United Kingdom English for the American Novice


BABY SITTING CIRCLE phrase. 1. Baby sitting co-op. This is a group of parents who share baby sitting services between themselves. Various schemes are used to ensure that one only uses as much "service" as one "serves".

BAP 1. A soft, round bun, similar to a hamburger bun, or an entire sandwich. As in, "I'll have an 'am and cheese bap please."

BALACLAVA n. 1. A ski mask. The term originates from the Battle of Balaclava where the BALACLAVA was invented.

BANGERS n. 1. Sausages. A very common meal is BANGERS and MASH (sausages and mashed potatoes). The sausages are called BANGERS because they will burst if you do not pierce them while they are cooking.

BANJO n. 1. A garage sale where children's clothes and toys may be found. Note: Only much later did we discover this name is simply a composite of the ladies' names who run the BANJO. It is not a term to be commonly understood by those people outside Colden Common, HANTS.

BAR 1. Gambling term used to note those entrants in a competition who all are equally (un)likely to win and are quoted at the same odds. As in, "11:1 BAR". This would mean that all other entries, bar none, are quoted at 11 to 1 odds to win.

BARRISTER n. 1. A specialist trial lawyer, who may appear before the higher courts, as opposed to your common garden-variety SOLICITOR, who generally may not. BARRISTERS may not join a firm of other lawyers. They must practice the law completely independently, but may be grouped together to share office expenses such as telephones etc., however, their practices may not overlap in any manner. These restrictions do not apply to SOLICITORS.

BARRISTERS cannot tout for business and tradition has it that a BARRISTER is not really employed at all. He offers his services as a gesture, and if, in gratitude, you want to slip him a few SOVEREIGNS as an honorarium, he has, even today, a pocket on the back of his gown into which you may discreetly deposit the cash.

BEEFBURGER n. 1. Hamburger. Unlike in the U.S. where now this term might be used to denote a hamburger made from beef and not something else like soybeans or turkey gizzards, the British term does not have this connotation. As in this poem from Ogden Nash,

In mortal combat I am joined
With monstrous words wherever coined.
'BEEFBURGER' is a term worth hating,
Both fraudulent and infuriating,
Contrived to foster the belief
That only BEEFBURGERS are made of beef,
Implying with shoddy flim and flam
That hamburgers are made of ham.

BEETROOT n. 1. A beet.

BELISHA BEACON (be-lee-shah bee-con) n. 1. A traffic signal consisting of a yellow sphere with a flashing light and mounted atop a black and white striped pole. This is used to indicate the presence of a ZEBRA, but not a PELICAN. The term is named after Hore Belisha who was the Home Secretary at the time when BELISHA BEACONS were introduced into the U.K.

BELL n. 1. Telephone call, as in, "Give us a BELL when you get there." TINKLE may also be used, as in, "Give us a TINKLE".

BELTS AND BRACES phrase. 1. To over compensate for something. One may need a belt or BRACES, but both is definitely over doing it.

BIFFER n. 1. Person who is fat due to excessive fast food intake. BIFFER is the brand name shown on big DUSTBINS.

BILLION n. 1. One trillion. One TRILLION is one thousand BILLION to the British. Because of the difference and confusion, official use of the term has been dropped in favor of "one thousand million" (billion) or "one million million" (BILLION or trillion).

BIN n. 1. Waste paper basket.

BIRD n. 1. Slang term for a girl or woman.

BIRO (bi-row) n. 1. Ball point pen. This was originally a trade name (e.g. BIC).

BISCUIT n. 1. Cookie. 2. Cracker, as in, "BISCUITS and cheese". Other types of BISCUITS include BATH OLIVERS, WATER BISCUITS, BOURBONS and DIGESTIVES.

BITTER n. 1. Name for a type of English beer. This is served at cellar temperature and is a bit darker than LAGER. It has a slightly "bitter" taste. There are numerous types of BITTER which will vary by PUB and locality.

