30 Awesome British Slang Terms
British slang is a niche of its own, evolving and transforming and adapting from city to city and from year to year, just as the English language itself has done. While American slang has become nearly universal with the influx of TV shows, films, and other media filling the screens of a significant majority of the media-viewing global population, there is so much more available once you dig beneath the surface of British slang terms and can discover some real gems beneath the surface.
So, if you’re an aspiring Anglophile looking for some new lingo to help fuel your love for all things British, or you just fancy seeing what kind of words the British find themselves using their day-to-day, check out our thirty best British slang terms for you to start using and incorporating into your vocabulary immediately…
‘Mate’ – one of the commonly used terms of endearment and affection in British slang terms. Used when you are talking to a close friend, and is often easily substituted for the American ‘buddy’, ‘pal’, or ‘dude’.
For example, ‘Alright, mate?’
2. Bugger All
‘Bugger all’ – a British slang term used to be a more vulgar synonym for ‘nothing at all’.
For example, ‘I’ve had bugger all to do all day.’
‘Knackered’ – a great word and phrase used by Britons to describe their tiredness and exhaustion, in any given situation. Often substituted in friendly circles for ‘exhausted’.
For example, ‘I am absolutely knackered after working all day.’
‘Gutted’ – a British slang term that is one of the saddest on the lists in terms of pure contextual emotion. To be ‘gutted’ about a situation means to be devastated and saddened.
For example, ‘His girlfriend broke up with him. He’s absolutely gutted.’
‘Gobsmacked’ – a truly British expression meaning to be shocked and surprised beyond belief. The expression is believed by some to come literally from ‘gob’ (a British expression for mouth), and the look of shock that comes from someone hitting it.
For example. ‘I was gobsmacked when she told me she was pregnant with triplets.’
6. Cock Up
‘Cock up’ – a British slang term that is far from the lewdness its name suggests. A ‘cock up’ is a mistake, a failure of large or epic proportions.
For example, ‘The papers sent out to the students were all in the wrong language – it’s a real cock up.’ Also, ‘I cocked up the orders for table number four.’
‘Blinding’ – a slang term that is far from something that physically causes someone to lose their sight. ‘Blinding’ is a positive term meaning excellent, great, or superb.
For example, ‘That tackle from the Spanish player was blinding.’
8. Lost The Plot
‘Lost the plot’ is one that can actually be discerned by examining the words themselves. To ‘lose the plot’ can mean either to become angry and/or exasperated to a fault, or in a derogatory – if slightly outdated sense – to mean someone who has become irrational and/or acting ridiculously.
For example, ‘When my girlfriend saw the mess I’d made, she lost the plot.’
‘Cheers’ doesn’t quite have the same meaning that it does in other counties – of course, it still means ‘celebrations’ when toasting a drink with some friends, but in British slang, it also means ‘thanks’ or ‘thank you’.
For example, ‘Cheers for getting me that drink, Steve’.
‘Ace’ – a British slang term that means something that is brilliant or excellent. Can also mean to pass something with flying colors.
For example, ‘Jenny is ace at the lab experiments’, or, for the latter definition, ‘I think I aced that exam’.
11. Damp Squib
More of an usual term, a ‘damp squib’ in British slang terms refers to something which fails on all accounts, coming from the ‘squib’ (an explosive), and the propensity for them to fail when wet.
For example, ‘The party was a bit of a damp squib because only Richard turned up.’
12. All To Pot
Slightly more of an outdated version, this British slang term is still used, and its meaning remains relevant today. ‘All to pot’ refers to a situation going out of your control and failing miserably.
For example, ‘The birthday party went all to pot when the clown turned up drunk and everyone was sick from that cheap barbecue stuff.’
13. The Bee’s Knees
The bee’s knees – a rather lovely term used to describe someone or something you think the world of.
For example, ‘She thinks Barry’s the bee’s knees’. Can also be used sarcastically in this same sense.
Not a wonderfully melodic word, ‘chunder’ is part and parcel of British slang terms. Meaning ‘to vomit’ or ‘to be sick’, ‘chunder’ is almost always used in correlation with drunken nights, or being hugely ill and sick.
For example, ‘I ate a bad pizza last night after too many drinks and chundered in the street.’
