Finding America

Me and Tarah

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The American fascination with all things British does not simply stop at Harry Potter, Dr. Who and Downton Abbey. Any US-bound British expat will tell you that the "yanks" are just as interested in the wonderful and mysterious British lexicon, which includes approximately 3,383,982 words for inebriated, a seemingly endless pool of insults, and the most creative compendium of sex words on the planet. Here are 50 British words that Americans love to hear.

1. Rubbish (as in not very good)
2. Brilliant (as in terrific, fantastic)
3. Bloody (as in bloody idiot)
4. Blooming (as in blooming idiot)
5. Flipping (as in flipping idiot)
6. Wanker (offensive: insult)
7. Bollocks (exclamatory: as in oh damn. Also used to display strong disagreement: that's bollocks)
8. Lad (a boy)
9. Lass (a girl)
10. Mum (as opposed to mom)
11. Tosser (offensive: insult)
12. Pissed (as in inebriated)
13. Spiffing (as in very good)
14. Sod (insult)
15. Silly (as in a silly idiot)
16. Arse (as opposed to ass)
17. Blimey (exclamatory: a show of incredulity)
18. Boot (as opposed to the trunk (of a car))
19. Slag (offensive: a premiscuous woman)
20. Zed (pronunciation of the letter Z)
21. Uni (short for university)
22. Trainers (as opposed to sneakers)
23. Flat (as opposed to apartment)
24. Telly (short for television)
25. Sweets (as opposed to candy)
26. Git (insult)
27. Snog (as in French kiss)
28. Bugger (exclamatory: as in oh damn. Also used as an insult)
29. Shag (vulgar: as in have sex with)
30. Prat (insult).
31. Cheerio (informal: goodbye)
32. Argy-bargy (a verbal disagreement)
33. Dodgy (as in suspicious)
34. Holiday (as opposed to vacation)
35. Knickers (as opposed to panties or underwear)
36. Loo (as opposed to toilet or restroom)
37. Nutter (as in a wild, unpredictable person)
38. Quid (slang for pound sterling)
39. Rat-arsed (as in highly inebriated)
40. Shop (as opposed to store)
41. Whilst (as in while, e.g. whilst we wait)
42. Flannel (as opposed to wash cloth)
43. Lolly Pop (as opposed to popsicle)
44. Maths (as opposed to math)
45. Cuppa (as in a cuppa tea: a cup of tea)
46. Shite (variant of shit)
47. Fortnight (a period of 14 days)
48. Gob ( as in shut your gob: mouth)
49. Lorry (as opposed to truck)
50. Full stop (as opposed to period)

This article was written by Laurence Brown. Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and has written for Anglotopia. He is Editor-in-chief of Lost in the Pond and loves nothing more than to share these articles with anglophiles, expats, and other interested parties on social media. Follow Lost in the Pond on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.


  1. Great list! I think most (though maybe not all the insults) are I grained in my vocabulary already. Upon moving back tk England I've noticed I've adopted using expressions like 'proper' and 'to be fair'.

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose

  2. To be fair, Bonnie, that is a proper good way to speak. Innit!

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  3. I highly enjoyed this article! I feel in some small way our dressing room conversations during "Almost, Maine" might possibly have placed the seed of inspiration in your head!

  4. They absolutely did, Gloria. In fact, those conversations firmly helped me realize that this blog absolutely had to happen. So, thanks!

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  5. Yes! I keep being pulled up on 'bloody' - then asked if I say "ta ta"! I feel like I'm being treated like a five year old and any minute, will be patted on the head or tickled under the chin

  6. I would like to suggest berk. as in "what a Berk" possibly rhyming slang for something extraordinarily rude but quite charming nonetheless.

  7. "Berk" is best used when preceded by the words "a right... ".

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  8. I actually teach English in Spain so I have to use these words sometimes, much to my chagrin. Not that I don't like British English, it's just not the way I talk, ya know?

