Here’s our guide to the choicest British slang, insults and phrases:
The British language has many nuances, something Shakespeare made use of back in the day. Today, there may not be as many poets and playwrights playing around with language as there was then (or rather: there are more, they just play with language less as a general rule as plays are no longer written in verse).
But whether you’re going to the Old Blighty yourself, or trying to complete a course in British literature, it’s good to know some common terms, phrases and, possibly, curses. Just knowing English isn’t enough—you have to understand the slang.
The Brits are as fond of slang (some dating back centuries) as the rest of the world. And they have some rather funny examples of how you can use one word to say many different things, chief among them being the word piss. Yes, piss.
You see, there’s a difference between it pissing down, you getting pissed, you being pissed off, you taking a piss and you taking the piss. All five have distinctively different meanings.
Intrigued? You should be. Read on to unravel the mystery (and learn how to tell someone to F off in proper British English—using the Queen’s accent, naturally).
N.B. these are not always dictionary translation of words, but rather a Brit’s take on them.
Table of Contents
Nitwit: silly, or foolish, person—she’s such a nitwit
He’s a knob: he’s a dick/idiot
Dick: an idiot
Off their rocker: mad—they were off their rocker, they were
Mad as a hatter: mad—stemming from back in the day when hatters used a manufacturing process for felt that, indeed, made them mad (mercury poisoning)
Gormless: clueless; slow witted
Bugger off: go away; run along
Prick: dick; asshole—he’s a prick that one
Tosser: someone who doesn’t have it all together
Daft: silly;stupid—oh, don’t be daft
Daft cow: silly; stupid (referring to a woman)
Cockwomble: idiot; foolish; obnoxious
An angry Tweeter, after Brexit was announced and Trump made a statement that the Scots had made a wise decision to leave the EU—they voted to remain in the EU—called Donald Trump a “polyester cockwomble.”
Never say the Scots aren’t inventive where language is concerned! It is almost Shakespearean prose! Shakespeare was actually prone to using “colourful” language and invented his own words and phrases.
British Exclamations & Swear Words
Blasted: usually in relation to something going terribly wrong; you wouldn’t use it if something good happened
Blast it: dammit;
Dog’s bollocks: a person or thing that’s the best of it’s kind (it’s the dog’s bollocks!). The literal meaning? The dog’s balls!
Bloody hell: oh my God—usually in relation to something extremely good, or bad happening
Hell’s bloody bells (or: hell’s bells): oh my God—usually in relation to something bad happening, but not always
Bloody brilliant: wonderful
Blooming brilliant: a nicer way of saying bloody brilliant
Bloody marvellous: wonderful
Blooming marvellous: a nicer way of saying bloody marvellous
Damn: oh no
Nutter: crazy person
Bonkers: crazy—he was bonkers
Blast it: sod it
Sod it: blast it; damn it
Hell and damnation: damn
Fanny Adams: obsolete; nothing (derogatory)
Sweet Fanny Adams: same as Fanny Adams
That’s rubbish: that’s stupid; that’s silly; that’s nonsense
Lost the plot: someone who’s lost the plot is someone who’s gone crazy—after the breakup I believe he lost the plot
Blimey: my goodness; oh my God
Bollocks: literally it means balls, but the real meaning is damn, bloody hell, or similar, when expressed angrily
While Brits are known to be polite, with their stiff upper lips, they are also experts at swearing. “Hell’s bloody bells, that’s bloody marvellous!” would be a display of great happiness, not rudeness. Swearing is used as much when one is happy as when one is annoyed.
If you want examples of how Brits speak, swear words included, watch the Bridget Jones and Kingsmen movies. Those movies also display many of the different accents—in both franchises Colin Firth speaks using RP (Queen’s English) and Taron Egerton has an East London dialect.
Taking the piss: mocking someone/something, or making fun of someone/something
Taking a piss: going for a wee
Pissing down: raining a lot (a proper downpour)
Being pissed off: being angry
Being pissed: being drunk
Not too bad: good
Put the kettle on literally means to put the kettle on, but is used to offer comfort, relieve a crisis, warm up, aid an investigation, provide courage, show you care…the list goes on. Whatever the matter, or just to have a natter, the Brits put the kettle on.
