The most common British words or British English terms related to food, drink or drinking. Drinking is a very important part of British culture.
afters: n dessert. One would imagine that they’re so named because they come after the main meal, but actually they take their name from their inventor, Sir George After, the Fat Bastard of Brighton.
aubergine: n large purple pear-shaped vegetable North Americans will recognise as “eggplant.”
baked potato: n potato. Baked. You can buy a baked potato on either side of the pond, of course, but in the U.K. you will specify the filling as you buy the baked potato, while in the U.S. you’ll be brought a small selection of fillings to plonk in yourself. British fillings tend to constitute more of a whole meal than American ones.
bangers: n sausages. Probably most often heard in the name of the dish “bangers and mash” (the “mash” being mashed potato, but I hope to God you worked that out yourself). So called because they make popping noises when you cook them.
Banoffee pie: n A charming dessert pie made of bananas, cream, toffee, condensed milk, sugar, butter, methamphetamine and Soylent Green.
bap: n 1 small bread roll. 2 woman’s breast (modern slang): Get your baps out, love!
bevvy: n alcoholic drink. A contraction of “beverage.”
Bill: n the police, in the same sort of a way as “Plod.” There are two possible etymologies: The first, that it’s after William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament who first proposed a U.K. police service. The second, that all police cars originally had the letters “BYL” in their number plates. The Bill is also a popular U.K. television drama about a police station.
biscuit: n cookie. Has nothing to do with what Americans call a biscuit.
bitter: n proper beer, made with hops and served at room temperature (not actually warmed, contrary to popular opinion). The European/American fizzy lager shite is not real beer.
brew: 1 n cup of tea: Would you like a brew? Northern English but widely understood elsewhere in the U.K. At a stretch it could refer to coffee, too. 2 n pint of beer: Fancy heading out after work for a couple of brews?
brown sauce: n Steak sauce. A mysterious thick brown sort of savoury sauce. Popularly added to burgers, chips and other pub-type food, brown sauce is more than ketchup and less chunky than the American “relish”. I believe it contains vinegar. And probably some other stuff. Also it is brown.
bubble and squeak: 1 n dish made from boiled vegetables (often cabbage), potatoes, onions and sometimes some leftover meat. 2 n Greek person, usually shortened to “bubble.” From Cockney rhyming slang “bubble and squeak” / “Greek”: Did you hear Harry’s brother’s gone and started dating a bubble?
butty: n colloquial name for something sold in a chippy that’s served inside a roll or a folded-over piece of bread. It’s a bit of a northern English/Scottish thing, and has more recently started being used to cover pretty much any sort of sandwich. The most popular is a chip butty, but you can also buy bacon or fish butties without seeming strange. May be derived from the German “butterbrot” meaning “butter bread” and referring to a similar sort of dish.
candy floss: n cotton candy. The revolting foodstuff one can buy at fairgrounds which resembles a giant blob of fibreglass wrapped around a stick.
chipolata: n small sausage. The term originated in Mexico, but somehow never made it big in the U.S.
chips: n French fries. However, it’s lately been popular to call thin chips “fries” in the U.K, so Brits at least know what “fries” are these days. Classic chips can be obtained from a chip shop (“chippy”) and are a great deal unhealthier. They also vary quite creatively — if you buy them at 9 p.m. they are hard, black and crunchy (because they’ve been cooking since 6:30 p.m., when the dinner rush came through) but if you buy them at 3 a.m. you will find them very akin to raw potatoes, right down to the green bits in the middle (because the chippy employees want all of these drunk punters out of the door so they can go home).
chocolate drops: n chocolate chips. The idea of “chocolate chips” is enough to turn most British stomachs. The American candy called a “chocolate drop,” but it doesn’t have a lot to do with British chocolate drops.
cider: n alcoholic apple juice. To Brits all cider is alcoholic — there’s no such thing as “hard cider” in Britain, and any non-alcoholic apple juice is called simply “apple juice.” Cider is often mixed with a small amount of blackcurrant syrup to form a drink imaginatively titled “Cider and black”.
