28 British Slang Terms You Should Know

A cob, bap, or barm—a.k.a. a bread roll.
A cob, bap, or barm—a.k.a. a bread roll.
iStock.com/RichLegg

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.

If you want to know what's going on when you re-watch Harry Potter, or when you see Drake on Insta pretending to be a north London roadman, this list of words should help.

  1. Bollocks: literally, testicles. Colloquially, a general expression of annoyance or distaste.
  1. Cob: a bread roll.
  1. Bap: a bread roll.
  1. Barm: a bread roll.
  1. Kecks: a bread rol—hang on, no, trousers. It's trousers.
  1. Knackered: tired, but very. It can also mean worn-out or damaged.
  1. Bladdered: drunk. Insert 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.
  1. Punter: This one 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 (i.e. someone who's having a punt, or bet). The third meaning? A sex worker's client. Seriously, don't get them mixed up.
  1. Owt: something.
  1. Nowt: nothing.
  1. Gutted: incredibly disappointed.
  1. Bird: A woman, usually in the 18-40 age range. Except don't actually use it, because you'll sound a) like a dad and b) sexist.
  1. Peas: money.
  1. Bare: lots of, as in "man's making bare peas."
  1. Hench: muscular.
  1. Tory: a member of the British Conservative Party, used casually in a slightly demeaning way to denote a posh person.
  1. Offie: short for off-license; a shop that can sell alcohol for consumption off the premises. Similar to a liquor store, but usually has a greater variety of non-alcohol products.
  1. Tosser: a casual insult, equivalent to jerk-off.
  1. Pillock: a stupid person. Originally meant "penis," but barely anyone remembers that.
  1. Cwtch: an incredibly 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, like from your nan or something.
  1. Pants: underwear, not trousers.
  1. Fiver: a five-pound note. See also: tenner, but not twentier. That would be silly.
  1. Skint: broke, no money. A distinct lack of fivers and tenners.
  1. Chuffed: very happy, for example at not being skint after a windfall of fivers and tenners.
  1. Peng: good, or (of a person) attractive. "She's a peng ting [thing]." Other British slang words for attractive include fit, lush, a sort, piff, buff, leng.
  1. Pissed: drunk. Again—a lot of words for drunk.
  1. Fancy Dress: not "dressing fancy." Kind of the opposite—if you're being invited to a fancy dress party, you're being invited to a costume party.
  1. Roadman: Generally someone from London, characterized by heavy use of London-centric slang (modern, not cockney), full matching tracksuits, expensive trainers (sneakers, in American), and hanging around outside shops on street corners.

15 Ripsniptious Faux-Educated Words of the 19th Century

London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

In his 1859 Dictionary of Modern Slang, John Camden Hotten discussed a recent craze for long, fancy-sounding made-up words. These drew, loosely and creatively, on the prefixes and suffixes of educated big words to get their point across. “Nothing pleases an ignorant person,” he writes, “more than a high-sounding term ‘full of fury.’ How melodious and drum-like are those vulgar coruscations … what a ‘pull’ the sharp-nosed lodging-house keeper thinks she has over her victims if she can but hurl such testimonies of a liberal education at them when they are disputing her charges, and threatening to ABSQUATULATE!”

Though an educated person could sneer at the "vulgar" corruption of Latin-inspired word formation rules, few could deny their delicious mouth-feel, the genius rhythm with which they rolled off the tongue. Most of the terms came and went in the way that slang does, but a few were so melodious and apt that they became a part of our permanent vocabulary. Here are 15 of the most ripsniptious faux-educated words of the period.

1. Absquatulate

This word, popular in the 1830s, meant to make off with something. It vaguely calls up abscond, but in a longer and more complicated way. There was also an alternate term absquatualize and the noun abscotchalater, meaning thief.

2. Rambunctious

This familiar term also emerged in the U.S. around 1830 and was probably formed off the earlier rumbustious.

3. Bloviate

Bloviate, a combination of blow and orate, goes back to the 1850s. It was widely popularized in the early 1900s by President Warren G. Harding, who was known for his long, windy speeches.

4. Discombobulated

This word for a feeling of uncomfortable confusion started in the 1820s as discombobberate. There was also a noun conbobberation, used to refer to some kind of disturbance.

5. Explaterate

The –ate suffix was a particular favorite in these words. Explaterate, a bit like explain and a bit like prattle, meant talk on and on in the 1830s.

6. Teetotaciously

A much more forceful and enjoyable way to say "totally."

7. Exflunctify

"To drain" or "wear out." An activity could exfluncticate you and leave you worn out or exflunctified—or even worse, teetotaciously exflunctified.

8. Obflisticate

Obliterate is a perfectly fine word of proper standing, but its substitute obflisticate somehow makes the obliteration seem more complete.

9. Ripsniptious

Snappy, smart, heart-filling and grand. “Why, don’t you look right ripsniptious today!”

10. Bodaciously

Our modern sense of bodacious as "excellent" didn’t come about until the 1970s, but in the 1830s, bodaciously was used as an exaggerated way to say bodily. If you weren’t careful out there in the wilderness, you could get “bodaciously chewed up by a grizzly bear.”

11. Discumgalligumfricated

Louise Pound, founder of the journal American Speech, recorded this glorious creation, meaning “greatly astonished but pleased,” in her notes on the terms used by her students at the University of Nebraska in the early 1900s.

12. Ramsasspatorious

This word for "excited, anxious, impatient" makes you feel all three at the same time.

13. Slantingdicular

If something can be perpendicular, why not slantingdicular (also written as slantindicular)? This one, first seen in the 1840s, deserves a comeback.

14. Dedodgement

Old dialect descriptions note this as a Kentucky term for "exit."

15. Explicitrize

H.L. Menken’s The American Language records explicitrize as a word for "censure."

This list was first published in 2015.

Can You Spot the Official Scrabble Words?

iStock.com/Rena-Marie
iStock.com/Rena-Marie

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER