Slang in the UK
English Slang Explained
English slang is a funny thing. Often seemingly nonsensical, greatly varied between British regions, and greatly evolving, it can be an enigma at best, a linguistic minefield at worst.
Whether or not your English classes at school covered it, it is likely you will need a recap, as it is so dependent on the time and place you’re staying in the UK.
Here at Spen Languages we try to incorporate idioms into our lessons, and encourage you to use them in groups. Here is an A-Z of some English slang words and phrases. Try listening out for them when you’re out and about, or try them in your English lesson.
Tip: We would recommend that unless you are after a particularly casual job, like bar work or similar, that you avoid using these words and phrases in a job interview. Other great places to avoid these phrases are: when meeting the parents of your girlfriend or boyfriend for the first time, if you get on the wrong side of the law, or in a disagreement with a stranger.
There are many words that are used across the UK, and will often give an indication of cultural or class values.
This is a casual way of greeting someone, and can be used instead of the whole phrase, “Hello, how are you?” It is also used after an incident when someone may be hurt or upset, to check that somebody understands an explanation, or to ask for agreement.
Refers to dessert: the sweet course of a meal that you have after your main course.
This can of course be used in the wider sense of doing something (eg. “Your actions have made me smile”), but single young people may also use it when referring to intimate relations they have had or want to have with a prospective girlfriend or boyfriend: to “get some action”.
Tip: This can be seen as a slightly derogatory term and we would not recommend using it in front of a prospective boyfriend or girlfriend, or indeed in front of anybody unless you know them well.
As well as a reference to making someone blind (cannot see), this can be used to describe a really good time: “We had a blinding night on Saturday,” or, “The night was a blinder”. This usually refers to good times had out at night, rather than daytime activities, although not exclusively so.
“Bling” is a word used to describe very shiny or sparkly jewellery. With its roots in modern Afro-Caribbean culture, it is now a word widely used across the UK and America. It was originally used in reference to diamonds and expensive jewellery (especially when there was a lot of it), but it can now also be used if someone is generally wearing a lot of big, expensive jewellery. In some sectors of society, it is used seriously; in more alternative culture, it is often used flippantly and can refer to any bit of jewellery (even if it’s not big and sparkly).
This adjective describes an object or person that is particularly adorned with jewellery.
This is commonly used amongst young people to describe something that is very clear or obvious.
To scold, sometimes using physical means. It can also mean to swear.
This is used in certain social circles to describe people (often of lower or working classes) who dress and behave in a brash manner. Men who might be described as ‘chavs’ most commonly wear tracksuits, whereas women, when not also wearing tracksuits, will often wear tight or scant clothing, more makeup than is strictly necessary, and a lot of ‘bling’ (see above!) A chav will also have a reputation as behaving loutishly or aggressively.
Something requiring very little or no effort. If a job is a ‘doss’, it’s very easy; the implication is that you can get away with doing almost nothing. Doss can also be something you do (or don’t do): If you had a lazy Sunday afternoon, you might well have ‘just dossed around’.
This can be used as a derogatory term for a lesbian, but has also been reclaimed by the lesbian community to identify with one another.
Something that was very easy to work out, or to do: “That test was a doddle.”
Someone very brainy, who is often seen as socially awkward or inept. However, this is evolving to actually be used as a term of respect for people who can make calculations or work at a higher academic level than most.
Unduly angry or grumpy. This is used mostly in jest, to tease someone who has reacted with anger to a relatively small or unimportant incident.
When describing people, this word has two related but very different meanings: ‘Easy’ is a derogatory way to describe someone who is easy to persuade to enter into intimate relations with. However, if you say ‘I’m easy’, you usually would usually be referring to the fact that you’re relaxed about what you do next. For example, when asked whether you’d prefer to watch a movie or go for a walk, and you really don’t mind which, you might reply, “I’m easy”. This is really shortening of ‘easy-going’, see below.
This is used to describe somebody who is very relaxed in life, and doesn’t take much issue with anything.
A situation that is comically and unnecessarily complicated.
Ineffectual activity. If you are faffing, you are doing a lot often without thinking it through, and without achieving your aims. An expedition that didn’t achieve the intended results can also, for example, be described as a ‘faff’.
When somebody says something unintended in conversation that might reveal their true or subconscious thoughts or feelings.
To find a person or prospect attractive “I fancy eating in that Italian restaurant”, or, “I really fancy that girl”.
A shortening of ‘give me’.
To be really surprised.
A word to describe a situation that is unpredictable, and potentially hazardous: “When they arrived, the situation got pretty hairy and the police were called.”
A shortening of ‘isn’t it’. It is used frequently; more so than you would expect to say ‘isn’t it’, and although it is used to command recognition for the comment the speaker is making, it is often used more as a statement than a question: “That person pushed in front of me, innit.” It is only used in certain social circles, so listen to see if people around you are using it before trying it yourself, otherwise you might sound a bit silly.
Word to describe a scheming woman, who uses her sexuality to get what she wants.
Trouble. When you get trouble from someone, you can describe them as “giving you jip”.
A nap, or short sleep: “I’m just going for a 20 minute kip”.
A derogatory term for someone who doesn’t bother to climb the social, hygienic or professional ladder. You could describe somebody who doesn’t bother to work, is rude, and doesn’t pay attention to his or her personal appearance as a ‘loser’.
