United Kingdom English for the American Novice


MACINTOSH n. 1. Raincoat, also known as a MAC.

MAGGIE n. 1. Whimsical name for the prime minister of the United Kingdom. This is used in much the same vein as we refer to our President as "Ronnie". The term is now dated, obviously.

MAINS n. 1. The place where the gas or electricity may be turned on or off. Oddly enough this is always plural even if you refer to the shutoff for just one utility. As in, "Before disconnecting the COOKER, be sure the MAINS is disconnected."

MAISONETTE n. 1. Originally this term meant an apartment which covered more than one floor of a building. In recent years this has slowly degenerated to include FLATS (one floor only) in the hope of making FLATS sound nicer.

MANGLE n. 1. Large rollers used to squeeze water from wet clothes, i.e. the ringer-part of a ringer washer.

MARKS AND SPARKS n. 1. Nickname for Marks and Spencer's, a prominent retailer in the U.K. Also known as M&S.

MARMITE n. 1. A spread made from yeast extract that is similar to BOVRIL.

MARROW n. 1. A type of summer squash similar to zucchini.

MARZIPAN n. 1. A confectionary made from almond paste.

MASH v. 1. To brew TEA. 2. To puree potatoes.

MATCH n. 1. A game, as in, "The FOOTBALL MATCH begins at 3 p.m.".

MATE n. 1. General term for a pal, as in, "He's me MATE".

MEASURE n. 1. A unit quantity of spirits as served in a PUB. This quantity is regulated by law and must be exactly one fifth of a gill (in Scotland) or one sixth of a gill (in ENGLAND). A notice must be displayed to say which size MEASURE is in use.

MILD n. 1. Name for a type of English beer which is sweeter and darker than BITTER.

MILK FLOAT n. 1. An electric vehicle the milkman drives.

MINCEMEAT n. 1. Hamburger. Alternatives are MINCE MEAT or simply MINCE. 2. Mincemeat as used in mince pies. Note that the sweet stuff used for filling pies has evolved from a pie filling that was once made mainly from meat.

MIXER TAP n. 1. A tap at a sink which delivers both hot and cold water. This is not as common as an American would expect. There is a law in the UK which requires that MIXER TAPS do not actually mix the water inside the TAP itself, but it must be mixed outside in the air. This apparently stems from a concern that the CISTERN may be contaminated and if the MIXER TAP allowed the two streams of water to mix and the MAINS pressure was too low, contaminated water might escape into the community water supply. This law results in the aggravating situation that water delivered by a MIXER TAP actually comes out in two streams, one cold and one hot, thereby defeating the major advantage of a MIXER TAP! This problem can be overcome by plumbing both the hot and cold water from the CISTERN, resulting in a water source with lower water pressure.

MMMM... phrase. 1. "Expression" meaning a) "Yes", b) "Yes, probably" c) "Yes, but not now" or d) "No". The different meanings are all taken from the inflection of the phrase.

MOGGIE n. 1. Slang term for an ordinary cat. A tabby.

MOTORWAY n. 1. A limited access highway. An Interstate.

MUCKER n. 1. Friend or MATE, someone you "muck about with".

MUCH OF A MUCHNESS phrase. 1. Equivalent to "Six of one, half dozen of another".

MUG UP v. 1. To cram, to SWOT.

MUMMY n. 1. Mommy.

MUPPET n. 1. A popular term for a stupid person, often used to refer to oneself as in, "God what a MUPPET, I am".

NAFF adj. 1. NAFF originally was a gay slang meaning a straight person (Not Available For F....) and now means untrendy, as in a NAFF t-shirt.

NAFF OFF v. 1. A jocular term used to tell someone to go away. This is reportedly a favorite expression of Princess Anne. The term was invented for a TV comedy show called PORRIDGE. (PORRIDGE is a slang term for a prison, as in, "Where have you been these last few years? Been in PORRIDGE.")

NAPPY n. 1. Diaper.

NATTER v. 1. To speak in a non-stop manner about unimportant things, as in, "Stop NATTERING on so and tell me what you want".