British Slang & Common Expressions
Mate: friend, brother (the equivalent of South Africa’s “bru” and similar to the Americans’ “dude”)
Cock up: screw up; something went wrong
Nob: someone of a high social status
Give someone a bell: call someone (and for some reason, when asking someone to call you, you use plural in some accents—give us a bell when the dress is ready, will you?)
Chuffed: proud; happy—I was chuffed I passed the exams
Fancy: like—I’ve taken a fancy to those shoes
Knock off: a copy of the real deal (such as a coy of a Chanel bag)
Wonky: unstable; used in everyday language to explain something isn’t quite right
Sorted: arranged; well taken care of; someone who have their interests taken care of, such as being wealthy—after receiving that inheritance, he’s sorted
Cup of tea: indication that you like something; your preference—that’s my cup of tea
Rozzer: police officer
Miffed: upset; disappointed
Full of beans: energetic; lively
Snog: make out
Get off: make out; snog—they were getting off in the living room
Hoover is the name of a vacuum cleaner company (that now also produces other goods). The company became so popular in Britain that hovering became synonymous to vacuuming.
William Henry “Boss” Hoover was the original founder of the company (a relative of his invented a basic vacuum machine and sold the patent to Hoover after his wife became impressed using the machine).
The company was originally named the Electric Suction Sweeper Company, but the name was changed after Hoover’s death.
Wicked: great; amazing; brilliant. Can also mean very—the band was wicked loud. Also, means twisted, mean, or mad—that was a wicked witch
Dodgy: suspicious; not quite right; dishonest—that man was dodgy
A tad: a little bit—it was a tad on the dark side
Toff: a person from the upper classes
Lost the plot: someone who’s lost the plot is someone who’s gone crazy—after the breakup I believe he lost the plot
Bollocking: being punished—he had a good bollocking
Car boot sale: yard sale; flea market
Quite right: that’s right
Right you are: that’s right
Donkey’s years: ages—it hadn’t happened in donkey’s years
Peanuts: very cheap—I had it for peanuts at the local shop
Fortnight: two weeks
Horses for courses: what’s fitting for one case isn’t fitting for another. This came from racehorses being best suited at performing on racecourses
Float my boat: something agrees with you—that man floats my boat
John Thomas: penis
Plastered: drunk—he was plastered
CV: curriculum vitae; resumé
Damp squib: an event that one thought would be great, but turns out miserable, or disappointing
Chock-a-block: closely packed together—the traffic was chock-a-block
Chunder: to vomit
Jammy dodger: being lucky
Jammie Dodgers are a type of biscuits which were named after the Beano comics character Rodger the Dodger, who managed to dodge chores and homework.
Hence, the term jammy dodger became associated with someone who had undeserved luck.
Kerfuffle: a fuss, or commotion, usually related to opposing views
Meat and two veg: men’s genitalia
Chav: white trash
Cream crackered: very tired. Originated as a rhyme on knackered
Chavtastic: so appalling a chav would enjoy it
It’s monkeys outside: it’s cold outside
It’s monkeys outside comes from the phrase: “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” This actually does not mean what you think it does.
A brass monkey wasn’t a statue in brass depicting a monkey, but a brass stand where cannon balls were stacked. Possibly, the cannon balls were more likely to fall off in cold weather.
Laughing gear: mouth—usually a rude way of telling someone to be quiet would be to tell them to shut their laughing gear
The old Bill: constable (a.k.a. police officer)
Bang to rights: caught in the act—he was bang to rights thieving around
Stag night: bachelor’s party
Hen night: bachelorette party
Bellend: tip of the penis
Skive: appearing to work while in fact avoiding it
Loo: toilet; bathroom—I’m going to the loo
Punter: a prostitute or strip joint’s customer
Nick: steal—he nicked a diamond right out under her nose
Scouser: someone from Liverpool
Bits and bobs: different things—we had a few bits and bobs stored away in the cupboard
Chips: french fries
Chap: man; boy; friend—there’s a good chap
Bog roll: toilet paper
Shambles: disarray; mess—the room was in shambles
It’s gone to shambles: it’s gone down the drain
Anorak: someone obsessively or overly interested in something
Off to Bedfordshire: off to bed
I’ve got the hump: I’m feeling grumpy
Cock up: mess; misunderstanding
Off to spend a penny: going to the toilet
Dishy: good looking—he’s dishy
Bob’s your uncle: your success is guaranteed; there you go; that’s it
In 1887 Prime Minister Robert Cecil (Bob), appointed his nephew, Arthur Balfour, as Chief Secretary for Ireland. It was an apparent case of favouritism.
