Us English have a great way with words. English might be one of the most spoken languages in the world, but it’s the English slang words and English expressions that make our country’s lexicon so unique.
And of course I couldn’t write a post about English slang words without some good old British insults!
You might pick up a few of these English slang words from some of our TV greats, like Fleabag, Peaky Blinders, and Bridget Jones, but do you always know what they mean? Do us Brits even know what they mean and why we use them?
I have a degree in Communication Studies and have studied the wonderful English language at length. Today we’re going to go on a magical mystery tour down England’s best slang, favourite English expressions and how to insult someone in ‘British’ too.
Most importantly, so you know when you’re being insulted too. Let’s start with the niceties though, shall we?
English Slang Words, English Expressions + British Insults!
It’s important to learn those little nuances in English, to really know the difference between pissing someone off, taking the piss, pissing it down, and having a piss – all very different things. Let us take you through some of the best slang, expressions and insults in England to bring you up to speed.
Here are the best funny British phrases and fancy British words…
8 English slang words meant affectionately
As with many languages, the meaning is all in the tone. The simple use of ‘Mate’ in english slang could be taken many, many different ways. These English terms of endearment may not sound affectionate to an outsider, but trust me, we’re only saying it because we love and accept you*.
*Unless we’re being sarcastic, which is very likely.
1. Ledge – this is short for ‘legend’. Groups of lads (men) and ladies, will often refer to their closest friends as ‘ledges’. It’s a compliment and means they’re great. Although, sometimes it’s used in a sarcastic way, to refer to someone who definitely isn’t. Especially when we refer to celebs. In this way it’d be used to describe someone a bit cheesey, like…
2. Mate – a mate is a friend or a pal, if we take it literally. When I think of ‘mate’ though, it’s often used to diffuse situations between male chavs (white trash to Americans).
3. Babe – this is a derogatory term but also an affectionate one at the same time. Kinda hard to break down as it depends on the situation. A babe can be someone who’s hot, who maybe you don’t know. But ‘babe’ can also be like ‘darling’, but for males and females.
4. Crush – this is someone you are attracted to, or ‘fancy’ (another English slang word for affection). You can have a ‘crush on someone’, or they’re you’re ‘crush’.
5. Snog – where I come from (Staffordshire) this is French kissing (with tongues) but it could just mean a kiss. Also known as a ‘pash’ but I think we might’ve got that from the Australians.
6. Cheers – such a useful phrase. I tend to say this when I mean thanks. But also, whenever you have your first alcoholic drink of the day you have to cheers your friends and look them in the eye. If you don’t, everyone knows this means you get 7 years bad sex. This is not fact, but some weird theory that everyone over the age of 18 knows. For this reason you’ll often see people staring at eachother intently while they cheers, OTT for the lols.
Like most English phrases, ‘cheers’ can also be used saracastically.
With the emphasis on the yeah, and pal. You would say that if someone knocked into you and spilt your drink. Us Brits love to be passive aggressive.
7. Fit – if someone is ‘fit’ it means you’re attracted to them. If you need further reference listen to The Streets song, You’re Fit but Don’t You Know It. ‘Fit’ can also be used to describe other things. I’ll often use it when I’m talking about food. This English slag word is very adaptable.
8. Dick – this is normally used when the target is being funny. This is definitely a word I probably say too much to my friends, but I definitely mean it positively. If there’s force behind the tone and pronunciation of the word ‘dick’ then it’s most likely NOT being used affectionately. This is confusing I know.
5 most popular ways to say hello in English
1. What’s up? – like you’ll find with most English expressions you don’t need to take this literally. If someone comes over to you and says ‘What’s up?’ they’re not implying something is wrong with you, it’s more of a hello. Just reply, ‘nothing, you?’ and then you will have greeted each other for the day.
