The Septic's Companion | British Slang Dictionary

A British slang dictionary

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The most popular British words or British English terms for items of clothing.

Play audio anorak: 1 n someone who’s a little bit too knowledgeable about one subject. Generally a subject like seventeenth-century flower pots or steam trains, rather than athletic sexual positions or gun-fighting. Americans (and also Brits, as our languages merge ever closer) would call such a person a “geek.” It may originate with the fans of Radio Caroline, a U.K. offshore pirate radio station, whose fans had to don anoraks in order to visit the station. Alternatively, it may come from the most popular item of clothing worn by train-spotters. 2 n waterproof jacket (universal).

boob tube: n tube top. A rather eighties item of clothing designed to make an otherwise attractive woman look like a malformed sausage.

Play audio box: 1 n item that fits down the front of a bloke’s underwear and protects the crown jewels. Americans know it as a “cup,” although I suppose in the U.S. such an item is less likely to be protecting the crown jewels and perhaps instead protects “the Bill of Rights” or some such. 2 female genitalia (universal).

Play audio braces: 1 n suspenders. Beware of the cross-definition — in the U.K., “suspenders” are something else entirely (you’ll just have to look it up like a man). 2 metal devices used to straighten one’s teeth (universal).

Play audio cardie: n abbr cardigan. A common abbreviation, at least for anyone who still wears cardigans.

Play audio clobber: n clothing; vestments. You might hear: OK, OK, I’ll be out in two minutes once I’ve got my nightclubbing clobber on. It’s possible this definition is of Scottish origin. Brits do also use “clobber” to mean hitting something.

Play audio court shoes: n pumps. Lightweight heeled women’s dress shoes with enclosed toes.

Play audio dapper: adj as befitting someone who is very much the country squire — well-spoken, well-dressed and rather upper-class. Despite once having been a compliment, the recent unpopularity of the upper classes in the U.K. has made this a mild insult.

Play audio dressing gown: n bathrobe; the outfit that you wear if you’re an attractive young lady coming out of the bath to answer the door in a coffee advertisement. Or if you’re Hugh Heffner. Ah, the great contradictions of modern life.

Play audio fluff: n lint. More than simply lint, fluff stretches to cover any unexpected bits of hair/fur/fabric, appearing anywhere from the corner of your living room to your posterior.

jim-jams: n pajamas. So called because the pajama was invented by a man named Jim, and the original experimental variants were made solely from strawberry jam.

Play audio jumper: n sweater. What Americans call a “jumper” (a set of overalls with a skirt instead of trousers), Brits would call a “pinafore.”

Play audio kagoul: n wind breaker; poncho. A light waterproof jacket, usually one that zips up into an unfeasibly small self-contained package. The word derives from the French “cagoule” (meaning much the same thing), which in turn comes from the Latin “cuculla,” meaning “hood.” In the U.S. technical theatre industry a “kagoul” is a black hood worn by magicians’ stagehands to render them invisible-ish. I once thought about writing a whole book dedicated to the word “kagoul,” but then decided against it.

Play audio kecks: n pants (U.S. pants); trousers. May come from India, where “kachs” are loose-fitting trousers with a low crotch.

Play audio Kirby grip: n Bobby pin. The little pins you poke in your hair to keep it in place.

Play audio knickers: n women’s underpants. In old-fashioned English and American English, “knickers” (an abbreviation of the Dutch-derived word “knickerbockers”) are knee-length trousers most often seen nowadays on golfers.

Play audio ladder: n run. In the sense of a “ladder in your tights” being the British equivalent of a “run in your pantyhose.” In all other circumstances, this word means exactly the same in the U.K. as it does in the U.S.

Play audio Mac: n 1 (abbr. of “Macintosh”) light waterproof jacket which can usually be squashed up into an impressively small size for packing away. Possibly derived from the name of the gentleman who worked out how to infuse rubber and cloth. Americans call the same sort of thing a “slicker.” 2 buddy: Are you alright Mac? The two meanings appear together in the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band’s song “Big Shot,” which features the lines: On the way home a punk stopped me: “You got a light, mac?” / I said “No, but I’ve got a dark brown overcoat.”

