United Kingdom English for the American Novice


QUEEN ANNE'S DEAD phrase. 1. Duh! 2. The response to someone who says very obvious. One might hear that "it rains a lot in England", to which you reply "QUEEN ANNE IS DEAD".

QUEER AS A CLOCKWORK ORANGE phrase. 1. Very strange, as in, "He's QUEER AS A CLOCKWORK ORANGE". Another similar phrase is "QUEER AS A TWO POUND NOTE" which should sound familiar to the American phrase "Queer as a three dollar bill".

QUEUE v. 1. To stand in line.

n. 1. A line, as in, "a QUEUE of people waiting for ...(everything)".

QUID n. 1. One POUND.

QUIDS IN phrase. 1. To have it made, as in, "If this works out, we're QUIDS IN".

QUITE adv. 1. QUITE may be used in much the same manner as an American would expect. However, the English also use QUITE to mean utterly, absolutely, or completely. When an American says "It's quite dark," he means that it is almost, but not completely, dark. For this purpose, an Englishman would say "It's RATHER dark, isn't it?" (pronounced "izzen tit"). If it were QUITE dark, an American would say "It's pitch black,".

QUITE PLEASED phrase. 1. In some circles this could mean "rather mediocre". A Brit might not be particularly pleased with you if you announce you are QUITE PLEASED with something.

RANDY adj. 1. Horny. RANDY is never used as a short form of RANDOLF in the U.K. RANDY ANDY is a reference to Prince Andrew. (Speculation about why he got this name is high treason and subject to the otherwise disused punishment of hanging, drawing, and quartering).

RASHER n. 1. Slice, as in, a RASHER of bacon.

REAL ALE n. 1. In recent years there has been an effort to resurrect the more traditional ales of earlier periods. These are known as REAL ALES and resemble BITTER in taste and color. They are, however, rather much stronger in taste and alcoholic content. There is a club called the CAMPAIGN FOR REAL ALE (CAMRA) whose supposed purpose is to encourage the making of REAL ALE by traditional methods. It would appear this is done largely by consuming as much REAL ALE as is possible.

RED INDIAN n. 1. American Indian. INDIAN would be understood by the British to mean one from India.

REDUNDANT adj. 1. To be out of work, as in, "As sales of our new 3.5 liter economy car have not met expectations, we at GM--Ford--British-Leyland (select your favorite) are forced to make 250 workers REDUNDANT".

REEL n. 1. Spool, as in, a cotton REEL. 2. A type of music. On sailing ships the procedure to raise the anchor required a great deal of effort and time. The anchor was raised by many men walking in a circle pushing wooden bars inserted in a large spool (resembling the spokes of a wheel). Because this took so long, someone would often sit on this spool (REEL) and play his fiddle, sing and generally entertain the men.

REGIMENTAL TIE n. 1. Not just any striped tie, but a tie which one wears as a result of having belonged to an Army regiment.

REGISTRAR n. 1. A senior doctor in a hospital. The "chief" of a hospital section (e.g. Chief of Cardiology).

REST ROOM n. 1. Not what you think, but rather a room for resting. A REST ROOM is commonly provided at large tourist locations for the bus drivers to rest in. You can imagine the image I came up with when I read in a brochure that "REST ROOMS with television" were provided.

RETURN adj. 1. Round trip. A RETURN ticket to Bagley-cum-Wapshot-in-the-Vale is a round-trip ticket to go there, and then come back. Sometimes a "cheap day RETURN" is available which may often be less expensive than a one-way ticket.

REVERSE CHARGE n. 1. Collect call. To make a collect call, dial the operator and tell her you wish to REVERSE the CHARGES.

REVISE v. 1. Not to change something, but to review it. To recapitulate. As in, to ask a speaker to "REVISE on a particular point".

RHUBARB n. 1. Nonsense or noise spoken by a person. The origin of this term comes from the stage. People in crowd scenes who are to make "crowd noises" might say, "RHUBARB, RHUBARB, RHUBARB...". This is exactly the background sound one hears in the houses of Parliament. Whether the other MPs agree or disagree with the speaker of the moment, one hears a rumble which sounds remarkably like "RHUBARB, RHUBARB, RHUBARB ...". I'm told the reason for such Parliamentary grunting is because the MPs are not allowed to clap or boo.

