bagsie: v stake a claim for something in the same way that Americans would claim “dibbs” on or “call” some item or privilege: I bagsie the front seat or Bagsie first shot on the dodgems! It’s a rather childlike sentiment; you would be less likely to hear I bagsie being Financial Director! It doesn’t seem ridiculously far-fetched that it’d be derived from “bags I,” with “bag” meaning to catch something. But hey, who can tell. [Etymologists. –ed.]
bairn: n Scottish baby. Possibly derived from the old Norse word “barn,” which means both “child” and “children.”
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.
bally: adj darned. A very old-fashioned minor swear word, muck akin to a lighter version of “bloody”: I say, Edward! I think that ruffian is making off with your bally wallet!
Baltic: n very cold: I’m not going outside without a coat, it’s bloody Baltic! Presumably named for the Baltic states, which aren’t all that cold.
bampot: n clumsy idiot. As with a lot of the Brits’ less-than-complimentary words, it isn’t really offensive — it’s used more in goading fun than anything else. Has a derivation similar to that of “barmy.”
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.
bank holiday: n any public holiday for which the public have forgotten the original purpose. You know, that holiday on the fourth Monday in June. It was something to do with Saint Swithen, I think. He was born maybe. Or was he beheaded?
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!
barmpot: n clumsy idiot. As with a lot of the Brits’ less-than-complimentary words, it isn’t really offensive — it’s used more in goading fun than anything else. Has a derivation similar to that of “barmy.”
barmy: adj idiotic. You might describe your father’s plan to pioneer the first civilian moon landing using nothing but stuff he’d collected from a junkyard as “barmy.” Well, unless the junkyard he had in mind was out the back of Cape Kennedy and he had funding from China. It may or may not derive from the fact that there was once a psychiatric hospital in a place called Barming, near Maidstone in Kent, England. It may equally easily come from an Old English word for yeast, “barm,” intended to imply that the brain is fermenting. As these competing etymologies seem equally plausible, it seems only sensible to settle the matter in an old-fashioned fistfight.
barnet: n hair; hairstyle. Another example of Cockney rhyming slang which has slipped into the common vernacular: “Barnet Fair” / “hair.” Barnet is an area of London. Presumably they had a fair there at some point.
barney: n argument; fight. This is certainly rhyming slang, but no one’s sure of whence it came. It could either be “Barney Rubble” / “trouble” (Barney Rubble is a character in the cartoon “The Flintstones”), or “Barn Owl” / “row” (when it means “fight,” “row” rhymes with “now”). The latter is marginally more likely, as “trouble” could be many things other than a fight, but the former is a more popular explanation. Pick one.
barrister: n sort of lawyer. Barristers are different from solicitors in such a convoluted way it took a barrister a whole page of ball-bouncingly dull prose to explain it to me.
bash on: interj press on regardless, to keep struggling in the face of adversity. Has nothing to do with hitting people.
beavering: v working enthusiastically. These days you’d have difficulty saying it without a chorus of sniggers from the assembled crowd, as everyone in the U.K. is well aware of the American use of the word “beaver.” It’s the sort of thing your grandmother might say at Christmas dinner that would make the younger generations choke on their soup.
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”.
beer mat: n coaster. In the sense of a coaster you put your drink onto, not a roller-coaster.
Belisha Beacons: n yellow flashing lights on sticks that are positioned next to zebra crossings and flash constantly to alert drivers. They were named after Hore Belisha, who was Minister of Transport when they were introduced. Perhaps a more interesting derivation was put forward by an episode of the BBC radio programme “Radio Active,” which featured an unwinnable quiz, one of the questions being “From where did the Belisha Beacon get its name?” Answer: “From the word ‘beacon’.” I was younger then, and in the cold light of day it seems less funny now than it once did. You can’t take away my childhood.
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!
bender: n 1 big drinking session (universal). 2 homosexual (rather derogatory). Be careful with this one. It possibly derives from the, erm, position classically adopted by male homosexuals. It’s a very old term, and predates female homosexuals.
berk: n idiot. Yes, yes, another friendly U.K. word for moron; this one implies a degree of clumsiness: Look, you berk, I said to bend it, not bust it. The word originally derives from the rhyming slang “Berkeley Hunt” (or “Berkshire Hunt”), which rhymes with — well, “punt,” among other words.
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.”
bevvy: n alcoholic drink. A contraction of “beverage.”
big end: n the end of the conrod, which is attached to the crankshaft in a conventional combustion engine. The other end, attached to the piston, is called the “small end.”
big girl’s blouse: n chicken (as in person who is afraid, not as in bird). Exclusively applied to men: After we’d had a couple of beers we all jumped off the bridge into the lake, except Andy, who turned out to be a big girl’s blouse.
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.
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.
