This week’s “Lesson learned…in England”

…In America they haven’t spoken English for years! ~Professor Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady


Leading up to my trip, I assured myself that, although I would be going to a place I had never been before and moreover, I wouldn’t know anyone when I got there, I would at least be able to speak “the language.” Oh sure, I knew there were some slight colloquial differences–”boot” for “car trunk”; “wellies” for “rain boots”; and quirky expressions such as “Blimey,” “Blast it all,” or “Bugger.” But ultimately it’s all english, right?

Not quite–as I quickly discovered, whilst conversing with my fellow ‘Arvonites.’ Although we were all speaking ‘english’ sometimes they might as well have been speaking latin to me, since I couldn’t make heads or tails of what they were saying…This definitely caused some quite humorous moments, and as a result, I’ve put together a very elementary primer of “Britishisms.”

Lesson 1: The British have a lot more swear words, and seem to have a lot more fun saying them.

“Bollocks, Sod off, Shite, Twot***” So much more emphatic than the “limited” American vocabulary of swear words… (***a note about “twot”: I actually misheard this–the proper term is “TwAt” and it may or may not be worse than the “c” word (which, by the way, means the same thing on either side of the pond).

Lesson 2: British slang can easily throw you for a loop.

I quickly learned that if I didn’t want to completely lose the thread of a conversation, I’d better swallow my pride and confess my ignorance of a certain word or phrase.

Here are a few bits o’ slang:

Quid–Pounds (akin to the American slang “cash” for “dollars”)

Cheers–not just used for toasts but also when saying goodbye or thanks

Ring me up/Give me a ring–means to call someone up on the telephone or ‘mobile’

A school night–refers to any night when one should be sleeping due to work in the morning

Lesson 3: There are sometimes where the word is the same, but the meaning is completely different.

The Bill–Britain: the police; America: the check

Pants–Britain: underwear; America: what women wear when not wearing a skirt or dress (the British call them “trousers”)

Suspenders–Britain: garters (worn under a dress to hold up a woman’s stockings); America: worn over the shoulders to hold up the pants

So there you have it, three easy peasy lessons for talking with your British friends. And even if you accidentally make a fool of yourself by saying “I wish I’d worn pants today, since it’s cold (whilst wearing a skirt)”–just remember that Brits experience the same confusion when coming to America, so you’re not a complete “burk.”

7 thoughts on “This week’s “Lesson learned…in England”

  1. Sasha says:

    Even those of us who’ve been over here ages still get it wrong sometimes…too bloody right it’s more fun to swear in the Queen’s English! (I almost mis-typed sweat!)

  2. Shaun says:

    Funny thing about ‘berk’ is that it’s a far bit ruder than its usage would have it. I read (I forget where) that it’s from a shortened rhyming slang phrase ‘Berkshire Hunt.’ The rest is probably clear. (Weirder thing is that ‘Berkshire’ is pronounced ‘Bark-sher’.)

    Still, lots of TV programmes are never the same again with this knowledge…

  3. Hannah says:

    That reminds me of a story my dad told me – not long after my mum first came to the UK (having learnt US English), my parents were at a dinner party where the conversation turned to men wearing suspenders in secret. My mum, innocent and confused, said “I don’t see what was wrong with that: men look pretty dashing in suspenders. Even Rog [my dad] wears them sometimes…”

    I believe a stunned silence followed!

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