Posted in London Life, Uncategorized

Translating Brit Speak: A Rough Guide for Americans

Confession: Despite the title of this blog, I never say “cheerio” – and neither does anyone else. It’s an outdated expression, but there are plenty of other British words and phrases I had to master when I first arrived in the UK. Here are a few, in case you find yourself struggling to grasp the locals when conversing:

To wind someone up – tease, annoy, or play a prank on; “Are you winding me up?” or “Your dad really winds you up, doesn’t he?”

To go pear-shaped – when something goes wrong; “It all went pear-shaped after I burnt the roast.”

To have the hump – be annoyed or irritated with someone: “Have you got the hump with me?” translates to “Are you angry/annoyed with me?”

Can’t be arsed – can’t be bothered, not worth the effort: “I’d like a cup of tea, but I can’t be arsed to make it myself.” Funny story with this one: when I first heard it, I was told the phrase was “I can’t be asked” (which some people do say). For months I used it in lessons with students until someone told me it was actually “can’t be arsed (or, in American, assed as in get off your ass). Apparently with my accent and speedy speech, students thought I’d been swearing in class on a regular basis. Whoops!

Bog standard – normal, unremarkable: “Yeah, the food there is bog standard.” or “I just need a bog standard car, nothing flashy.”

Take the piss – another way of saying make fun of, often by being facetious or appearing to be serious when you’re joking: “Don’t get upset, I’m only taking the piss.” Note: some people say “taking the mick/mickey” but this has anti-Irish connotations, so as a foreigner (am I still a foreigner if I’m married to/the mother of citizens? Hmm…) I avoid it. Also, don’t confuse this phrase with…

To get pissed – to get drunk. “You’re completely pissed” means “You’re very drunk”, not “You’re very angry.”

Come a cropper – fail badly: “The government’s policy on school funding is going to come a cropper in the next election.” One can only hope…

Throw a wobbly – have a fit or tantrum: “Mum’s going to throw a wobbly when she sees this mess!”

Pop to the shops (or anywhere else) – quickly go somewhere: “I’m just going to pop to the shops for some milk. Do you need anything?”

Curry – a general word used to mean all Indian food, NOT just dishes that actually involve the spice we call curry!! “Let’s get a curry tonight” means “Let’s order an Indian takeaway/eat at an Indian restaurant.” Top tip: don’t order anything on the menu that actually involves the spice we call curry. It’s not nice. Chicken tikka masala is a safe bet, or some kind of dahl (lentils) or jalfrezi (spicy but so yummy). I also highly recommend poppadoms and dips.

Dinner/supper/tea: Some folks call lunch, or the midday meal, “dinner”; these same folks probably call their evening meal “tea” or say “it’s teatime soon.” I’m told this is generally a working class phrase. Other (posher) folks call lunch “lunch” and “tea” means tea like with the queen, served in the late afternoon/early evening. These same folks call their evening meal “supper”, and dinner is nowhere to be heard.

The school run: dropping your kids off at school and picking them up again: “I’ve got to do the school run at 3, but I’ll be home after that.”

Holidays – any time off, not just Christmas/Hanukkah, usually involving travel: “Have fun on your holidays! Where are you going again?” or “It’s school holidays soon. Shall we meet up then?”

Bank holidays – public holidays that many/most people have off; some shops etc. are likely to be open but with more limited hours: “It’s a bank holiday this Monday. Should we have a barbeque [aka cookout] if the weather’s nice?”

Term time – when school is in session; most schools have three terms called autumn, spring and summer (they like to pretend winter doesn’t exist): “It’s hard for me to meet up during term time since I have to manage the school run on top of everything else, but I’m free over the holidays.”

Half-term – a break in the middle of a term, usually one week in state schools but sometimes longer in private schools: “I can’t wait for half-term – it feels like ages since the winter holidays!”

And that’s all I’ve got for now. Please feel free to correct me in the comments, since I’m definitely not a native speaker!



Texan, teacher, writer, reader: that’s me in a nutshell. Originally from Texas, I now live in London with my husband (he’s a Brit) and our two boys. I spend my time devouring books (especially young adult/middle grade fiction), baking cookies and generally going in ten directions at once. More than a decade ago, I moved to London for a teaching job, met my husband, stayed, and started a family. The last few years have been a whirlwind: in 2013, we moved to Austin, TX and I decided to stay at home with our son; in 2014, we bought and renovated a house in South Austin; in 2015, we welcomed our second son at a local birth center...and in 2016, we packed up and moved back to London! 2017 is set to see more changes as our eldest little starts school and I head back to the classroom. Read on for renovation info, book reviews, creative writing posts, and the general flotsam and jetsam of my life.

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