English Settings II: British Slang

by | December 23, 2016 |

British Slang is a sequel to English Settings I: Britishisms.


I’ll start where I started before: So you’re an American novelist and you’ve chosen to set your story in England. That’s great. But now here’s your problem: English.

In my earlier blog I said that British slang was a category unto itself and completely delightful. So it’s getting its own treatment here. I’ve been reading gobs of British police procedurals and decided to make a list of all the usages that struck me as interesting or, at least, different than American English usages.

I was amazed to discover the extent of the differences, which are usually subtle, always understandable in context, and yet finally noticeable when I started paying attention. The following is a fraction of my entire list. Not all the examples count as British slang, as such.


arsed – as in can’t be arsed ‘bothered’



barney – ‘row’ ‘quarrel’

to be a patch – as in he’s not a patch on you ‘he can’t compare to you’

bloody cheek! – ‘the nerve!’

bugger all – ‘nothing’



chippy (adjective)– ‘easily offended or annoyed’

chippy (noun) – a fish and chips place

to clock – ‘to observe’

cock-up – ‘error’

to come a cropper – ‘to have a run in with’

to come across – as in until he comes across ‘to fess up’

to crack on – ‘to continue’



to doss down – ‘to crash’ (on someone’s couch, say)

dosh – ‘money’



end of – as in I knew a bloke who needed a job, and I could get him one. So I did. End of.  ‘end of story’



to faff about – ‘to fiddle around’

fag – ‘cigarette’

to fit someone up – ‘to frame someone’ (say, for murder)



to gawp around – ‘to look at’

to gazump – ‘to steal’

to get sprogged up – ‘to have children’

to go down the pan – ‘to go down the drain’

to grass (up) someone – ‘to tell on’ ‘rat on’



to hoon around – ‘to drive recklessly

to hoover – ‘to vacuum’



incandescent – ‘beyond irate’ ‘livid’

it still needs work doing – ‘it still need some work’



to jack in – as in to jack in a job ‘get rid of’



to kip – as in you’ve been kipping on her sofa ‘sleeping’

knackered/knackering – ‘tired’/‘tiring’

to knock someone for six – ‘to upset’ ‘to overwhelm’ ‘to stun’ (a cricket reference)



lash – as in to go out on a lash ‘binge drink’

lot – as in you lot ‘you guys’ (though not outright rude, it’s never used positively)



mockers – as in to put the mockers on our murder investigation ‘kaibosh’

monged – as in monged out on weed ‘oversated and immobile’



naff – ‘uncool’ ‘tacky’ ‘worthless’

nick – ‘police station’



on – as in that’s not on ‘that’s no cool’

as in she’s on the game ‘she’s a prostitute’

as in to have a lot on ‘to be busy’

on about – as in in case people didn’t know what he was on about ‘talking about’



patch – ‘beat’ (police)

peeler – ‘policeman’

pillock – ‘fool’ ‘stupid person’

to piss off – ‘to go away’

plonk – ‘alcohol’

to plump for – ‘to get behind’ ‘to vote for’

poncey – ‘snotty’ ‘fancy’ ‘pretentious’

prat – as in to look a prat ‘look foolish’



to ring off – ‘hang up’ (telephone)

to rub out – ‘to erase’ (in the pencil sense, not the mafia sense)

to rumble – ‘to catch on to someone’



to scarper – ‘to get lost’

shirty – ‘annoyed’

sod all – ‘nothing’

to spark out – ‘to fall asleep abruptly’

to stand – as in I’ll stand you coffee and cake, if that helps ‘pay for’

strapline – ‘tag line’

stroppy – ‘grumpy’ ‘arsed’



to take the piss – as in Now you’re just taking the piss ‘taking advantage (of me)’

to talk tosh – ‘to talk crap’

tick – as in I’ll be back in a tick ‘short time’

to top – ‘to kill’

toss – as in I don’t give a toss for normal practice ‘care’



up – as in a bit up herself ‘snooty’

to up sticks – ‘to gather your gear’ (and move out)



verge – ‘shoulder’ (of a road)



to waffle on – ‘to yammer on’

wankers – a mild (?) curse

wazzock – ‘idiot’

wheelie bin – ‘big plastic garbage can’

to winkle out – ‘to figure out’

to witter on – ‘to yammer on’

to whinge – ‘to complain’

wonder – as in for a wonder ‘as a surprise’

wooly – ‘vague’



to yomp – ‘to march over heavy terrain’

yonks – as in yonks ago and for yonks ‘a long time’


British slang is endlessly fascinating.

Read English Settings III: Americanism/Anachronisms next!

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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