coriander: n cilantro. The herb that tastes like soap, and redefines the term “edible.” Americans still call the fruit of the plant “coriander” but not the leaves.
courgette: n zucchini. I wonder if there’s anything behind the fact that these words both look like they ought to be sports cars. I’m sure someone’s written a thesis on it somewhere.
crisps: n potato chips, or any of the corn-based equivalents. It’s worth bearing in mind that crisps in the U.K. cover a wide variety of flavours from Worcester Sauce to steak, and are not restricted to tasting anything like a potato. In fact, producing something that tastes anything like a potato is probably a sacking offence in the crisp factory. This particular confusion has caused me no end of troubles in the U.S. — I’ve never been so disappointed with a “bag of chips” in my life.
crumpet: n 1 small teacake made of pancake batter, but with raising agents added to make holes. 2 loose woman. Coming from rhyming slang for “strumpet” (a woman adulterer), crumpet refers to women in a similar (although a little more old-fashioned) way to “totty.” Suffice to say that if you were out looking for some crumpet of an evening, you wouldn’t be intending sleeping alone. In fact, you may not be intending to sleep at all. Despite it meaning, primarily, a small teacake, it would be difficult to mention such a teacake in the U.K. without someone at the table collapsing in fits of giggles.
cuppa: n cup of tea: Surely you have time for a cuppa?
custard: n sort of yellowy-looking dessert sauce made from egg yolks and milk. It does sound a little disgusting, but you’ll have to believe me that it’s not. Brits pour it on top of things like apple crumble and sponge cakes.
cutlery: n silverware. Knives and forks and stuff. Brits therefore do not have the curious American concept of “plastic silverware.”
digestive: n round biscuit that one generally dunks in one’s tea. Whether it aids the digestion or not, who can tell?
dinner: n Northern English mid-day meal. This is a bit of a generalisation — the words dinner, “tea,” “lunch” and “supper” seem to be assigned to meals spattered randomly around the day in both American and English regional dialects.
double fisting: v holding two drinks at once. The double-entendre is not entirely lost on the Brits and so it’s best not used in overly polite company.
drink driving: n drunk driving. The art of driving a car whilst intoxicated: Sarah’s stuck at home right now, she got done for drink driving last week. Why the Brits chose a phrase that doesn’t make linguistic sense, I am not entirely sure.
elevenses: n mid-morning snack. Rather old-fashioned; clearly derived somehow from eleven o’clock.
entrée: n appetizer. Only in America does this not mean “appetizer.” Why, in America, a word that clearly means “enter” or “start” means “main course” is beyond me. Perhaps it’s because American appetizers are about the size of everyone else’s main courses.
faggot: 1 n particular variety of meatball. 2 n bundle of sticks. 3 n grumpy old woman (uncommon). 4 n cigarette (uncommon). 5 n prostitute (uncommon). Brits do not use it as a derisive term for a homosexual man. In reality, the American definition is well known (if not really used) U.K.-wide, so most of the jokes involving the various other meanings have already been made. They all stem from the original Norse word “fagg,” meaning a bundled-together collection of matter. Do prostitutes come in bundles, I wonder.
fizzy drink: n carbonated drinks. A generic term much like “soda” or perhaps “pop.”
fry-up: n meal (almost always breakfast) consisting of mostly fried stuff (sausage, eggs, bacon and the like). Ideal for those seeking heart disease.
gobstopper: n jawbreaker. Very hard sweets intended to break the jaw of the consumer, or at least cause severe injury.
haggis: n small Scottish mammal, known better for the unpleasant-tasting dish it is often made into. There has been a lot of concern in Scotland lately that over-farming may endanger the remaining population - if you want to help, please voice your concerns to The World-Wide Fund for Nature. Make it clear that you’re an American, and that you were made aware of the poor creature’s plight by this fine piece of work.
