A Five and Dimes list of British slang phrases.
In 1971, I was lucky enough to live in Finland, in a beautiful city Imatra. While I was there, I had the excellent opportunity to be given a job teaching English as a second language.
I soon realized that for many of the students I had, the issue of colloquialisms or slang phrases kept being talked about as they had been taught by a British lady who spoke "British" English and not "American/Canadian" English.
I spent two glorious years teaching English as a second language and sharing with them our colloquialisms, and they shared with me all their knowledge of British slang phrases.
I'm sorry to say I never got to learn a lot of the Finnish language, but I was fortunate to absorb a lot of the Finnish culture and to this day, which stays with me.
In honor of that British English teacher, I thought it would be fitting to share some British colloquialisms ( slang phrases)
While some of these phrases are common usage, some of the phrases are no longer in use. Regardless I am sure you will find all of them interesting.
P.S. You may find a few of the phrases adult phrases... just warning you 😊
Bonus: By the way, did you know that a seven-volume slang British Dictionary was published in 1889?
At the bottom of this blog post, you will find a link to "The Oxford Dictionary of Slang by John Ayto 1998. With over 10,00 words and phrases, I am sure this will keep you entertained for a long time.
Here is a list of British Slang phrases, all 122 of them!
An interesting way of saying 'Absolutely'
If something is ace it is awesome, wonderful or fantastic.
All mouth and no trousers
Referring to someone who definitely cannot make good on their boastful claims.
"An often socially inept person, having an obsessive interest in a hobby or subject. Usually, has little or no fashion sense, and errs towards eccentricity. Originates from the 'trainspotter' look, of wearing anoraks; spending so much time at the end of station platforms in all weather necessitates the wearing of such attire". via A dictionary of Slang
Are you having a laugh?
Another way of saying"Are you being serious?" or "Are you kidding me?"
Arse over elbow
This is another way of saying head over heels but is a little more descriptive( usually happens after 11 pm on a Saturday night and too many lagers) Another more graphic way of saying the same thing is Arse over tit.
Arse about face
Means you are doing something back to front.
As right as rain
Means to feel healthy or well again.
Associated with or showing a pretentious interest in the arts. eg. You're just dressing like that to be with your artsy-fartsy friends.
Something that has "gone wrong", as in a situation that hasn’t gone according to plan.
Bangers and mash
Sausages and mashed potatoes
First, know use was in 1872. meaning to be eccentric or daft; crazy, or very silly.
This term originates from the prolific slang of the Flappers ( 1920's) and meant that what you did was the height of excellence - amazing or awesome.
A lot of children were told this and it means to shut up.
Bits and bobs
A random assortment of things; small remaining pieces and items. An interesting note: A "bit" was a coin ( a three-penny bit) and a "bob" was a shilling or twelve pence.
Means being drunk.
Usually, a man who is contemptible, annoying. The word is maybe related to the word "blight" a plant disease that ruins potatoes.
One of the most versatile and useful swear words in the English language. It's usually an exclamation of surprise such as "bloody hell" or it can a way to emphasize anything you want "you're bloody kidding" "Not bloody likely" " I bloody well will sell that car".
Blood and sand
An exclamation of surprise or anger. A mild and antiquated curse.
This word can be used to mean nonsense or "don't be ridiculous". It can also be used a mild swear word following a minor accident as an example.
Used as a disparaging form of addressing usually a woman and is a different way of saying "bitch".
Big white telephone
"The toilet; not the room itself, but the toilet bowl. Usually combined with various terms to express the action of vomiting, i.e. talking down the big white telephone."
via A Dictionary of Slang.
A stupid, foolish, or scatterbrained person.
You can use this word to mean to cram ( study) for an exam quickly or to refresh one's memory before giving a speech
To be slightly rude or showing no respect, but often in a funny way; A lighthearted name for a person who is verbally impertinent.
Refers to the way a story gets changed as it passes from one person to the next so that the end result may be completely different from what was originally said.
