British Slang! English is spoken as a first language by people in several countries spread across the globe, and it isn’t at all surprising that the version of the English language used in one particular country has some words and phrases that aren’t really used anywhere else. This is slang: words, phrases, and idioms that aren’t considered standard in the language, and sometimes only used by people of a certain profession or social class.
British Slang Words
What Is A British Slang Term?
In the UK, there is British slang. There are many words that are used exclusively in Britain, though some also can be heard in New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and other Anglophone countries. At the same time, some other slang words are only used in a specific region. For instance, England and Wales have some of their own slang phrases, and London has its own slang as well. Arguably, the most popular slang in London is rhyming slang.
It’s difficult to say when exactly slang made its first appearance because it’s used in speaking much more often than in writing. In some cases, when slang words are written down, they’ve already become part of the standard language. However, it is known that slang was recorded for the first time in the 16th century, in the plays of William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton, and Thomas Dekker.
Why to Use Slang Words?
Why do we need slang? Sometimes, it is used as a secret language, so that nobody, except for a certain group of people, understands it; this is why thieves and beggars have their own slang. Slang can also be used to create a sense of belonging to a profession or a social class. For instance, there are many words that are widely used and understood only by the armed forces.
British slang is one of the reasons why English speakers from other countries struggle to understand people from the United Kingdom. Some slang words just sound very unfamiliar, while some other words have completely different meanings in the standard and the slang version of English. To make things even more complicated, new slang words are constantly created and old words become outdated. Many phrases that have been used in a daily speech some thirty years ago are completely forgotten today.
Though difficult and confusing at times, slang is a big part of any language. If you travel to England or have friends from there, you should try to learn some of the most common British slang words; this will make your life and communicating a lot easier. Just remember that slang is casual, so there isn’t a place for its informal pieces of writing. Also, don’t forget that these words should be used exclusively in Britain because, in other countries, they might be considered offensive.
We’ve compiled some of the most common British slang words to help you avoid epic fails. For real.
Popular British Slang Words
List of 25+ Slang Words Frequently Used in the UK
Here is a list of some popular British slang words, with definitions and examples of their use.
When you say that something is tosh, you mean that this is a bunch of nonsense. The word “baloney” can also be used in the same context. For example, you might say that an article about the Earth being flat that you’ve read was tosh.
When you’re feeling chuffed, you’re pleased, happy, or proud of something. For instance, if your parents give you a birthday present that you’ve been dreaming of, you’ll be chuffed with it. Or, if you go to the gym every week now and have already lost five pounds, you’ll also feel chuffed.
This word is usually used as part of the phrase “take a gander” which means “take a look”. For example, if you’re struggling with your Math homework, you can ask one of your friends to take a gander at the equation and help you with it.
When someone is cheeky, they are doing something disrespectful and maybe even slightly rude, but in a way that everyone thinks is funny and cute. Eating the last biscuit without asking if anyone else wants it might be considered cheeky. If you’re on a diet but still go to your favorite fast food place for dinner, you can say that you’re eating a cheeky burger: something that you aren’t supposed to eat.
When you say that someone is your mate, you simply mean that this person is your friend. For example, you can introduce your best friend to a new company, saying that he’s your best mate. Usually, this word is very friendly and casual. Nevertheless, if you hear someone using it in an annoyed tone, it might mean that you’re in trouble.
This is a very popular British slang word. When someone’s feeling gutted, they’re very sad, disappointed, and devastated. For instance, you might feel gutted if you don’t pass an important exam you’ve spent weeks studying for.
If you’re familiar with American slang, you probably know this word to be an insulting term to use towards someone who’s gay. However, in British slang, it just means a cigarette. Someone you work with might be a smoker, and he’ll say that he’s going outside for a fag: to smoke a cigarette.
This word can mean “bottom” but this isn’t its only meaning. It also can be a verb that refers to using or getting something without paying for it. For example, if you also smoke but forget your cigarettes at home this time, you can ask to bum a fag from your mate.
“Trolly” is a British word for a shopping cart. However, the adjective that comes from this word has nothing to do with shopping carts: in fact, it means being drunk. So, when your mate has had too many beers at a bar, you can describe him as trollied.
This is one more word that has different definitions in standard English and in British slang. In Britain, bloody doesn’t necessarily refer to something covered in blood; it can also mean “damned” and show frustration or anger. So, saying “bloody traffic” will show how angry you are at the fact that you’ll be late for work. “Bloody British slang”, on the other hand, is an expression to show how frustrated and confused you are with so many British slang words and phrases.