    Anyway, I canNOT say maths. I swear, it's so difficult!

  9. I have the same trouble with pronouncing the word "regular" in an American accent.

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  10. My hubby made a mature American lady giggle when he said "cheerio" to her (we had met in a hotel in Germany).

  11. Americans seem to like it when I say "that's brilliant!". Accordingly, I now say it at a greater ratio than once was the case.

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  12. I'm Australian and we use every single one of these 50 words just as the English do - with one exception. We say "truck" here, not "lorry" (it's used but rarely). And we also say "aluminium". Aloominum sounds so strange.

  13. Haha! I genuinely want to do a piece about Australian English. I'm thinking a 4-way comparison between American, Britain, Canada and the Ozzies!

  14. I didn't know until recently that the British say Aluminium instead of Aluminum.

  15. Ah, yes. Indeed I wrote a post about it.

  16. Laurence, I had a lot on my mind this morning, so I came to your blog to "lighten up." It worked!

  17. I thought popsicles were called ice lollies

  18. Popsicles are ice lollies.
    Around here, people call lollypops "suckers". A cashier recently asked my 2 year old about his "sucker". I had to translate to him that she was talking about his "lolly pop."

  19. I was fortunate enough to be an American expat in the early 1980's. We moved to London when our daughter, Kate, was 15 months old. As well as learning to talk there she went to the local preschool and watched all the BBC children's programs on the telly. We then moved to Ohio and I enrolled her in preschool but didn't tell the teachers where we'd lived for the past 3 years. When I went to pick Kate up from preschool the first day the teacher said, "Where has she been? She wanted to throw rubbish in the dustbin and go wee in the loo!" I told her we'd lived in London for 3 years, to which she replied, "London, Ohio?" The poor dear was really confused.

  20. You left off "gobsmacked." I think that's my all-time favourite ;)

  21. From Laura: I love hearing words that we Americans say, only where the emPHAsis is on the "wrong" Like, for instance we say ADject-ive and Brits say ahd-JECT-ive...My family plays a lot of "Mad-Libs"; whenever it asks for an adjective, I say it the British way, and my hubby used to get annoyed at Brits also say Adidas we say a-DEE-duss, and Brits say AH-dee-dAs...I love that!

  22. As an American in London, it took me awhile to understand 'chuffed.' However, thanks to the lovely John Finnemore's "Cabin Pressure," I feel acquainted with Brian's of Britain and the tern 'clot' as used to describe a Berk.

  23. I LOVE it!! Both of my best friends live in the UK and I in the states (South Carolina to be exact) I adore listening to them speak and they in turn find my accent lovely. You hit the nail on the head with this list :-)

  24. Americans are not just interested in the words themselves, mind you, but the differences in pronunciation. Especially when dropping "g's" and "h's. So it's not "blooming" and "flipping", but "bloomin'" and "flippin'".

    I especially like the beginning of Monty Python's Cheese shop sketch, where John Cleese has to resort to some slang-ish British (Cockney?) accent to make Michael Palin understand him.

    I also read the Andy Capp paperback collections when I was a kid, and enjoyed those.

  25. i'm english and i've never said spiffing and have no idea what rat-arsed means haha. and also, we call popsicles ice lollies or if they're not on a stick then we call them ice pops. a lollypop or a lolly is just the round sweets on sticks

  26. I don't think I've ever heard a Brit say, "Cheerio," except maybe in an old movie. Heard "Cheers" a lot, though--used interchangeably for thanks and goodbye.

  27. I'm a Brit ex-pat living in Indy too! Been here 18 years and still have trouble getting a glass of water! I work in a local garden centre and am asked a thousand times a day where I am from. I use cheerio a lot as the customers seem to like it, haha. After being here so long, I do experience confusion as to where certain words originate, whilst being one of them! Also is it "I am looking forward to...." or "I am looking forwards to..." and don't get me started on the pronunciation of garage!
    Cheers mate!


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