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British Slang and Colloquialisms, English and United Kingdom Slang

Updated on August 19, 2018
ethel smith profile image

With a keen interest in British politics this writer is never afraid to share her opinion

Not What You Say But The Way That You Say It!

British slang, colloquialisms, idioms and funny euphemisms are sometimes peculiar to the United Kingdom.

However even across the countries of the U.K. there are variations.

Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England may have some common slang words but Scotland in particular has a strange range of its own street talk.

As an English resident and born and bred woman I have encountered some real odd words down the years but many are now out of fashion.

A new slang vocabulary exists for the younger generation and that category probably includes the under 40s!

But before I start I will offer my apologies here and now to any reader who takes offence at any words or phrases reproduced below as no offence is intended. I will also apologize for any strange words or sayings that I foolishly thought were unique to the U.K. but are more international.

So here goes:

How Very English?

What Language Is This?

  1. Round the hat rack, generally means a bit barmy, or not all there.
  2. Lost the plot means that you have no idea what is going on.
  3. As much use as a chocolate fireguard or as a chocolate teapot. Hopefully this one is self explanatory. No? Well it means the person or thing referred to is useless.
  4. I'll make you smile on the other side of your face. This generally refers to a cheeky grinning child, threatened with a slap. Hopefully this one is becoming extinct.
  5. Its like the black hole of Calcutta in here, refers to a place that is very dark. I guess this one dates back to the days of Empire. The black hole of Calcutta was where prisoners were held back then.
  6. A bit of Aggro or Bovver refers to a fight or some such trouble.
  7. If he or she has been ASBO'ed they have received an Anti Social Behaviour Order from the courts or police.
  8. As Mad as a Hatter.
  9. One of my mother's funny expressions was about a person who was not very nice looking. He, or she, looks as if his Mother stood on his face to wind the clock up. Sorry this is not a nice expression but it still makes me laugh.
  10. A lick and a promise is not as exciting as it may sound. It simply means a job done in a hurry and not thoroughly.
  11. Your not backward at coming forwards are you?, may be said to someone who is definitely not shy.
  12. I'll give you something to cry about. This used to be said to a child who was crying, for no reason, and could mean that the child was in for a slap.

OK so that's a few sayings to get us started. So what about rude expressions, that are not really swearing. How about:

  • Get knotted
  • Shut your Gob (mouth)
  • Shut yer cakehole (mouth, again)
  • Get lost
  • Get stuffed
  • This is one of Hubby's put downs, to moronic individuals. Go polish the bolt in your neck.
  • Have you got verbal diarrhoea?, may be asked of someone who never stops talking.

So how about a few words?

  1. Fireballer is a creep. Someone who is trying to get round you (another expression I guess)
  2. Plonker simply means you silly thing.
  3. Skive off. This means to avoid work or chores.
  4. Bunk off. This could refer to a child who is playing truant from school.
  5. Twagging, is also a word for playing truant.
  6. Pulling a sickie refers to someone absent from work who is pretending to be sick.
  7. Titfer is a hat. Perhaps this is like the Cockney rhyming slang. Tit for tat.
  8. One yer Bike, means no chance, clear off and stronger phrases.
  9. Med up for yer. Pleased for someone.
  10. Yer not as daft as yer look, are you? Well really what a cheeky saying.
  11. Thick as two short planks, could refer to someone who is not that bright.
  12. Stop going round the houses, will tell someone that you want them to get to the point.
  13. Spuds are potatoes.

Fashions and times change and this means that slang words and phrases often change also. In the second world war a Spiv was a person who traded goods on the black market, for example.These days the British language has plenty of American expressions used on a daily basis.

When I was young and rather a chatterbox or natterbag, as my Dad would say, Dad had a pertinent expression about me. He used to ask "Was you vaccinated with a Gramophone needle?" I guess most youngsters these days will have no idea what I am talking about.

Teenagers Have Their Own Universal Language

© 2010 Ethel Smith


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    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      2 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Hahaha love that Robert

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      Yes, when I wrote it I wondered if "cool" was dated. I like the words of Abe Simpson on the matter, "I use to be with it. Then they changes what it was. Now all I know is it scares me."

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      2 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Yes Robert and some words come around again.

