bedsit

n single rented room in a shared house, usually with a shared bathroom. An antiquated term, it was popularised after World War II, when housing was made scarce by the Germans. Nowadays, a bedsit would be referred to as “spacious Penthouse suite in desirable residence” or “gorgeous, bijou living space in up-and-coming neighbourhood”.

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Blighty

n Britain. A very antiquated term itself and seen most often these days in war films: Well chaps, I don’t mind saying I’ll be dashed pleased when we’re out of this pickle and back in Blighty. It is derived from the Urdu word “Bilati” meaning “provincial, removed at some distance” and was one of the many words that slipped into English during Indian colonisation.

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bog

n toilet. More likely to be used as in: D’ya hear Fat Bob took a kicking in the bogs in Scruffy Murphy’s? rather than: I say, Mrs. Bryce-Waldergard, I’m awfully sorry to trouble you but I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of your bog?

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bolt-hole

n sanctuary; place one runs to when in trouble or wanting to hide. One might hear it used to describe Winston Churchill’s country retreat, or some such.

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boozer

1 n pub. 2 one who’s in the middle of partaking in booze (universal).

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canteen

n cafeteria.

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chemist

n 1 drugstore; pharmacist. The American term “drugstore” implies to Brits that you could just buy Class A narcotics over the counter. These days it’s also acceptable in Britain to call the place a “pharmacy.” 2 a person who works with chemicals (universal).

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chippy

1 n fish-and-chip shop. 2 n colloq carpenter. Americans use this word (at least those on the East Coast) to describe a woman of somewhat suboptimal morals; this derives from its original meaning of an Old West saloon prostitute, commonly paid in poker chips. All this is of minimal relevance here, as that meaning isn’t used in the U.K.

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close

n pron. as in “close to me,” rather than “close the door” residential street with no through road; cul de sac. Brits also share all of the usual meanings of the word.

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college

n an educational establishment which specialises in single-year studies between school and university.

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council house

n public housing, projects. Housing built by the government and meted out to the needy, so they can reproduce and smoke pot in it. In the U.K. such projects were largely the brainchild of a Labour government, but when the Conservatives took power in 1979 they had the fantastic idea of allowing the tenants (generally working-class Labour voters) the option of buying their council houses at a discount to market value, which proved wonderfully popular. It also made it rather tricky for Labour to reverse the plan when they attained power in 1997, as it had made a great many of their upstanding supporters substantially richer.

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creche

n day-care. The place you take your children to be looked after, usually while you bumble off and make the money you’ll need to pay for it. The Brits do not use the word to describe a the revolting Christian Christmas scene that your child brought home from school and you’re not sure where to jettison (see “nativity”).

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Ecosse

n what the French call Scotland. It’s in here only because The Sunday Times newspaper uses the word as a section title. The word is also known reasonably widely around the U.K. — the only Scottish motor-racing team anyone’s ever heard of was called “Ecurie Ecosse.” Also means some other thing in French but I have no idea what.

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flat

n apartment or condominium. Derived from the Germanic Old English word “flet,” meaning “floor” (a flat occupies only one floor of a building).

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footpath

n any path usable on foot — it can refer to ones used for hiking or just the sidewalk.

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gaffe

n home. Rather a London-centric word: Why don’t we go back to my gaffe and skin up? The shorter word “gaff” (to make a foolish error) is the same in both U.K. and U.S. English.

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garden

n back yard. Americans use the word “garden” to refer to areas where fairly specific things are grown – flowers or vegetables, for example. Brits use the word to refer to the area behind their house which contains some grass, a long-since abandoned attempt at a rockery and a broken plastic tricycle.

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high-street

n main street. The main road through somewhere. Nowhere in particular. Could be anywhere. Although, thinking about it, it would probably have to be somewhere in the U.K.

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ironmonger

n hardware shop. A bit of an antiquated word.

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khasi

n pron. “kah-zee” toilet: I’m away to the khasi to drain the lizard. Less likely in more refined conversation: Excuse me, madam – could you direct me to the khasi? It may be derived from Arabic. This might not be true. People lie to me all the time.

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Left Luggage

n a place (usually in a railway station) where you can dump your belongings for a time while you bumble around shopping, or whatever takes your fancy.

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loft

n attic. The small space in the rafters of your house where you keep letters from your ex-lovers and all of your school books, just in case they might ever come in handy again. The word “attic” is also used in the U.K.

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loo

n restroom. The derivation comes from a long time ago. As derivations often do, now I think about it. What a lot of nonsense there is in here. Anyway, back then people used to shout “gardez l’eau” (the French equivalent of “look out for the water”) and throw their human waste out of the window onto gutters in the street. Of course, it wasn’t water at all, but perhaps we were all a bit too posh to shout “gardez le merde.” Another almost definitely spurious etymology is that in large mansions the toilet was always numbered room one-hundred to save any embarrassing confusions.

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mews

n a short, narrow (often cobbled) street. The word traditionally meant a stable that had been converted into a house, but is now only used to refer to the sort of street they would have been on. Mews houses in central London tend to afford some peace and quiet, and are therefore highly sought after and breathtakingly expensive.

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off-licence

n liquor store. The term comes from the fact that the alcohol can be sold on the condition that it may only be drunk off the premises.

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prep school

n boarding school for children from ages eight to thirteen.

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pub

n bar. An abbreviation for “public house.” However, in my experience, British pubs are generally far more sociable than American bars. While you would go into a pub to have a pleasant lunch with your family or one or two sociable beers with a couple of friends, you’d only go into a bar in order to get blind drunk and then start a fight or have sex with something.

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public school

n I wrote a whole chapter about this earlier on, and I’m not writing it again. It begins on page 21.

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school

n pre-university education – in the U.K. they call university, well, university.

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shop

n store. What Americans call “shops,” the Brits call “workshops” or “garages.”

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tuck shop

n candy store. Derived from the word “shop,” which means “store.” And also the word “tuck.”

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two up, two down

n a house with two rooms upstairs and two downstairs. A one-up, one-down is an even smaller house.

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university

n college. As well as having the “University of St. Andrews” in the same way that Americans would have the “University of Oklahoma,” Brits use university as a general term to describe those sorts of institutions: I’m still at university at the moment. Brits do not use the word “college” in that context.

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