OK, so I laugh derisively whenever one of my coworkers, who’s basically an old Englishman trapped inside a young Englishman’s body, says “jolly good”… but secretly I find it a little endearing. British expressions are excellent day-to-day entertainment for this expat, and I’ve even adopted a few of them (with mixed results).
Here are just five of my favorites, with a more complete running list I’ll keep at the bottom of the page:
- I’m not fussed = I don’t care. Not to be confused with one of my least favorite British expressions, below.
- Go on then (especially when said in affirmative response to an offer) = Yes please – but it’s the tone used here that I love, as if the person is agreeing to co-conspire in whatever indulgence is on offer. E.g. “would you like a doughnut?” “Oh go on then.”
- To wind someone up = To tease someone/get someone worked up about something/provoke them
- Done and dusted = All finished
- A good shout = A good idea or suggestion
Honorable mention: crack on = continue, carry on
There are a few expressions, however, that really drive me nuts (mad):
- When British people say “I don’t mind” to mean “it doesn’t matter to me” or “either way”. This is very confusing to an American, since we use “I don’t mind” in an adjacent yet significantly different way, to express our acquiescence to something that is usually not desirable or ideal (i.e. to say “it doesn’t bother me”).
- When British people say “things are hotting up.” You already have a verb phrase that is very close to this and perfectly adequate and confuses parts of speech much less, Britain!!!
- “Pudding.” Some British people use pudding sometimes to mean “dessert”, generally. But not always. And the general dessert “pudding” is different from the specific “bread pudding” and the entirely separate category of savory puddings. The idea that someone could say, “It’s time for pudding, would you like cake or bread pudding?” upsets me. Oh but hold on: sometimes cake is a general term that applies to sweet foods that may not necessarily be literal cake. E tu, cake? I’ll have whisky, please, and make it a double.
One I’m not sure how I feel about: moreish, which = so tasty you can’t stop eating it. Is it endearing? Is it creepy? I can’t decide.
Like it or hate it, I usually can’t contain my delight at hearing a brand-new expression in my own language, and it’s always a fun topic of conversation around the office. However, sometimes it’s best to absorb new colloquialisms in silence… after hearing it tossed around a few times at a dinner a few years ago, I finally said “wait…what’s a bell end?” (Look it up, Americans, look it up…)
And actually, no word is really safe – I can’t even count on the ones I think I know. Take “to table”, for example. In British English, this means “to present for discussion or consideration,” but in the US this means “to postpone consideration of.”
Love: in a flap; to fancy; to be fit; nutter; twat; to kick off; keen; leave it; fair play to him/her/them; full-on; playing up; wanky; stonker; to be a state; lad (for bro); cheeky; bloody; sacked; to be sat; prat; goer; brolly; ___ is doing my head in; grass me up; to take the piss (out of); to be sat in/on (instead of to be sitting in/on); that’s not on (meaning “that’s not right,” morally)
Hate: bits and bobs; goodo; ta; cheers; pipped at the post; the goss; happy as larry; if I’m honest; Crimbo; crikey; pavement (instead of sidewalk); half [time] (e.g. half six instead of 6:30); off to a flyer; up the duff (like saying “knocked up”); whinge; maths; you alright/you OK to mean what’s up/how’s it going/as a conversation progresser
Neutral/can’t decide: faff; mad (for crazy); biro; nice (when talking about food – unfortunately I now say this); to get stuck in; touch wood; to sack; right.; indeed; meant to (instead of supposed to); cringe (as adjective); crap (as adjective); rushed off my feet; grim; gone off; rammed; belt and braces; corker; chancer (as in, “he’s a chancer”); smashing; blag it; bang-on; kit; on a promise; to pull; that’s the badger; “at the weekend”; “hiya” as a greeting; cracking; crackers; if you like (instead of if you want); fancy dress party