60 British phrases that will confuse anybody who didn't grow up in the UK

60 British phrases that will confuse anybody who didn't grow up in the UK
  • From "chockablock" to a "full Monty," the Brits have a wide range of interesting slang words.

  • You don't want to be described as "dim," "a mug," or "a few sandwiches short of a picnic."

  • If you're "zonked" or "cream crackered," you might want to take a nap.

Brits have an interesting vernacular that includes words and phrases that might confuse many Americans.

Some terms, like "dim," "a mug," or "a few sandwiches short of a picnic," can be used as colorful insults, while being called "cheeky" can be either negative or positive, depending on the context.

In a business setting, you might want to avoid certain words or phrases while conversing with Brits so as not to offend them, or incorporate their terms into your presentations or marketing materials if you want to relate with British clients or customers.

Here are 60 British phrases that will confuse anybody who didn't grow up in the UK.

An earlier version of this story was written by Bobbie Edsor.

"A few sandwiches short of a picnic" means someone who lacks common sense.

A picnic with sandwiches.Malcolm P Chapman/Getty Images

The phrase was first documented in the BBC's "Lenny Henry Christmas Special" in 1987.

"She's great fun, but she's a few sandwiches short of a picnic."

"Anorak" refers to someone who's a little bit geeky, with strong interests or expertise in a niche area.

nerd fashion

Although it's more often used as a synonym for raincoat, an anorak is something slightly different in playground slang. This word probably originates from the "uncool" appearance of anorak coats and the people wearing them.

"Thomas is such an anorak when it comes to train trivia."

"Bagsy" is the equivalent of calling "shotgun" or "dibs" when something, like the front seat of the car or food, is offered up to a group.

chicken dinner people eating
People grabbing chicken off a serving plate at a family-style dinner.EyeWolf/Getty Images

School kids might call "bagsy" on items in their friends' pack lunches, like an apple or a cereal bar, that the friend isn't going to eat.

"Does anyone want thi—"


"Bee's knees" refers to something at the "height of cool."

honey production bees
Beekeepers.Manuel Medir/Getty Images

This phrase became mainstream in the USA in the 1920s despite its British origins, but its popularity in the States has dwindled since the turn of the century.

The "bee's knees" referred to small or insignificant details when it was first documented in the 18th century. Since then, the phrase has evolved and refers to something popular or cool.

"The Beatles are the bee's knees."

A "bender" is an extended period of drinking, usually in excess.

People drinking cocktails.HEX/Getty Images

Someone on a spree of excessive drinking and mischief is "on a bender." Benders can last over 24 hours, and so you might say that someone is on "a weekend bender," or a "three-day bender."

"I bumped into him towards the end of his four-day bender. He was a wreck."

A "bird" is an informal word for a girl or young woman.

singing birds
Birds.Taufik Ardiansyah/Shutterstock

While the phrase can be interpreted as misogynistic, it's still commonly used. It's usually used to describe a woman between the ages of 18 and 50, particularly one who is attractive.

"Look at that bird over there. She's fit."

To "pull a blinder" involves achieving something difficult faultlessly and skillfully.

people playing soccer
People playing soccer.skynesher/Getty Images

The phrase is most commonly used when the individual has been lucky and the person saying it is in disbelief that the first person has managed to pull it off.

"And did you see that equalizing goal in the last minute of injury time? He pulled a blinder there."

"Bloody" or "bleeding" is used to add emphasis to adjectives, similar to how "wicked" is used in New England.

ron weasley
Ron Weasley in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stoner."Warner Bros

The origins of the word are widely disputed. Some believe it's derived from the Dutch word "blute," meaning "bare." Others believe the word is a contraction of the 17th-century phrase "by our lady," and is blasphemous.

This second theory has been disproved, however, by the slang's first documentation predating the widespread use of the phrase "by our lady."

Nowadays, "bloody" is used widely — it's even used in children's films such as "Harry Potter" — and is arguably one of the most quintessentially British words on the list.

"That was bloody good."

"Bob's your uncle" is the very British equivalent to "hey presto!" or "et voilá!"

snapping fingers
Snapping fingers.Nisara Tangtrakul/EyeEm/Getty Images

This phrase is often used to describe a process that seems more difficult than it actually is.

