The Septic's Companion | British Slang Dictionary

A British slang dictionary: The Letter S

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Play audio sack: v dismiss; fire: Well, I pretty much knew I was getting sacked as soon as they walked in and saw me on the photocopier. Comes from a time when you were given a sack into which to put the contents of your desk. In the U.S., the term “given the sack” is used sporadically, but not the word sack alone as a verb.

Play audio salad cream: n A mixture of mayonnaise and vinegar often put on salads. Perhaps unsurprisingly.

Play audio saloon: n sedan. The cars that, well, aren’t estates or sports cars. The kind your dad and the dentist have. They are called saloons in the U.K. because they usually have wooden swing doors, spittoons and people tend to burst into them waving a gun and saying something about the car not being big enough for two of us. Them. Us. I see why people hate learning English.

Play audio samey: adj similar: We looked at ten flats that afternoon but they were all just a bit samey.

Play audio 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.

Sassenach: n Scottish English person. Gaelic, ultimately derived from Latin “Saxones”, meaning “floppy haired twat with silly accent”.

Play audio 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.

Play audio scarper: v run away. Usually from the scene of some sort of unpleasant incident in which you were a part: I saw some kids out the window writing all over my car in spray paint but by the time I got there they’d scarpered. It may be derived from the Cockney rhyming slang “Scappa Flow” / “go.” Scappa Flow is a large natural harbour on an island north of Scotland where the British naval fleet was kept during World War One. All this extra information provided free of charge.

Play audio school: n pre-university education - in the U.K. they call university, well, university.

Play audio schtum: adj pron. “shtoom” silent. Only really used in the phrase “keep schtum,” meaning “keep your mouth shut” in the U.K. It is derived from the German adjective “stumm,” meaning being either unable or unwilling to speak.

Play audio 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?

Play audio 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…

Play audio 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.

Play audio scouser: n someone from Liverpool. Perhaps more accurately someone with a Liverpool accent. The word comes from “lobscouse,” which was a dish sailors ate, much like Irish Stew - sailors were known as “lobscousers” and the port of Liverpool ended up tagged with the same word. Further back still, the original word may have come from Norway, where today “Lapp Skews” are stewed strips of reindeer meat. Or perhaps it comes from Bangladesh, where “Lump Scouts” is a rare dish made from boy-scouts and served at Christmas. Or from a parallel universe, almost identical to ours, where scousers are people from Birmingham.

Play audio scrap: n, v, adj junk. While Americans have junkyards and put junk on junk-heaps, Brits have scrapyards and scrap-heaps, upon which they put scrap.

Play audio scrote: n scum. Someone generally about as low in one’s esteem as a person could be. It may be an abbreviation of “scrotum” which, now I think about it, could perhaps be the derivation of “scum.” I have a small pain in my sc’um, m’lord.

Play audio scrubber: n another not overly complimentary word for a young lady of loose moral fibre.

Play audio scrummy: adj delicious. I believe that this is a childish amalgamation of “yummy” and “scrumptious”: This jelly and ice-cream is scrummy!

Play audio 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.

Play audio scupper: v obstruct; stymie: We were planning on having a party but then my folks arrived home early and scuppered that. The term derives from seafaring, where the scupper is a drain designed to allow water to flow overboard from the deck. To be scuppered is to be hit by a wave large enough to knock you into this drain. Of course, it could also derive from the more obvious seafaring source where scuppering something is sinking it, but hey. I make a lot of these up on the spot.

Play audio see a man about a dog: v urinate: Give me a minute, Dave – I’ve got to go and see a man about a dog.

Play audio Sellotape: n Scotch tape. Sellotape (a contraction of “cellophane tape”) is the name of the largest manufacturer of sticky tape in the U.K.

Play audio septic: n American: Hey, did you hear Bob had moved to New York and married a septic? From Cockney rhyming slang “septic tank” / “yank,” where “yank” is in turn used in the U.K. to mean “American.” If you don’t believe me, look it up, but I have to warn you that I also wrote that definition. The Australians use the same term and have further abbreviated septic to “seppo.”

Play audio serviette: n napkin. The thing you put in your lap to block the path of food falling onto your clothes.

Play audio shag: 1 v lay (sexual). Usually refers to the act of intercourse itself, except when used by a bloke giving his mates the details about what happened with that tidy bird he pulled in the club the night before. In this case, the term shag should be interpreted to mean anything between a peck on the cheek and a punch in the face. Brits find very amusing the use of the word “shag” in the U.S. to refer to certain dances. 2 adj shagged tired. In much the same way as most other humping words can be used: Spent the whole day hiking and now I’m completely shagged.