Billy no-mates: n person with no friends: Everyone else turned up half an hour late so I was sitting there like Billy no-mates for ages.
bin: n trashcan. This is simply a contraction of “dustbin” (which means the same thing, to save you going and looking it up). wheelie bin a bin on wheels. Normally refers to bins provided and emptied by the local council. bin bags garbage bags. The plastic bags one puts in the bin.
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.
bingo bango bongo: n that’s that done. Popularised by T.V. chef Jamie Oliver, and now used by people who are young enough to think it sounds nice.
bint: n woman, in the loosest sense of the word. One step short of a prostitute, a bint is a bird with less class, less selectivity, more makeup and even more skin. Blokes don’t talk to bints unless they’ve had at least eight pints of beer, which is why bints turn up in free-for-students nightclubs at 2:45 a.m. with their faked student ID and dance around their Moschino rucksacks. The word derives from the Arabic for “woman.” Well, I say “derives from” – it is the Arabic for “woman.”
bird: pron. “beud” (London); “burd” (Scotland) n woman. Well, not really. Bird is used by blokes looking upon the fairer sex with a slightly more carnal eye. It’s not quite at the stage of treating women as objects but the implication is certainly there: I shagged some random bird last night (a popular usage), or: Hey, Andy, I think those birds over there are looking at us. You’d never describe your grandmother as a bird. It’s popular in Scotland to refer to one’s girlfriend as “ma burd” — but do it in front of her and you’ll be choking teeth. About the only thing worse would be to call her “ma bint,” which will warrant a foot in the testicles and a loose tongue concerning your sexual prowess. The word itself is derived from the Old Norse word for “woman,” and the closest American English equivalent would probably be “chick.”
Biro: n ball-point pen. Named after Hungarian journalist Ladislo Biro, who invented it. It’s slipped into the common vernacular in the U.K. and the rest of Europe as a generic word for a ball-point pen.
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.
blag: v wheedle; bluff; wangle: I managed to blag a ride to work. Or: I had no idea what I was talking about but I think I managed to blag it. Perhaps if I sat for a bit longer I’d think up better examples. Likely derived from the French “blague,” meaning a tall story. Americans use “mooch” and “moocher” in the same context.
bleeding: adj similar to “bloody.” Used extensively by Cockneys (i.e., in London). Consequently, there are no recorded incidents of the trailing “g” being enunciated.
blighter: adj guy (or, rather, a more refined, more upper-class version thereof). Usually used in a slightly critical tone: Just wait until I get my hands on the blighter who steals my newspaper every morning.
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.
blimey: interj nice mild expletive, in terms of rudeness on a par with “my goodness.” It was originally part of the phrase “cor blimey,” which was likely a contraction of “God blind me,” which was in turn an abbreviated version of “may God blind me if it is not so.” There has been little evidence of God blinding users of the word, whether what they were saying was true or not. The original phrase “cor blimey” is still used, but rarely.
blinding: adj unusually wonderful. A currently popular slang term, largely interchangeable with “brilliant” or “great.” You’d use it to describe the goal that your football team just scored, or your favourite Elton John song. Though if you even had a favourite Elton John song, there’s a good chance you’re unfamiliar with current slang.
blinking: adj damned. A lesser equivalent to “bloody.” Slightly old-fashioned, but still in widespread use.
bloke: n guy. A bloke is a Joe Public, a random punter — any old fellow off the street. Unlike “guy,” however, it can’t apply to your friends. You can’t walk up to a group of your mates and say “Hi blokes, what’s up?” as they’d all peer at you as if you’d been reading some ill-informed, cheap dictionary. Without question, the most common usage of the word is in the phrase “some bloke in the pub.”
bloody: adj 1 damned. An exclamation of surprise, shock or anger, it’s one of the great multi-purpose British swear words. Best known as part of the phrase “Bloody hell!” but can also be used in the middle of sentences for emphasis in a similar way to “fucking”: And then he had the cheek to call me a bloody liar! or even with particular audacity in the middle of words: Who does she think she is, Cinde-bloody-rella? Etymology-wise, it’s possible that “bloody” has in fact nothing to do with blood and actually a contraction of the Christian phrase “by Our Lady.” Or it might also be from “god’s blood”. 2. bloody-minded obstinate; determined: If he wasn’t going to be so bloody-minded about it we’d have come to a deal ages ago.
blooming: adj darned. An extremely innocuous expletive — could be seen as a reduced-strength version of “bloody.” Rather antiquated nowadays.
blow off: v break wind (rather old-fashioned): My goodness, is that Deardrie cooking breakfast again? / Hmm, no, I think the dog’s blown off. Brits do not use the American meaning (to brush off).
