United Kingdom English for the American Novice


CALL BOX n. 1. A public telephone booth. In the U.K. one dials the number first, then when the other party answers the phone, you hear a beeping noise and must insert a 10P coin. Although the volume is loud enough, the phone sounds as if you are speaking from a cave and are standing five feet from the mouthpiece.

The British telephone system works on a unit of time basis. The unit is inversely proportional to the distance of the call: the longer the distance, the shorter the unit of time. You must pay 10P for each unit. The means that even "local" calls may require you to use more than 10P for a call.

Telephoning from a CALL BOX can be a traumatic experience, especially if you run out of time and must insert more 10P pieces. After you have used up your unit of time, a beeping sound interrupts (this can be heard by both parties). You have approximately five seconds to insert another 10P coin. This requires extraordinary skill and luck. You are almost certain to a) drop the coin or b) be unable to push the coin into the slot. If you should be fortunate enough to insert the coin, a) it will be too late or b) the coin will be rejected.

CAMP-ON n. 1. A feature of the IBM 3750 Telephone Exchange System (this is not available in the United States). This following quote from the Hursley Lab Telephone directory will make this term perfectly clear.

"If the extension you require is busy, you may attract the user's attention by initiating the CAMP-ON procedure. *Dial 6, you will now hear the CAMP-ON tone briefly. You may wait for your party to answer your request (as in "A" below) or you can hang up, in which case you will be rung back and connected to your party when it is free (as in "B"). Note. If you receive or make a call after initiating this request the CAMP-ON request will be cancelled.

"Accept CAMP-ON. When you hear the CAMP-ON tone, you may respond by one of the following:

"A. Ask your existing party to hold, then *dial 6; you will be connected to the second caller privately while your original call is held. To return to the first call *dial 4.

"B. Hang up after completion of the original call, in which case your phone will ring and be connected automatically to the person trying to contact you."

CANDY FLOSS n. 1. Cotton candy.

CANTEEN n. 1. Cafeteria.

CARAVAN n. 1. Mobile home. 2. Trailer.

CAR PARK n. 1. A parking lot.

CARAVANETTE n. 1. VW Microbus with a camper.

CASUALTY ENTRANCE n. 1. Emergency entrance to a hospital. This could be a very important thing to know someday.

CATARRH (cah-tar) n. 1. The mucus produced when you have a head cold.

CATS EYES n. 1. The reflectors that are imbedded in the middle of the road to make it easier to see the middle line at night.

CENTRAL RESERVATION n. 1. This has nothing to do with Indians or reserving tickets, but rather is the grassy median strip between opposing lanes of traffic on a road. You may see a sign which says "BEWARE SOFT CENTRAL RESERVATION".

CHALK AND CHEESE phrase. 1. Two dissimilar things or persons (i.e. "Mutt and Jeff"). As in, "They get along like Chalk and Cheese."

CHARLIE n. 1. A derogatory term for someone who acts stupidly, as in, "E's a right CHARLIE."

CHASE THE LADY n. 1. The card game "Hearts".

CHEERS phrase. 1. Good bye. 2. A typical English drinking toast. 3. Thanks.

You may also hear CHEERIO used as "Good bye". WHAT CHEER (pronounced whatcha) is sometimes used as a greeting. This originates in the phrase "WHAT CHEER are you in?" New Zealanders say HOORAY instead of CHEERS.

CHEMIST n. 1. Drug store. Like their American counterparts, these stores also sell prescription drugs. This term has a legally defined meaning, a CHEMIST shop must have a resident pharmacist. Shops that don't have a pharmacist must be called "drug stores" etc.

CHICORY n. 1. Endives.

CHINKY NOSH n. 1. Chinese meal, as in, "We're going to eat CHINKY NOSH tonight".

CHIPOLATE n. 1. A sausage-like a wiener.

CHIPPIE n. 1. A fish and CHIP shop. If the owners are oriental in appearance, the shop may be called a CHINESE CHIPPIE. At such an establishment you may find HUSS, ROCK or ROCK SALMON all of which mean dogfish. MUSHY PEAS are a near-puree form of boiled peas. 2. A carpenter.

CHIPPINGS n. 1. Gravel, as in the roadside sign "Beware of loose CHIPPINGS".

CHIPS n. 1. French fries, as in "fish and CHIPS".

CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING phrase. 1. Monotony, as in, "I suppose you're pretty tired of this CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING regime.".

CHUFFED adv. 1. Happy, as in, "I was really CHUFFED when I got promoted."

CIDER n. 1. Not apple juice, but a rather strong alcoholic drink made from apple juice.

CINEMA n. 1. Movie theater. This is not to be confused with a THEATRE.

CISTERN n. 1. A water tank found in most British houses. It is to be found in the attic, and feeds the hot water heater by gravity. This is why British bathrooms always have separate hot and cold taps (a system unknown in the US since about 1917). The hot and cold water systems operate at different pressures! It may also explain the singular lack of civilized showers in the UK.