Play audio shambolic: adj in complete disarray, unorganised; in shambles. You might use it to refer to your aunt Gertrude’s octogenarian hairdo or the Russian army’s method of ending hostage situations. If I was ever to give one piece of advice to someone wanting independence for their part of the U.S.S.R. or keen to highlight a particular cause to the Russian government, I’d suggest not taking hostages. If you do so, the Russians give you a couple of days of negotiations, throw in a bit of food so you feel you’ve got your money’s worth and then on about day three they massacre you and all of your hostages using some devastating new method they’re trying for the first time.

Play audio 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.

Play audio shark: v, hunt members of the opposite sex, with copulation in mind. The easiest way to spot someone who is sharking is to watch their friends, who will every so often hold one hand just above their head like a fin just to make the point. The difference between sharking and being “on the pull” is that sharking is slightly more proactive. If you’re on the pull you won’t say no; if you’re sharking you won’t take no for an answer. I was once told that “shark” in U.S. slang is, erm, a sexual technique. I then tried and failed to describe the act itself in polite terms, and have subsequently given up.

Play audio shat: n the past-participle of “shit” – this also exists in the U.S. but is in much more common usage in the U.K.: That pigeon just shat on my car!

Play audio shattered: adj extremely tired; emotionally devastated. You could be shattered by the death of your dear mother or a good invigorating jog. Experiencing both simultaneously would leave you shattered in two different ways at once, and probably reasonably angry. Can there really be a God if the world contains this much suffering? No, probably not.

Play audio Shilling: n pre-decimalisation U.K. unit of currency - worth a twentieth of a pound, which was then twelve pence.

Play audio shimmy: n, v deft evasive manoeuvre: The bull went straight for him but Mike shimmied out of the way.

Play audio shirt-lifter: n homosexual man. A slightly archaic term. It may come from a time when shirts had longer tails and, well, posterial access required some lifting. Don’t pretend to me you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Play audio shirty: adj testy; irritable. May have originated in a time when people used to take off their shirts to fight and so “getting shirty” meant that you were preparing to thrash a rotten scoundrel to within an inch of his pitiful life.

Play audio shite: n shit. The only plausible reason I can think of for this word’s existence at all is that it has more rhyming potential for football songs. Perhaps soon we’ll have the word “shitove,” giving Whitney Houston and her cohorts further opportunities to over-use the word “love” in their drivelly good-for-nothing pop songs.

shonky: adj poorly made; shoddy: I showed mum the Eiffel Tower model I made from matchsticks, and she just said it looked a bit shonky.

Play audio shop: n store. What Americans call “shops,” the Brits call “workshops” or “garages.”

shout: n treat; gift: Want to go to the cinema this afternoon? My shout?

Play audio sick: n vomit. Brits call the act of vomiting being sick, and vomit itself sick: Gah! There’s sick all down the back of my shirt! Like Americans they do use the noun to also mean “unwell,” so saying “I am sick” does not translate to “I am vomit.”

Play audio sickie: n a day off work elicited by feigning illness: I’m going to take a sickie tomorrow and go to the zoo!

Play audio skallywag: n rascal. A young tearaway. A bit of an antiquated term.

Play audio skanky: adj disgusting. Describing something or someone as skanky would imply that they haven’t been cleaned in quite some time. Brits do not use the word “skank” to refer to a prostitute.

skin up: v roll a joint. Most likely derived from the use of the term “skin” to refer to cigarette rolling papers: Do you reckon Cindy’s coming back to work after lunch? / I doubt it, I saw her skinning up in the car.

Play audio 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.

Play audio skint: adj broke. The position of having no money: Dave refused to give me any petrol money - was moaning on the whole time about how skint he was.

Play audio skip: n dumpster. It’s odd that something as revolting should develop such a pleasant name. The dumpster was invented by a man called Skip Mandible. This is a lie.

Play audio skirting board: n baseboard. The little wooden bit of edging that goes around the bottom of the walls in your house so that when you stub your toe you don’t put your foot through the plasterboard.

Play audio skive: v, n play hookie: We’ve got chemistry this afternoon but I’m just going to skive as I can’t be arsed. Differs from “playing hookie” in that it may also be used as a noun: Our team meetings are basically a complete skive.

Play audio slag: 1 v -off have a go at; pick on: We gave Charlie a right slagging off when he turned up four hours late and covered in toothpaste. 2 n slut. A woman with very loose morals: I don’t think much of Derek’s bird... Ian thinks she’s a slag.

