20 words and phrases that may confuse people who did not grow up in the UK
The British enjoy using slang and wordplay so even as a fluent English speaker it is normal to expect to hear some words and phrases that you won’t understand. Many common words put together in a phrase in a different context can take on a new meaning. Here are 20 British slang words and phrases.
1. Take the biscuit
This is used to show you find something irritating or annoying, usually in the context of someone doing something unhelpful, someone demanding far too much from someone else, or your efforts being unrecognised.
- ‘I know the boss demands a lot from his team; but when he asked me to work all weekend, that really took the biscuit.’
2. Bob’s your uncle!
This is used after describing a process to show that it is actually quite easy.
- ‘To open your email, press this button, select ‘mail’ and Bob’s your uncle!’
The story behind this is that Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, ‘Bob’ for short, chose his unpopular nephew, Arthur, for an important government position. People believed that Arthur had only got this job because Bob was his uncle, and ‘Bob’s your uncle’ therefore meant life was made easy for him because his uncle was the Prime Minister!
This is an abbreviation for umbrella.
- ‘When in the UK, you should carry a brolly with you at all times.’
This means to sell. For example,
- ‘…there are lots of websites nowadays where you can flog your old stuff and make some money.’
The normal meaning of ‘flog’ is to beat or whip, usually in the context of whipping a race horse to make it go faster. Flogging something in a sales context therefore implies something is being sold quickly or cheaply.
5. Splash out
This means to buy something extra expensive as a luxury, whether for yourself, or as a gift; spending more than you usually would.
- ‘We saved some money on the meal so we splashed out on a really nice bottle of wine.’
This is another word for pound in the monetary context. It is rarely used in the singular; quid remains unchanged in the plural and is considered very informal.
- ‘…this cost me 70 quid.’
7. Take the Mickey/Mick
This is an expression that means ‘to make fun of’ by saying something which is obviously not true
- ‘I love your hair!’
- ‘Are you taking the Mick? It looks awful!’
This just means ‘man’ and is used similarly to ‘guy’ – you might hear it used to describe someone as ‘just an ordinary bloke’, or ‘a really nice bloke’ or even ‘a bit of a strange bloke’, but would never hear it used to describe someone negatively.
- ‘James is a decent bloke.’
This is an adjective you can use to describe something that you think is not to be entirely trusted or is broken, so you need to be careful in dealing with it, for example, a piece of furniture, a person, a website, food…
- ‘I ate some dodgy seafood and was ill all night.’
- ‘I wouldn’t invest with that company if I were you, they look really dodgy’.
10. Bog standard
This is used to describe something that is nothing special or is ordinary, perhaps even slightly disappointing.
- ‘My weekend was bog standard’.
11. To get ‘nicked’
This is used when an item is stolen.
- ‘My phone got nicked last night’
However, be careful – if this is used to describe a person, eg ‘he got nicked’, that means someone was arrested by the police!
12. ‘Sod’s law’
This is used to say that something is annoying, usually that it is particularly bad timing for something to have happened – that it is almost as though there is a rule (or law) for things to go wrong when you wish they wouldn’t
- ‘Sod’s law I waited weeks to get my new phone and then it got nicked the first time I took it out.’
- ‘It was Sod’s law I went to the hairdresser’s and it started to rain when I came out’
- ‘It was Sod’s law I was wearing white when I got splashed with mud by a car’
This means to feel disappointed. It also means to take out the entrails of a fish or animal, but in slang it is used to describe feelings.
- ‘I’m gutted that my new phone got stolen.’
- ‘I was gutted we lost the football match.’
As a noun this means that something is time consuming and complicated. Used as a verb it means to waste time or unnecessarily delay doing something.
- ‘I could claim it on insurance but it is such a faff’
- ‘Stop faffing about and do the washing up!’
15. Budge up
You will be told to ‘budge up’ if somebody asks you to make space on a seat for an extra person; budge is an informal word for move.
- ‘Budge up, my sister is here’
Used as a verb, this means to want something.
- ‘I fancy a chocolate ice cream’
- ‘Fancy going to the cinema tonight?’
17. Bee’s knees
This is used to describe something that is of an exceptionally good standard.
- ‘That ice cream is the bee’s knees, it really is.’
This is used to describe somebody who looks smartly or elegantly dressed.
- ‘You look very dapper in that coat’
19. To spend a penny
This is used to say you are going to go to the toilet.
- ‘I’m just going to spend a penny, I’ll be back in a minute.’
It used to cost a penny to use locked public toilet facilities in London which is where the phrase originates.
This can be used to express good wishes before drinking, to say thank you for something trivial, or on ending a conversation and parting.
- ‘Cheers,’ she said, raising her glass
- ‘Cheers, Jack, see you later’
This blog has been written at level C1. Practise your reading and listening by reading the blogs below.
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