A Guide to British Slang

Photograph by Sierra Hancock

Learning the slang of a new region is a battle. Words can have vastly different meanings just an ocean away,and Britain is no exception. Though people in both the UK and the US speak English, there is a huge gap one must cross to fully understand the area’s social norms.

written by Alex Wilking

Lack of a language barrier may not seem daunting, but the slang spoken throughout Britain may as well make it another language.

For starters, French fries are referred to as chips, while chips are called crisps. If someone yells cheerio, they’re saying goodbye and not offering a bowl of cereal. And when ordering food to go, it’s take-away and not takeout.

The stereotypical terms that American’s often associate with Britain are actually quite commonplace. If someone’s going out to a pub with a friend, they’d call up a mate. If that someone couldn’t leave their parents side, they’d invite their mum, not mom. And though the gathering may be awkward with a parent there, everyone would say cheers when they get their drinks and when they part ways. Saying cheers often replaces a goodbye in London, even when alcohol isn’t involved.

Style is a major part of London’s lifestyle, so it’s important to grasp the different expressions for clothing. If it’s a bit nippy outside, that vintage sweater from the thrift store would be called a jumper. Pants often refer to underwear, so be careful when shopping. If pants are actually desired, ask where the trousers are. And though it isn’t too different, shirts are called tops.

Pounds, notes and quid are acceptable when paying in the United Kingdom. It might seem complicated, but they all basically mean the same thing. Notes refer to bills, since anything a pound or less is a coin. Quid is slang for pounds, but each term is interchanged quite often. If someone challenges that logic, they’d be a wanker (jerk).

When riding the underground public transportation, the train is referred to as the Tube. When exiting at a station, it’s considered alighting. But if there’s a rush, cab’s (taxis) are always available. The driver will likely travel under some flyovers, or overpasses, at breakneck speeds. Just be sure not to get into a wing-bender on the way.

It’s all bloody confusing at first, but that’s what slang is — shorthand speech for a specific region. If anything is taken from this guide, it’s that English is an incredibly broad language. American ideas and customs vary drastically from other parts of the world. And just because people in Britain speak English doesn’t mean a trip there will be a cakewalk.

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