aluminium

(al-yoo-min-i-um) n aluminum. Who is correct about this one is a matter for some debate. We can at least say that Hans Ørsted, the Danish gentleman who discovered it in 1824, had based its name on the Latin word “alumus,” denoting the mineral alum. The difference in spelling seems to have originated when very early printed material advertising his talks on the subject contained the two different spellings in error. The general consensus seems to be that he had originally intended using the “British” spelling (borne out by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s use of it, and the “ium” suffix that already graced many metallic elements at the time), but as he clearly didn’t make any efforts to correct anyone, we could conclude that he didn’t care too much either way.

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anti-clockwise

adv rotation in a direction which isn’t clockwise (as, well, the phrase suggests). Americans will know this better as “counter-clockwise.” Of course, anyone with half a brain could have worked this out themselves but never let it be said that we’re only paying lip-service to completeness.

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bell end

n end of one’s nob, which devoid of a foreskin looks not completely unlike a church bell. If you don’t have one to examine, ask a friend or neighbour: I don’t know what happened last night but when I woke up this morning my bell end was covered in spots!

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bespoke

adj made especially for a particular client’s requirements. These days it’s most likely to be used to describe computer software, but it could cover anything from limousines to suits. Americans would probably say “tailor made” or “customized.”

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billion

n thousand million. As you may have noticed, this is precisely the same as the U.S. definition. It’s here because some time ago in the U.K. it meant a million million, which no doubt caused a lot of confusion.

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bing

n slag heap. The large pile of detritus created in the process of coal mining: What’s that brown mountain, dad? / It’s a bing, son, it’s not a mountain. Your granddad used to work in that coal mine before Margaret bloody Thatcher closed it down and he had to spend the rest of his life in the pub whining.

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chucking it down

v pouring; raining heavily: Walk? Are you mad? It’s chucking it down out there!

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cockerel

n rooster. Male chicken. Also abbreviated to cock, mostly in order to make jokes centered around “the next-door neighbour’s cock wakes me up every morning” and such like.

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curly braces

n braces. {these things}. This is just one small part of a whole category of cross-continental disasters – see “square brackets”.

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daddy long-legs

n crane fly. Not to be confused with the American “daddy long-legs,” which refers to a whole order, Opiliones, also called harvestmen on both sides of the Atlantic.

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dynamo

n generator. Usually on a car or bicycle, this is a device intended to take power from the engine to recharge your battery as you drive along (or power the lights, in the case of a bicycle). Or, in the case of my own fine automobile, take power from the engine and dribble it lazily into the ether. These days, dynamos on cars have been replaced by alternators. Alternators run on alternating current as opposed to direct current and are more effective at charging the battery at low revs. Why, you might wonder, do some of the parts of this book that relate to cars appear to have a lot more effort put into them than other parts? Well, I’m a car person. I’m much more interested in car words than I am in words that mean “sheetrock” or “faucet.” If you’re a sheetrock person then I’m sure there’s a book out there somewhere for you.

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engaged

adj busy, as in a telephone line. Many sit-coms have sustained plot lines built around the truly hilarious “engaged in a phone call/engaged to be married” mix-up.

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film

n movie. Brits don’t go to the theatre to see movies; they go to the cinema to see films. They do understand the American word, they just don’t use it.

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frogspawn

n frog’s eggs. Quite literally the spawn of a frog, these are the tiny gelatinous clumps of frog eggs that children enjoy collecting from ponds, hatching into tadpoles and then explaining to their fathers why the garden is fully of frogs.

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green fingers

n green thumbs. A characteristic of a person particularly good at looking after plants. Difficult to imagine how these two different terms arose, but there you go.

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Guinea

n old unit of currency in the U.K. Worth “one pound and one shilling,” a Guinea coin was minted from 1731 until 1813. The somewhat curious value is due to the fact that it was created largely to cater for auction-houses, where for each pound the seller receives for his goods, the auctioneer takes a shilling (5%). The buyer, therefore, pays a Guinea.