"Press down the clutch, put it into gear, then slowly ease off the clutch again. Bob's your uncle — you're driving!"

Something that is "bog-standard" is completely ordinary with no frills, embellishments, or add-ons.

empty dining room
Empty dining room.Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

Its origins are somewhat unclear, but a "bog" is another word for a toilet in British slang, adding to the connotations that something "bog-standard" is unglamorous and unspecial.

"How was the hostel?" "Oh, nothing exciting to report. Just your bog-standard dorm, really."

The "boot" of a car is the trunk in American English.

car boot
Car boot.supergenijalac/Shutterstock

A popular pastime in the United Kingdom is attending or having your own "car boot sale," in which people usually sell knick-knacks and old personal items out of the back of their cars.

"Shove the shopping in the boot."

A "botch job" is a repair job that's been completed in a hurry and will probably fall apart reasonably soon.

broken tv
A broken TV on a shelf.rawf8/Shutterstock

A "botch job" can also refer to anything that's been done haphazardly, like a work assignment.

"Sam did a botch job on these shelves — they're wonky!"

A "brolly" is a shortened word for an umbrella.

meghan harry umbrella australia
Meghan Markle holding an umbrella over Prince Harry.Ian Vogler/PA Images via Getty Images

On a rainy day in London, you would definitely want a brolly on hand.

"Grab your brolly, it's drizzling outside."

"Budge up" is similar to "scoot over" or "move over."

People sharing a park bench.
People sharing a park bench.Westend61/Getty Images

An informal way of asking someone to make room where they are sitting for you to sit down, too, would be asking them to "budge up."

"Hey, there's loads of room on that bench. Budge up and make some room for us, too!"

"Builder's tea" is the name of a strongly brewed cup of English breakfast tea with milk and sugar.

english breakfast tea
English breakfast tea.Emma Fierberg/Business Insider

It's common courtesy to offer a laborer or builder working on your house a builder's tea while they're working — especially if they're working out in the cold. This is probably how the term came about.

"A bacon sandwich and a builder's tea. Now that's a proper breakfast."

"Butcher's hook" is Cockney rhyming slang for "look."

Butcher handling sausages.Westend61/Getty Images

Therefore, if you're "having a butchers," you're having a look at something.

"Would you take a butchers at this broken bike for me?"

"Cheeky" refers to an act that could be deemed as impolite or shameless, but for some reason comes across as funny or endearing to others.

child with marker on face
A child with marker on his face.Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

"Being cheeky" means being funny or humorous, but slightly mischievous at the same time.

"Joe's children are absolute rascals — they tied my shoelaces together last week!"

"Those cheeky monkeys."

A "chinwag" is a chat or conversation.

Couple talking
A couple having a conversation.Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

A "good old chinwag" is a good chat, catch-up, or gossip with someone.

The action of chatting away — with the jaw bobbing up and down — resembles a chin "wagging" like a dog's tail.

"Those two are having a proper chinwag — I haven't been able to get a word in edgeways for half an hour!"

"Chockablock" could be used to describe something that's full to the brim or rammed.

Bumper to bumper traffic
Bumper-to-bumper traffic.Tetra Images/Getty Images

This is sometimes shortened to "chocka." The phrase is most often used to describe heavy road traffic.

"We should've taken the other route. This road is chocka!"

"Chuffed" means overjoyed and full of pride.

happy group
A happy group of people.Klaus Vedfelt/getty Images

If you get a promotion or meet someone special, you might describe yourself as "chuffed."

"I heard you got the promotion. Congratulations! You must be chuffed."

"Codswallop" means something untrue, often made up for dramatic effect.

lie detector
A person taking a lie detector test.Edward Kitch/AP

Although no one is completely sure of the word's origins, it could derive from the words "cod" and "wallop," which historically meant "imitation" and "beer" respectively — implying that "codswallop" is the kind of rubbish you make up when drunk.

"Oh, what a load of codswallop!"