blower: n telephone: just a second, I’m on the blower. Yes, it sounds a bit rude. May stem from the days of party telephone lines, where people would blow into the mouthpiece in order to gently remind whoever was using the line that you wanted to too. Alternately, it may originate with the navy, where intra-ship communications operated using a similar system.
bob: n five-pence piece. Before the U.K.’s currency system was decimalised in 1971 and became simply “pounds and pence,” the Brits had “pounds, shillings and pence.” Like all crappy Imperial measures there wasn’t ten or a hundred of anything in anything and good riddance to the lot of it. In order to work out how to pay for anything you had to be able to divide by sixteen and nine tenths, subtracting room temperature. A “bob” was a shilling, and these days it’s still vaguely recognised as meaning five pence. Only vaguely, though.
bobbie: n police officer. After Robert Peel, who was instrumental in creating the British police force. It’s a little antiquated these days.
bobbins: adj useless junk. While quite recent slang, it’s rather charming: Did your grandmother leave you anything good? / Nope, just a complete load of ancient bobbins. One possible etymology: that it’s from the north of England (particularly the Lancashire and Manchester areas), which used to be supported largely by cotton mills. As the industrial revolution drew to a close, the mills closed down and the population found itself with a surfeit of largely worthless milling machinery. During that time the phrase “‘twas worth nout but bobbins” sprung up; years later we’re left only with the last word.
Bob’s your uncle: interj there you have it; ta-da! It’s a little antiquated these days but by no means out of use. It carries a cheerful connotation, so you would be more likely to hear: And then fold it back again, once over itself like that and Bob’s your uncle — an origami swan! rather than: Just get a hold of the paedophile register and Bob’s your uncle!
bodge: 1 v make a bit of a haphazard job of something 2 n something cobbled together. A “bodger” was originally a craftsman who worked on a green-wood lathe, but this information is of almost no help at all because the word “bodger” still rather implies that such a person was “bodging” something.
boff: v shag (somewhat posh equivalent).
boffin: n wonk. Someone who is particularly knowledgeable about his/her subject. It doesn’t quite carry the respect implied in “expert” — calling someone a “boffin” suggests that he has body odour and is a virgin. Boffins are invariably male.
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?
bog standard: n no frills. The basic version. So your “bog standard” Volkswagen Golf would be one that doesn’t have electric windows, power steering or opposable thumbs. Well, nowadays a bog-standard Golf probably does have two thirds of those things. There’s no particular reason to believe that the term has anything to do with a toilet (see “bog”).
bogie: n pron. “bo-ghee” booger. The charming little things everyone excavates from their nose now and again but likes to pretend they don’t.
bogroll: n toilet paper. See “bog.”
boiler: n unattractive woman. The word was mentioned in Deborah Curtis’ book Touching from a Distance, her memoir of life with Ian Curtis of Joy Division. While their marriage was breaking down, Ian was having an affair with a European woman whom the rest of the band supposedly referred to as “the Belgian boiler.”
bollard: n small concrete or metal post generally used to stop cars from driving into certain places. While used only in a nautical context in the U.S., it is accepted universally in the U.K. When not on boats, Americans call them “pylons,” which to Brits are the giant metal structures used to hold up national grid electricity wires.
bollocks: 1 n testicles. The word is in pretty common use in the U.K. and works well as a general “surprise” expletive in a similar way to “bugger.” the dog’s bollocks something particularly good (yes, good): See that car — it’s the dog’s bollocks, so it is. This in turn gives way to copy-cat phrases such as “the pooch’s privates” or “the mutt’s nuts,” which all generally mean the same thing. bollocking a big telling-off 2 rubbish; nonsense: Well, that’s a load of bollocks. Some additional U.S./U.K. confusion is added by the fact that the words “bollix” and “bollixed” are sometimes used in the U.S. to describe something thrown into confusion or destroyed.
bolshie: adj rebellious; a bit of an upstart; a force to be reckoned with. From “Bolshevik”, the early twentieth century Russian socialist party, who ran around encouraging trade unions and upsetting the establishment.
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.
bomb: n splendid success: Our party went off like a bomb. Unlike Americans, Brits do not use this word as an adjective or verb to indicate that something went badly.
bonk: v 1 have sex: Did you hear that Howard’s been bonking his secretary for the last three years? 2 a clunk or bash (universal).
bonkers: n crazy. I don’t think it really hit home that he was completely bonkers until he showed us the plan for attaching the finished device to his dog’s testicles.
bonnet: n hood of a car; the part of a car which covers the engine. Confusion arises in the U.K. when dealing with rear-engined cars; it’s difficult to determine whether to call it a bonnet or, as seems perhaps more logical, a boot, on account of it being at the back. The trials of modern life. To encourage confusion, “hood” is used in the U.K. to describe the convertible top of a convertible car.