15. Taking The Piss
Given the British tendency to mock and satirise anything and everything possible, ‘taking the piss’ is in fact one of the most popular and widely-used British slang terms. To ‘take the piss’ means to mock something, parody something, or generally be sarcastic and derisive towards something.
For example, ‘The guys on TV last night were taking the piss out of the government again.’
Perhaps one of the most internationally famous British slang terms, ‘bollocks’ has a multitude of uses, although its top ones including being a curse word used to indicate dismay, e.g. ‘Oh bollocks’; it can also be used to express derision and mocking disbelief, e.g. ‘You slept with Kate Upton last night? Bollocks…’; and, of course, it also refers to the scrotum and testicles.
For example, ‘I kicked him right in the bollocks when he wouldn’t let me go past.’
‘Fortnight’ – a British slang term more commonly used by virtually everyone in the UK to mean ‘a group of two weeks’.
For example, ‘I’m going away for a fortnight to Egypt for my summer holiday.’
Very different to the ‘bollocks’ of the previous suggestion, a ‘bollocking’ is a telling-off or a severe or enthusiastic reprimand from a boss, co-worker, partner, or anyone you like, for a misdemeanour.
For example, ‘My wife gave me a real bollocking for getting to pick up the dry cleaning on my way home from work.’
19. Nice One
‘Nice one’ – used almost always sarcastically in common British lexicon, although it can be used sincerely depending on the context.
For example, ‘You messed up the Rutherford order? Nice one, really.’
20. Brass Monkeys
A more obscure British term, ‘brass monkeys’ is used to refer to extremely cold weather. The phrase comes from the expression, ‘it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’.
For example, ‘You need to wear a coat today, it’s brass monkeys outside.’
In British slang terms, ‘dodgy’ refers to something wrong, illegal, or just plain ‘off’, in one way or another.
For example, it can be used to mean illegal – ‘He got my dad a dodgy watch for Christmas’; it can be used to mean something food-related that is nauseous or nauseating – ‘I had a dodgy kebab last night and I don’t feel right.; and it can also be used as a pejorative – ‘He just seems dodgy to me.’
One of the more delightful British slang terms in this list, ‘scrummy’ is used as a wonderfully effusive term for when something is truly delicious and mouth-wateringly good.
For example, ‘Mrs Walker’s pie was absolutely scrummy. I had three pieces.’
Another rather delightful and slightly archaic words in this list of British slang terms is ‘kerfuffle’. ‘Kerfuffle’ describes a skirmish or a fight or an argument caused by differing views.
For example, ‘I had a right kerfuffle with my girlfriend this morning over politics.’
A nifty little British term that means ‘rubbish’ or ‘crap’.
For example, ‘That’s a load of tosh about what happened last night’, or ‘Don’t talk tosh.’
25. Car Park
One of the more boring and technical terms on this list, a ‘car park’ is in effect, the place outside or attached to a building where people park their cars. The British equivalent to the American ‘parking lot’ or ‘parking garage’.
For example, ‘I left my car in the car park this morning.’
‘Skive’ – a British slang term used to indicate when someone has failed to turn up for work or an obligation due to pretending to fake illness. Most commonly used with schoolchildren trying to get out of school, or dissatisfied office workers trying to pull a sick day.
For example, ‘He tried to skive off work but got caught by his manager.’
One of the most commonly-used British phrases, ‘rubbish’ is used to mean both general waste and trash, and to also express disbelief in something to the point of ridicule (in this sense it is a much-more PG-friendly version of ‘bollocks’.)
For example, it can be used respectively, in, ‘Can you take the rubbish out please?’, and ‘What? Don’t talk rubbish.’
Oh, ‘wanker’. Possibly the best British insult on the list, it fits a certain niche for a single-worded insult to lobbied out in a moment of frustration, anger, provocation, or, of course, as a jest amongst friends. ‘Wanker’ fits the closest fit by ‘jerk’ or ‘asshole’, but to a slightly higher value.
For example, ‘That guy just cut me up in traffic – what a wanker.’
‘Hunky-dory’ – a neat little piece of British slang that means that a situation is okay, cool, or normal.
For example, ‘Yeah, everything’s hunky-dory at the office.’
The last, but most certainly not least, term on this list, ‘brilliant’ is not a word exclusively in the British lexicon, but has a very British usage. Specifically, when something is exciting or wonderful, particularly when something is good news, ‘brilliant’ can mean as such.
