Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More Amazing BritishSpeak

Remember when I first started this blog (some of you do) I used to ask you to tell me examples of British words and phrases that Americans don't use, and tell me what they meant? Was that stupid, or what? After a couple of weeks I realized what an impossible request that was, and I stopped doing it. After all, how would you know what common words Americans didn't use? Duh. Of course you tried. You always try. And so I started out with a list of words you gave me that the whole world knows we use differently. Petrol. Boot. Bloody. Bonnet. Those words usually meant SOMETHING to Americans, just not what they meant in the UK.

I finally ended up buying boxes of books on the subject from Amazon, and then another box of Enid Blighton's books. On the subject of translating British into American, I recommend this one. Of course.

Later I learned there were nuances and variations WITHIN the UK as well. The Welsh have some words. Irish have special words. Scots? Never mind Scots. The Aussies and South Africans have their own weird lists. I found out why you are called Poms by those people. I thought "kak" was Afrikaans. (Turns out it's just your "cack".) I know what a stunned mullet is now, but I don't hang around Aussies much anymore.

But soon I realized you couldn't just make a list for me because, except for the obvious, you really didn't know you were using words and phrases that were "special" to an American. Basically, I stopped asking you and started reading. If I came across something I couldn't figure out on my own, I asked you what it meant and when it was supposed to be used. I don't know why. It was just fun.

My list grew and grew. Some words on it now are pretty absurd. Mainly I get words and phrases from you by reading blogs and newspaper posts and their comments. Outraged comments to newspaper posts, mostly political, are a very good source of British specialized profanity too, by the way.

I haven't shared any with you in a long time. This blog has long since branched out from learning only your words to learning about your country, history, habits. I basically live a life of analysis, and you are a never-ending source. "Fodder" I would call it if you weren't reading this right now.

From time to time I try to make a post on this blog which is germane to the reason it was started. This is one of those posts. Here are some new ones added to my list within the past week or so, along with some old friends.

holy joe
keep (in a store (shop), instead of "stock")
directed/redirected (mail: addressed/forwarded)
bottle (courage, gumption)
go off the boil
cuddy (this is probably Scotish. A kind of horse)
turn up (not "turnip") :)
streets ahead
ends in tears
bung (not a keg plug)
choc tops
silencers (not used for guns)
tarting it up
nap hand
tricky trev

Old friends: Candy floss, film wrap, pillar box, pants, dog's bollocks, carriageway, roundabout, tube. If you know all these, then you are either a long-time reader or... one of THEM. :) :)


  1. Guess you have "knackered"?
    Have to say I like Australian slang, it often makes me laugh, at least the first few times I hear it.

    1. Hi Jenny. Yes, I am knackered. I mean I DO have that word! In fact I liked it so much it is stuffed up in the header above somewhere. Knackered was one of my very first posts. If I remember correctly it may have had a meaning other than "tired" - so many of your words have double meanings. Makes it harder. :)

    2. And, Jenny, there is a pretty extensive list of Australian slang from Aussie readers on my old list page - just click on the flags in the right sidebar. And feel free to add more there if you know some!

    3. And Jaggered. For what you look like when you've been run over by a rolling stone...

      Paggered? That's not a word. I just can't trust you anymore.

    4. "Paggered" is indeed a word! Where I come from, it is synonymous with "knackered", but it has an additional connotation of violence, as in the question "Is thou deeking for pagger?" (Are you looking for a fight?). "Jiggered" is an exact synonym of "knackered".

    5. Welcome, Dennis! Just when I think I've collected most of them, I'm reminded how little I know. Thank you for your input. :)

  2. Holy Joe: My old school teacher, R.E. (religious Education), 40 minutes per week, Joe Pullan was known as 'Holy Joe'. He was a good teacher, and a good person, teaching us without attempting to indoctrinate.

    'Holy Joe' synonymous with 'sky pilot' and 'god-botherer'.