RIGHT adj. 1. Left, as in, "The British drive on the RIGHT side of the road. Everyone else (except the Japanese and some others) is wrong".

RING UP v. 1. To telephone, as in, "I'll RING you UP when I've earned enough to pay for the call".

RISING MAIN n. 1. The cold water supply into a house.

ROCK n. 1. A type of candy in the form of a rod, usually pink on the outside and white inside. Traditionally this is bought at the seaside. A "stick of ROCK" is not rock candy.

ROLLIE POLLIE n. 1. School child term for somersault.

ROLLMOPS n. 1. Pickled or soused herring.

ROTA n. 1. A list drawn up to determine the rotating order something will happen. A morning ladies group might have a ROTA of whose house will be used for which meeting.

ROTTER (raaahhhter) n. 1. A PUBLIC SCHOOL derogatory term for someone who lets the side down or plays dirty.

ROUNDABOUT n. 1. Traffic circle. A British version of billiards played with automobiles. This is an attempt by the British to avoid the dilemma Americans have when four cars come simultaneously to a four-way stop. The British solve this by allowing everyone to continue into the intersection without stopping. 2. Carousel.

RUBBER n. 1. Eraser.

RUG n. 1. Car blanket.

RUGBY n. 1. Short form for RUGBY FOOTBALL. This is a football-like game played without the footballer's padding and equipment. This is a favorite game of Ireland, Scotland and Wales (and many others) whose national teams are closely followed. When Ireland won the triple crown of RUGBY in 1982, one PUB alone in Ireland served up 30,000 PINTS OF STOUT in the ensuing victory celebration.

Note there is an important distinction between RUGBY UNION which is an international amateur sport and RUGBY LEAGUE which is a kind of legal rioting (professional sport). Note also that RUGBY is not the national sport of EIRE -- they play HURLING which is a cross between hockey and Death Race 2000.

RUGGER n. 1. An upper class term for RUGBY UNION (See RUGBY).

RUGGER BUGGER n. 1. Someone obsessed with RUGBY. A RUGBY freak.


SANITARY TOWEL n. 1. Kotex pad. You may also see this abbreviated ST.

SATSUMA n. 1. Mandarin orange.

SAVOURY adj. 1. An adjective used by the Hursley CANTEEN staff to describe anything to which last week's vegetables have been added. 2. An adjective used by the IBA Crawley CANTEEN staff to describe meat which is not made from meat, but rather from soybeans.

It would seem prudent to studiously avoid any food which is described with this word.

SCRUBBER n. 1. Young lady of dubious integrity. A tart.

SCRUMPY n. 1. A type of alcoholic drink made by from apples (and, by common supposition, dead rats) much drunk in some country areas of England. Do not confuse SCRUMPY with cider whatever anyone tells you.

v. 1. To SCRUMP is to steal fruit from trees. This term is commonly used to refer to boys PINCHING apples (or the like). It is not clear if SCRUMP has any relationship to SCRUMPY.

SECATEURS n. 1. Pruning sheers.

SECONDARY SCHOOL n. 1. School for 11-16 year olds. One completes his ordinary education at 16 in the UK. Upon completion of this, the child may take a series of tests (called CSEs or O-LEVELS). One may also hear of a COMPREHENSIVE SECONDARY SCHOOL, where the term COMPREHENSIVE only denotes that children of mixed abilities attend the school (e.g. handicapped, ordinary and exceptional children all attend the same school). This form is the norm for STATE SCHOOLS.

SECONDMENT (emphasis on the second syllable) n. 1. A temporary change of jobs somewhat like a sabbatical.

SELLOTAPE n. 1. Scotch tape. This was originally a brand name. Australians beware: the Australian equivalent word "Durex" should not be used in the UK where DUREX is brand name of a contraceptive device. In Mexico "Durex" is a brand name of a sock manufacturer. (I guess "Durex" is definitely not to be used.)

SEMOLINA n. 1. A thick custard similar to cream of wheat. This is a common dessert in school cafeterias.