Play audio slaphead: n bald person: Have you noticed that Charlie’s becoming something of a slaphead? Lucky for him he’s on the tall side.

Play audio slapper: n slut. Person on the prowl for anything they can get. Anything. The word is applied more often to females, arguably because it is a built-in function of blokes and doesn’t deserve a separate word. Slappers wander around the dance floor looking for the drunkest blokes and then, when they’ve found them, woo them by dancing backwards into them “accidentally.” They are invariably spotted at the end of an evening telling the bouncer how lonely they are and trying to sit on his knee.

Play audio slash: v have a- urinate. Its usage is more appropriate to punters in the pub than middle-aged ladies at a Tupperware party.

Play audio sleeper: n railroad tie. The very large blocks of wood which go between the rails and the ground on a section of railway line.

Play audio sleeping policeman: n speed-bump. The name probably derives from a time when narcoleptic policemen were employed to slow down traffic.

Play audio slip-road: n on-ramp/off-ramp. A road that runs parallel to a major one, allowing you to gain or lose speed safely while joining or leaving the main road.

Sloane Ranger: n directionless young upper class twit. Financed only by a trust fund, Sloane Rangers spend their time driving around the affluent areas of London talking about horses, or appearing at the birthday parties of C-list celebrities. The term originates from Sloane Square, an expensive area to live in London. And also from the Lone Ranger, but I suspect you knew that unless you are from the fortieth century and this book was somehow the only thing that survived nuclear Armageddon. Even if you are in that very situation, you’re going to have a hard time working out what the Lone Ranger was without a little more context, so I doubt I’ve helped much. Go on, have a guess.

smart: 1 adj well dressed: You’re looking very smart today. Job interview? 2 adj intelligent (universal).

Play audio 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.

Play audio smashing: adj great. Contrary to appearances, something which is smashing is a good thing rather than a bad one: Mum, I had a smashing time playing football in the park! It may be derived from the Gaelic phrase “is math sin,” which means “that’s good.”

Play audio smeg: n generic swear word based upon the word “smegma.” Also a popular German kitchen equipment manufacturer, who are no doubt in the process of changing their name. Popularised (and most likely invented) by Rob Naylor, who created the Red Dwarf book and television series.

Play audio Snakes and Ladders: n chutes and ladders. The simple board game in which you roll dice and, depending on which square you land on, you can go whizzing further up the board on ladders or slide down the board on snakes.

Play audio snap: n ditto; me too: Do you know, I think I slept with that guy in my first year of university. / Oh god! Snap!

Play audio snog: v make out; French kiss: I had a couple too many beers and ended up snogging the bouncer.

Play audio soap: n bar of soap. To a Brit, soap is specifically the soap you use to wash yourself in the bath, not something you’d use to wash clothes or dishes.

Play audio sod: 1 n, v, adj generic word signifying displeasure. Attached to any word or phrase it has the immediate effect of making it derogatory. Sod off get lost. sod you bite me. sod it damn it; forget it. old sod old git, etc, etc. Use at will - it has a friendly tone to it and is unlikely to get you into trouble. 2 n a lump of turf (universal).

Play audio 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.

Play audio solicitor: n lawyer. In the U.K. it has nothing (well, on one level at least) to do with prostitutes or door-to-door salesmen.

Play audio Solitaire: n a game played alone on a sort of four-pointed-star board full of pegs in little holes, where the idea is to remove pegs by jumping other pegs over the top of them, ultimately with the intention of ending up with a single peg left on the board in the middle. Traditionally, the Brits refer to card games one plays alone as “patience” rather than “solitaire” but Microsoft has gone a fair way to changing that.

Play audio sorted: adj sorted-out: You’ve got it? Great. Sorted. I am ninety-nine percent sure that this originated in a drugs context, a view only strengthened by the existence of a Pulp song entitled Sorted for ‘E’s and Whiz.

Play audio spanner: 1 n wrench. 2 adj A very mild friendly insult: Bob’ll be a bit late; the spanner left his phone in a taxi.

Play audio spare: adj at one’s wits end; mad: I’ve been trying to get this working all morning and it’s driving me spare!

Play audio speedo: n abbreviation for “speedometer.”

Play audio 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.

Play audio sprog: n small child. My father used to refer to myself and my brothers as “Sprog One,” “Sprog Two” and “Sprog Three.” Perhaps that says more about my family than the English language. At least I got to be Sprog One. Were my father Australian he might have chosen some different phrasing as to an Aussie “sprog” is what the rest of the world calls semen.

