion like a bribe.

  • Banged up - To be put in prison, as in 'Did you hear John got banged up for that blag?'

  • Beer - As well as meaning the specific drink, 'beer' can also sometimes be used to refer to anything alcoholic, as in 'Where's me beer gone?'

  • Big girl's blouse - A term that has more associations with the north of England, but is also used 'down south'. Normally used as a term to playfully ridicule a young man who is a bit soft and shy. The sort of thing your uncle might say to you, as in 'Come on, put your back into it you big girl's blouse!'

  • Bladdered - Very drunk, as in 'He was completely bladdered.' In West Yorkshire this has mutated to 'blathered'.

  • Bloater - Fat person.

  • Bloke - Man.

  • Bog - Toilet.

  • Bog standard - Completely standard. It's a comparatively recent phrase which came from the type of kit car you could buy, the sort of thing that keen DIYers get up to - building their own sports car. In the factory there were several versions of the same car with optional extras, but the basic car crate with no extras was the 'Box, Standard'. This has been slightly corrupted to become 'bog standard'.

  • Bostin' - (Birmingham) More than good.

  • Box - Television, as in 'Let's see what's on the box tonight.'

  • Brass monkey, Cold enough to freeze the balls on a ... - This saying has nothing to do with the genitalia of metal simians, it's actually a naval expression. A 'monkey' was the plate on which cannon balls stood on warships, and these monkeys were made of brass because brass contracts and expands at a different rate to the iron of the cannon balls, thus stopping the balls freezing together. If it was really cold, though, the balls still froze together, hence 'cold enough to freeze the balls on a brass monkey'.

  • Brolly - Umbrella

  • Bun in the oven, To have a ... - Pregnant.

C

  • Caned - Very drunk, or suffering from the effects of something a little stronger...

  • Chelsea smile - The scar you get when you have been cut ear to ear is known as a Chelsea smile. Comes from the criminal underworld of the 60s, the Kray era.

  • Chips - Americans call the fries, the English call them chips, as in fish and chips.

  • Chronic - Terrible, extreme, as in 'I've got chronic headache.'

  • Chunder - To throw up.

  • Cobblers - Cockney rhyming slang, short for 'cobblers awls', 'balls'. Used as a general swear word much in the way 'balls' is, as in 'That's a right load of old cobblers' or as a one word disagreement 'Cobblers!'

  • Codswallop - Rubbish, as in 'He's talking codswallop.'

  • Cop off - To pull/get off with/score with someone, normally at a party or night club.

  • Cushty - Good, as in 'He's got a cushty set-up going there.'

  • Cuzzer - Slang term for a curry.

D

  • Daft a'pe'th - Yorkshire term for an idiot ('plonker' would be the more common term in the south).

  • Doing time, doing porridge, doing stir - Serving your time in prison.

  • Drang - (North Devon) very narrow lane.

  • Dumb - lessen, as in 'dumb down'.

E

  • Emmett - (Cornwall) A term for a tourist that also means 'ant', applied to tourists due to their propensity to swarm over things in a manner similar to a disturbed ant's nest. It is interesting to note that the Anangu Aboriginals of central Australia refer to tourists who climb Uluru (Ayer's Rock) as 'minga', also meaning 'ants'.

  • 'Er indoors - The wife. Meaning the one at home. Made popular by the character Arthur Daley from the TV series Minder.

F

  • Fag - Cigarette.

  • Family way, To be in the ... - Pregnant.

  • Flicks - Cinema, as in 'Have you been to the flicks recently?'

G

  • Geezer - Man.

  • Grenade - An ugly girl. This comes from the altruistic motives of two lads, who when chatting up two girls will honour a prior agreement in which one of them will 'take the grenade', i.e. cop off with the minging one. From this behaviour, 'grenade' has become a derogatory term for any member of the opposite sex.

  • Grockel - (North Devon) Tourist.

H

  • Hen party - A night out (or even a weekend away) which is hosted by a bride-to-be, attended by her bridesmaids, relatives and other friends, all of whom must be female (their partners are probably at the stag party). Attire must be fancy dress to let the local nightlife know of the impending nuptuals. This includes tutus, fairy and angel outfits complete with exposed fishnet stockings and suspenders, halos or tiaras, accessorised with plenty of pink: feather boas, long gloves, wigs etc. The bride-to-be should also be wearing an 'L' (for learner) on her back, if it will fit between the angel wings.

  • Hen's teeth - A rare thing, seldom found.

  • Hobson's Choice - To have Hobson's Choice is to have no choice at all. The phrase comes from a coachhouse-keeper in Cambridge (after whom 'Hobson's Ditch' which runs alongside Trumpington Street is also named), whose policy was that anyone looking to take one of his horses out had to have the one in the first stall by the door, rather than being able to pick the best one. He did this to ensure that all his horses were evenly used. Someone might want to take out a horse that had recently been out, which would over-tire the horse, and 'Hobson's Choice' prevented this from happening.

  • Homely - If someone is homely they are skilled in the arts of the home.

  • How's yer father - Sex, as in 'Fancy a bit of how's yer father?'

K

  • Knackered - Tired.

L

  • Lairy - Loud, brash, as in 'He's really lairy.'

  • Larging it - A modern term that comes from club culture. To 'have it large' means to go all-out to have a good time. Similar to the phrase 'up for it'.

  • Local - A common UK term for the local public house, as in 'I'll see you down the local at eight.'

  • Lollop - To laze around.

  • Loo - Toilet.

  • Lugs - Ears.

M

  • Malarkey - Stuff, nonsense. May have come from the Irish word 'mullachan' meaning 'strongly built boy' or 'ruffian'.