"Cream crackered" is Cockney rhyming slang for "knackered," or incredibly tired.

man on computer tired
A person tired at their desk.shapecharge/Getty Images

The term probably came about due to the fact that it rhymes with "knacker." A "knacker" was the person who slaughtered worn-out horses in the 19th and 20th centuries for their meat, hoofs, and hide. So, if you're "ready for the knacker's yard," you're exhausted beyond relief.

"This week's done me in already, and it's only Tuesday. I'm cream crackered."

"Dench" is an adjective used to advocate something that is impressive or agreeable.

Spaghetti alla carbonara
Spaghetti alla carbonara.Nattaphat Littlekop/Getty Images

Dench is the equivalent of "solid" or "cool" when used in response to someone else.

Its reported creator, British rapper Lethal Bizzle, elusively told The Guardian that the word "means anything you want."

"I'm going to make us spaghetti carbonara for dinner."


"Dim" refers to someone who lacks common knowledge.

dim lightbulb
A dim lightbulb.Oleksandr Filon/Getty Images

On the other hand, someone who's intelligent might be described as "bright."

"She's a bit dim."

A "doddle" is an easy task.

Math homework
A person doing homework.NurPhoto / Contributor / Getty

The word could be a variation of "toddle" — like a young child's first steps.

"This will be a doddle."

A "dog's dinner" is a mess or fiasco.

dog toilet paper mess
A dog making a mess.Shutterstock

It is also sometimes referred to as a "dog's breakfast."

"You've made a dog's dinner of that paint job."

To "faff" or "faff about" is to waste time doing very little.

Ordering food cell phone on couch
A person sitting on a couch on their phone.Oscar Wong/Getty Images

"Faff" comes from the 17th-century word "faffle," which means to flap about in the wind.

"What did you do on your day off from work?"

"We were just faffing about."

"Fit" is used to describe someone physically attractive, usually referring to their physique.

zac efron
Zac Efron.Brendon Thorne/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

If you see someone you find attractive, you would call them "fit."

"He's fit."

To "flog" means to sell something, usually quickly and cheaply.

Selling old books
A woman browses a box of old books.Westend61/Getty Images

"Flogging" also refers to whipping a racehorse in order to make it move faster, so there is some speculation into whether you flog goods in order to make them shift faster, too. However, there is no proof for this theory.

"I'm trying to flog my old sofa. Do you know anyone who might be interested?"

A "full Monty" refers to pursuing something to the absolute limits.

british roast dinner
British roast dinner.Emma Farrer/Getty Images

After "The Full Monty" film was released in 1997, there was some international confusion over the phrase, which it was taken as a euphemism for stripping. However, "the full Monty" now usually refers to taking something as far as it can go, similar to "the whole nine yards."

"The full Monty" historically refers to an old tailor called Sir Montague Burton. Going "the full Monty" meant purchasing a full three-piece suit, a shirt, and all of the trimmings.

"Our Christmas dinner had everything from sprouts to Yorkshire puddings. If you're going to have a roast, have the full Monty!"

"Full of beans" can be used to describe someone who's energetic, lively, or enthusiastic.

Spectators at the Gay Pride Parade in Greenwich Village.
Spectators at the Gay Pride Parade in Greenwich Village.DanielBendjy/Getty Images

This phrase could be a reference to coffee beans, although these claims have been disputed.

"Goodness, you're full of beans this morning!"

"Gaff" is an informal word for "home."

house with artwork
A house with artwork and decorations.Andreas von Einsiedel/Getty Images

Although the origins of this phrase are largely unknown, a gaff in the 18th-century was a music hall or theater, and so it's believed to derive from this.

"What are you up to this weekend? We've got a party at our gaff, if you fancy it?"

A "geezer" is a man who could be described as "suave" or "dapper," and is often suited and booted.

man business suit texting
A man in a business suit texting.Shutterstock

Men from east London are also commonly referred to as "geezers," where the term is more interchangeable with "lad."

Geezer is thought to stem from the 15th century "guiser," which meant well-dressed.

"That guy's got such swagger — he's a proper geezer."

"Gutted" means devastated or extremely upset.

Sad children
A sad child.Ute Grabowsky / Contributor/Getty Images

If your favorite football team were to lose, you'd be "gutted."