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haha

n trench dug at the edge of one’s garden as a replacement for a fence, so that the view from the garden to the surrounding countryside is unspoiled, but you aren’t going to be deluged by animals or grotty peasants from the village. There seems to be some validity to the idea that they are so-called because of the surprise at coming across one whilst out walking.

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ladybird

n ladybug. Probably nothing to do with Lyndon Johnson’s wife, but who can tell.

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maths

n mathematics. How the Brits ended up with maths and the Americans ended up with “math,” I’ve no idea.

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mobile phone

n cell phone. Can’t think of anything witty. Tough shit. Move onto the next word. Get on with your life.

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moggie

n alley-cat. Implies a cat marginally more streetwise than your average “kitty.” A cat which has graduated from the university of life, if you will.

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moggy

n cat. Implies a cat marginally more streetwise than your average “kitty.” A cat which has graduated from the university of life, if you will.

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nought

n pron. “nawt” the digit zero. It’s an Old English word meaning “nothing” still used in northern regional English. Also occasionally used in the U.S., along with its more common American sibling, “aught.”

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noughts and crosses

n tic-tac-toe.

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paraffin

n Kerosene. The fuel used in some lamps, greenhouse heaters and such like. To confuse matters somewhat further, Americans call candle-wax “paraffin.”

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parky

1 adj cold; chilly; nippy. 2 n an abbreviation for Park-keeper. Despite my cavernous capacity for humour, try as I might I couldn’t find any way to tie these in together.

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Patience

n Solitaire. A card game played alone. I once wrote that the Brits would no doubt start calling it “solitaire” eventually, and some bastard half my age wrote to me to tell me that “mainly older people” call it “patience.” So, sadly, I have to add here that this term is used by “mainly older people.” This reminds me of the time my mother came home in tears when a boy scout had tried to help her across the road. Rather oddly, we Brits also call another game “Solitaire.” Just go and look it up like a man.

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pot plant

n House plant. Plants that one has around the house, for decoration, in pots. Because “pot” is one of the commoner worldwide terms for cannabis. it is generally only older people who can use the term pot plant without giggling.

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potplant

n plant in a pot. Not a cannabis plant. Well, it could be, but more than likely it isn’t.

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quid

n pound (currency). Quid is to “pound” what “buck” is to “dollar.” The word is very widely recognised and socially acceptable but informal – you could quite easily say: “Well, they offered me ten thousand quid for the car” but you wouldn’t hear any BBC announcers reporting: “The government today authorised a ten million quid increase in health service funding.” This perhaps says more about the BBC than this one particular word, but I digress.

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reverse charges

n, v call collect. Nothing to do with cars or batteries.

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ring

n, v call (as in telephone): You coming out later? / Dunno… give me a ring. A relic from the days when telephones actually rang and didn’t bleep, vibrate or send you e-mail.

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Snakes and Ladders

n chutes and ladders. The simple board game in which you roll dice and, depending on which square you land on, you can go whizzing further up the board on ladders or slide down the board on snakes.

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Solitaire

n a game played alone on a sort of four-pointed-star board full of pegs in little holes, where the idea is to remove pegs by jumping other pegs over the top of them, ultimately with the intention of ending up with a single peg left on the board in the middle. Traditionally, the Brits refer to card games one plays alone as “patience” rather than “solitaire” but Microsoft has gone a fair way to changing that.

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struck off

v removed from a registered position of responsibility, usually the General Medical Council: Well, we were pretty sure she’d get struck off after the whole thing with the electric toothbrush and that poor man in the wheelchair. The term gave its name to the BBC radio medical comedy, Struck Off and Die.

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terrestrial television

n regular television; cable. Any television that doesn’t come from a satellite. Until recently there was no cable TV in the U.K., so any terrestrial television was beamed over radio waves and received by an aerial. The distinction is a bit hazy these days as the Brits are now fortunate enough to have cable TV. Nowadays, terrestrial television generally refers to the five channels (BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five) which are transmitted via radio.

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underlay

n carpet pad. As far as Americans are concerned, the “underlay” is the wood that lies underneath the carpet pad.

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