Play audio nappy: n diaper.

Play audio pants: 1 n underpants. What Americans call “pants,” Brits call “trousers.” 2 interj crap. A general derogatory word: We went to see Andy playing in his band but to be honest they were pants.

Play audio plimsolls: n light canvas shoes with rubber soles. A rather antiquated shoe, and therefore an equally antiquated word. Your grandmother may refer to your trainers as plimsolls, but that doesn’t mean you should too.

Play audio plus-fours: n an awful item of clothing which consists of sort-of-dungarees which stop at the knee. Whilst popular in pre-World-War Britain, plus-fours these days are firmly in the realms of brightly-colours golfers or inbreds.

Play audio polo-neck: n, adj turtle-neck. A style of sweater in which the neck runs right up to the chin; far enough up to cover even the most adventurous of love-bites.

Play audio pump: n gym shoes. A rather antiquated term. The confusion arises because in the U.S., it means high heels or stilettos.

Play audio purse: n money-purse. A little bag that women generally keep money in. Brits call anything larger than a money-purse a “handbag.”

Play audio rucksack: n backpack. One of those bags you wear over your shoulder on two straps (or one, if you want to look misguidedly fashionable). The word is used in the U.S. armed forces specifically to mean a framed pack, but in the U.K. it means any sort of backpack.

rugger bugger: n Jock. A somewhat affluent youth who makes up for his lack of academic achievement by scoring on the playing field and in bed with young ladies.

Play audio stockings: n tights. I think. I don’t wear a lot of women’s underwear. Well, there was that one time.

Play audio suspenders: n garters. The things used by women to hold up their stockings. They are not used by men to hold up their trousers (Brits call those devices “braces”) or their socks (they call those things, umm, “garters”).

Play audio swimming costume: n abbr “swimming cozzie” bathing suit. One of those women’s swimsuits that covers your midriff - not a bikini. I suppose technically there’s nothing to stop men wearing them either, though that’s perhaps less conventional. You can’t pigeonhole me.

Play audio tartan: n, adj plaid. The stripes-and-checkers pattern that Scotsmen use for their kilts but is also used for all sorts of things from throw rugs to tacky seat covers.

Play audio tights: n pantyhose. I’m getting rather out of my depth here. Opaque, very thin women’s leggings and generally skin-coloured or black. “Tights” in the U.S. are generally coloured, thicker, more like leggings and rarely worn. All of this makes little difference to me because the only reason I’d ever think about buying either would be if I was considering a career in armed robbery.

Play audio trainers: n sneakers; running shoes.

Play audio trilby: n a men’s felt-type hat (generally brown). The hat inherited its name from the 1894 George du Maurier novel, Trilby. The novel was not about hats, and if it even mentioned a hat it was only really in passing. However, during the first stage adaptation of the novel, one of the main characters wore a hat of an as-yet-unnamed type. Someone evidently thought that this was a good a time as any to name the hat, and so it was.

Play audio trousers: n pants. In the U.K., “pants” are underpants, and so being “caught with your pants down” has even more graphic connotations.

Play audio vest: n undershirt. The item of clothing worn under your shirt. What Americans call a “vest,” Brits call a “waistcoat.”

Play audio waistcoat: n vest. An odd sort of article of clothing worn over your shirt but under your jacket, often with a bow-tie. In the U.K., “vest” means something else, as usual.

Play audio wellies: n Wellington boots. Look it up. It can’t be far.

Play audio Wellingtons: n rubber boots; galoshes. A contraction of the term “Wellington boots,” which was the inventive name given to boots made popular by the Duke of Wellington. The further abbreviation “wellies” is also in common use.

Play audio welly: n Scottish (when talking about automobiles) stick; punch: If you give it some welly you’ll hit fifty through the corners! This may or may not be related to the “wellington boot” definition.

Play audio windcheater: n windbreaker. Cheap-looking waterproof jacket.

Play audio Y-fronts: n briefs. The more form-fitting old-fashioned equivalent of boxer shorts. The name derives from the upside-down ‘Y’ shape on the front, through the convergence of which you extract your old man in order to pee.