23 Very British Words You Need To Start Using

british words

It’s not like I haven’t written about being the Token British Girl in America™ before. It’s not big news to anyone. I’ve been living in the States for a year, coming and going for four years, and I am thoroughly used to people cocking their head to one side and saying, with an entirely enamored expression, “Do you have an accent?”

accent lol

I do have an accent. I believe I am losing it, actually, which has become a sore spot for me (and my parents). Naturally, the way I speak has changed over time: I speak with a vaguely different inflection, and I lazily add far too many “likes” into my general speech pattern. I also know, having been here for so long, which words to emit and which words to substitute in. I “take the trash out” instead of “doing the bins”. I eat “fries”, not “chips”. I eat “chips”, not “crisps”.

But there are some things that I simply cannot shake. I still add the British “u” into certain words: colour, favourite, behaviour. I still screech “bloody hell!” in Ron-Weasley-esque surprise. I still—still!—struggle to adapt to American punctuation, much to the chagrin of Literally, Darling‘s copy editor. (Copy editor’s note: Amy gets diplomatic grammar immunity.)

Also, I use some words without even realizing that no-one understands what I’m saying. My husband and I still have moments where I automatically say a word without noticing that it’s a “British word” and that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what it means. I do try to adapt, of course, and keep the British-isms on the down-low, but there are inevitable, approximately bi-weekly moments where we get lost in translation.

So, naturally, I noted these words down, with every intent to write some sort of list in an open letter to everyone I interact with. And, finally, here it is. Dear friends: This one’s for you. Now you have no excuse for chuckling at my quaint British-English, because now you can learn it too!

1. “Cheers”

The classic. “Cheers” = “thank you”, but in a more casual way. Also used to sign off conversations. Basically, a verbal thumbs-up.

2. “Fortnight”

This means two weeks, i.e. “I get paid every fortnight”.

3. “Rubbish”

Rubbish is trash, yes. But it’s also just an expression for garbage that people say/do/are. For example, David Cameron is a rubbish Prime Minister.


4. “Lorry”

Excuse my poor technical knowledge of vehicles, but a lorry is basically a big truck. It’s also the basis of the best tongue-twister ever: redlorryyellowlorry. SAY IT. KEEP SAYING IT.

5. “Uni”

Short for “university”, a.k.a., college. College, to us, is different. Uni is the place you go to chug beer/do stupid shit/study a bit.

6. “Fresher”

Not like the Bey way (although yes she is queen). A fresher is a freshman in college, although the expression “down it fresher!” is used pretty much universally, whenever beer-chugging occurs.


7. “Bomb”

Yes, a bomb is an explosive device. No, it’s not an adjective (Cali kids, keep away from me with your “hella bomb” crap). To bomb is a verb, as in “to go very quickly”. One would bomb down the highway motorway when late for work, for example.

8. “Brill”

Short for “brilliant” (as in, great/marvellous/excellent/etc.), I didn’t realize that Americans don’t tend to use this word that often. Abbreviated to “brill”, or “brillikins” if you are my Nan.

9. “Cheeky”

I had to consult the Google machine for this one because I have no idea how to describe it. Google sayeth: “impudent or irreverent, typically in an endearing or amusing way”. Like when your adorable little nephew tells you you’re a Very Big Person, that’d be rather cheeky of him.


10. “Chuffed”

Did you get a promotion, do surprisingly well in an exam, or purchase an excellent new coffee machine on a whim?* You’d be chuffed, i.e., very pleased.

*This happened recently. I regret nothing.

11. “Cram”

I really didn’t know that to “cram” was a British word until very recently. It basically means packing a lot of stuff into a small space—like when you cram a week’s worth of laundry into the washing machine—or revising a semester’s worth of knowledge in one night. So, basically, it’s an indispensable verb for the average millennial.

12. “Chunder”

To vomit.


13. “Do”

A “do” is a noun, referring to an event. One has a birthday do, for example. Typically used by older generations, so it sort of implies a gaggle of old folks waving walking sticks around under a disco ball.

14. “Gobby”

When someone is being awful and loud and mouthy, they are gobby. Thus, this adjective describes the worst sort of person.

15. “Gutted”

To be “gutted” about something is to be sad about it, but think more casual-sadness than actual-sadness. For example, if your sports team loses, you’d be gutted. If your aunt died… you’d be a bit more than gutted.

16. “Hiya”

As in, hello. Of course it’s not an exclusively British term, but across the pond we do tend to use it much more often.


17. “Manky”

“Manky” just means, “a bit gross”. Like when your food goes a bit past its expiry date, or leave a used tissue lying around, that’s kind of manky.

18. “Naff”

GOOGLE IS WRONG on this one. Google says it means to go away, i.e., to “naff off”. And, OK, it can mean that, but no one actually says that. “Naff”, as far as I am concerned, is an adjective meaning that something is a bit tacky or uncool. Like one of those cheap, super-diamante-studded watches, or any of this shit.

19. “Not my cup of tea”

Any of this shit would probably also count as being “not our cup of tea”, too. It just means, in the politest (and therefore most British) way possible, that you hate something. For example, Nigel Farage is not my cup of tea.

20. “Worldie”

This one kind of filtered down from North-East England after “Geordie Shore”; it basically means a really attractive woman. But, in order to use it, the man must be fake-tanned enough to out-orange a bottle of Fanta.

21. “Bird”

Another term for a woman, that’s also typically used by men talking about women. The difference between the two is that there is no connotation of attractiveness to refer to a “bird”; as long as she’s got two X-chromosomes, she qualifies. How fortunate of us ladies to have pet names, amirite?

geordie shore

22. “Arse”

Technically this refers to one’s derriere. But it also is a noun that refers to people, too. Like that guy in the GIF above is a bit of an arse. You say “ass”, we say “arrrr-se”.

23. “Taking the piss”

“I’m taking the piss”, as in, “I’m joking“.

View Comments (6)
  • Some of these are used in the US, like ‘not my cup of tea’ (though we prefer to use other ways of describing not liking something, we all know what it means) and cram (this is a more commonly used one), but there were many of these that had me very confused on. Thank you for taking the time to type all this up!!!! Very Informative!

  • I get ‘narked’ sometimes having to tell someone that if they discribe themselves as ‘Being Pissed’, in ‘English’, they are in effect saying that they are drunk!

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