Other variations of NATTER include: CHIN WAG, FLANNEL, RABBIT and WAFFLE.

NATTY adj. 1. Flashy, fancy. A SPIV would likely be a NATTY dresser.

NAVVY (nah-vee) n. 1. Laborer. This was originally a "navigator" who was one who worked on the construction of canals.

NET CURTAINS n. 1. Sheer curtains (sheers).

NEVERMIND v. 1. The ultimate answer to any type of annoying event, no matter how serious, as in, "Your house burnt down last night! Oh, well, NEVERMIND".

NEWSAGENT n. 1. A shop which sells only newspapers, magazines and the like. These seldom are over 10 feet square and are always so overcrowded with material that you cannot find anything you want and must ask for it.

NICK v. 1. To steal, as in, "He NICKED me light".

n 1. Prison or police station. 2. Slang term for the devil (OLD NICK).

NICKER n. 1. POUNDS Sterling. QUID.

NIL n. 1. Zero. Often heard in reporting FOOTBALL scores, as in "Arsenal blanked Leeds, four to NIL."

NIPPER n. 1. A young boy, a kid. One of the jobs for young boys on sailing ships was to coil the large anchor rope as it was pulled in. To assist in this the boy had a hook called a NIPPER which he used to "grab" the rope.

NODDY adj. 1. Simple. The term comes from a TV show "Noddy and His Friends" based on a series of books by Enid Blyton.

NOT CRICKET adj. 1. Falling short of the highest standards of good sportsmanship. As in, "Disguising yourself as a bush so as to take pictures of the Princess of Wales disporting herself in a SWIMMING COSTUME and selling the pictures to FLEET STREET is NOT CRICKET".

NOUGHT n. 1. The number zero.

NOUGHTS AND CROSSES n. 1. The game of tic tac toe.

OBLONG adj. 1. When your children come home from school and talk about OBLONGS they mean rectangles.

ODDS AND SODS phrase. 1. Odds and ends. BITS AND BOBS has the same meaning.

OFF adj. 1. Unavailable (as used in restaurants etc.), as in:

PUNTER: Ham, egg, bacon, tomato and CHIPS, please.
Waitress: Ham's OFF
PUNTER: OK -- egg, bacon, tomato and CHIPS, please.
Waitress: Egg's OFF
PUNTER: Bacon, tomato and chips?
Waitress: Bacon's OFF
PUNTER: Spam sandwich, please.

OFF LICENCE n. 1. Liquor store. Abbreviated to OFFO and sometimes referred to as an OFFY.

OFF SALES n. 1. Part of a PUB that functions as an OFF LICENCE.

OFFSIDE Adj. 1. The right-hand side of an English car, as in, the "OFFSIDE of a car". The fast lane, called the OVERTAKING LANE, of a road is on this side of the car. The passenger side of the car is called the NEARSIDE (near the curb).

OLD UNCLE TOM COBLEY AND ALL phrase. 1. Special form of "etc." intended to imply amusement or exasperation at the large number of items. The term originates with a folk song "Widdicombe Fair" that has a chorus listing a large number of people and ends "OLD UNCLE TOM COBLEY AND ALL". Example: "We have installed DOS/VSE, VSE/Power, VSE/Advanced Function, ACF/VTAM, ACF/NCP/VS, VSE/VSAM, and OLD UNCLE TOM COBLEY AND ALL".

O-LEVELS n. 1. An exam which is the first part of the General Certificate of Education needed in order to attend the university. After completing this exam, one may. attend a SIXTH FORM COLLEGE to study for his A-LEVELS or more likely study for his A-LEVELS at a local technical college or a further education college or a community college. These exams are taken at age 16.

ON/OFF adj. 1. Down/up when dealing with light switches in the UK. To turn a light switch ON, push the switch down, OFF is up. In addition to lights, most UK wall sockets (called POINTS) have small switches in them. Additionally, many plugs (either on FLEXES or at the end of an appliance) will have a fuse inside. This means you have several more places to look when something won't turn on.

