faff: v pussyfoot; bumble about doing things that aren’t quite relevant to the task in hand. You’ll often find it used when men are complaining about women faffing around trying on different sets of clothes before going out, which uses up valuable drinking time.
fag: 1 n cigarette. In very widespread use. One of the most amusing emails I’ve had concerning this word was from an American who had arrived at her company’s U.K. offices to be told that the person she was looking for was “outside blowing a fag.” 2 n first year senior-school kids who have to perform menial tasks (cleaning boots, running errands and the like) for the seniors (slightly antiquated). Another email tells me of a man who was met with aghast looks when he told a group of New Yorkers that he “was a fag at school last year.” Modern thinking on slavery has seen that the practice of fagging all but die out.
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.
fairy lights: n Christmas lights. I’d like to describe these by reading from an entry in a fictional encyclopaedia for aliens: Human beings celebrate Christmas by cutting the top off a tree, moving it to a pot in their living room, covering it with small electrical lights and standing a small model of a woman on its tip. As it dies, they drink alcohol, sing to it and give it gifts.
fancy: v be attracted to; have a crush on. Seen in contexts like, I really fancy that chap from the coffee shop or: Hey, Stu, I think that bird over there fancies you! Also has several other meanings which are universal.
fancy dress: n costume (as in costume party). To an American, fancy dress means a jacket and tie. To a Brit, fancy dress means a cravat, a strap-on wooden leg and a plastic parrot.
fanny: n female genitalia. This is another word which could leave you abroad and in dire straits. In the U.S., your fanny is your posterior and a “fanny pack” is what Brits decided to call a “bum bag” instead. There’s a neoprene belt sold in the U.S. that is designed to stop snow from entering your ski jacket during a fall. It is marketed under the name “Fanny Flaps.” It is not for sale in the U.K.
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.
filth: n police force. Slightly-less-than-complimentary. I ought to mention at this juncture that just because words are in this fine tome doesn’t mean to say that I use them regularly.
fit: adj attractive, when used to describe members of the opposite sex. Very similar to “tidy.” A “fit bird” is a fine specimen of the fairer sex, and one described as “fit as a butcher’s dog” might be particularly nice.
fizzy drink: n carbonated drinks. A generic term much like “soda” or perhaps “pop.”
flag: v become tired; wane: I was doing fine until the last lap and then I started to flag.
flannel: 1 n slightly old-fashioned homonym for “face-cloth,” which is in turn a British term which means “washcloth.” Hope that’s cleared that one up. 2 n nonsense; drivel: I watched the Prime Minister’s statement on telly this morning but it was just a bunch of flannel.
flat: n apartment or condominium. Derived from the Germanic Old English word “flet,” meaning “floor” (a flat occupies only one floor of a building).
flatmate: n roommates.
floater: n number-two which refuses to be flushed away. It is not, as one of my contributors discovered, an appropriate name for laptop that’s shared around various parts of the office.
flog: 1 n sell. Has an air of poor credibility to it — a bloke in the pub might flog you a dodgy car stereo, but you’re less likely to find Marks and Spencer announcing in the press that from next week they’ll be flogging a new ladies wear range. Americans would probably use “hawk” in the same instances. 2 beat viciously (universal).
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.
flutter: v brief, low-stake foray into gambling. Many people “have a flutter” on the Grand National horse race once a year, or the odd boxing match. Anything more regular and it’s just straight gambling.
fly tipping: v unauthorised waste disposal – most often seen in signs declaring “no fly tipping” which have been hastily erected next to popular sites for dumping stuff. Originates from a time when houseflies were employed to remove garbage from the house, which they did using tiny little bags strapped to their legs. They would then fly in convoy to the fly tipping site and simultaneously unload their cargo, the whole event looking like a strange miniature reconstruction of the firebombing of Dresden. This, obviously, is a wholly incorrect etymology, but I can’t be bothered checking it. “But,” I hear you say, “The internet is just over there. Why don’t you just look?” Well, my web browser is closed. And my boss is coming.
football: n soccer. Americans call a different game “football.” It doesn’t require much involvement from feet, and they don’t have a proper ball. Brits call that “American football.” I have a theory about the relative popularities of soccer in the U.K. and American football in the U.S., upon which I shall now expound. In life in general, British people tend to put up with the status quo and keep their fingers crossed, rather than make any conscious effort towards striving for success. Until success lands miraculously upon their doorstep, Brits will pass the time moaning about how difficult their lives are. Americans, on the other hand, like to feel that they’re entirely in control of their own destiny and can shape it in any way they see fit. Americans will go out actively seeking success, and until it arrives they will mercilessly criticise themselves for not trying hard enough to find it. Bear with me, the point is approaching. Soccer is a game with very low scores – it’s not uncommon for a game to end with no scoring at all by either team. American football, on the other hand, has scoring aplenty. The net result of this is that a fairly poor soccer team can win a game just by being a bit lucky. This proves to Brits that success truly is a random thing, and they just need to keep waiting. A bad American football team will never win a game. This proves to Americans that hard work pays off, and that they should continue to better themselves in whatever way they can.
footpath: n any path usable on foot — it can refer to ones used for hiking or just the sidewalk.
fortnight: n two weeks (from “fourteen nights”). This word is in very common usage in the U.K. As to why the Brits need a term for a time period which the Americans have never felt the urge to name, perhaps it stems from the fact that Americans get so little annual leave that they can never really take a fortnight of holiday anyway.
fringe: 1 n bangs. The bits of hair coming down over your forehead. So called because it’s the fringe of your hair. Americans call them “bangs” because they look like small explosions of hair emitting from the scalp. 2 the edge of something (universal).
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.
fruit machine: n slot machine. Putting “fruit” in a name makes it healthy, right?
fry-up: n meal (almost always breakfast) consisting of mostly fried stuff (sausage, eggs, bacon and the like). Ideal for those seeking heart disease.
full Monty, the: n the works; the whole shebang. Since the 1997 film of the same name the phrase has tended to mean “completely naked” if not put in a context.
full stop: n period. The little dot at the end of a sentence, not the part of the menstrual cycle. Brits also use full stop for emphasis the same way that Americans use “period”: And I says to him, I’m not putting up with this any more, full stop.