    Keep? Nope, never heard that as a synonym for 'stock'.
    Nap hand? Dab -hand, but nap? no, never heard it used.
    Jaffas. somewhat archaic now. cf. 'jubblies' I liked jubblies, a treat at the cinema.
    We had, about a mile down the road from home, a cinema so old that its sign said 'Gaiety Kinema'.

    You do hit the nail on the head there, when you say that of course we don't know what words would be unfamiliar to americans.

    Snap; lunch, a meal. Miners slang, common in Yorkshire, probably elsewhere. Snap-tin, what you'd call a lunch-pail, perhaps. Not at all related to runner Linford Christie's "lunchbox".
    Google it.

    1. I've heard it said (by British folk) when referring to a shop that used to have a good selection of something in particular, that "they don't keep those anymore" and we would say, "They don't stock that anymore, I guess." It may be a regional expression. I do remember the movie "Babe", where the Australian rancher/stockman was needing a good sheepdog and found out he had won Babe (a smart pig who, it turns out, could herd sheep and even talk to them) said to the prize guy, "A pig? I don't keep pigs." Meaning he was a sheep stockman. An American farmer would likely have said something like, "I don't raise pigs."

      A keep is part of a Castle, too. Did you know that? It isn't necessarily a British word, but I just thought of it. :)

    2. I think lunch pail (I've even heard it called "lunch bucket" from older people) comes from the days when workers' meals really were carried in a kind of pail with dividers inside. It's not a pail anymore. Don't know what kids take to school now. Many used to "brown bag" it. I can remember the work "lunch pails with the domed tops where the thermos fit in. I forgot what British call thermoses (thermi?)

    3. I heard an old song by Johnny Cash once about how he worked in a car factory and stole a part every day and carried it out in his lunchbox/lunchbucket until, 5 or 6 years later, he had a "new" Cadillac. I remember him having a video out for that song and they had cobbled together a Cadillac with all different year parts on it. One headlight on one side, two on the other. I'll bet they still have it on YouTube. :)

    4. Ah. Keep as in the verb, not the noun. As in shopkeeper. Finders-keepers, losers-weepers. keepsake, keep the wolf from the door. The little bar you put across the poles of a magnet to stop it losing its power is a keep.

      But the room at the back is a stockroom, not a keeproom. We 'keep stock of something', keep a stiff upper lip.

      keep (v.)
      late O.E. cepan "to seize, hold," also "to observe," from P.Gmc. *kopijanan, but with no certain connection to other languages. It possibly is related to O.E. capian "to look," from P.Gmc. *kap- (cepan was used c.1000 to render L. observare), which would make the basic sense "to keep an eye on."

      The word prob. belongs primarily to the vulgar and non-literary stratum of the language; but it comes up suddenly into literary use c.1000, and that in many senses, indicating considerable previous development. [OED]

      Sense of "preserve, maintain" is from mid-14c. Meaning "to maintain in proper order" is from 1550s; meaning "financially support and privately control" (usually in reference to mistresses) is from 1540s. Related: Kept; keeping.
      keep (n.)
      mid-13c., "care or heed in watching," from keep (v.). Meaning "innermost stronghold of a tower" is from 1580s, perhaps a translation of It. tenazza, with a notion of "that which keeps" (someone or something); the sense of "food required to keep a person or animal" is attested from 1801. For keeps "completely, for good" is Amer.Eng. colloquial, from 1861.

    5. Cool. But the point is, British custom is to use "keep" in that context of what a shop chooses to sell or put on its shelves, and Americans don't use that term for that. They say the item is not in stock. They don't say "that store doesn't keep that item anymore."


  3. "turn up" as in turning up trumps, or as in turn ups on your trousers? Or a turn up for the books? Or turn up on time?

    "jaffas" as in oranges or as in jaffa cakes?

    I only know one tricky Trev, you'll be pleased to hear.

    1. I think I meant "turn on." Kidding. I don't remember now. All I have in my hasty notes is "Now there's a turn up for the books." It's not "show up" like Americans say, as in "make an appearance." Drawing a blank.

      You had better not be feeding me Irish talk without identifying it as such. I trust you to blog in English.