The reason for separate bathroom taps may have a historical basis. In days of yore, CISTERNS were filled with collected rainwater, and by law, the MAINS water and the CISTERN water could not be allowed to mix.

CLADDING n. 1. Siding for a house.

CLAPPED OUT adj. 1. Worn out. A old car might be said to be CLAPPED OUT.

CLOBBER n. 1. Clothing. Gear. As in, "I don't mind getting his CLOBBER from the cleaners".

CLOTTED CREAM n. 1. A cream so thick that you can spread it with your knife. This term is usually used in the South West of England, but the equivalent of CLOTTED CREAM may be found in most places in the U.K.

CLOAKROOM n. 1. Toilet. These are seldom heated and are have a universal temperature of 38 degrees F. 2. In theaters and such this means a place to leave coats. Use "lavatory" if that is what you want.

CLOCK n. 1. The odometer, as in, "The HIRE car only had 1200 miles on the CLOCK, but it broke down anyway." No one should ever really be confused with this word since the English do not measure time in miles. An odometer may also be called a MILEOMETER.

v. 1. To illegally turn a car odometer back. As in, "This car isn't in very good condition for only 22,000 miles. Are you sure it hasn't been CLOCKED." 2. To take note of, as in, a BLOKE who CLOCKS BIRDS.

CLOSE (as in "close to", not "close the door") n. 1. Dead end street. One would generally expect that a street named PIPING CLOSE will not go through to another street, but will end in a cul-de-sac or simply dead end.

There was an uproar when it was proposed that a small estate of pensioner BUNGALOWS should be called St. Peter's CLOSE!

COACH n. 1. Bus. This is distinguished from a BUS which is a bus. In general a COACH is a chartered comfortable form of bus (often advertised as "executive travel"), whereas a BUS is a public conveyance and is therefore bumpy, noisy and late.

COCK n. 1. A somewhat obsolete, but friendly, reference to a male friend, as in, "Come on, COCK, let's go to the PUB".

COCKAHOOP adj. 1. To be happy about something, as in, "You must be all all COCKAHOOP over being in the Tall Ships Race".

COCKNEY n. 1. Anyone born within the sound (hearing distance) of the Bow bells in London (the East end).

slang. 1. COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG has wide use throughout England. It is an active language that is continually growing (several dictionaries are available). COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG is composed by using any short phrase in place of something with which it rhymes. Often this phrase is itself shortened. The end phrase is often different from its origin. Rather surprisingly words like BERK and COBBLERS are in wide use, even in relatively polite society. Its likely that many who use them don't know what they are saying! Some milder examples follow.

ADAM AND EVE v. Believe. "Would you ADAM AN' EVE it?"

BERK (= Berkley hunt) n. (abusive) Person with undesirable character. "He's a bit of a BERK"

BRAHMS (or BEETHOVEN) (= Brahms/Beethoven and Liszt) a. Drunk ('Liszt' rhymes with 'pissed').

BRISTOLS (= Bristol Cities) n. Breasts. "Nice pair of BRISTOLS!"

BUTCHERS (= butcher's hook) v. Look. "Have a BUTCHERS at this"

COBBLERS (= Cobbler's awls) n. Testicles. "Don't talk COBBLERS".

GINGER (= ginger beer) n. Homosexual.

HALF INCH v. To steal, PINCH.

HAMPTON (= Hampton Wick) n. Penis ('Wick' rhymes with 'prick'). There was a comedy program on BBC radio many years ago which included as a regular feature the esoteric joke "and now, over to our special correspondent, Hugh Jampton". Luckily almost no one got the joke.

KHYBER (= Khyber pass) n. Posterior, as in "a kick up the KHYBER".

LOAF (= loaf of bread) n. Head, as in, "Use your LOAF".

PEN (= pen and ink) n. or v. Stink, as in, "It don' 'alf PEN a bit".

ROCK AND ROLL (= dole) n. Welfare, as in, "The old man's on the ROCK AND ROLL again".

ROSIE (= Rosie Lee) n. Tea (the drink), as in "a cup of ROSIE".

SCAPA (= Scapa Flow) v. To go, as in, "It's getting late, I'll have to SCAPA or the TROUBLE 'll get in a TWO AND EIGHT".

SEXTON (= Sexton Blake) n. Fake.

TATERS (= potatoes in the mould) n. Cold.

TITFER (= tit for tat) n. Hat.

TROUBLE (= trouble and strife) n. Wife.

TWO AND EIGHT n. (emotional) State.

WHISTLE and FLUTE (= suit) n. Suit, as in, "Going to work for IBM. Better get a WHISTLE then".

COLLECT v. 1. To fetch, as in, "I've come to COLLECT my children".

COME A CROPPER phrase. 1. To end badly, as in, "We hope that the American economy doesn't COME A CROPPER".

COME OVER FOR DRINKS phrase. 1. An invitation to a rather formal social evening. The level of formality will vary by the time indicated. Six p.m. means very formal evening dress while 8 p.m. would only mean a suit and tie affair. Refreshments may consist of CRISPS or multiple courses of hot or cold snacks. One should always arrive fifteen minutes late to these affairs.