high tea: n evening meal; dinner. Derives from the fact that the meal was typically eaten at the dinner table (the “high table”) rather than the tea table. This usage has become something antiquated recently and the term “high tea” has morphed to refer to the expensive afternoon teas one can buy at posh hotels in the U.K.
icing sugar: n powdered/confectioner’s sugar. The very fine sugar used to make cake icing.
jacket potato: n baked potato. A potato baked in its skin and usually filled with something. The term “baked potato” is equally well understood in the U.K.
jam: n jelly. Sort of. What Americans call “jelly” (fruit preserve without fruity-bits in it), Brits still call jam. What Americans call “jello,” Brits call “jelly.” Oh yes, and what Americans call “jam” is still also called jam in the U.K. I think that’s the jams pretty much covered.
jelly: n Jell-o. Gelatinous sweet desert. The Jell-o brand doesn’t exist in the U.K. British jelly is not like American “jelly” – Brits don’t distinguish between fruit preserves with or without fruit in them – they’re all “jam”.
joint: n large side of meat, like a Sunday roast. The Brits, like the Americans, also use the word to refer to cannabis spliffs, which means that these days you’d be unlikely to get away with referring to your “Sunday joint” without someone giggling.
lemonade: n a clear, carbonated drink very similar to Sprite or 7-Up, but with only lemons instead of limes. In the U.S. (and in the U.K., but under the moniker “traditional lemonade”) the word “lemonade” refers to a variant that, for want of a better description, is a bit more lemony. It’s darker in colour, not carbonated and often contains bits of lemon. Nowadays young drinkers on street corners in both the U.K. and the U.S. enjoy alcopop lemonade (“hard lemonade”), which is carbonated on both sides of the Atlantic. By that I don’t mean it’s carbonated on one side of the Atlantic, then flown over and carbonated on the other prior to sale. But you knew that.
Marmite: n a sandwich spread based upon yeast extract. Similar to “Bovril,” which is made from beef extract. Australians have a very similar spread called “Vegemite,” which is a little less sharp in taste.
marrow: n squash. The vegetable.
mince pie: n a sweet pie, traditionally served at Christmas, containing suet and mixed fruit. Not mincemeat. Step away from the mincemeat. No mincemeat to see here. Traditionally they did contain mincemeat, as the easiest way to preserve meat was to mince it and then mix it with various fruits. Actually, that probably isn’t the easiest way at all. The easiest way is probably to bury it in salt. Anyway - the animals having been slaughtered prior to the onset of winter, the mince pies were enjoyed at Christmas because the “preserved” meat was by then pretty much ready to walk out the door by itself. But it was okay, because everyone was kinda drunk.
nosh: 1 n food: Right, the pub’s shut, let’s get some nosh. 2 v perform oral sex: Rumour has it she didn’t answer the phone because she was noshing the vicar at the time.
on the lash: adj out drinking: Bob’s in a terrible state since he got divorced – I think he’s been on the lash every night.
peckish: adj hungry. Absolutely nothing to do with “pecker.” Only a little hungry, mind, not ravenous - you wouldn’t hear people on the news talking about refugees who’d tramped across mountains for two weeks and were as a result a little peckish.
pickle: n 1 a sort of brown, strongly flavoured blobby mass that people put in sandwiches. I’m really not very sure what it’s made of. Pickled something, one can only hope. 2 any sort of pickled cucumber or gherkin (universal).
piece: n Scottish packed lunch. Quintessentially Scottish: Will ye be coming for lunch, Willie? / Nah, ah’ve brought ma piece.
pips: n seeds. The little seeds in the middle of fruit guaranteed to get stuck in your teeth.
pissed: adj drunk. Brits do not use it alone as a contraction of “pissed off,” which means that Americans saying things like “I was really pissed with my boss at work today” leaves Brits wide-eyed. go out on the - venture out drinking. taking the - poking fun at someone. May well be a throwback to the U.S. use of the word.
pogged: n Northern English stuffed; full of food. Derivation is anybody’s guess.