As such, the phrase “Bob’s your uncle” came to mean “you’re guaranteed success,” or “that’s it,” or “it’s sorted.”
Pants: knickers; panties
On the pull: looking for love
Easy peasy: super easy
See a man about a dog: excuse oneself for a short person of time, whether to use the bathroom, or do something else
A spanner in the works: something that disrupts smooth operation or functioning—he threw a spanner in the works to prevent her from succeeding in her venture
Know one’s onions: knowing of that which you speak; being knowledgeable
Dog’s dinner: a mess—it was a tog’s dinner when we arrived at the crime scene
How’s your father?: sex
To have a butcher’s: to have a look
A spot of: a little bit of—let’s have a spot of tea
Have a natter: have a chat (usually leaning towards gossip, or just chatting away without much depth to the conversation)
Up the duff: being pregnant
Strawberry creams: a woman’s breasts
Shag: have sex
Bonk someone: have sex with someone
Bonking: having sex. Here’s a quote form Bridget Jones’ Diary 3: “You need some good old-fashioned lie-back-and-think-of-England bonking.”
Hard line: misfortune; bad luck
In for a penny, in for a pound: if you started something, you may as well go full out and really dive into it (it stems from the fact that back in the day, if you owed a penny you might as well owe a pound due to the severity of the penalties being about the same)
Cheers: a toast, or thank you
Lass: girl; woman (esp. Scottish)
Lad: boy; man
Aye: yes (esp. Scottish)
Death warmed up: pale or sickly—he looked like death warmed up
Laugh like a drain: to laugh with a loud, coarse, sound
Laugh up one’s sleeve: to laugh secretly, or to oneself
Bright as a button: very smart, or cheery
Old Blighty: Britain
Full Monty: the whole package; everything—it was the full Monty. Can also mean to be in the nude, as you show everything
Fanny around: delay; procrastinate
Gobsmacked: amazed; shocked
Eating irons: cutlery
Chivvy along: hurry up
Stonking: impressively large; exciting
Box clever: to act wisely
Across the pond: across the Atlantic Ocean, meaning the United States, which you find across the pond
Do a runner: leave abruptly, usually without fulfilling a commitment
Cack-handed: an awkward or inept way of doing something—that was a cack-handed way of repairing the sink
Cack-handed possibly comes from the idea that people use their right hand to eat and their left hand to wipe their bottoms. And if you use your left hand when you’re right handed, you’re bound to make a mess. It could also come from the fact that people who are cack-handed make a mess.
Make the running: set the pace; being more involved than others in a situation
Double Dutch: gibberish; incomprehensible
Take the mickey: take the piss; make fun of someone
Wag off: leave early from school, work, or some other duty. Can also mean to warn someone off something or someone
Queer: weird, odd, strange, slightly unwell—I’m feeling queer Also, gay; homosexual
Bees knees: awesome; fantastic
Queer someone’s plans: spoil someone’s plans or chances of doing something, especially secretly or maliciously
Hard cheese: tough luck; bad luck; hard lines—usually referring to someone going through misfortune
In the club: pregnant—she’s in the club
Kick one’s heels: pass time while waiting for something
Leave the field clear; leave the field open: not competing (or stop competing) with someone so that they can succeed
Heath Robinson: an overly complicated or ingenious machine which usually serves a simple purpose
William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) was a British Cartoonist. He was famous for humorous illustrations of fantastical inventions, involving complicated machinery that often served a simple purpose. In short, overcomplicated, fancy looking machines.