bonny: adj Scottish beautiful. A little antiquated — you’d be much more likely to hear: Deirdre’s new granddaughter is awfully bonny! than you would: Bobby’s stolen a bonny new shooter — we’re going to go out this evening and do the chip shop over.
boob tube: n tube top. A rather eighties item of clothing designed to make an otherwise attractive woman look like a malformed sausage.
boot: n trunk of a car. The boot of a car is the part you keep your belongings in. So called because it was originally known as a “boot locker” — whether it used to be commonplace to drive in one’s socks is anyone’s guess.
boozer: 1 n pub. 2 one who’s in the middle of partaking in booze (universal).
bottle: n nerve. To “lose one’s bottle” is to chicken out of something — often just described as “bottling it.” It may be derived from Cockney rhyming slang, where “bottle” = “bottle and glass” = “arse.” Losing one’s bottle appears therefore to refer to losing the contents of one’s bowel.
bought it: v died. Generally refers to someone who died doing something somewhat dangerous: D’you know Jochen Rindt was the first posthumous Formula One champion? Bought it four races from the end of the 1970 season and still won the bloody thing.
bounder: n person who is generally no good, a bad egg. It’s very old-fashioned — even Rudyard Kipling would probably have used it in jest. One rather dubious etymology is that it was applied pre–Great War to golfers who used new American golf balls (similar to modern golf balls) instead of the more traditional leather-covered ones. They had a more enthusiastic bounce and the use of such balls was not banned by the rules but was considered bad sportsmanship, perhaps even a little underhanded. The term was originally applied to the ball itself, and only later to the user of such a ball.
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).
Boxing Day: n holiday that follows Christmas Day (December 26). A public holiday in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and various other countries that the U.K. once owned. More properly known as St. Stephen’s Day. Takes its name, rather disappointingly, from the fact that employers used to celebrate it by giving their employees gifts. In boxes. I was going to make something up here but my mind went blank.
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).
brackets: n parentheses. The things that Americans call “brackets” [these ones], Brits know better as “square brackets.”
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?
brick: n dependable person; rock. Someone who will stand tall in the face of adversity. A largely upper-class term, it is hardly in use nowadays.
bricking it: n shit scared: He didn’t do very well in the interview – we felt a bit sorry for him as he was clearly bricking it.
brill: adj popular abbreviation for “brilliant.” Well, popular amongst 1980s adolescents.
brilliant: adj particularly good: I had a brilliant holiday; What a brilliant night out. It’s a little bit childish — you’d be less likely to refer to a “brilliant board meeting” or a “brilliant shag.” Also carries the usual other meanings (as “gifted” or “luminescent”) in the U.K.
brolly: n umbrella.
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.
brush: n broom. Brits use the word “broom” too (they don’t talk about witches flying on brushsticks), but not as often.
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?
bubtion: pron. “bub-shun” n Scottish baby. From the German “bubchen”, meaning a young boy. Has a cosy, affable connotation. You’d never refer to your baby as a bubtion if it had lately been sick on your three-piece suit and drooled in your cornflakes.
bugger: 1 n jerk. Or substitute any other inoffensive insult (“git” works just as well) 2 v sodomise 3 -off a friendlier alternative to “fuck off.” 4 interj “rats.” Stand-alone expletive usable in a similar way as “bollocks”: Oh, bugger!
bum: 1 n posterior; pretty much the British equivalent of “butt.” 2 v mooch: Mind if I bum a ride home? or perhaps more amusingly: Can I bum a fag? What the Americans call “bums” Brits call “tramps.”
bumf: n copious amounts of paperwork or literature: You would not believe the bloody stack of bumf that came with my new video recorder. Possibly derived from the army and a contraction of the phrase “bum fodder,” i.e., toilet paper.
bung: 1 v stick; wedge. Push something into something, often something that was not intended for that purpose: Eventually we discovered that it wasn’t working because our son had bunged a Polish sausage into the video recorder. 2 n stopper, often rubber. The type of thing you use to block fluid from coming out of things. 3 n bribe intended to buy silence. A monetary reward given to someone in order to buy their tacit agreement, often associated with the fixing of sports games: Everyone knows that their manager’s taking bungs to throw the matches anyway. 4 – up full of cold; congested: I can’t come into work today, one of the kids is bunged up.
bunk off: v skip (as in school); play truant: I think I’m just going to bunk off and ride my bike today.
burgle: v break into somewhere and nick stuff. Americans have the hilarious word “burglarize,” which means the same thing; for all I know, Yanks might refer to the event as burglarization. Or perhaps not.
busk: v sit in the street playing an instrument and hoping people will give you money. See also “waster.”
butcher’s: n look: Hey, give me a butcher’s at that. ‘From Cockney rhyming slang: “butcher’s hook” / “look.”
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.