2. How’s tricks? – this is one of those English slang words steeped in years of meaning. ‘How’s tricks’ actually refers to the tricks prostitutes used to turn, so you’re basically asking how’s business. That’s according to some, others say it relates back to card tricks. If you hear this English phrase used in lexicon today it’ll merely be to ask how you are, nothing to do with ladies of the night or card games.
3. How’s it going? – a simple question but doesn’t require a long answer. The average Brit would just reply ‘good, you?’ even if they were in the middle of a pandemic and ready to take a long walk off a short cliff. As the conversation goes on you might be able to reveal how you really are, but not right away. That’s just not British.
4. You alright? – This is my English greeting phrase of choice. Again, like above, I’m not looking for a real answer. I’m looking for a ‘yeah, you’, and we can go on about our day. I remember my Aussie friend Jules was always very perplexed by this greeting as she never knew whether you reply with a proper summary of her current mental health. Took some training but she warmed up to the usual British response.
5. How’s your father? – if any English person says this to you, they’re being weird. ‘How’s your father’ refers to sex. I don’t know why. The more I think about it, the weirder it is.
17 most used English expressions
These are some of the most used English expressions that even if you speak English, you might not understand. If you’re visiting England for the first time it might be useful to know some of these at least.
1. Don’t get your knickers in a twist – these are some of my fave English slang words. A woman shouted at me for accidentally jumping the queue in Waitrose once and I turned round to her and said, ‘Alright, I didn’t see you. don’t get your knickers in a twist’ and I felt like it was one of the most middle class things I’d ever done. It basically means ‘just chill’.
2. Up the duff – if you’re ‘up the duff’, you’re pregnant.
3. Don’t be a chicken – this English slang means don’t be scared. It’s usually used by children to children to get them to do things. As if ‘being a chicken’ was the worst thing in the world.
4. Bob’s your uncle / Fanny’s your aunt – ta da! Success! I guess it’s like the English ‘et voila’.
5. Give us a bell – phone me. An ode to the great Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone.
6. Let’s have a brew – you’ll hear this a lot. It means, let’s have a hot drink together.
7. Sounds a bit dodge – one of the English slang words I use a lot. It means it sounds a bit shifty, a bit weird, untrustworthy.
8. Sounds wicked – wicked means great in British slang.
9. Float my boat – usually used in the phrase, ‘yeah, whatever floats your boat’ meaning whatever you like. Used as a signifier for preference.
10. Her Majesty’s Pleasure – HMP, which is Her Majesty’s Prison. For some reason we don’t like saying the word ‘prison’, and so have added in ‘pleasure’ instead.
11. Off to see a man about a dog – I would use this when I was going to the toilet (number 2), if I felt the need to tell the people I was with. It can be used for any kind of clandestine event though.
12. Throwing a wobbly – usually refers to little kids when they’re having a tantrum, but can also refer to anyone of any age being a nightmare about a specific event or incident. Can be used to describe a small disagreement like someone saying no to you, or a full on meltdown.
13. Have a gander – have a look. May also hear, ‘have a goosey gander’ which is what I like to say.
14. Taking the piss / a piss / pissed off / pissed – Ah ha, the English slang words I introduced earlier. ‘Taking the piss’ means taking the mick, or mocking you. Taking a piss is having a wee. Pissed off is annoyed. Pissed is drunk.
15. Can’t be arsed – also known as CBA in text. If you can’t be arsed then you can’t be bothered. I don’t like this British phrase but it is very useful to describe the British frame of mind most of the time.
16. Crack on – Irish people would say ‘work away’. It just means to get going, get moving on something.
17. Budge up – move up. If you haven’t left someone enough space at the bus stop or on the bench at the pub, they’ll say ‘budge up’, or they might say ‘shift your arse’ depending on who they’re speaking to and where they’re from.