  • Manor - Territory, area, turf. Usually associated with the criminal underground, for example 'If I see you round my manor again you're dead!'

  • Minging - Drunk, painful, disgusting, as in 'I was totally minging last night' or 'My head is really minging'.

  • Munchies - A serious bout of hunger after or during a drinking spree, as in 'I've got the munchies, man.' Also associated with illicit substances.

  • Muppet - A foolish or stupid person, as in 'Don't be a muppet, I can't believe you're gonna do that.'

N

  • Nonce - Someone who rats on a criminal.

  • Nookie - A slightly old-hat name for sex, common in Carry On films.

  • Nutcase, nutter - Madman.

O

  • One for the road - A last drink before going home. The origin of this phrase is a bit creepy. When prisoners were condemned to be hanged at Tyburn in London they were taken there on a waggon. Their last request was to be given the choice of a drink at any ale house along the way. This was their 'one for the road'. One of the guards accompanying the prisoner was not allowed to go into the ale house and had to stay to mind the cart. He was described as being 'on the waggon' and could not have a drink, giving us another modern saying.

P

  • Packed in - Broken down, normally applied

  • Palaver - A bother or a fuss. According to the OED, palaver comes from the Portuguese palavra meaning word. Originally palaver was a prolonged conversation or discussion, but its meaning has been corrupted over the years.

  • Pants - A 90s term that is currently very popular. It can be used as an exclamation of frustration (much in the way that 'arse' is) or to describe something that is bad or rubbish, as in 'Did you watch the Arsenal match, wasn't it pants?' Sometimes prefixed by 'a load of old' or 'complete'.

  • Pear-shaped - When something has 'gone pear-shaped' it has gone wrong. Probably derived from the sagging shape of a pear.

  • Pee - To urinate.

  • Pig in a poke - To buy a pig in a poke is to buy something that you haven't checked over and know very little about. In olden days when people went to market a common trick was to put a cat or kitten into a bag (a poke) and tell unwary or gullible members of the public that it was a fine piglet. Cats were pretty much worthless while piglets were prized. The idea was to sell it without letting the person look into the bag. From the same situation we get a second saying, 'to let the cat out of the bag', i.e. to reveal the (unpleasant) surprise.

  • Plastered - Very drunk.

  • Plonker - A stupid person.

  • Point Percy at the porcelain - To urinate (for men).

  • Powder your nose - Originally a euphenism for going to the toilet, but modern usage is as a euphemism for taking cocaine, as in 'Dave's just nipped off to powder his nose.'

  • Prat - Idiot.

  • Puke - To throw up.

R

  • Rag - Newspaper or magazine.

  • Raining cats and dogs - Heavy rain. This has to do with the fifteenth century or so when a thatched roof was the favourite place for animals to live, but when it rained, the roof would get soggy, and the cats and dogs would fall into the house (or, I suppose, just slide off from time to time).

  • Ring-piece - Relatively common term for the anus, as in 'That curry I had last night has scorched my ring-piece.'

  • Rubber - A pencil eraser.

  • Rubber johnny - Condom.

S

  • Shag - To have sex, but also used to mean tiredness as in 'I'm totally shagged.'

  • Shake hands with the unemployed - To go to the toilet (for men).

  • Shanks's pony, Going on ... - To walk. The original Shanks's pony was a horse-drawn lawnmower with nowhere for the driver to sit, so he had to walk along behind.

  • Shattered - Tired.

  • Shrapnel - The term used to describe the inordinately large amount of small change discovered in your pocket after a piss up.

  • Siphon the python - To go to the toilet (for men).

  • Slash - To go to the toilet, as in 'I'm going for a slash.'

  • Smallest room in the house - Euphemism for toilet.

  • Squire - A general term of address towards a man, similar to 'guvnor'.

  • Stag night - Also referred to as a 'stag do', this is the traditional last party thrown by a bachelor before he gets married (known as a 'bachelor party' in the US and 'buck's night' in Australia).

T

  • Take a leak - To urinate (generally for men).

  • Taters (pronounced Tay-ters) - Cold, as in 'It's right taters today.'

  • Technicolour yawn, Produce a ... - To throw up, normally after consuming too much alcohol.

  • Thick as two short planks - Stupid.

  • Tooled-up - To arm oneself, usually with improvised weapons like bottles or sticks, as in 'There was a right ruck dahn the pub last night and then these headcases got tooled-up!'

  • Trashed - Common term for getting very drunk, as in 'We got completely trashed last night.'

  • Trolleyed - Very drunk.

U

  • Up for it - To be willing to have a good time. Also (for a woman) to be sexually available.

V

  • Visit the little girl's (or boy's) room - To go to the toilet.

W

  • Wazzock - Foolish person.

  • Wedge - Money, from the appearance of a number of folded notes. Examples of its use are 'I got paid a fair old wedge for doin' that job' or 'Are you wedged-up and ready to go ?'

  • Wee - Children 'go for a wee' when they need to go to the toilet. What they produce is known as 'wee-wee'.

  • Window licker - A name for the sort of nutter who sits next to you on the bus and does something weird.

  • Wrecked - Drunk or tired.

Y

  • Yon - Over there, derived from yonder, as in 'Yon tree' meaning 'That tree over there'.

A Note on English Swearwords

There was once a time when words like 'crikey', 'blimey', 'sugar' and 'bug's whiskers' were in common usage. Although not actually rude the important thing was they sounded rude and so sufficed in an instance of swear word necessity, like, for example, banging your thumb with a hammer and crying 'Oh, bug's whiskers!'; or in a moment of exhaustion shouting 'Crikey, I'm absolutely keggered!'

These days however real expletives are perfectly acceptable and so the traditional English swear word substitute has gone the way of the dodo.


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