Play audio spunk: 1 n semen. 2 someone with a bit of drive (universal).

Play audio square brackets: n brackets. Something went very wrong at some point in history. Nobody knows what it was, but the end result of it was that, to Brits, [these] are square brackets, and (these) are “brackets”. To Americans, [these] are “brackets” and (these) are “parentheses”. Even {these} ended up being “braces” to Americans but “curly braces” to Brits. It’s possible many people have died as a result of these confusions, although I can’t exactly work out how.

Play audio 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.”

Play audio squiffy: adj pear-shaped. Pretty much anything that’s gone wrong. Often, but not exclusively, used to refer to one’s state of sobriety: Deirdre’s mother was looking a bit squiffy towards the end, it’s a good job we left when we did.

Play audio stabilisers: n training wheels. The little extra set of wheels that your parents put on your bicycle to stop you from falling off all the time when you’re learning to ride. My parents never got any... I think they secretly enjoyed watching me injure myself in the name of learning.

Play audio stag night: n bachelor party. The groom’s pre-wedding lads’-night-out party. It generally involves drinking as much alcohol as possible and trying to do something embarrassing to the husband-to-be. This is great fun for all of the groom’s buddies, but less fun for the groom as he almost inevitably wakes up the next morning completely naked and tied to a lamppost somewhere in a foreign country. Brides secretly like stag nights because it gives them a good excuse for refusing to let their husbands see their friends again.

Stanley knife: n box cutter. The small retractable knives used for cutting up cardboard boxes and hijacking aircraft. In the U.K., these are mostly manufactured by a company called Stanley. The knives, not aircraft.

Play audio starter: n appetizer. The dish you eat prior to your main meal.

Play audio steady on: interj whoa; hold your horses. Almost always followed by an exclamation mark: OK, that does it, I’m resigning! / Steady on!

Play audio sterling: adj good/great: That main course was sterling stuff.

Play audio sticking plaster: n Somewhat antiquated version of “plaster.” See “plaster” for definition. I can’t be bothered copy-pasting.

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 stodgy: adj sticky; reluctant to change. Could apply equally easily to people (Everyone else was very eager except Bob, who was being decidedly stodgy about it) or substances (the soup looked nice but it turned out to be stodgy as hell).

Play audio stone: 1 n unit of measure (14lbs). Only really used when measuring the weight of people. 2 n pit. The large hard seeds inside fruit (peaches, olives and the like).

stonking: adj enormous: When I finally woke up, I had a stonking hangover and my wallet had vanished. And I appeared not to be in my bed at home, but under a park bench.

Play audio straight away: interj right now: Once you buy our fine credit card, you can start to make purchases with it straight away!

Play audio Strimmer: n Weed-Whacker. A gardening device held at waist level, with a piece of nylon cord near the ground which whips around to slice the stems of errant plants and the toenails of inebriated pensioners.

Play audio stroppy: adj unreasonable; unfairly grumpy. Stroppy people shout at shop assistants who don’t know where the tomato puree is and, because they’re being paid £2/hr, ought not to be expected to.

struck off: v removed from a registered position of responsibility, usually the General Medical Council: Well, we were pretty sure she’d get struck off after the whole thing with the electric toothbrush and that poor man in the wheelchair. The term gave its name to the BBC radio medical comedy, Struck Off and Die.

Play audio subway: n underground pedestrian walkway. Built to enable you to cross the road safely, urinate or inject heroin. Brits do not call the London underground train system the “subway.” They call it the “underground.”

suck it and see: v give it a try: We changed the suspension for the last two laps – we’ve no real idea whether it’s going to improve his times so he’s just going to have to suck it and see.

Play audio sultana: n golden raisin. Vine-dried green grape.

Play audio sun cream: n sunscreen.

Play audio 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.

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 suss: 1 v figure out: I was going to try and put it back without him noticing but he sussed. 2 adj dodgy; suspicious: I really wasn’t interested in buying that car... the whole deal seemed a bit suss.

Play audio swede: n rutabaga.

Play audio 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).

Play audio 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.

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 swish: adj fashionable; stylish. Brits do not share the American meaning of the term (effeminate): I say, you’re looking rather swish today. Job interview?

Play audio swizz: n a small-scale swindle or con. If you opened your eight-pack of KitKats and there were only seven, you might mutter “that’s a bloody swizz.” If you discovered that your cleaning lady had been making out large cheques to herself over a ten year period, you’d be inclined to use stronger wording.

Play audio swot: n one who studies particularly hard, usually at school. swotting cramming. The art of learning your complete course in one evening.