SERVIETTE n. 1. Napkin, usually made of paper. You may be greeted with some raised eyebrows if you ask for a napkin in a British restaurant. They may understand you to mean a SANITARY TOWEL or a NAPPY.

SHAGGED OUT adj. 1. Tired out, WHACKED or KNACKERED. Generally this is not polite as it most often implies being KNACKERED due to heavy sexual exertion. If you are SHAGGED OUT, people need not ask why.

SHANDY n. 1. A drink composed of equal parts of BITTER and LEMONADE (called LEMONADE SHANDY) or BITTER and GINGER BEER (called GINGER BEER SHANDY). Both are available as non-alcoholic canned drinks for children. (Non-alcoholic has legal meaning of under two percent by volume).

SHANKS PONY phrase. 1. By foot, as in, "Without PETROL for me car, I had to get there by SHANKS PONY".

SHARP adj. 1. Of suspicious origin. Shady. Underhanded. A "SHARP car" is not one you should buy. The term "card SHARP" is also used.

The term is often used to describe a practice which, although legal, is probably immoral. One such SHARP practice involved a SOLICITOR who both sold a house and did the legal paperwork for the buyers. He wrote into the contract a clause allowing him to buy the property back in the future for the original amount! Legal - perhaps, but definitely a SHARP lawyer!


SHOOTING BRAKE n. 1. Station wagon.

SHOOTING STICK n. 1. A walking stick which folds out into a seat.

SHORTS n. 1. Any pair of shorts which may vary in length from short (as in tennis shorts) to long (as in bermuda shorts).

SHOUT n. 1. Round, as in, "What 'you having? All right, MATE, it's my SHOUT".

SICK AS A PARROT phrase. 1. Very displeased. This is the exact opposite of OVER THE MOON.

SIDEBOARDS n. 1. Sideburns. 2. A piece of furniture often found in the dining room where the good dishes are kept.

SIDESMAN n. 1. An usher at a church.

SILENCER n. 1. Car muffler.

SILLY BILLY n. 1. A foolish person, as in, "Don't be a SILLY BILLY, join a car pool".

SILVERSIDE n. 1. Corned beef as from a New York deli.

SINDY n. 1. A Barbie-like doll sold in the United Kingdom. As with her American counterpart, one may purchase SINDY clothes which cost almost as much as their real versions.

SISTER n. 1. A nurse equivalent to an R.N. There is no connotation of religious affiliation in the British term. A MATRON is a charge or head nurse who has management responsibilities in addition to nursing duties.

SIXES n. 1. Home run, as in, "Go for SIXES" as used by Field Marshall Montgomery in inspirational addresses to his troops on the eve of battle. The term comes from CRICKET.

SIXTH FORM COLLEGE (sikth form college - the "th" seems to be optional) n. 1. A school for 16-18 year olds who have completed SECONDARY SCHOOL and are studying for their A-LEVELS.

SKIRTING BOARD n. 1. Baseboard.

SKITTLES n. 1. A game similar to bowling played when one of the pins is lost leaving you with only nine pins.

SKIVE v. 1. To avoid work. "To SKIVE OFF" is to take a day off work. A school boy who regularly skips school might be called a SKIVER.

SKIVVY v. 1. To do menial tasks, as in, "You don't expect me to SKIVVY for you, do you?". It may also be used as a noun to refer to one who does menial tasks (e.g. a kind of maid).

SLANG v. 1. To hurl insults at someone, as in "a SLANGING match".

SLATE v. 1. To denigrate. A politician might be SLATED if the newspaper headlines read "MP suspected in homosexual scandal." SLATE never means slate (a list of people, as in a slate of candidates).

n. 1. Credit to buy something, as in: .in +5 PUBLICAN: "That'll be two QUID" Customer: "Put it on the SLATE" PUBLICAN: "How'd you like a BUNCH OF FIVES, MATE?" .in -5

SLIDE n. 1. A hair barrette.

SLIPPER n. 1. A conventional slipper (as worn on your feet) used as a whipping instrument with which a girl's school HEAD MISTRESS administers corporal punishment to an unruly student. The CANE or BIRCH was more often used in boy's schools.