To make a bad and embarrassing mistake.
The policeman dropped a clanger when he criticized the paraplegic for not standing.
When you are so nervous you get butterflies in the stomach.
A chat or a brief conversation. Many people will have a chin-wag with their friends on Facebook.
An emphatic way of saying that something is nonsense. The dog ate my homework is a codswallop. Another way of saying bull shit or baloney.
A polite way of saying dried nasal excretion or booger.
To rip someone off or to con someone is to diddle them.
To get dressed up nicely
An unnamed object. Thing, thingamajig, whatchamacallit.
“What is that doofer?”
Another way of saying “I haven’t seen you in a long time!”
Dull as dishwater
Exceedingly, horribly boring or plain.
To eavesdrop.“ Mom, don't earwig on my personal phone calls.
A severe reprimand. “He got a right ear-bashing after crashing his dad’s car into that light pole.
Eyes like a shithouse rat
Describing a person with very sharp, observant eyesight.
Meaning extremely tired; exhausted
"I'm completely fagged after walking five miles!"
Fall Arse Over Tit
To have an embarrassing fall or to topple over.
To filch is to steal or pilfer
Fill your boots
Help yourself or enjoy yourself
Flash the V's
An action of contempt, an insulting gesture. Involves raising the hand and making a V-sign with the index and forefinger, with the back of the hand facing away from the giver.
Float an air biscuit
To Break "wind" from the anus - to fart
A unit of time equal to 14 days (2 weeks). The word derives from the Old English: fēowertyne niht, meaning "fourteen nights". “I’ll be back in a fortnight to check on you.”
“Beat it” or “Scram!
Boss, foreman, or employer. “Let’s ask the gaffer if we can go on break.”
Utterly astonished, thunderstruck, at a loss for words, awe
In British slang it means food. A small cafe serving excellent grub.
An exclamation. Hard luck! Often said cynically or sarcastically.
Another way of saying Vacuum
A mess. Dated expression and rarely heard. E.g."I made a complete Horlicks of the situation."
A skirmish or fight caused by differing views.
“He and I got into a kerfuffle over politics.”
A short sleep, forty winks, or a snooze.
To be Exhausted.
To punch someone in the face.
A convict, especially one who served or is serving a long prison sentence.
Lights are on but no-one's home
Talking about a person, that they are alive but not in touch with reality, or a person whose attention has wandered off.
another word for toilet or "bathroom"
To be sick or under the weather.
Mad as a bag of ferrets
Utterly and completely insane.
Wit, intelligence, or good sense.“Have you lost your marbles?”
To be annoyed or Irked.
Another name for Cat.
To Ruin something. I mucked up the cake recipe and as a result, it didn't rise as it should.
Nasty piece of work
An unpleasant and devious person.
Person of high social status, snob.“Some nob in a fancy car splashed me."
Not my cup of tea
This is a common saying that means something is not to your liking.
This is Yorkshire for nothing. Similarly, owt is Yorkshire for anything. Hence the expression "you don't get owt for nowt". Roughly translated as "you never get anything for nothing" or "there's no such thing as a free lunch".
An incompetent or unwise person.
“You and your numpty friend should apologize.”
If someone said you were off color they would mean that you look pale and ill!
Off One’s Trolley
To be mad, out of one’s mind.
Old Bill, The Old Bill
A metaphor for a policeman, or the police in general.
“Old Bill broke up the street fight.”
On The Piss
Binge drinking solely for the purpose of getting totally smashed(drunk)
A temper tantrum. “Don’t throw a paddy about your team losing.”
Well here the pavement is the sidewalk and a pavement pizza is a descriptive way of saying vomit.
An archaic, out-of-use phrase used to say goodbye.
Horrible, cheap wine.
A poser or a freeloader. some people also say that a ponce is someone who lives off immoral earnings in origin in its rudest sense which has become used less offensively as a freeloader. Ie older generations can find it more offensive than younger generations.
A very polite way of saying you farted.
Put a sock in it
This is one way of telling someone to shut up.
