41 British Phrases and Expressions

Slang words and colloquial (informal) expressions are how English speakers talk to each other in daily life.

And if you would like to speak like a native English speaker, it is a good idea to get to know some of these colorful inventions.

In this post, we will teach you 41 common British phrases and expressions you can use in casual conversation!


1. Just popping out

Meaning: To leave quickly 

One of the definitions of the word “pop” is to move quickly or suddenly. So, the English phrase “just popping out” usually refers to leaving a place or a room with the intention of quickly returning. It is another way of saying that you will be back soon.

Usually, this expression is used without the verb “be.” This means that people do not generally add the phrase “I am” before the expression.


Just popping out to get the groceries.

Curated authentic video library for all levels
  • Thousands of learner friendly videos (especially beginners)
  • Handpicked, organized, and annotated by FluentU's experts
  • Integrated into courses for beginners
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

3. Take the tube

Meaning: To take the subway train 

When someone in England, especially in London, takes the subway train to go somewhere, they usually use this expression. Since the subway is totally underground in London, it looks like a network of tubes.


I prefer taking the Tube to go to work every day. I avoid the morning traffic that way.

4. Bob’s your uncle

Meaning: It’s done 

“Bob’s your uncle” is used at the end of a set of instructions that are very easy to follow. Although it might sound quite confusing, it means the same thing as other common phrases like “as easy as a pie” or “you are done.”

Video player for learners like you
  • Interactive subtitles: click any word to see detailed examples and explanations
  • Slow down or loop the tricky parts
  • Show or hide subtitles
  • Review words with our powerful learning engine
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU


To make instant noodles, just add hot water and Bob’s your uncle, they are ready.

5. Bodge something

Meaning: To make a mistake 

To “bodge something” is to make a mistake or do something badly. It has a similar meaning to making a mess of something. This expression is generally used in the context of trying to repair something.


I think the plumber bodged the pipes in the sink.

6. Over-egg the pudding

Meaning: To make something worse by overdoing it 

Master words through quizzes with context
  • Learn words in the context of sentences
  • Swipe left or right to see more examples from other videos
  • Go beyond just a superficial understanding
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

To “over-egg the pudding” is to overdo something with the intent of making it better. It ultimately harms the end result.

The expression comes from baking, where if you put too many eggs in a pudding, it will be ruined.


Do not over-egg your pudding by using too many big words in your essay.

7. Butcher’s hook

Meaning: To look

“Butcher’s hook” is just another way to tell someone to look. It is considered Cockney slang and uses rhyming words to create a unique expression. In other words, “butcher’s hook” is used as an expression for “look” because the word “hook” rhymes with “look.”


Stop memorizing words.
Start building sentences.
  • FluentU builds you up, so you can build sentences on your own
  • Start with multiple-choice questions and advance through sentence building to producing your own output
  • Go from understanding to speaking in a natural progression.
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

I will have a butcher’s hook around the market and see if I can find some nice curtains.

8. Spend a penny

Meaning: To go to the toilet

This is a polite or indirect way to tell someone that you need to use the toilet.

In the nineteenth century, people needed to give a penny to use public washrooms in England. This expression refers to that time.


Excuse me for a moment; I just need to spend a penny.

Accurate, detailed word explanations made for you
  • Images, examples, video examples, and tips
  • Covering all the tricky edge cases, eg.: phrases, idioms, collocations, and separable verbs
  • No reliance on volunteers or open source dictionaries
  • 100,000+ hours spent by FluentU's team to create and maintain
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

9. I was gobsmacked

Meaning: To be shocked or astonished

“Gob” is the informal word for mouth, and “smack” means to hit something with your hand.

So, the word “gobsmacked” literally means to be hit in the mouth. It is used to describe someone who is so surprised that it looks like someone hit them.


I was gobsmacked when I found out that I lost my job.

10. It’s all gone pear-shaped

Meaning: When something has gone wrong or turned out badly

Hi, I'm Alan! I became obsessed with learning Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in 2001, and managed to get good enough to work professionally in those languages as a management consultant.

