20 words and phrases that may confuse people who did not grow up in the UK

We can almost guarantee that when you come to London for your immersive English course, you will hear some words and phrases that, even if you are proficient, you won’t understand. The British often take common words which put together in a phrase in a different context take on a new meaning. Here are 20 of the most typical British slang words and phrases.

1. Take the biscuit

This is used to show you find something irritating or annoying.

  • ‘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 Balfour, for an important government position. People didn’t like this and believed that Arthur had only got this job because Bob was his uncle, and ‘Bob’s your uncle’ therefore meant life was easy for him because his uncle was the Prime Minister!

3. Brolly

This is an abbreviation for umbrella.

  • ‘When in the UK, you should carry a brolly with you at all times.’

4. Flog

This means to sell. For example,

  • ‘…there are lots of websites nowadays where you can flog your old stuff and make some money.’

In its normal meaning, ‘flog’ means to beat or whip. The phrase is said to come from the idea of  whipping a race horse to make it go faster.

5. Splash out

This means to buy something extra expensive as a luxury, whether for yourself, or as a gift.

  • ‘We saved some money on the meal so we splashed out on a really nice bottle of wine.’

6. Quid

This is another word for pound in the monetary context. It is rarely used in the singular; quid remains unchanged in the plural.

  • ‘…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!’

8. Bloke

This just means ‘man’.

  • ‘James is a really nice bloke.

9. Dodgy

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.

  • ‘My weekend was bog standard’.

11. To get ‘nicked’

This is used when something is stolen.

  • ‘My phone got nicked last night’

12. ‘Sod’s law’

This is used to highlight that  something is annoying, usually that it is particularly bad timing for something to have happened – it means 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’

13. Gutted

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.’

14. Faff

This means that something is time consuming and complicated.

  • ‘I could claim it on insurance but it is such a faff’

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 up, my sister is here’

16. Fancy

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 good standard.

  • ‘That ice cream is the bee’s knees, it really is.’

18. Dapper

This is used to describe somebody who looks elegantly dressed.

  • ‘You look dapper in that coat’

19. To spend a penny

This is used to say you are going to the toilet.

  • ‘I’m just going to spend a penny, I’ll be back in a minute.’

20. Cheers

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’
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