      And don't think I don't get your tricky trev slur. :)

      Did I tell you it is good to see you here again? Alors.

      Jaffas as in those candy beans you roll down the floor at the cinema. You, not us. We had Good and Plenty. Pink and black.


    2. Trousers (pants) don't have turn ups. They have cuffs. :)

    3. Have you checked out cricket? In this quintessentially English sport, a "jaffa" is an unplayable delivery.

    4. Dennis, I try to stay away from Cricket, though there have been several posts on the subject. I don't know much more than when I started. The only Jaffa I know is a suburb of Tel Aviv. And I'm not even sure about THAT! I've tried. Honest I have.

  4. Ah'm fair scunnered with your failure to understand Lallans.
    Most UK folks understand US talk as movies and comics from there are forced upon us constantly. References to meaningless games like Baseball & throwball tell us more about you than most Americans will ever know about the UK. The internet will help, if anyone bothers to use it.
    At least your no glaikit yersel.

    1. You should make more movies then. All I had to watch were Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. You have far too many monsters roaming your heath and moors for me to visit.

      I could be glaikit. If I wanted to be.

  5. Flasks (thermi) is the word you were looking for I think.

    Anyway, good post although I hadn't heard some of your words, but being a Geordie we quite often have our own words. Like "bait" for a lunch you take to work, and "clarty" for something like mud, that's messy. It is also used when someone is being mushy and sentimental. I could go on all day...

    1. By 'eck, lass, ah've been fair clarted mony a time, an ah'm a yorkshireman.

      But never in a mushy or sentimental way.

    2. 'Bait' you mean 'piece.'
      Although today that has changed to 'sandwiches,' or the awful 'packed lunch,' which turns out to be sandwiches, known as your piece, or bait!

    3. You people are impossible. No wonder I can't cobble together a decent list - you don't even agree among yourselves! And I think some of you are just making these words up as you go along. Just saying.

    4. In 1975 I spent three months at a highways depot. The men came from all over the UK & a lot of Irishmen also appeared. Everyone had different names for tools. The storemen had to learn a variety of names foe almost every tool, and often had to show the implement or ask the guy to demonstrate what he wanted. "Corkscrew or gimlet sir?"

    5. Just how many corks actually have a crew?

      As for corkscrew vs gimlet, I'll bet what they really needed was an auger.

  6. Jenny used 'glove puppet' over at Adullamite's blog - whereas I would have called it a hand puppet ...

    a small and insignificant addition to this mighty big post of words .....


    1. Well, obviously, a glove puppet is a far more sophisticated thing than a sock-puppet, having finger-pockets for head and arms.
      Whereas a HAND puppet? Wouldn't that imply an unseemly nakedness of hand. Oh my. I'm blushing at the thought.

      Mitten-puppet? =Muppet.

    2. Sometimes you're such a donkey ....!! HAND puppet.... HAND puppet. Repeat as often as needed. You will soon be expected to know these things and answer relevant questions in your 'interview' ....


  7. Replies
    1. In case you haven't noticed, this is one hell of a classy blog. Please help me elevate the conversation to the purity it deserves.

      A., you are a proper British gentlelady. Please don't be using those words. Thank you. :)

    2. Hint: it's where Adullamite works on weekends. He's the guy by the door with his hand out asking for tips after you've spent your penny.

  8. Love it! Just wait until you start on Aussie slang...that will make you put your thinking cap on!!! ;)

    For instance (even though I've never used the word myself...when I was a child I wasn't allowed to do so...and have never done so)...."Dunny" is Aussie slang for - "toilet", "lavatory".

    1. Hello, Lee! Thank you for stopping by. I would like to recommend your most recent post for all here who love and remember music of the 60s and 70s. That includes a lot of the above commentors. Everybody go visit Lee and read this cool post!

  9. Apropos your list: "bottle" is Cockney rhyming slang and is quite rude, while "grotty" (and its cognate noun "grot") derive originally from "grotesque", although in both cases the present meaning has strayed somewhat from its origins.



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