Money for old rope: money paid for goods of poor value
Not cricket: not fair; dishonest; immortal
Botch: do a bad job with something—she botched us when painting that painting
Her Majesty’s pleasure: prison. It comes from Her Majesty’s Prison—HMP
Lush: pleasing; desirable—she was lush
Cram: squeeze something in; to stuff; sometimes in relation to learning something—I was cramming before the exam
Pukka: excellent; first class
First class: excellent; brilliant; pukka
Wind-up merchant: a teaser; someone who likes winding people up; someone who like playing practical jokes on people
Dog in the manger: someone who withholds something they cannot use themselves
Dog in the manger comes from a story about a dog who withheld the hay in a manager from other animals, even though he wasn’t interested in eating it himself.
Nip; nip out: go somewhere for a short amount of time—I’m just going to nip to the shop
Gaffer: director; manager (also: electrician on film sets)
Curate’s egg: something that’s partially good and partially bad
Go spare: becoming extremely angry, or distraught
Riot: great time—the party was a riot
Off one’s chump: mad
Watering hole: pub
Argy-bargy: noisy quarrelling
Knees-up: a party where people dance
Numpty: reckless, unwise, or absentminded person
Dander: walk—going for a dander
Big girl’s blouse: wimpy; emasculate; weak man
Naff: lame; uncool; unfashionable
Have a bash: have a go; attempt at doing something—I’ve never done it before, but I’ll have a bash at it
Lose your marbles: lose your mind; go mad—I was losing my marbles over one silly little argument
At loose ends: not knowing what to do in a situation, or not having anything to do (boredom)—I was at loose ends with the whole thing (meaning: I didn’t know what to do with the whole thing)
Tickety-boo: when something is going smoothly
Apples and pears: Cockney rhyme for stairs
While the term “cockney” originally referred to city dwellers, later Londoners and even later those from East London (a working class area) and their dialect—Cockney English—it now means the working class dialect in London and those who speak it.
Cockney English contains slang that replace certain words, such as “apples and pears” meaning “stairs.” “Run up the apples and pears to fetch a pitcher, please.” The words replacing a word, as a general rule, rhymes with the word.
Some examples include:
- Adam and Eve: believe
- Alan Whickers: knickers
- Artful Dodger: lodger
- Baked bean: queen
- Baker’s Dozen: cousin
- Ball and chalk: walk
- Barney rubble: trouble
- China plate: mate
- Daisy roots: boots
- Duke of Kent: rent
That’s our guide to British insults, slang & phrases. What did you learn that was new?
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What is the insult for a British person? ›
The terms pommy, pommie, and pom used in Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand usually denote a British person.What is British slang for dammit? ›
Blast it: dammit; Dog's bollocks: a person or thing that's the best of it's kind (it's the dog's bollocks!).How do you say shut up in British slang? ›
- be quiet.
- fall silent.
- button it (slang)
- pipe down (slang) Just pipe down and I'll tell you what I want.
- hold your tongue.
- put a sock in it (British, slang)
- keep your trap shut (slang)
- You're all bum and parsley. ...
- Happy as a pig in muck. ...
- Were ya born in a barn. ...
- Not give a monkey's. ...
- It looks a bit black over Bill's mothers. ...
- That's the badger. ...
- Bob's your uncle. ...
- Making a right pig's ear of something.
'Lass' or 'lassie' is another word for 'girl'. This is mainly in the north of England and Scotland. 'Lad' is another word for boy. 'Bloke' or 'chap' means 'man'. Your 'mate' or 'pal' is your friend.What is bloody in British slang? ›
Bloody. Don't worry, it's not a violent word… it has nothing to do with “blood”.”Bloody” is a common word to give more emphasis to the sentence, mostly used as an exclamation of surprise. Something may be “bloody marvellous” or “bloody awful“. Having said that, British people do sometimes use it when expressing anger…What is a baddie in England? ›
informal. a villainous or criminal person. Also: baddy.What does sod off mean? ›
to go away; depart. ▶ USAGE The phrase sod off was formerly considered to be vulgar and even taboo, and it was labelled as such in older editions of Collins English Dictionary. It is now more acceptable in speech, although some people may object to its use.What do the British call their friends? ›
Mate (noun) So, 'mate' is British slang for a friend.What not to say to a British person? ›
- “I love British accents!” ...