When you hear somebody say that they are ‘knackered’ they are usually referring to the fact that they are extremely exhausted or tired. This word can also be used to talk about an inanimate object which is broken. For example, ‘that lamp won’t switch on, I think it’s knackered.’
This is a reasonably new slang word which has become popular over recent years, mostly due to the word being used on TV shows. Bants is a shorter way of saying banter, meaning friendly joking. A good example of how to use this word would be ‘I went out with my mates last night, we had some good bants.’
This is a term you will hear very often when in the United Kingdom, and the reason for this is that we are a country of big tea drinkers. What does that have to do with this slang word? Cuppa is a term used to refer to a cup of tea, or sometimes coffee. When you go to visit a friend of family member in Great Britain you will likely be greeted with the phrase ‘do you fancy a cuppa?’
This word is another shorter version of a word. Ledge is short for legend. The term is not usually used to refer to a legend as in a story but is used to talk about a person who is considered to be a legend. When using the word legend to describe a person, it means that this person is very famous or successful at what they do. For example, you might head someone say ‘I absolutely love Elton John, what a ledge!’
Mardy is a term used to describe someone who is not in a very good mood. You might hear this word used in a way such as this; ‘Ben is slamming around in there, I think he’s being a bit mardy because he has lost his phone.’ Another word you might hear that is used to describe someone being in a bad mood, is narky or narked.
When you hear someone tell you to ‘leg it’ in Britain, you are being told to make a quick exit, or run away. A good example of when this phrase could be used is if a group of teenagers were out doing something a bit mischievous, and one of them sees an adult approaching, he might say ‘Quick we are gonna get caught, leg it.’
A bloke is simply used to talk about a man. You might hear someone say ‘I like Martin, he is a decent bloke.’
Lurgy is a word used to describe a contagious illness, for example you might hear someone say ‘I wouldn’t go near John today, he’s got the lurgy.’ This could mean that John has a cold or a virus that you want to avoid catching yourself.
We are not talking about an area of muddy, soggy land, bog is used in Britain to talk about the toilet. This is a very commonly used word in the UK and you will likely hear it very often. ‘I’ve got to go to the bog, I’m busting.’ In this sentence, the word busting refers the to the speaker urgently needing to use the toilet.
Daft is a word used to describe someone or something that is a little bit silly. It is not used to describe something that is outrageously silly, it is more of an endearing term. You might hear it used in a sentence like ‘Barry has dropped his drink again, he is so daft.’ It can also be used to tell someone, in a kind way, that their idea is a bit silly. For example, ‘You can’t go out without a coat, you’re daft.”
Although this term is not used as frequently in the UK these days, it is still used and perfectly understood. Codswallop means nonsense and can be used in a situation where, for example, someone has told you that they have just been chased by a dinosaur, you might reply ‘what a load of old codswallop!’
This word is used extremely frequently in Britain. The word means something that is suspicious. You might hear it in a sentence like ‘I don’t trust that house, the building looks a bit dodgy to me.’ You might also use it to describe a person who is acting in a questionable way. ‘Dave is acting a bit dodgy, he keeps going out at 3am and nobody knows why.’
This is a word which is used to say ‘nothing.’ It might be heard in a sentence such as ‘I really must go shopping, I’ve got nowt at all in the fridge.’
This is not talking about something that is solid to touch. When you hear the word hard used in British slang, it is referring to a person who is considered to be tough and able to look after themselves in a fight. ‘I wouldn’t get on the wrong side of Bill, he’s hard.’ It may also be used to talk about somebody who thinks they are tough, but are not really. In this instance you might hear someone say ‘He thinks he’s a hard man.’ or ‘he thinks he’s well hard.’
We are not talking about something that is a similar shape to the piece of fruit. Pear shaped is referring to a situation that has gone wrong or not as expected. ‘Well, the car cut out halfway to our destination, the whole journey went a bit pear-shaped.’
This word is not referring to a type of drinking vessel, a mug in the UK refers to someone who will believe anything or who regularly falls prey to pranks and wrongdoings. It is another, more common word for gullible. An example of a sentence in which mug can be used would be ‘Steve has fallen for another online scam, he is such a mug.’
A snog is a term used to talk about a passionate or French kiss. It is a very common slang term in the United Kingdom and might be heard in a sentence like ‘Look at Bob and Mary, they’re having a good old snog.’
Common British Slang Terms | Infographic
British Slang | Infographic 1
British Slang | Infographic 2