      Like COOL?

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      Yes, slang, and regular words, change frequently. There was an episode of The Simpsons where they illustrated how many slang terms were out of vogue. In the book, By Way of Deception former Mossad Agent, Victor Ostrovsky, explained when he was being tested for his knowledge of English the woman was asking him about many slang terms that were out of date. I remember reading that anything that is "modern" in a few years will look tacky. Something for people who want to use the cool terms to think about.

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      2 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Thanks Robert

      I think some slang has changed since I first wrote this hub tbh

      Spuds can also be used for a hole in a sock

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      2 years ago

      Thanks for the language tips. I think much of what Americans think of as British slang are dated terms. In your first set number 12 was used in America a generation or two ago. Now it seems to be out of vogue. In America we also use the term "spuds". How often its used probably depends on the region of the country. A fun Hub.

    • MarlonC profile image


      9 years ago

      regarding the chocolate teapot/fireguard, a cruder version involving a one-legged man sprang to mind alongside 'an ashtray on a motorbike', which the late Lucky Dube employed in one of his songs...

    • maheshpatwal profile image


      10 years ago from MUMBAI

      Ethel thank you very much for making me familiar with brit slangs...... your hub is awesome and well researched.

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Yes that might be fun Billy, I will give it a go thanx

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      10 years ago

      Some great ones here Ethel - maybe a little rhyming slang might be in order :)

    • Property-Invest profile image


      10 years ago from London

      Hi Ethel

      Great to see another British person on Hubpages. Keep up the fantastic hubs!

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Thanks for visitng both Ken

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 

      10 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Lots of smiles here too. Thank you.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      fun Hub!

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Peace to you Tony :)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks Ethel for this one. Such language, while it might make the purists squirm, is what keeps language alive. I love it and the British certainly have a way with colloquialisms.

      Love and peace


    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      10 years ago from Guwahati, India

      I am not a competent person to comment on English slang or colloquialisms but it reminds me of my past life at Manchester where my daughter learnt from birth the Lancashire colloquial English. I must say colloquial English Lancashire sound was so melodious that it has no compare with London English.Thanks for sharing.

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Well ladies a part two it will be. Thanks for the visits :)

    • profile image

      Madame X 

      10 years ago

      Thanks for this fun info Ethel. I love hearing about the vernacular of other places and where expressions come from. Yes, do a part 2!!

    • 2patricias profile image


      10 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Very funny - yes please to a Part 2.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      This is great! We actually use some of the same expressions in the South! I agree with RM - do a part II!

    • Sarahredhead profile image

      Sarah Jackson 

      10 years ago from Southern United States

      I love it!!! I have been to the UK twice and couldn't get enough of the colloquialisms. (I am quite proud of my own region's colloquialisms.) They are truly unique to each realm; and I'm adding some of these to my daily conversations. Thank you for sharing!! Bravo!

    • rmcrayne profile image


      10 years ago from San Antonio Texas

      This is loads of fun ethel. By all means, do a part 2.

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      That would be fun Dusty. You could water it down so that it passed the censors :)

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 

      10 years ago from Arizona

      Another yet entertaining dialect hub. Good job, I enjoyed it. I thought about doing an American one but it would most likely be rated R

    • ethel smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Thanks to you all. Of course there some very rude expressions which I thought I had best avoid here.

      Once I had finished another batch of funnies sparng to mind so I may to have a Part Two later.

    • Jaspal profile image


      10 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Nice hub, had a good laugh at some of the expressions. Thank you!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Amazing! I must visit this again before my trip to the UK. Very fascinating!

    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 

      10 years ago from Aurora, CO

      This is very cute, although being from the States as I am, I have never heard many of these.

      May I suggest that you highlight some of the sayings for better Web effect? Please see

      Best, Laura in Denver

    • Manly Man profile image

      Manly Man 

      10 years ago

      How about the Northern U.S. cowboy expression--"The snow's ass deep on a nine-foot Indian." Or " It's colder'n a well digger's knee." Or "We've been trick f**ked!" (Scammed.)

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks for a good laugh.

    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 

      10 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this...I enjoy interpretations of different slang and colloquial expressions. Fun Hub


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