Writing Tips : British Words and Phrases

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The American English vocabulary we know and love today originally came from England, and neighboring European countries that learned King’s English. But there is still a monumental amount of difference between terms used in the U.K, and the ones used in western culture. If you look at some of them, you’ll see they could cause misunderstandings, and create embarrassing situations. They will also make a writer look like a complete idiot when trying to interpret King’s English and put it into their story. If you’re a writer, it’s a good idea to know these terms, so that you don’t use them incorrectly whenever introducing a British character or setting.

Most of the ones people know are easy: Rubbish means something is trash or garbage, and can be used to metaphor a person place or thing, just as easy as the American term can be. Fag is a cigarette. Football is soccer. Bloody or blooming are two ways to emphasize just about anything. If you’re randy, it means you’re horny. Need I go on?

Besides these obvious ones, there are quite a few (hundreds) of differences between words and phrases in King’s English and American English. I went searching the internet to find some of these, and it turned out to be a pretty good learning experience.

Here’s a list of the words and phrases I found most interesting:

Shag: Austin Powers may have taught Americans to use the term randy, for horny, but the same can’t be said for his use of the word shag. It turns out that shagging is more of an American term than a British one, and was originally coined to mean dancing. That’s right, dancing. You want to go shag the attractive person sitting on the other side of the room? Be nice, and play music you can both do the waltz to.

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Spend a Penny: “I gotta go take a dump.” – That’s what this is basically referring to. It could be turned to mean its sister term: taking a leak, but in the end, you’re still going to the pisser.

Bugger: This one’s obvious, but I wanted to share it because I have a story to tell. Bugger is used to tell someone to bugger off, or to insult people. That’s mainly what you’re going to hear, anyways.

But, when I was school, Grade 9 I think, I was working in IA class when I pinched some skin from my finger in a vice. Not wanting to swear in school (at least while the teachers were around) I cried ‘Bugger’ instead of something else.

Teacher heard me, and didn’t like the fact that I used bugger. He said it was a dirty term (to him just about everything was), and after a small argument, told me to go look it up in the school library’s dictionary. So I did, and here’s what I found bugger meant, before the dictionary was updated to the more…Polite terms.

Bugger used to be defined as committing in sodomy with another species, or bestiality, and that’s what it said in the dictionary at the school library. Its secondary definition was someone who engages in anal or oral sex with anyone, or sodomy – just so were clear on that term.

In more recently printed dictionaries, such as updated versions of Merriam Webster, the old use of the word has been drawn to a blank (E.G: One who engages in sodomy with a.), and the secondary definition (one who engages in sodomy with a human) is now used as the primary.

So, my teacher was right. It was a dirty word, though can it really be used as an insult? Well, in some cases, but I’d like to think society is a bit more mature than that now…We’re not, but I’d like to think that.

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Full Monty: This has absolutely nothing to do with Monty Python! It means to go all the way with something; to go full throttle; give er beans, go all in, and all the other encouraging one-liners you’ve heard spewed throughout the course of human history.

Whatever you do, go full monty.

Flutter:  Flutter, in King’s English, means to place a bet, or a wager in American English.

Bullocks, John Thomas, Willy, Knob, Todger, Trouser Snake, Prick, Morning Glory: You get the point…

Dog’s Bullocks: This is where King’s English gets just a wee bit perverse. Bullocks, means a man’s private parts. So the term dog’s bullocks would be referring to a dog’s nards. You’d think this would mean something bad, or disgusting, or something like that, wouldn’t you?

In fact, it’s the opposite. Saying dog’s bullocks is a way to describe something so fantastic, you can’t think of any other phrase. Just let that sink in for a moment.

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Her Majesty’s Pleasure:  As cool as this may sound…Her Majesty is not pleased to have you in her country. If you use this term, it means you’re in a U.K jail without any date for release. In other words: You broke the law and pissed off the Queen, and she is pleased that you’re receiving punishment in her country.

Knees Up/ Shin-dig:  Both similar terms, meaning the same thing. Dancing, partying and having a good time.

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Fortnight:  If you passed Grade 9 English, you’re teacher should have explained the meaning of this word while reading Shakespeare. But if you are too young or just plain don’t remember: a fortnight is two weeks. As in, “I will see you again, in a fortnight.’ Or ‘It took several fortnights to fix the potholes on Highway 19.’

I’m Easy: If you walk up to a British man, or woman, and they say this, I will give you one piece of advice. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT ask them if they want to play with your bollocks. Just because they’re easy, it doesn’t mean they are promiscuous, it just means they are easy going. You shouldn’t start any conversation with a sexual proposal – really let’s be adults – but unfortunately I could see how easy this term could be confused.

Baccy: Hand rolled tobacco.

Knackered:  In American English, you might think this term means to get messed up; drunk, obliterated, or whatever other slang word used to describe weekends. In King’s English, it is used to describe exhaustion, the same way you’d say ‘I’m beat’ or ‘My dog’s are barking,’ in American English.

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Waffle:  To talk on and on about nonsense that doesn’t matter.

Bob’s Your Uncle:  Actually Bob is not my Uncle, but that’s not the point this phrase is getting to either. It simply means that you’re right, or that’s right, or Great Scott! That’s actually correct!

Fit:  Means hot, sexy, or tasty.

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OK, that’s all I got for you today! Remember there is a ton more out there, and I will post the links to my references below so you can explore them yourself. These are just the ones that caught my attention.

http://www.effingpot.com/slang.shtml

http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/slang/common-uk-expressions-slang.html

http://www.netfunny.com/rhf/jokes/95q4/uk.html

http://www.bbcamerica.com/mind-the-gap/2013/12/03/10-common-british-expressions-baffle-americans/

Do you have any misinterpreted words to add?

Want to discuss this article?

Write to me in the comments below!

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-Adam Gainer

#NeverStopWriting

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