ON THE GAME n. 1. Prostitute, as in, "See that BIRD over there ? Looks like she's ON THE GAME". A man in a car looking for someone ON THE GAME is a KERB CRAWLER

ON THE RAG adj. 1. To be angry, as in, "'E's a bit ON THE RAG, isn't 'e?'. Also used to refer to women at a certain time of the month.

ORDER OF THE BOOT phrase. 1. To be made REDUNDANT. This undoubtedly stems from the names of several royal orders established by kings and queens over the centuries (e.g. the ORDER OF THE GARTER or the ORDER OF THE BATH).

ORIENTEERING n. 1. A game which closely resembles a car rally in which participants are on foot and are provided a map of places to find.

OUT ON THE TILES phrase. 1. Having a riotous time out for the evening. The term probably originates from sleeping on the (tiled) front stoop which is what you must do after the wife has locked you out.

OVERALLS n. 1. A light coat worn over normal clothes to protect them from getting dirty. This might also be called a BROWN COAT. See also BOILER SUIT.

OVERTAKE v. 1. To pass, as in, "OVERTAKING on a bend is dangerous".

OVER THE MOON phrase. 1. Very pleased. When Prince Charles was asked how he felt about his newly born son, he replied that he was "absolutely OVER THE MOON". This phrase is a reference to the Cow That Jumped Over the Moon (presumably because it was so happy).

OXO n. 1. Bouillon, as in bouillon cubes for making gravies.

PAGE THREE n. 1. The phrase refers to the picture of a bare breasted woman which is always to be found on page three of the national newspaper, THE SUN. Hence, anything which is worthy of being on PAGE THREE is not really held in high regard. The phrase is a favorite with comedians in the U.K. See also FLEET STREET and TABLOID.

PANDA n. 1. A small car used by police in rural areas. These were originally white with black doors.

PANTECHNICON n. 1. Moving van. A truck used by movers. This is normally shortened to PAN-TECH (accent on TECH).

PANTOMIME n. 1. A type of play usually put on around Christmas. It is ostensibly for children, but there is much to be found that an adult would enjoy. The play is a farce with much slapstick humor and lots of audience participation. This often takes the form of someone on the stage saying something like, "Oh, no I won't" in a defiant tone of voice. To this the screaming children retort "Oh, yes, you will". This banter continues for several rounds until he finally does.

PANTS n. 1. Shorts, briefs, underwear, but not pants.


PAPER ROUND n. 1. Paper route.

PARAFFIN n. 1. Kerosene. You really need to know this when the instructions for your Raleigh Sport (bicycle) tells you to clean the chain with PARAFFIN.

PARKY adj. 1. Chilly, as in, "It's PARKY in here. Can we turn on the BOILER?"

PASTY (pah-stee) n. 1. A type of meat and potato pie. PASTIES may come from either Cornwall or Devonshire (where they are called TIDDY OGGIES).

A CORNISH PASTY purchased outside Cornwall resembles a sausage roll that's been stood on and does not resemble one bought in Cornwall. There's also a CURRY PASTY which is a delic ious Jamaican concoction available from superior CHIPPIES.

PATIENCE n. 1. The card game solitaire.

PAVEMENT n. 1. Sidewalk. These may be as narrow as six inches wide. The English seemingly have no concerns about walking along their extremely narrow PAVEMENTS with cars whizzing past within inches. This observation does not, however, hold true when a COACH, DOUBLE DECKER, LORRY or JUGGERNAUT comes rumbling down the road. One can always identify Americans in England. They are the terrified-looking people who are hugging the walls which line the PAVEMENT.

PAY AND DISPLAY n. 1. U.K. version of metered parking without the meters. This is often posted as "P & D" in the parking lot.

PELICAN n. 1. A type of pedestrian crossing which has a traffic light to stop (at least slow) the oncoming traffic. When the light turns red, a beeping is sounded to tell you it is safe to cross.

PELMET n. 1. Window valence.