In addition to its original meaning for a person or animal that cannot walk, this is also used to describe something or someone who is “letting the side down” (see below!)
Letting the Side Down
Originating from use in team sports in which someone was embarrassing or disappointing their team (or side), this term is used to describe something or someone that is not giving as much as other people or components, resulting in a less positive outcome for all involved.
A term to indicate indifference; that you simply do not care. "What have you got on at work tomorrow?" "Meh."
A word to describe something or someone that is quite disgusting.
‘No’, but with more emphasis.
You will recognise this one. It’s been adopted by English speakers and of course means ‘nothing’.
A small child.
On the Case
To be getting something done: “Have you sorted out the tax and MOT? I’m on the case.”
To stare in an amorous or flirtatious way. Often used when the attention is unwanted: “She did look great, but did you see all those men ogling her at the bar?”
Originating from the word ‘popular’, this word describes generally upbeat mainstream music, culture and attitudes. Pop music or pop culture is often seen as quite basic or simple, but usually referred to with fondness and familiarity.
Ideas or notions posing as scientific, but which are usually very oversimplified. Usually used in relation to romantic or social situations. Some examples of pop psychology are:
All you need to do is think positive;
‘Playing it cool’ will make you seem more attractive;
Mirroring people’s body language will make them like you more.
Commonly used term for the Great British Pound.
Someone who cheats people by claiming to have specialised knowledge, particularly in medicine.
This term has three meanings:
In mathematics, it is an approximation of a specific number to its closest ‘round number’ (which is to say, a number that is easy to add, subtract or multiply, such as 10, 20, 50 or 100): you might round 48 up to 50.
In social terms, to round up is to bring a number of people to one place. “Where have Sue, Timmy and Peggy gone? We need to round them up.”
In communication terms, a “round up” is a summary of everything that has happened or been discussed over a time period or event: “Here’s your weekly round up”.
A baby or small child.
This can be used to describe a person who is acting in a closed, untrustworthy
or strange manner.
Someone who posts provocative online messages with the sole intention of causing as much upset and argument as possible.
A small physical fight or disagreement, often under the affects of alcohol.
Used in certain social circles and to convey an extreme: “It was uber cool (see above)”.
Up the Duff
To decorate, repackage or update something to make it current, attractive and relevant. Examples:
“I’m vamping up the church hall for my birthday”
“I’m vamping up my old skirt with colourful patches”
“I’m just vamping up the speech from last year”
A shortening of ‘what’s up?’ Can be used as a question, or a greeting: “Whassup girl, I haven’t seen you in too long!”
A shortening of ‘want to be’, this term is used to describe someone who is trying to be something they’re not (and not succeeding).
Christmas. More a written term than a spoken term. Although some people do say it, we would recommend you avoid this as it’s regarded as somewhat garish.
Sleep: “I’m going to grab some zeds.”
If you travel around the UK, you will come across words and phrases that might are particular to an area. People are proud of where they come from and as long as it's not offensive, they will be delighted to hear you try some regional dialect! Here are a few typical examples from each region:
Bristol and the South West
A fond and familiar term, probably originating from ‘baby’ or ‘babe’, almost always used in the context of “Alright me babber?” (How are you my dear?). Although it gives the impression that Bristolians would reserve it only for close friends and family, it is in fact used, almost without distinction, to greet anyone in the street!
Where’s that to?
Where is that?
Very, or very good. This is rarely used in the context of anything negative, and is often used with ‘lush’, see below.
Nice, gorgeous, beautiful and sweet.
Children’s slide. More colloquially, it can also be used to describe the West Country alcoholic drink, cider.
London and the South East
A term of rebuke and endearment: “You look bazzing awful,” or, “That car is a right bazzer!”
A term of excitement or surprise. Can be used in reference to something amazing, horrible or wonderful.
Mush (pronounced ‘moosh’)
A word referring to a friend, usually by males, of the same gender.
An endearing term for a fool, or someone who has done something a bit silly.
To complain, or a serial complainer: “Don’t have a quinny at me,” or “she’s a bit of a squinny.”
Aren’t you: “Aye ya coming to the party anymore then?”
Did not: “I daye go to work today.”
Terrar a bit
Goodbye, or see you in a bit.
An easy job, similar to “doss”.
Something or someone that is filthy and disgusting.
Dirty, dishevelled and unkempt. This originates from ‘tinker’, which particularly in former times referred to a traveller who would make a living by mending pots, pans and other metal goods.
A term of endearment for a fool, or somebody who has done something foolish.
Something good. Only to be used in this context in Scotland, as it means something different in th rest of the UK!
The North West
Lovely food. “That pie was proper scran!”
Kenk me kecks
Literally means to excrete in your underwear, but this in turn is a term used to describe getting a fright or a shock.
Ahs gyaan yam
I am going home.
The North East
Bad mood or a strop: “He’s got a right cob on!”
Loose change: many coins of little value.
Cwtch/Cwtchs (pronounced cootch/cootches)
Hug/hugs, or cuddle/cuddles.
Similar to ‘whassup?’ see above, it is a common form of greeting in Wales.
Giving someone cheek: “Are you chopsing me?”
A combination of ‘afraid’ and ‘scared’, meaning – you guessed – scared!
Broken: “The boiler is banjanxed, call a plumber!”
How are you?
We’re qualified to teach proper English, but we’d recommend trying out regional dialects on local people from around the country, and getting a better understanding that way!