Pot Noodle: n Cup-o-Noodle. Little pots of noodles, upon which you simply pour boiling water to the “fill level” and lo, all of a sudden you have a perfectly delicious and nutritious meal for one. One student, one overworked employee or one neglected pensioner, normally. I don’t think it mentions that on the pot.
prawn: n the least powerful piece on a chess board. OK, I lied. It’s a shrimp.
pudding: n dessert: If you keep spitting at your grandfather like that you’re going to bed without any pudding! Brits do also use the word in the same sense as Americans do (Christmas pudding, rice pudding, etc). The word “dessert” is used in the U.K. but really only in restaurants, never in the home. To complicate things further, the Brits have main meal dishes which are described as pudding - black pudding and white pudding. These are revolting subsistence foods from the dark ages made with offal, ground oatmeal, dried pork and rubbish from the kitchen floor. The difference between the black and white puddings is that the black one contains substantial quantities of blood. This, much like haggis, is one of those foodstuffs that modern life has saved us from but that people insist on dredging up because it’s a part of their “cultural heritage.” Bathing once a year and shitting in a bucket was a part of your cultural heritage too, you know. At least be consistent.
rat-arsed: adj exceedingly drunk. Also abbreviated as simply ratted. Possibly derived from a time when dead rats would be dangled in cider vats to give them extra flavour. At least, according to the person who told me that.
rocket: n arugula.
salad cream: n A mixture of mayonnaise and vinegar often put on salads. Perhaps unsurprisingly.
sarnie: n abbrev sandwich. A little bit slang-ish - you won’t find a “lightly toasted roast beef sarnie served on a fresh bed of rocket” in your average poncy restaurant.
savoury: n non-dessert food. Food such as potatoes, bread and meat are savouries. Things like ice cream and meringues are “sweets,” which is defined elsewhere in this fine work. Probably further on, as it’s supposed to be in alphabetical order.
scone: n pron. “sk-awn,” not “sk-own” biscuit. Sort of. A quintessentially British foodstuff, scones are somewhere between a cake and a subsistence food. The British word is creeping into the U.S. via coffee shops. Can a word creep?
Scotch: a contraction of the word “Scottish,” this is now only used in the context of foodstuffs (and even then really just Scotch eggs), and whisky – Brits refer to anything else as being “Scottish.” So those from Scotland aren’t Scotch people; they are Scottish people. If they were Scotch people, they would be made primarily from whisky. Oh, wait…
Scotch egg: n a somewhat peculiar delicacy - a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and coated in breadcrumbs. My mother used to put them in my packed lunch every day for school.
scrummy: adj delicious. I believe that this is a childish amalgamation of “yummy” and “scrumptious”: This jelly and ice-cream is scrummy!
Scrumpy: n strong alcoholic cider. While traditionally the word refers to home-brewed cider (scrumping being the stealing of apples), it has more recently become associated with a high-alcohol brand named Scrumpy Jack. Don’t go near the stuff. I drank some at university one evening and all sorts of bad things happened.
serviette: n napkin. The thing you put in your lap to block the path of food falling onto your clothes.
shandy: n an alcoholic mix of lager and (British) lemonade. Usually 90% lager and 10% lemonade, and generally drunk by people convinced that they can get as drunk as a skunk on shandy and still be fine to drive the car. Shandy has also given us such retail gems as Top Deck, a canned drink which contains not only the cheapest lemonade money can buy, but rounds it off nicely with a dash of the grottiest beer available west of the Himalaya.
skinfull: n the amount of alcohol necessary to make one clearly inebriated. If you have a skinfull at lunch, you’ll be less likely to go back to the office and more likely to see whether you could urinate as high as the top of the “M” in the McDonalds logo.
smart: 1 adj well dressed: You’re looking very smart today. Job interview? 2 adj intelligent (universal).