"I was absolutely gutted."

"Innit" is an abbreviation of "isn't it," most commonly used amongst teenagers and young people.

friends hanging out outside
Friends hanging out outside.iStock

This phrase is used to confirm or agree with something that another person has just said.

"It's really cold today."


A "kip" is slang for a short sleep or nap.

Napping Airport
A person napping at the airport.Thomas Lohnes/Getty

The term is usually used to refer to a nap, but it can also mean a long sleep.

"What a long day. When we get home, I'm going to take a quick kip."

"Leg it" means to make a run for it, run away, or escape.

bears iraq
People run away as Kurdish animal rights activists release a bear into the wild after rescuing bears from captivity in people's homes.Ari Jalal/Reuters

It's used most commonly when you're trying to get out of a situation by physically running away.

"That's when all of the lights came on, and so we legged it."

"Miffed" means slightly irritated or annoyed.

annoyed couple
An annoyed couple.Tara Moore/Getty Images

"Miffed" possibly derives from the German "muffen," meaning "to sulk."

"I was a bit miffed, I can't lie."

"Mint" might be used when referring to something of the highest caliber.

Mint.Oxana Denezhkina/Shutterstock

It's derived from "mint condition," which refers to something pre-owned that retains its pristine condition — although something that's just "mint" doesn't have to be pre-owned.

"Those shoes are mint!"

"Mortal" describes someone highly intoxicated or drunk in a sloppy manner.

drunk texting at the bar
A man drunk texting at a bar.South_agency/Getty Images

Derived from the Newcastle sociolect, "mortal" was made widely known across the country in 2011 by the reality TV show "Geordie Shore."

"Did you see Scott last night? He was mortal."

A "mug" is someone who has been made a fool of.

clown clown shoes
Clown shoes.sturti/Getty Images

"Mug" likely originated in London with Cockney slang. It means a stupid, often gullible, person who is easily taken advantage of.

"You signed that contract? You're such a mug."

In the same vein, to "mug off" someone is to make a fool of them, usually by deceiving or cheating on them.

Couple cheating
Peter Cade/Getty Images

The phrase is common on the hit British reality show "Love Island."

"He's going on a date with Amber? I feel so mugged off right now."

"You're mugging me off."

To "nick" something means to steal it.

stealing purse
Pickpocketing.Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

"The Nick" can refer to a prison. The origins of the phrase are largely debated online, however, it's believed that "to nick" as in to steal influenced the slang term for prison, as being imprisoned is similar to being "stolen" away.

"Did you just nick that?"

"Don't get caught, or you'll end up in the Nick!"

Someone who's "on the pull" has gone out, usually on a night out, with the intention of attracting a sexual partner.

club, dancing, edm
People dancing at a club.Reuters

"Pull" can also be used as a verb. If you've "pulled," you've kissed someone.

"You look nice. Are you going on the pull?"

"Pants" means something is rubbish, trash, or garbage.


It's most often used to say something is unsatisfactory, like "blows" or "reeks," rather than actual trash.

"That is pants."

A "pea-souper" is a thick fog, often with a yellow or black tinge, caused by air pollution.

Woman smog skyline pollution mask
A smoggy city.d3sign/Getty Images

The idiom was first used to describe the thick, choking smog that settled over London, caused by lots of people burning fossil fuels in close vicinity, as early as 1200 c.e.

The smogs were compared to pea soup due to their color and density.

"Be careful when you're driving — it's a pea-souper out there."

To "pop your clogs" means to die.

A morgue.Felipe Mahecha/Shutterstock

This cheery phrase is widely believed to originate from Northern factory workers around the time of the industrial revolution. When they were working on the factory floor, employees had to wear hard clogs to protect their feet.

The idea is when someone popped, or cocked, their clogs, the toes of the clogs pointed up in the air as they lay down dead.

"Did you hear what happened to John's old man? He popped his clogs, didn't he..."

"Poppycock" means something that is nonsense, rubbish, or simply untrue.

Poppy flower.REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Not referring to actual poppies, this quintessentially British idiom derives from the Dutch "pap" and "kak," which translate as "soft" and "dung."