PENNYFARTHING n. 1. Old fashion word for a bicycle. The actual PENNYFARTHING had a huge front wheel and a very small rear wheel. It had no chain and hence one turn of the pedal equalled one turn of the wheel.

PERSPEX n. 1. Lucite, plexiglas, clear plastic. The term is a trade name in the UK.

PETROL n. 1. Gasoline.

PICTURES n. 1. Movies, as in, "Lets go to the PICTURES tonight".

PIGS MIGHT FLY phrase. 1. Absurd. Implies someone's idea is completely preposterous, as in, "If PIGS COULD FLY, Scotland Yard would be London's third airport."

PILLAR BOX n. 1. Mail box for mailing letters.

PILLOCK n. 1. A useless or stupid person. The word literally means "small pill". One dictionary claims this is an obsolete term for "penis".

PINAFORE n. 1. Pinafore. 2. Jumper. This is also called a PINNY.

PINCH v. 1. To steal, as in, "He PINCHED me light".

PINT OF (pint-ah) n. 1. The basic unit of drink in the United Kingdom, as in, "A PINT OF BITTER, please." One should never ask for HALF A PINT as the bartender will only hear the word PINT. If you really must have half a pint, refrain from using PINT and say, "HALF OF BITTER, please". See also GALLON.

PIPPED TO THE POST phrase. 1. To narrowly beat, as in, "Missed out on a terrific bargain at MARKS AND SPARKS - was PIPPED TO THE POST by a little old lady!".

PISSED adj. 1. drunk.

PITCH n. 1. A playing field for a sport, as in a soccer PITCH, a RUGBY PITCH etc. "The PITCH is in good condition today, as it only rained two inches this morning."

PLAIN AS A PIKESTAFF phrase. 1. Plain as can be.

PLAITS (plat) n. 1. Hair braids.

PLASTERBOARD n. 1. Sheet rock.

PLIMSOLLS n. 1. Sneakers. Tennis shoes. These are known as DAPS in Wales.

PLONK n. 1. Very cheaply made wine. To refer to the wine your host is serving as PLONK is a rude insult.

PLOUGHMAN'S n. 1. A traditional PUB lunch which consists of bread, cheese, and pickled onions.

PLUS FOURS n. 1. Baggy knickerbockers. The name comes from the extra four inches of material needed to make them baggy. There are also PLUS TWOS which are similar, but less common than PLUS FOURS. Another theory has it that the name comes from the number of inches below the knee the knickerbockers come.

PONY n. 1. 25 QUID. 2. A revolting drink available at your local PUB.

POOF or POOFTER n. 1. A homosexual or as some might say SWISH.

PUNTER: Half PINT of ale, please.
PUBLICAN: Half PINTS are for ladies and POOFS.
PUNTER: PINT of ale, please.

POP v. 1. To go or put quickly, as in, "I'll just POP in and pick up a new pair of PLIMSOLLS."

POSH adj. 1. An acronym for Port Out, Starboard side Home and meaning upper class travel by boat (usually between India and the U.K.). Traveling POSH meant your room was not in the sun for the trip and therefore much cooler. Since this was very desirable, these rooms were more expensive and were snapped up by the wealthy making POSH become associated with luxury and snobbish behavior.

This explaination is apparently just a good story and is not actually true. The meaning 'swanky' or 'deluxe' is correct, but it is not derived from the acronym as explained above.

POST BOX n. 1. Mail box for posting letters.

POSTMAN n. 1. Mailman.

POUND or POUND STERLING n. 1. The basic monetary unit used in the United Kingdom. The coins tend to be quite heavy compared to American coins. After accumulating even a small amount of change, one quickly draws the conclusion that the currency is named from the weight of the coins totalling one POUND. In 1981 one could buy a POUND for slightly less than two dollars and one POUND bought you about eight cents less than you paid for it.

PRAM n. 1. Baby buggy. The term PRAM is actually a short form of PERAMBULATOR. These are in great use throughout the United Kingdom. Elaborate covers are available to keep the rain out so the baby doesn't drown.