Smarties: n small sugar-coated chocolate candies, not entirely dissimilar to chocolate M&Ms. Not related at all to the American candy product of the same name, which in the U.K. is known as Fizzers.
soldiers: n strips of bread meant for dipping into a boiled egg. And yes, Brits also use the word to describe people who are in the army. To the best of my knowledge this duality of meaning has never caused any enormous problems.
spotted dick: n a suet pudding with raisins in it, often served on festive occasions and with custard. And yes, the Brits do use “dick” to mean the same thing Americans do.
squash: n cordial; diluted fruit drink. It’s a little outdated - you’d be more likely to find your grandmother offering you “lemon squash” than you would your children. The vegetable that Americans call a “squash,” Brits call a “marrow.”
starter: n appetizer. The dish you eat prior to your main meal.
sultana: n golden raisin. Vine-dried green grape.
supper: n Scottish takeaway meal served with (British) chips. When dish x is served in a Scottish chip shop with chips, it becomes an x supper. What the English call “fish and chips,” the Scots call a fish supper.
swede: n rutabaga.
sweet: 1 n candy: Never take sweets from strangers, or you’ll end up a dismembered corpse, rotting in a ditch like your auntie Jean. 2 n dessert (particularly in restaurants).
swift half: n a half pint of beer, had swiftly before departing. Although quite often it’s not really that. You might propose having a swift half with some people after work, when in reality you know that it probably won’t be just one swift half, it’ll be sixteen swift halves like last Wednesday, when Ernie ended up breaking his arm and you had sex with that homeless person.
take-away: n 1 take-out food: I think we’re just going to get take-away. 2 take-out restaurant. A hot food retailer (personally I think in this instance “restaurant” is a little too strong) which only sells things that you can take home and eat or stagger down the street drunkenly stuffing in your mouth and distributing down your shirt. Blimey, that tastes good. Damnit, I’ve left my credit card in the pub again. Where are my keys?
tater: n Northern England potato. Not exactly sure how America ended up calling the greasy French-fry derivatives “tater tots.”
tea: n evening meal. At the risk of sounding terrible, it’s just a little “working class.” Maybe that doesn’t sound all that terrible. There are lots of more terrible things I could say. Ask my parole officer.
tea-break: n coffee-break. A break away from work, ostensibly to have a cup of tea, but perhaps also to have coffee or a sly fag.
the razz: an evening spent out drinking. Both Americans and Brits use the term “razzing” to describe teasing someone.
tipple: n a demure, civilised drink. Usually of sherry, Martini or some other light spirit measure. You grandmother might acquiesce to a tipple before dinner. My grandmother, as it happens, acquiesced to several tipples before dinner, and a few after.
toad in the hole: n a delicacy consisting of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter, in a sort of pie shape. The etymology is a tough one to guess at, as the dish itself contains no obvious holes and it’s difficult, although not impossible, to confuse sausages and toads.
tomato sauce: n tomato ketchup. In the U.K. these two terms are interchangeable although “tomato ketchup” is in more common use, as tomato sauce could equally easily refer to the pasta-type sauce in a jar or can.
treacle: n 1 molasses. 2 darling; honey, An affectionate and familiar term of address, not necessarily implying that there’s a sexual relationship going on, but sort of hinting that one might be plausible: Afternoon treacle! Haven’t seen you since that party at Mike’s house.
trolleyed: adj extremely drunk. Perhaps the term came from something to do with ending up in hospital. No idea.
tuck in: v eat enthusiastically; dig in: Well, come on, tuck in before it gets cold! This is probably related to the term “tuck shop”, which similarly uses the word “tuck”. Also it might not be related at all.
wetting the baby’s head: n an evening in the pub celebrating the birth of a new baby. The event generally involves only the father and his mates, whilst the wife sits at home in a state of exhaustion surrounded by fresh nappies: Are you coming out on Friday? We’re wetting the baby’s head down at the Four Coachmen.
wholemeal flour: n whole-wheat/whole-grain flour. I’ve no idea about food; I hope it’s not apparent. I just type what people tell me like a big unpaid secretary.
wife-beater: n beer with high-alcohol content: Give me a gin and tonic and a pint of wife beater. Brits do not use the American definition of the term (a ribbed, sleeveless undershirt).