Contrary to popular belief, British English isn’t always aristocratic and upper-class material. As a matter of fact, colloquialism is at the heart of the British language, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
This delightful guide to British slang (and our guide on Australian slang) should pique your curiosity and if not, we’re proper sorry. Warning: some of these expressions are NSFW.
You’re unlikely to doze off with this word in your back pocket. Simply put, knackered refers to being exhausted; it also helps describe something which is worn-out or damaged. The term is thought to have originated in the 19th century and derives from the word “knacker’s yard”, a place where old and/or injured horses were put down. On another note, “knacker” also describes a man’s testicles. The English language is always full of surprises.
Example: I’m not going out tonight, I’m utterly knackered.
“Dodgy” is just one of those words that once you’ve heard it, you’re likely to use over and over. You can use this term to describe somebody or something suspicious, questionable, illegal or simply “off”, which may cause a lack of trust and confidence. It’s not something you want to be called, unless you’re cultivating an unreliable, unpleasant vibe. In American English, the term “sketchy” is more common, though both terms are used.
Example 1: If I were you, I’d stay away from that bloke, he seems proper dodgy.
Example 2: I had a dodgy fish and chips the other day, I still don’t feel right.
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In British slang, bog-standard is used to talk about something ordinary, basic, without any special features added; it carries a slightly dismissive and derogatory tone. The term is likely to be the mispronunciation of “box standard”, an informal term for goods that come straight from the manufacturer’s box with no customization or improvement. If you didn’t know this already, “bog” has long been a British slang term for a toilet.
Example: Dave bought himself a bog-standard car and quite frankly, it’s nothing to get excited about.
If you want to sound surprised in a British kind of way, “blimey” is the expression for you. This interjection is used to show excitement, surprise or shock. Blimey is a late 19th-century variation of “Gorblimey”, which itself is a euphemism for “God blind me”. That fun fact will definitely make you shine at the next local pub quiz.
Example: Blimey! That car just caught fire! I’d better run before the cops come.
Objectively the best slang word, “Innit” is the contraction of “isn’t it?”, “isn’t he/she”, “aren’t they”, “isn’t there” and many other end-of-sentence interrogations. Originating from London, this punchy phrase is used to confirm or agree with something another person has just said. Londoners use this tag question to prompt a response from their listener, sometimes for extra effect or added drama, n’est-ce pas ?
Example: If somebody says “chilly today, innit?”, they are expecting you to agree and say yes.
Bonus: To faff around
This last expression may well be the year 2020 summed up. It basically means spending your time doing unimportant things, or wasting time on an unproductive activity. A poetic synonym: to a**** around. We bet you’re an expert faffer.
Example: Last Sunday, I just faffed around all day.
Think you can take more of these slang words? Try our online English course Gymglish for free for 7 days today.
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- Selected differences between UK English and US English
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- The many origins of the word “fuck”
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- A brief history of slang
- 5 reasons why slang is important in language learning
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