I once read an amusing article -- by an Englishman of course -- on common American misconceptions about England. There was a passage that went roughly as follows: '(A common misconception is) that our beer is sour, flat, and lukewarm. On the contrary our beer is bitter, still, and served with the chill off. It is served that way because that is the way to serve it. There exists a stuff called LAGER so tasteless that it can be cooled without damage and so unsubstantial that a few bubbles make no difference. But we don't drink LAGER, we drink beer.'

BLACKBIRD n. 1. A bird QUITE unlike a blackbird. The English love BLACKBIRDS. When N.A.S.A. sprayed blackbirds with detergent, some English bird lovers nearly had apoplexy due to their confusion with BLACKBIRDS. The British love of BLACKBIRDS stems mainly from their suitability for eating (now highly illegal).

There are a number of birds which are completely different but bear the same name in both languages. A ROBIN is a grey-brown bird about the size of a house sparrow but having a red breast.

BLACK PUDDING n. 1. Not a pudding at all, but rather a form of blood sausage.

BLANCMANGE (blah-mahn-je) n. 1. A dessert rather like custard made by mixing a white powder (today this is often fruit flavored) with hot milk. When this cools it solidifies producing a flavored jello-like dessert. It may be eaten warm or after it has cooled.

BLOKE n. 1. Guy or fellow, as in, "The BLOKE NICKED me light!".

BLOODY HELL (blud-ee-el) Expletive. 1. This blasphemous expression may be used to voice one's incredulity about something just said. This is equivalent to the American phrase "Why, Gosh. Who would have thought!" 2. It may also be used to express disapproval of something said, as in the American phrase "I'm sorry, but I simply cannot agree with you!"

It is possible that BLOODY is an elided form of "By Our Lady" or perhaps is derived from "God's Blood". In any case, this was once considered a very strong expletive. Other variations include: RUDDY, BALLY (rhymes with Sally), BLOOMIN', BLIMEY (which is probably derived from "God blind me"), BLEEDIN', and STRUTH ("By God's truth").

BLUE CROSS n. 1. Sign for an animal hospital.

BOB n. 1. One SHILLING (now worth 5P).

A BOB-A-JOB is a fund raising technique used by the Scouts. One would pay a BOB for each job, hence the name.

BOBBY n. 1. Policeman in the UK. They are always impeccably dressed with perfectly creased trousers and shiny black shoes. They are easily identified by their distinctive helmets. The term came from Robert Peel, the "inventor" of the policeman.

Other slang terms for the police include BOGEY (sorry Humphrey), OLD BILL and the FILTH. The term ROZZER refers to a police constable.

BOB'S YOUR UNCLE phrase. 1. Everything is complete. There is no more to be done. As in, "Set up register 13 and BOB'S YOUR UNCLE".

BOFFIN n. 1. A bright but probably eccentric scientist who likely deals in a very unusual area (as a research or think tank scientist).

BOILER n. 1. Furnace. Forced air heating systems are rare in the U.K. where hot water systems are almost universally used. Hence the term BOILER actually refers to the boiler to heat the water for the heating system. BOILERS are not as common as you might expect. A recent survey reported that 65 percent of U.K. households now have central heating.

BOILER SUIT n. 1. Overalls. See also OVERALLS.

BOLLARD n. 1. Any obstruction used to control the flow of traffic, such as traffic islands or posts along the side of the road to prevent one from parking in certain places. 2. The hitching post (on a dock) you tie your yacht or ocean liner to.

BOMB adj. 1. Describes something good, as in, "It (a play) went like a BOMB" (smash hit) or "I could go a BOMB on that" (I like/approve that). BOMB has been corrupted somewhat by the American bomb. This may cause confusion to the many British who are familiar with both meanings and therefore may not be certain which is your meaning.