10 British words you’ll want to know
1. Chunder – to be sick, normally when it’s down to drinking.
2. Gutted – downhearted, sad. Also used to mock people, sarcastically.
3. Kerfuffle – if there was a bit of a rucus then it’s called a kerfuffle.
4. Chin wag – chatter. Normally women and used instead of ‘catch up’.
5. Minging – one of the most English slang words, minging is when something is gross.
6. Posh – used to describe someone of a higher class, or with loads of money. Can be used positively or negatively. Also, a spice girl.
7. Rubbish – aka the trash. We use it to describe all our waste in the trash can, as well as describing things like songs, places, food, TV or even days out. This is the epitome of British slang.
8. Skive – to skive off means to not attend. You might skive off school, or skive off work. Someone who skives a lot is called a skiver.
9. Bog roll – toilet roll. It’s not nice to use this phrase and me and my brother used to get told off for it.
10. Offy – the off licence, this is where we buy all our booze from. Well, and the supermarket, and the wine merchants. The ‘Offy’ refers to those little shops on street corners that are like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Always amazing how much they manage to fit in there.
11. Bagsy – ‘bagsy’ is gospel. This is like calling dibs or calling shotgun, if you know those phrases. If you managed to bagsy something it’s yours, within reason. When I was a kid we used to say, ‘turn around, touch the ground, bagsy not me’, when we were called to do something. Everyone knows if you’re first to say it then you don’t have to do it.
12. Fanny around / faff – god British people are great at faffing. I recently heard the art of leaving the house referred to as the ‘faffletics’ which I thought was great. We’ve just got to do this, and just got to do that, and just need to check on this – that’s faffing.
13. Bevvy – can mean alcohol beverage, or hot beverage. You need to use or hear it in context to work out which one. Sometimes, the fun is in misunderstanding. The average Brit can easily be persuaded to change up the hot bev for a alcoholic bevvy, watch, experiment, and you’ll generally get the same result.
11 greatest British insults
English expressions and slang are different all over the country. What might be said in one county, isn’t in another. This all adds to the fun. Here are some great British insults used all over the country, so you won’t be misunderstood.
1. Bollocks – used in place of damn, darn it. Like this ‘oh bollocks’. Often used in cars when the driver goes the wrong way. Don’t get confused with the ‘dogs bollocks’ which means something good.
2. Bollocking – to get a bollocking is to get told off.
3. Dickhead – one of my favourite insults, dickhead. Can also be used affectionately though and to me seems quite mild, but you wouldn’t want to hear a child saying it.
4. Tosser / wanker – basically both mean idiot, depends how mean you want to be. I’d say wanker was the meanest, tosser can be kind of affectionate in the right circles.
5. Knob – ‘such a knob’, ‘what a knob’, ‘don’t be a knob’ – basically, an idiot.
6. Off their rocker – someone who’s a bit different, a bit wacky or unhinged.
7. Gormless – used to describe someone who’s a bit dopey.
8. Bloody hell – used as a signifier of shock. You can’t believe it.
9. Face like the dog’s dinner / a slapped arse – here are some fun English slang words for you. If you’ve got a face like a dog’s dinner or a slapped arse then it would usually mean you’re grumpy. Of you’ve got a ‘strop on’, or you’re ‘mardy’ to use a Midlands term.
It could also just mean you’re ugly, but I’d say more grumpy.
10. You look like death warmed up / like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards – means you look rough. Maybe after a night out, or you’re all dishevelled, or you’ve been camping.
11. Muppet – a kinder way of describing someone who’s a bit of an idiot. They could be an all round muppet, and maybe a bit gormless too, or they might just have done something that was a bit of a muppet thing to do.
13 British words for being drunk
All these English slang words cover the joyful art of getting drunk. Something us Brits are very good at, as the world knows – especially in Magaluf, Ibiza and Benidorm. Each word varies slightly in severity from tipsy, to buzzin, to hammered, to smashed and onto annihilated.
What a creative way with the English language we have…
Is your favourite English slang word here?
Let me know if there are any important British expressions you think we’ve missed below!
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