abseil: v dangle oneself from a cliff at the end of a rope. In the U.S. military, abseil is used to distinguish face-out dangling from the more conventional face-in rappelling, but civilian Americans know the whole dangling business as “rappeling.” The word is apparently derived from the German abseilen, meaning simply “to rope down.” Those crazy Germans and their crazy language.
aerial: n bent bit of wire intended to collect radio waves for your computer, television or some such device. The manufacturers don’t call them bent bits of wire. Their marketing chaps have many fancy words like “impedance” and “gain,” but back at the factory all the guys are just bending wire. Americans call these devices “antennas,” though aerial is in limited use in the U.S., too.
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.
AGA: n range. A large cooking stove with heavy metal doors, almost large enough to fit a small person (Aga is a brand name). This type of stove is a little dated now, but they were very popular with middle-class families in the mid-20th century.
aggro: n aggression; trouble: Hey, you! Stop making faces at that guy outside with the knife – we don’t want any aggro around here!
agony aunt: n advice columnist – a newspaper or magazine employee who responds publicly to readers’ impassioned pleas for help on a wide range of issues, but most commonly sex. Read by a large sector of the population, each of whom hopes to find a vicarious solution to their own dark sexual inadequacies.
alight: v disembark. Many American tourists are confronted with this word quite rapidly after reaching the U.K., because on the London Underground the pre-recorded message says such things as: “This is Baker Street. Alight here for Madame Tussauds.” Madame Tussauds is a cheesy attraction and best avoided. The voice on the tube only says the part about the alighting.
all mouth and no trousers: n all talk and no action: Judith’s husband keeps telling us he’s going to build that racing car but, between you and me, I’d say he’s all mouth and no trousers.
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.
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).
answerphone: n device plugged into the telephone which answers it for you when you’re out, playing an oh-so-hilarious message that you got from the internet, recorded from Seinfeld or made up yourself whilst plastered and forgot about. Americans call them “answering machines,” which has become more common than “answerphone” in the U.K. nowadays.
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.
anyroad: adv very much an equivalent of “anyway.” If you think about it, “any road” pretty much means “any way,” erm, anyway.
arse: n 1 what you sit on. Very close in meaning to the American “ass,” although actually derived from a different root, as arse is an old English word meaning “tail.” I can’t be arsed I can’t be bothered. bunch of arse load of nonsense: I never bothered reading the bible, the whole thing is a bunch of arse. 2 interj rats. Used alone in a similar fashion to bollocks: I’m sorry to tell you, sir, but you’ve missed the last train. / Arse!
arsehole: n asshole.
artic: n abbr articulated vehicle, usually a large hauling truck or semi.
articulated lorry: adj semi truck which is able to bend in the middle. Of course, I just wrote pretty much the same thing two seconds ago. I’m beginning to understand why the guy who wrote the first Oxford English Dictionary ended up going mad and cutting his penis off.
ASBO: n Anti-Social Behaviour Order – a restraining order awarded to miscreants specifically barring them from doing certain naughty things again (spray-painting bridges, beating up pensioners, that sort of thing). Whilst the ASBO itself does not go on the offender’s criminal record, any breach of it does - it’s intended to be a warning shot across the bows for errant youths.
aubergine: n large purple pear-shaped vegetable North Americans will recognise as “eggplant.”
autumn: n season between summer and winter. Americans call it “fall.” Americans, of course, also call it “autumn” which might have you wondering why it’s in here at all. Well, my furry friend, it is in here because Brits never call it “fall.” Think of this entry not so much as “autumn,” but more as “not fall.”