- “I can do the best British accent.” ...
- “Oh, you're from London!” ...
- “Oh, you're from Europe!” ...
- “Cheers, mate!” ...
- “My great-grandmother was British!” ...
- “Ohmaigaaad I could listen to you talk all day.” ...
- “Do you live in a castle?”
What is British slang for annoyed? ›
Miffed. Similar to cheesed off, miffed means irked or annoyed.How do you say angry in British slang? ›
- Got strop on.
- Throwing a wobbler.
- Narking me off.
- Doing my head in*
Ignant is a form of “ignorant” or “an ignorant person” in Black English. It's a slang way of calling someone “stupid” or “ridiculous,” or saying “going wild and crazy.”What does Bob's your uncle mean? ›
used to say that something is easy to do or use. Just complete the form, pay the fee, and Bob's your uncle!What is teasing in British slang? ›
Wind-up – If you wind someone up it means you are teasing or taunting them.How do you call a pretty British girl? ›
10. Bonnie. Used in Scotland, this word means "pretty" or "beautiful", and is normally used in reference to a woman.What is British slang for kiss? ›
The verb snog is British slang for kiss, cuddle, or make out. It's a word that is more and more common in American English as well, as a casual way to talk about kissing. It can be painful for kids to watch their parents snog, and many of them don't want to see people snog in movies either.What does Pip Pip Cheerio mean? ›
(Britain, colloquial) Goodbye; cheerio, toodeloo (toodle-oo), toodle pip (mostly used by the upper classes). quotations ▼ (Britain, colloquial) A general greeting, mostly used by the upper classes. quotations ▼What does innit mean? ›
/ˈɪn.ɪt/ short form of isn't it. Used at the end of a statement for emphasis: "It's wrong, innit?"What is the slang word for cheeky? ›
bold, brash, saucy, audacious, ballsy, brazen, disrespectful, forward, impertinent, insolent, insulting, nervy.
Is shut up a cuss word? ›
The phrase is probably a shortened form of "shut up your mouth" or "shut your mouth up". Its use is generally considered rude and impolite, and may also be considered a form of profanity by some.What are some big insulting words? ›
- Bescumber: to spray with poo.
- Buncombe: a ludicrously false statement that means bulls*** or nonsense.
- Cacafuego: a swaggering braggart or boaster.
- Coccydynia: a pain in the butt.
- Corpulent: very fat.
- Feist or Fice: a person of little worth or someone with a bad temper.
- stupid. noun. offensive an insulting name for someone who you think is being stupid.
- jerk. noun. offensive someone who does stupid, annoying, or unkind things.
- dunce. noun. ...
- dipstick. noun. ...
- dork. noun. ...
- bonehead. noun. ...
- dingbat. noun. ...
- jackass. noun.
Fart, as it turns out, is one of the oldest rude words we have in the language: Its first record pops up in roughly 1250, meaning that if you were to travel 800 years back in time just to let one rip, everyone would at least be able to agree upon what that should be called.What is the most used bad word? ›
A new survey shows that the "f-word," or as it's most commonly known, the "f-bomb," is used the most by Americans when it comes to cuss words, according to a new study by Wordtips, but there's other words that are used more others depending on where you live.What is meant by Snollygoster? ›
snollygoster (plural snollygosters) (slang, obsolete) A shrewd person not guided by principles, especially a politician. quotations ▼What is slang for rude person? ›
A generally rude person might be called a jerk (or worse names).What is the British slang for girl? ›
'Lass' or 'lassie' is another word for 'girl'. This is mainly in the north of England and Scotland. 'Lad' is another word for boy.Why do Brits say innit? ›
' is a contraction of the tag question 'Isn't it? ' and people use it to prompt a response from the listener. So if someone says 'Nice weather, innit? ', they are expecting you to agree and say 'Yes'.