8 British Expressions, Explained

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iStock

The British have many delightful and colorful expressions that often make no sense to those of us on this side of the pond. Luckily, Christopher J. Moore has decoded a number of them in How to Speak Brit: The Quintessential Guide to the King's English, Cockney Slang, and Other Flummoxing British Phrases. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. LOAD OF COBBLERS

This phrase, which means "a lot of rubbish or nonsense," has its origin in rhyming slang. The full phrase, Moore writes, is "a load of cobbler's awls," and awls rhymes with ... well, you can probably figure that out. So, don't use this one around anybody respectable.

2. HOW’S YOUR FATHER?

Brits are all about keeping things proper, so they’ve come up with many fantastic slang terms for referring to stuff that would be considered untoward in polite company. "How’s your father?" is one of these phrases. According to Moore, this turn of the century phrase was probably coined by comedian Harry Tate, who used it to change the subject when something he didn’t want to talk about came up. Eventually, it became slang for sexual activity.

3. ALL MOUTH AND NO TROUSERS

Hailing from the north of England, this phrase is “used to describe a man whose sense of self-importance is in inverse proportion to his actual relevance,” Moore writes. The mouth refers to brash talk; trousers, of course, are pants.

4. BOB’S YOUR UNCLE

It means “and there you are!” or “it’s that simple!” According to Moore, it’s thought to have originated in the late 1880s, when Arthur Balfour—nephew of the Victorian Prime Minister Robert Cecil—was appointed to be the Chief Secretary in Ireland though he had no qualifications. “So he got the job purely because Bob was his uncle,” Moore writes. “A nice theory, and no one has come up with anything convincingly better.”

5. BY HOOK OR BY CROOK

“A very old phrase meaning to use any means possible and bearing no relation to criminals,” Moore writes. First used in the 14th century, it refers to peasants pulling down branches for firewood using either a bill-hook or a shepherd’s crook.

6. ON THE PULL

Another British slang term for something considered rude to talk about in plain terms. If you’re out at the pub and someone tells you they’re “on the pull,” it means they’re looking for someone to hook up with. Saucy!

7. SPEND A PENNY

This slang phrase for a visit to the bathroom “comes from the old practice, literally, of having to put a penny in the door of a public bathroom to use it,” Moore writes. It's only appropriate for informal settings, so don’t use it to ask where the restrooms are in a restaurant!

8. SWEET FANNY ADAMS

It means, essentially, f*** all, and though it sounds delightful, it has a dark historical origin: Fanny Adams was a real person, a child who was murdered and dismembered in 1867; she was nicknamed "Sweet Fanny Adams" during her murderer's trial and execution because of her youth and innocence. Not long after, the Royal Navy introduced tinned meat rations, which the sailors referred to as Sweet Fanny Adams, a reference to the crime. Eventually, Moore writes, “the expression spread into wider use as meaning something of little or no value, and was commonly shortened to Sweet FA. In modern usage the phrase has become crossed with another, more impolite FA, which also means ‘absolutely nothing.’”

For more explanations of British words and phrases, pick up How to Speak Brit here.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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What’s the Difference Between a Tiara and a Crown?

Jonathan Brady-WPA Pool/Getty Images
Jonathan Brady-WPA Pool/Getty Images

Fancy headgear of any kind is often a dead giveaway that the wearer is of some importance, be it the bride-to-be at a bachelorette party or the Queen of England herself. But while you might refer to those ornate accessories as crowns or tiaras without giving too much thought to which term is most accurate, there are specific differences between the two accessories.

One way to distinguish a crown from a tiara is by looking at who’s wearing it. Traditionally, only sovereigns don crowns, while other members of the royal family and nobility occasionally wear coronets, which are essentially smaller, less elaborate crowns. You don’t have to be royal to wear a tiara, but you do have to be a bride or a married woman (at least if you’re following tradition).

“The tiara has its roots in classical antiquity and was seen as an emblem of the loss of innocence to the crowning of love,” Geoffrey Munn, jewelry expert and author of Tiaras: A History of Splendour, told Town & Country.

According to Insider, there is one exception to this rule: If you’re born a princess, you can wear a tiara when you’re still single. Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter, Princess Anne, for example, wore her mother’s Cartier Halo  tiara during a trip to New Zealand in 1970, a few years before she was married. Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, who didn’t hail from royalty, both wore tiaras for the first time on their wedding days.

The designs for tiaras and crowns differ, too. As Jewelry Shopping Guide explains, a crown is always a full circle, while a tiara is sometimes only semi-circular. Crowns are also usually larger—and taller—than tiaras. And though there aren’t any specific rules about what gems or materials crowns and tiaras should include, crowns are often more colorful and ostentatious than tiaras. Britain’s Imperial State Crown, for instance, includes sapphires, rubies, emeralds, purple velvet, and more.

However, since there isn’t a headdress enforcement squad in Britain or anywhere else (at least not one that we know of), there’s no reason you can’t sport a crown during your next Zoom happy hour, royal or not.

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