BONFIRE NIGHT n. 1. Celebrated every November fifth, this marks an attempt to blow up parliament. Opinions differ whether the celebration is because the attempt was made or because it failed. This is also called Guy Fawkes Night after one of the conspirators. Guy is burned in effigy on a large bonfire while fireworks are set off. This much loved event tends to eclipse Halloween since the two are only a few days apart. Every British child knows this rhyme:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

BONKERS adj. 1. Acting crazy or mad. Other variations include CRACKERS, DAFT, BARMY and DOOLALLY (a corruption of the name of a place in India).

BONNET n. 1. That part of an automobile which is at the other end from the BOOT.

BOOB TUBE n. 1. Slang term for a tank top or knitted sleeve top. This never means TELLY. "The men were all glued to the BOOB TUBE" would raise a completely wrong image to the British.

BOOK v. 1. To reserve. The British never reserve a table at a restaurant or a room at an hotel, they always BOOK it: "Do we need to BOOK in advance, do you think?" The term BOOKING means a reservation.

BOOT n. 1. That part of an automobile which is at the other end from the BONNET.

BORSTAL n. 1. A training school for 16-21 year olds who get into trouble with the law. The intent here is to reduce recidivism by teaching the offender a skill he can use when he gets out. These are now marked for extinction to be replaced by common jails.

BOTHER Expletive. 1. Expression used to convey one's frustration over something, as in, "Oh, BOTHER! Why doesn't he find someone else!".

BOVRIL n. 1. A beefy flavored drink one might have on a cool evening to warm you up. See MARMITE.

BOXING DAY n. 1. A holiday which falls on the day after Christmas (the Feast of St. Stephen). In earlier years the wealthy would put leftover Christmas food in boxes for their servants or the poor. Since the servants probably worked Christmas day, they had the day after Christmas off to enjoy the Christmas leftovers.

Traditionally the queen gives a small gift of money to a selected group of OAPs on BOXING DAY. (A gift of an especially minted coin is also given to some OAPs at Easter time. This is called MAUNDY MONEY.)

BRACES n. 1. Suspenders.

BRANSTON n. 1. Pickle. Also known as a BRANNIE pickle.

BREKKIE 1. Breakfast.

BRICKIE n. 1. A bricklayer.

BROLLY n. 1. Umbrella.

BUBBLE AND SQUEAK n. 1. Fried left-over potatoes and greens (with perhaps some onions added for flavor).

BUDGERIGAR (budge-er-ee-gar) n. 1. The proper name for what Americans call a parakeet. This is usually called a BUDGIE.

BUGGERY n. 1. A legal term describing what male homosexuals do. The term BUGGER (rogue) has the same meaning in both languages. However, booger (things in your nose, BOGEY in the U.K.) may be interpreted as a reference to BUGGERY. A reference to bugger by a child may be a rude shock to a Brit.

BUGGY n. 1. A stroller.

BUM n. 1. Slightly jocular name for the posterior. BUM is rarely used to mean bum (vagrant).

BUNCHES n. 1. Pigtails.

BUNCH OF FIVES phrase. 1. Knuckle sandwich.

BUNG v. 1. To throw or dump carelessly, as in, "Oh, just BUNG it over there".
n. 1. Stopper as in a "rubber BUNG for a test tube".

BUNGED UP adj. 1. Suffering from CATARRH and/or constipation.

BUNGALOW n. 1. Ranch style house. All rooms are on one level.

BUTTON B n. 1. Before 1963 British CALL BOXES had two buttons labelled "A" (pushed when the other party answered and you wished to speak to them) and "B" (used to return your money). A favorite school child source of income was to "PUSH BUTTON B" hoping someone had failed to do this. Hence today, anyone who checks the coin return in a vending machine might be accused of "PUSHING BUTTON B".

BUTTY n. 1. Sandwich, as in JAM BUTTIES (jelly sandwiches) or CHIP BUTTIES (French fry sandwiches) both of which are LIVERPUDLIAN (i.e. from the city of Liverpool) in origin.