COMING FOR ONE phrase. 1. Phrase meaning "Are you coming to the PUB for a PINT OF?".

COMMON ENTRANCE n. An exam which must be passed for entrance into a PUBLIC SCHOOL. It is taken by upper class twelve year old boys only. (Girls almost never take this exam, regardless of their social class.) There seems to be very little that's "common" about this exam.

COMBS n. 1. Long-john underwear. The word comes from COMBINATIONS.

CONKERS n. 1. Horse Chestnut. 2. Game played by children. To play this game, one first drills a small hole through the middle of a CONKER. Thread a string through this hole. The CONKER is then suspended by one child, while the other, using his CONKER, tries to smash the suspended CONKER with his. Turns alternate. The winner is the child whose CONKER does not break. This leads to uncommon industry on the part of children (of all ages) in an effort to make their CONKER as tough as possible.

CONTINENT n. 1. Europe, as in, "We're going to ferry to the CONTINENT this summer for our HOLIDAY". The general connotation is that the UK should not be considered part of the European community.

The attitude is properly captured by this quote of an English newspaper, "Fog in Channel - CONTINENT isolated".

CONTINENTAL QUILT n. 1. A comforter.

COOKER n. 1. Oven.

COOL HALF phrase. 1. Describing someone who is very self assured to the point of being unlikeable, as in, "He's a COOL HALF".

COP v. 1. Look at, as in "COP this". 2. (with IT) Get into trouble, as in, "You'll COP IT if your wife finds out about her".

n. 1. Police. A COP SHOP is a police station.

COPPER n. 1. A policeman, BOBBY. 2. Kettle for boiling clothes in. 3. Any piece of money made from copper (e.g. half PENNY, PENNY etc.).

COPPICE or COPSE (cops) n. 1. A wood which is regularly harvested. Often the trees in a COPPICE are harvested and the stump is allowed to sprout. These new shoots will grow into smaller trees which will themselves be harvested within a few years. These smaller trees are often used as fences posts.

Strictly speaking this term is also to be found in American. However, it is in such wide use in the U.K., it has been included here also.

CORRIDOR n. 1. Hall. This should not be confused with HALL.

CORN n. 1. Any grain except rice. What Americans call corn is referred to as CORN-ON-THE-COB or SWEET CORN.

CORNET n. 1. (Ice cream) Cone.

CORNFLOUR n. 1. Cornstarch.

COSTUME n. 1. Swimming suit when used in SWIMMING COSTUME or BATHING COSTUME.

COT n. 1. Baby crib.

COTTON n. 1. Thread.

COUNTY n. 1. A geographical area similar to county.

adj. 1. Said of an adult who has the character of a SNOTTYLITTLEUPPERCLASSTWIT. Given to wearing JODHPURS etc. See also FRIGHTFULLY FRIGHTFULLY.

COURGETTES n. 1. Zucchini.

COWBOY n. 1. One of questionable professional integrity. This is similar to the term "turkey" as used within IBM.

CRACKERS n. 1. Firecrackers. 2. A small gift, usually tubular in shape, which if pulled sharply at the ends will open with a pop (crack). These are quite common at Christmas and are known as CHRISTMAS CRACKERS.

CRAYON n. 1. Crayon. 2. Colored pencil.

CREAM TEAS n. 1. A traditional snack widely served in the U.K. It consists of TEA, SCONES (a type of muffin), and generous portions of CLOTTED CREAM and JELLY/jam (probably strawberry).

CREEP n. 1. Bookworm or serious student. This has connotation of a teacher's pet.

CRECHE (cresh) n. 1. A parking lot for pre-school-age children (a baby sitting service).

CRIB n. 1. A baby cradle.

CRICKET n. 1. A game widely played in Britain whose principle purpose is to provide an occasion for one to spend long periods at the local PUB. The game has some vague similarities with baseball (denied by fans of both sports). However, CRICKET is played at a pace which makes baseball seem to be one continuous burst of energy. One game of international CRICKET is played over a period of five days. Scores often involve hundreds of runs on each side. (A score of 264 to 182 which results in a draw is not untypical.) As with any sport CRICKET has its own specialized language (which is beyond the scope of this definition).

The game of ROUNDERS is typically played by school children and much more closely resembles baseball. See also NOT CRICKET.

CRISPS n. 1. Potato chips.

CROWN n. 1. Five shillings. A quarter of a POUND. This is pronounced "croin" by members of the COUNTY set.

CUPPA (cup-ah) n. 1. A cup of TEA.

CURRENT ACCOUNT n. 1. Checking account. This is a term used by English bankers to confuse Americans.

CURRY HOUSE n. 1. Indian restaurant. These typically serve dishes which use the curry spices which you will: a) like or b) dislike.

CUSTARD n. 1. A yellow sauce used as a topping on various desserts.

CUSTOM n. 1. Patronage, as in, "We appreciate your CUSTOM (for shopping in our store)".