SLOG n. 1. Hard work, as in, "Configuring any NCP is a SLOG".

v. 1. To work hard, as in, "They SLOGGED up the hill with 50 pound rucksacks. 2. To hit hard, especially at CRICKET, as in, "Don't just stand there, SLOG the ball". Speculation: Is this the origin of the term "baseball slugger"?

SMACK n. 1. A quick slap to the hand, legs or buttocks. British parents do not spank their children, but rather SMACK them. The standard British parental threat is "If you (don't) ...., I'll SMACK you".

SMARMY adj. 1. Offensively suave and smug. A used car salesman might be said to be SMARMY.

SMARTIES n. 1. M and M's of more than one color.

SNOTTYLITTLEUPPERCLASSTWIT (This must be said very fast and all run together) n. 1. Term used for a PUBLIC SCHOOL boy who NICKED a light from your bicycle.

SNUG n. 1. A tiny private area where one may be alone. Schools often have a SNUG for small children to retreat into for quite reading periods. Also a small room in a pub that used to be reserved for women and occasionally still is - the bar would have a small opening or window into the SNUG to serve the ladies drinks.

SOLICITOR n. 1. Your basic everyday lawyer who handles most any kind of legal service like contracts, wills and represents you in lower courts. However, if you get in serious trouble, you will need a BARRISTER.

SORBET (sor-bay) n. 1. Sherbet ice cream, also known as a WATER ICE.

SOVEREIGN n. 1. A solid gold coin with the supposed face value of one POUND, i.e. legal tender for one POUND. In reality this was worth about fifty POUNDS. This coin has been used to pay wages as a way to avoid tax. (It didn't work.) There was also a HALF-SOVEREIGN.

SPANNER n. 1. Open ended wrench.

SPANNER IN THE WORKS phrase. 1. To mess something up as in, "We'll do exactly what management asked, that should put a SPANNER IN THE WORKS'.

SPARKS n. 1. An electrician.

SPLASH n. 1. A small stream which would likely not have a bridge, but people would simple drive through (i.e. splash through). As in, "Wilson's B&B is on the corner after the SPLASH."

SPEND A PENNY phrase. 1. To go to the toilet. The phrase has its origins in the days when most toilet stalls in the LOO had locks which would only open after a penny had been inserted. As in this graffiti,

Here I sit broken hearted,
Paid a penny and only farted.
Definition of torture: Standing outside a LOO with a bent penny.

SPIV n. 1. A flashy dresser. The term was originally a person who sold stolen or black market goods in war time. Presumably a SPIV was conspicuous because he was so much better dressed than others. A used car salesman is a modern example of a SPIV.

SPORT n. 1. The British term for athletics, as in, "I suppose you men are all talking about SPORT".

SPOT ON adv. 1. Accurately. During the invasion of the Falklands by the Argentinian army, the governor's house came under intense fire. After the surrender, governor Hunt went to his daughter's bedroom to rescue a print of a Picasso nude. There was a bullet-hole drilled in her bottom. "SPOT ON," said Hunt.

SQUASH n. 1. A popular game which somewhat resembles racket ball. 2. A concentrate which when diluted serves as a sweet drink for children. This term is never confused by the British, since their children do not play with what they drink.

STANDING ACCOUNT n. 1. Savings account. This is a term used by English bankers to confuse Americans. Also known as a DEPOSIT ACCOUNT.

STANDING OUT LIKE CHAPEL HATPEGS phrase. 1. Bug-eyed in amazement. 2. May also refer to prominent nipples (thereby explaining 1.).


STATE SCHOOL n. 1. Public school. Also known as a MAINTAINED SCHOOL (as opposed to a school that is not maintained, I guess).

Actually MAINTAINED refers to a school that is financed by the public authorities but is not owned or managed by them. The reasons are partly historical. For instance numerous free schools, originally for children aged 5-12, were set up as a public service by the Church of England in the 19th century. When school attendance became compulsory in the late 19th century the public authorities had to build and staff additional schools, but there was no need to close existing schools which were able to continue under their existing ownership and management, but with the benefit of financial support from public funds. Financial support naturally depends on the school meeting the required educational standards and other criteria such as free admission. From the point of view of children and parents a MAINTAINED SCHOOL is very little different from a STATE SCHOOL.