For example, ‘You got the job? Oh, mate, that’s brilliant.’
15 responses to “30 Awesome British Slang Terms”
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- February 16, 2018 -
Wonderful British words. It’s only missing ‘Pants!’ (rubbish – as in ‘not good’). Please join us at Grammar Rant to improve standards in British English: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grammar-Rant/713206725392648?ref=tn_tnmn
As a native Londoner this gave me a good laugh! 11 and 20 are excellent, haha. Great post!
Great blog post. It is fascinating how phrases are coined in languages and even the changes in meaning that words can go through. One also notices similar phrases in other languages.
It’s a great post. i learned so much . Thanks for your time and knowledge
Brilliant is also often used sarcastically to respond to unwelcome news or a when something goes wrong. “Sorry, youre on your own on Tuesday, Ive got a doctors appointment”. “Oh, brilliant”
A brass monkey is a frame that is (was) used to hold those pyramids of cannonballs on a sailing warship. Because of the different expansion coefficients of brass and iron the cannonballs would fall off the frame during very cold weather.
Sorry Adam, that’s just an internet myth. Cannon balls were held in wicker baskets. The expression derives from the “three wise monkeys” (“hear no evil see no evil, speak no evil”) which became popular as a brass ornament in the 1860s. The original expression was “freeze the TAIL off a brass monkey” which became coarsened to “balls” in the mid-20th century. (Compare the evolution from “bee’s knees” to “dog’s bollocks”.)
I meant “Alan”, not “Adam”.
Haven’t had my pot of tea yet.
13) “Bee’s knees” is American. It was coined by US cartoonist Tad Dorgan in the 1920s. He based it on the already current “cat’s meow”. Many other terms were constructed with the same schema – a phenomenon linguists call a “snowclone”. Examples of this snowclone include “the cat’s pajamas” and, that very British superlative, “the dog’s bollocks”.
14) Curiously, “chunder” also has a comic connection. The word is Australian slang, said to derive from the naval warning cry “Watch under!” It was introduced to the UK c.1963 by Aussie comedian Barry Humphries in the “Barry McKenzie”, comic strip which he wrote for Private Eye magazine.
17) Durst thou deem “fortnight” slang, ifaith? Pshaw!
Seriously, “fortnight” has been part of the English language since the Middle Ages. It’s a contraction of “fourteen nights”, analogous to “sennight” (i.e. “seven nights”, “week”) which still survives in some dialects.
These are not slang terms at all they are simply vernacular renderings to call them slang is “well out of order” and that is slang
Chunder is Australian, not British.
A phrase that never crept out of a clique, that also means to vomit, is ‘striping the tiger’ and comes from an occasion when Eric Clapton, the famous blues guitarist, threw up in an airport on a fellow musicians faux tigerskin boots.
There, I thought I’d share that with you
Nice page! I was searching for “british slang gutted”, and found it means what I thought.
Typo: “a real bollocking for getting to pick up the dry cleaning”
You dropped a 4 ;-). Should be “for forgetting”.
Oops… I think you forgot a word.
And I think in a few years we might have to add Brexit, in the same sense as cock up to the list, as in ‘My maths A level was a total Brexit’, or, ‘An American, driving through a roundabout in Milton Keynes made a Brexit of the traffic.’
Hope you don’t mind a few comments, 5 years later!
#1 – Mate. Your definition is rather more Australian. In Oz, “mateship”, or male cameraderie & bonding is a big deal. This historic meaning of the word has largely fallen out of use in the UK, except by drunks.
In modern Britain, the use of “mate” is MUCH more likely to be said sarcastically, to mean the exact opposite, by someone who is faking familiarity in order to take advantage (“Oy, mate, can you loan me a fiver for the bus home?”)
Also by those who regard others as so unimportant that they just can’t be bothered to learn or remember names and so call everyone “mate.”
And there are also the social inadequates who are uncomfortable with the intimacy of first names and use “mate” to maintain emotional distance.
So, if you visit the UK and someone calls you “mate”, check your wallet / pocket book.
#22 Scrummy. Is, of course, derived from scrumptious, so is not really slang at all.
#28 Wanker. Means an onanist, ie, a boy / man so useless that he can’t get laid and thus has to please himself. So it is, very specifically, an insult which denigrates a man’s sexual prowess. There is no female equivalent, since women were assumed never to masturbate.