PRAT n. 1. A mean or nasty person.

PRAWN n. 1. Shrimp. Actually shrimps are small PRAWNS, but both Brits and Americans ignore this minor distinction. PRAWNS (large or small) are shrimp.

PRECINCT n. 1. Shopping mall.

PRESENTLY adv. 1. Later, as in, "I'll be with you PRESENTLY".

PRIVATE SCHOOL n. 1. An upper class private school which is not as private as a PUBLIC SCHOOL.

PRESENTLY adv. 1. Later, as in, "I'll be with you PRESENTLY".

PROLE n. 1. Working class person (originally from proletariat). Today has more of a white-trash connotation.

PROOF n. 1. Measure of alcoholic strength. PROOF is not the same as proof. Most drinks in the UK are now marked with alcohol percentage as well as PROOF. One U.S. proof is 0.5% alcohol. UK 100 PROOF is such that when added to standard Navy gunpowder, spontaneous ignition occurs. (Today it is defined in some other way, but that was the origin). Pure alcohol is 175 PROOF. Thus 80 proof = 40% alcohol = 70 PROOF.

PUB n. 1. Short for PUBLIC HOUSE. This is a clean comfortable bar (something beyond the experience of most Americans). It is close in comparison to a German Gaststaette in congeniality. PUBS may likely be divided into two separate bars, called LOUNGE (or SALOON) and PUBLIC BARS.

Children are permitted in a PUB, but not within the bars. The rules for minors in PUBS are complex, some follow:

  1. (1) In a PUB room that has a bar, a child of 14 may enter, but not stand or sit at the bar or drink alcohol (but can sniff glue).
  2. (2) In a PUB room that has a bar, a child of 16 may enter and may stand or sit at the bar, but not drink alcohol.
  3. (3) It's a very bad idea to disagree with the PUBLICAN'S perception of the law relating to his PUB.

PUBLICAN n. 1. Licensee of a PUB. Also called a LANDLADY or LANDLORD depending on the gender of the PUBLICAN. Speculation: What, then, is a REPUBLICAN?

PUBLIC BAR n. 1. A bar found in a PUB which is typically used by the common laborer. In this portion of a PUB, there is no concern about muddy WELLIES. Historically, this was reserved for the lower classes. Darts will be played here, but never in a SALOON BAR.

A PUBLIC BAR is also known by the attractive and evocative name "SPIT AND SAWDUST" which refers to a type of floor covering in use before the invention of carpets.

PUBLIC SCHOOL n. 1. An upper class PRIVATE SCHOOL. The U.K. remains a very class conscious society. If one wishes to be really successful in the U.K., it is deemed necessary that he attend a PRIVATE or PUBLIC SCHOOL. It is very difficult for one who is educated in a STATE SCHOOL (regardless of his abilities) to break into some areas of the society (especially government (an MP for example), corporate leaders or professors).

This means that aspiring parents may start saving and even contact a school when their children are only a couple of years old. Education in a PRIVATE or PUBLIC SCHOOL is extremely expensive. Curiously, having completed a PUBLIC or PRIVATE SCHOOL education (and passing the exams), entrance to the university is much easier. University education is publicly funded and hence does not pose a heavy burden on the parents.

PULL UP A BOLLARD phrase. 1. A friendly invitation to sit down. This phrase originated with the GOON SHOW which was a famous radio program in the 1950s. The GOON SHOW was a hilarious comedy with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine and was responsible for launching their careers. It was carried on the BBC World broadcasts and had listeners worldwide.

PUNNET n. 1. A little basket in which fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, etc. is sold. Fruit is sold in the U.K. by weight (e.g. per pound) rather than by volume (e.g. per pint).

PUNTER n. 1. A gambler, especially one who places bets with a bookie. 2. One who pays for goods or services provided by a SPIV or similar, a sucker.

PURSE n. 1. A pocketbook. A PURSE is something a lady puts her money into and then puts the PURSE into her handbag.

PUSH CHAIR n. 1. Stroller.