STICKY TAPE n. 1. Scotch tape. SELLOTAPE.

STICKY WICKET phrase. 1. A difficult situation. This phrase originates in the game of CRICKET. Jargon peculiar to games would normally not be included in the dictionary, however, STICKY WICKET is very commonly used. As in this quote of a BBC correspondent about the attack on Goose Green in the Falkland Islands, "The machine gun nest had us covered. It really was a STICKY WICKET."

To understand the derivation of this phrase, one must know a bit about the game. A pitcher (BOWLER) throws the CRICKET ball towards the batter (BATSMAN) who will attempt to strike the ball, thereby preventing the ball from hitting three sticks (WICKETS) behind him. The BOWL is not thrown entirely in the air (as in baseball), but is bounced in front of the batter.

The part of the playing field is also known as the WICKET. After a rain, the WICKET may be rather soft (STICKY) and this may make the ball do very peculiar things. Playing on a STICKY WICKET then, puts the BATSMAN in a very difficult situation.

STODGY adj. 1. When said of food, heavy or very filling. 2. Dull or slow.

STONE n. 1. Fourteen pounds weight.

STOUT n. 1. Name for a type of Irish beer which is black in color, as in "Guinness STOUT".

STRAIGHT AWAY adv. 1. Immediately, right away. As in, "He started working on the problem STRAIGHT AWAY."

STUFFED adj. 1. Describing when unpleasant things are poked into private parts of one's anatomy. Exclaiming after a meal, "I'm STUFFED" would likely raise muffled snickers.

SUBWAY n. 1. An walkway under a street. Do not expect to use the London UNDERGROUND (called the TUBE) at a SUBWAY.

SULTANAS n. 1. Yellow raisins, rather than the usual brown ones common in the USA.

SURGERY n. 1. Doctor's office, as in, "You'd better see a doctor about that. I'll take you to SURGERY." Note that "the" in this example was omitted. "The" is often omitted in many such phrases. There seems to be no discernible rule when "thes" may be dropped. 2. Period during which a doctor's office is open to patients. This usage may also be used for periods that politicians might set aside to discuss problems with their constituents. A politician might announce that he would hold a SURGERY from 10-11AM.

THE SURGERY is a place, whereas SURGERY is more of a "get-together". "I'm going to THE SURGERY" might mean no more than "I'm going to the building in which the local doctor carries on his medical activities" and implies nothing about my reason for going there. Whereas "I'm going to SURGERY" definitely means I am going to that building in order to seek medical help and I'm going at a time of day when a doctor is on duty and is available to minister to patients.

This is also true with hospitals, schools and lunches. "I am going to THE HOSPITAL tomorrow. The administrator says their central heating system is giving trouble and they want my advice about renewing it." Alternatively "I am going to HOSPITAL tomorrow - they will operate on me the following day and I hope to be home by the end of the week."

In general, the inclusion of THE emphasises the identification of a particular place or event, and limits the meaning of the word to the place or event concerned. Dropping the THE removes the emphasis from the place or event and focuses it on the activity. Just so as not to be too consistent, Brits would always say THE THEATRE, meaning the activity as well as the place.

SURNAME n. 1. Your last name. Strictly speaking this word is also an American word, but I have included it because the phrase "last name" is never found in the U.K. Whenever a British person wishes to know your name, he will invariably say "What's your SURNAME?" (and I almost never get it correct the first time!).

SUSS OUT v. 1. To figure something out, to investigate. As in, "to SUSS OUT the competition".

SUSPENDERS n. 1. Used by women to hold up nylon stockings. This is definitely not something used by a male. Garters used by men to hold up their socks are called SOCK HANGERS or perhaps SOCK SUSPENDERS.

SWEDE n. 1. Rutabaga.

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS phrase. 1. Its all the same. The full expression is "What you gain on the SWINGS, you lose on the ROUNDABOUTS".

SWOT v. 1. To cram, as in, "to SWOT UP for an exam".