"What a load of poppycock!"

"Quids in" means invested in something, sometimes — but not always — financially.

british pounds money cash
British money.Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Someone who's "quids in" has invested in an opportunity that is probably going to benefit them massively.

"Quid" is British slang for "pounds." For example, "five quid" means £5.

"If it all works out as planned, he'll be quids in."

"Shirty" could be used to describe someone who is short-tempered or irritated.

Angry man arguing during conference call on laptop
Angry businessman arguing during video call over a computer.skynesher

The meaning of this slang has been debated at length.

The word "shirt" is derived from the Norse for "short," hence short-tempered. However, other people believe that "shirty" has connotations of being disheveled.

"Don't get shirty with me, mister."

"Skew-whiff" means askew.

crooked picture art
Crooked picture frame hanging on the wall.dja65/Getty Images

It means literally tilted on one side rather than slightly off or uneasy, as askew can mean in the US.

"Is it just me or is that painting a bit skew-whiff?"

To "skive" is to avoid work or school, often by pretending to be ill.

thorpe park
Thorpe Park theme park.ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

"Skive" is derived from the French "esquiver," meaning "to slink away."

"He skived off school so we could all go to Thorpe Park on a weekday."

"Smarmy" is used to describe someone who comes across as scheming or untrustworthy.

smirking man
A smirking man.Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Although the adjective's origins remain largely unknown, early documented uses seem to use the word as synonymous with "smear," further suggesting that someone who is "smarmy" is also "slick" or "slippery."

"Don't trust him — he's a smarmy geezer."

"Take the biscuit" is used similarly to "take the cake."

tea and biscuits
Tea and biscuits.Shutterstock /mcmc

"Taking the biscuit" is the equivalent of taking the nonexistent medal for foolishness or incredulity.

If someone has done something highly irritating or surprising in an exasperating fashion, you might say that they've "taken the biscuit."

"I could just about deal with the dog barking at 5:30 a.m., but the lawnmower at 3 a.m. really takes the biscuit."

To "take the Mickey" means to take liberties at the expense of others.

mickey mouse happy disney world reopen
Mickey Mouse leaps in the air while crossing the street with a fan in Toronto.Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It can be used in both a lighthearted and an irritated fashion.

"Take the Mickey" is an abbreviation of "taking the Mickey Bliss," which is Cockney rhyming slang for "take the p***."

"Hey! Don't take the Mickey."

To "waffle" means to talk at length while not getting to the point.

waffle and berry
Waffles.Rachel T./Yelp

When someone makes a great speech while skirting around a subject or saying little of any value, you might say that they're talking "waffle," or that they're "waffling."

In the 17th century, to "waff" meant to yelp, and that quickly evolved to mean to talk foolishly or indecisively.

"I wish he'd stop waffling on."

"What a load of waffle!"

A "wally" is someone silly or incompetent.

silly, goofy, young, surprise
Two people making silly faces.iStock

Although its origins are largely debated, the term's meaning has evolved over the last 50 years alone. In the 1960s, someone who was unfashionable might be nicknamed a "wally," according to Dictionary.com.

"Don't put down a leaking mug on top of the newspaper, you wally!"

To "whinge" means to moan, groan, and complain in an irritating or whiny fashion.

Clare Crawley on "The Bachelorette."The Bachelor/ABC

It is often deemed as unnecessary or over-the-top.

"Quit whinging."

"Wind your neck in" means to mind your own business.

giraffe and calves
A giraffe.brytta/Getty Images

If you want to tell someone to not concern themselves with issues that don't directly affect them, you might tell them to "wind their neck in."

This classic phrase is another way of telling someone that their opinion is not appreciated in the given scenario.

 "Wind your neck in and stop being so nosy!"

"Zonked" means exhausted or tired.

Family sleeping in bedroom
A family sleeping.Ray Kachatorian/Getty Images

It can also refer to someone already asleep or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"I was going to go out tonight but when I finished work I was absolutely zonked."

"When I got home, he was already zonked."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was published on November 3, 2017, on Business Insider UK.

Read the original article on Business Insider