Queer someone’s pitch
To spoil someone’s efforts.
“I was about to close the deal until you queered my pitch.”
A pound in money is called a quid ( £ ). It is the equivalent of the dollar in Canada/USA. A five-pound note is called a fiver and a ten-pound note is called a tenner.
The stuff we put in the bin. Trash or garbage to you. You might also accuse someone of talking rubbish.
Another word for hanky panky, or a bit of nookie!
If someone gets the sack it means they are fired.
See A Man About a Dog
What you say as an excuse for leaving, in order to hide your destination; also, to excuse oneself to go to the bathroom to defecate ( poop).
Another way of saying sexual intercourse.
A more polite way of saying shit.
A restless, fidgety person.
Sixes and sevens
If something is all at sixes and sevens then it is in a mess, topsy-turvy or somewhat haywire!
What you would call crooked. Like when you put a shelf up and it isn't straight we would say it is all skew-whiff.
A character deemed particularly lazy or incapable of being of use.
Slap And Tickle
Making out or sexual foreplay.
Yet another way to describe being drunk
Wheedling in a way that is perceived as insincere or excessive.
“I give up.” Used in a sentence: “I’ll never understand this math problem. Sod it, let’s go get a coffee”
This is another name for Murphy's law - whatever can go wrong, will go wrong
To leave (someone) in a difficult situation. To thwart.
"I managed to lose my car keys—that was me snookered"
Spend a penny
To spend a penny is to go to the bathroom. It is a very old fashioned expression that still exists today. It comes from the fact that in ladies loos you used to operate the door by inserting an old penny.
A hunger-inducing term for a woman’s breasts. Some other names for breasts include funbags,charlies, breasticle, tittay, tata, the girls, mammaries, lungs, tracts of land and for men "moob"
To make out/fool around.
Take a hike
To depart. Usually a demand by someone.
Take the mickey
To tease or mock.“Don’t get so upset when someone takes the mickey.”
Talk out of one's arse
To talk nonsense. E.g."You're talking out of your arse if you think you can beat Canada in curling."
Another word for Potatoes. Often heard in neeps and tatties (swede/turnip and potatoes). [Scottish use]
Throw A Spanner In The Works
To make a mistake or screw up something.
A phrase for when everything’s going great (Example: “All is tickety-boo in my world.”)
An informal way of saying goodbye
Total bullshit, nonsense or rubbish.
A contemptible idiot.
Generally a usually intelligent but particularly anally retentive person; the person may be obsessed with trivia or have a keen interest in collecting particular objects or data, such as trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Originates from the much-ridiculed hobby of rail enthusiasts, trainspotting, the viewing and taking note of trains from station platforms. The expression was popular on the club scene at which a trainspotter will be seen watching DJ's, spotting which tracks are played and gleaning knowledge on the music for future reference.
To waste time, or play truant. “I had nothing to do but "wag off" at work.”
This is a derogatory term used to describe someone who is a bit of a jerk. It actually means someone who masturbates (wanks) and also has a hand signal that can be done with one hand at people that cannot see you shouting "wanker" at them (the one finger salute)
Warts and all
Equivalent to ‘as is.’ Taken to include all negative characteristics. “Alright, I’ll keep you, warts and all.”
To talk or write a lot without giving any useful information or any clear answers
Whingers are not popular in any circumstance. To whinge is to whine.
If something is shaky or unstable you might say it is wonky.
Click on the Oxford Dictionary of Slang by John Ayto.
Once the new page opens, at the top of the page you will see a downward arrow. Click on the arrow to download a copy of this online book to your computer.
Grateful thanks to these wonderful resources for helping me to create this blog post
Top 100 Most Beautiful British Slang Words and Phrases – Guide to English Slang
A Dictionary of Slang
75 Simple British Slang Phrases You Should Probably Start Using
50 British Slang Words & Phrases You Need to Know
71 Simple British Slang Phrases Everyone Should Start Using
The American's guide to speaking British