Welcome to Britain, where the food is heavy and the slang is almost completely impenetrable. It should be easy—Britain exported the English language, after all—but there are so many regional quirks that never made it beyond the borders that things can get quite tricky for the non-locals.
Literally, bollocks means “testicles.” Colloquially, it can be used as a general expression of annoyance or distaste; it also means “nonsense.”
2., 3., and 4. Cob, Bap, and Barm
5. To Have a Cob On
When someone has a cob on, that means they’re annoyed or in a bad mood. One reader of The Guardian speculated that the phrase may have come from the old practice of wearing bread as a status symbol and was originally used in a derogatory way to mean “high and mighty” before evolving to its current meaning. It might also come from the fact that male swans, or cobs, aren’t exactly the sweetest of creatures.
Slang for “trousers,” but can also refer to knickers or underwear.
In the UK, pants refers to underwear, not trousers.
Very tired. It can also mean “worn-out” or “damaged.”
9. and 10. Bladdered and Pissed
Both bladdered and pissed mean “drunk.” Insert basically any noun, add -ed on the end of it, and it means “drunk” if you give it the right emphasis. The British have a lot of words for being drunk.
Punter has a few meanings, and it’s fairly important not to mix them up. It can be used to describe paying customers (usually as part of a crowd or audience), or it can be someone who’s gambling (they’re having a punt, as in “bet”). The third meaning? A sex worker’s client. Seriously, don’t get them mixed up.
13. and 14. Owt and Nowt
Gutted means “incredibly disappointed.”
Bird is a British slang term for a young woman.
Bare means “lots of,” as in “that person is making bare peas.”
A Tory is a member of the British Conservative Party; the word is used casually in a slightly demeaning way to denote a posh person.
Offie is short for off-license, a shop that can sell alcohol for consumption off the premises. It’s similar to a liquor store, but usually has a greater variety of non-alcohol products.
This insult for “a foolish or despicable person” probably comes from toss off, meaning “to masturbate.”
Since the 1960s, pillock has been used as a term for a stupid person, but when it originated in the 1530s it meant “penis.”
A Welsh term for a hug (pronounced “kutch,” as if it rhymes with butch)—specifically, a nice, cozy hug that makes you feel all warm inside.
A five-pound note. See also: tenner.
Skint means “broke, no money”—in other words, a distinct lack of fivers and tenners.
Peng means “good,” or, if you’re talking about a person, “attractive”—you might say, “She’s a peng ting,” with ting meaning “thing.” According to Collins Dictionary, peng likely derives from “Jamaican creole kushungpeng[,] high-quality cannabis.”
29. Fancy Dress
Fancy dress does not mean “dressing fancy.” In fact, it means kind of the opposite—if you're being invited to a fancy dress party, you’re being invited to a costume party.
A roadman is generally someone from London, characterized by heavy use of London-centric slang (modern, not cockney), a matching tracksuit, expensive trainers (or “sneakers,” in American English), and hanging around outside shops on street corners.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.
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