A 10-Step Guide To British Slang

Flickr / Duncan Harris
Flickr / Duncan Harris

Whether you’re a student studying abroad or just a proud Anglophile, learning slang phrases and words from across the Pond can be entertaining and vital.

1. Wanker

Wanker = penis
To Wank = masturbation

Wanking, are we? Don’t answer that with a yes. No. Just say no. A wanker is used in conversation like we use “jerk” in the United States. A wanker is basically a penis. There, that’s frank. And to wank, well, you can say it’s basically feeling yourself like Miley Cyrus and other stars say you should do more often. I suppose it boosts confidence?

2. Taking the Piss or Taking the Mick

Services in the UK tend to take the piss. This means they charge too much and don’t perform to their full potential. You can also take the piss out of a person. It’s a kind of banter (sarcastic conversation) that goes on between friends. To an American, it can seem very offensive. I can’t tell when my friends banter with me sometimes. I don’t take the mick very well. Piss is replaced with mick for those of us with soft mouths and virgin ears.

3. Too Keen

If you get an invite to a ball (AKA a rave) and it starts at 8, don’t show until at least 9:30. Otherwise you are too keen. In other words, you are seen as an overeager loser who doesn’t have friends to pre-drink with. If you plan to spend four quid (pounds) on a pint at the event, then you are too keen, mate. Too keen.

4. Trainers and Trackies

I’m a runner, so when I dawn my sneakers and sweatpants for a bout of sweat, I’m actually wearing trainers and trackies. If that isn’t enough, I’m training and not actually running. My friends will respond with ‘good run?’ when I return, but they refer to my obsession as ‘training’ to our fellow British classmates.

Trainers = Sneakers
Trackies = Sweat pants

5. Pants

What kind of pants should I wear? Please don’t ask this to a group of five guys. Big mistake. Take that from me. American pants, jeans and the like, are called trousers here. Stringy pants, Bridget Jones pants, and knickers all mean the same thing: underwear. When you are meant to present for class, don’t ask your male classmates what kind of pants are appropriate.

6. Twat, Twit, and Twit-Twat

A twat is a stupid person or a vagina, whichever you prefer. Twit is the same thing. Not quite a vag, because this word is for softer non-swearers, as I call them. It’s like using crap instead of sh*t, so you’ve censored yourself for when you have children. Well done. Twit-Twat is if that person is just…yup. Why do they even bother getting up in the morning if they are going to cause the rest of us this misery?

7. Fancy Dress and Smart Dress

A fancy dress party in England is a costume party in the United States. You’re welcome. Smart dress is what fancy dress is in America. Attend that fancy dress party as Dracula and tie your tie for that school presentation. You go American!

8. Cheers, Ta, Thank You, and You’re Welcome

I am aware that “Thank You” exists in American English. But when someone in the UK says thanks, what do you reply with? If you say, “You’re welcome,” I will take 100 points from Gryffindor. “Thank you” is rarely, if ever, said. Most Brits will issue you a “Cheers,” Ta,” “That’s great,” “Lovely,” or “You’re a star” in exchange for their purchase instead of “Thank you.” When they do say “Thank you,” you should do so back. It’s so wrong, I know. “You’re welcome” generates a painful response or an even more painful searching of face. They’re American. Oh God.

9. Shag, Snog, and Up the Duff

I’ve heard that Alice is now shagging that fresher she was snogging at Christmas ball and is supposedly up the duff. No way! What?!?

Allow me. To “shag” is to have sex—casual and no strings attached in some cases. Going steady in others. The older generation uses “rumpy-pumpy” in place of “shag.” That dinosaur in the club. Eww!

“Snog” is to proper kiss or make out. Followed by “up the duff,” which is to be pregnant. It certainly sits better with me than “preggers” or “bun in the oven.” Up the duff. I can deal with that in conversation.

10. Yanks or Yankees

I’m from Boston and Yankees will always suck. However, when a Brit calls you a Yank, that’s what you are. If you are from America (an American citizen), then you are a Yankee. Sometimes it’s derogatory. Bloody Yanks! Sometimes it is banter. What’s a Yank doing on enemy lines? Just know the difference and don’t take the mick.

I expect you are now fluent in British slang. Bless. So when a dodgy guy at a ball asks you if you’d like to skip those who were too keen and head out for a snog and possibly rumpy-pumpy, you can smile and shake your head. Find some friends and move away from that loaded wanker. Twits in the club are never fun. Especially when you have a limited time before summer vacation and two more years until you are legal in the US. Enjoy…erm…cheers! TC mark

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