I started FluentU to build a new kind of language app.
Want to learn more about how FluentU got started?

This phrase likely originated from the idea of a fruit turning pear-shaped when it spoils or rots. That’s why Brits use it to describe something that was supposed to be perfect turned out badly.


Our weekend trip was supposed to be fun, but it’s all gone pear-shaped with this awful weather.

11. She’s a sandwich short of a picnic

Meaning: Someone who is not very intelligent or sensible

This funny British expression suggests that someone is not quite complete or lacks something essential for a successful outing, much like a picnic missing a sandwich.


I tried explaining the directions to her three times, but she’s a sandwich short of a picnic.

12. He’s mad / He’s crackers

Meaning: Someone who is crazy or irrational.

“Mad” is a straightforward term for insanity, while “crackers” refers to the crackling sound made by someone who has lost their sanity.


James wants to swim in the freezing lake? He’s mad!

13. Have a chinwag

Meaning: To have a chat or conversation.

“Chinwag” combines “chin,” referring to a face-to-face conversation, and “wag,” meaning a brisk or lively exchange. It’s a colloquial way of suggesting a friendly chat.


Let’s sit down and have a chinwag over a cup of tea.

14. What a chav

Meaning: A mean term for someone who is seen as lower class or uncultured

A chav is what the Brits call a “low class” individual.


Did you see his tracksuit? What a chav.

15. That’s smashing / That’s ace

Meaning: That’s excellent or fantastic

“Smashing” originates from the idea of something being so good it’s as if it’s been smashed into pieces in a positive sense.

“Ace” is the word used when something is brilliant or someone performs very well, usually on a test or evaluation.


Your presentation was smashing, everyone loved it!

You aced that interview!

16. I’ll ring you / Give you a ring

Meaning: I’ll call you

In the days of landline telephones, ringing someone meant literally making their phone ring by calling them. Even though the technology has changed, the phrase has stuck.


I’ll ring you tomorrow to discuss our plans for the weekend.

17. Have a fag

Meaning: To smoke a cigarette.

“Fag” originally referred to a tedious task, and in the context of smoking, it’s believed to come from British public schools where younger students would do menial tasks for older ones, including lighting their cigarettes.


After a long day at work, I usually have a fag to relax.

18. He’s so gobby

Meaning: Someone who talks too much or is mouthy

“Gob” refers to the mouth, so being “gobby” implies someone who is always flapping their gums or speaking out of turn.


He never stops talking, he’s so gobby!

19. Oh, she’s whinging on

Meaning: Complaining in a persistent or irritating manner

“Whinge” comes from an Old English word meaning to whine or complain. Adding “on” emphasizes the continuation of the behavior, suggesting a persistent and annoying complaint.


She’s been whinging on about her sore feet all day.

20. Taking the piss

Meaning: Mocking or making fun of someone

This phrase likely originated in British slang in the mid-20th century, where “taking” refers to making, and “piss” refers to urine, implying making someone urinate uncontrollably with laughter.


Are you serious, or are you just taking the piss?

21. The bee’s knees

Meaning: Something excellent or outstanding

This phrase emerged in the 1920s during the jazz age and flapper era. It’s a play on words, with “bee’s knees” being a humorous and nonsensical way to describe something as outstanding or of high quality.


This new restaurant is the bee’s knees, you have to try it!

22. Don’t get your knickers in a twist

Meaning: Don’t get upset or agitated

“Knickers” are British slang for underwear, and “twist” implies becoming tangled or upset. So, the phrase advises someone not to let themselves get unnecessarily worked up over something.


Relax, don’t get your knickers in a twist, it’s just a joke.

23. A curtain twitcher

Meaning: Someone who is nosy or spies on their neighbors

In small British communities, it was common for nosy neighbors to peek through their curtains to observe the goings-on of others, hence the term “curtain twitcher.”


She’s always watching from her window, such a curtain twitcher.

24. It’s raining cats and dogs

Meaning: It’s raining heavily

The origin of this phrase is uncertain, but one theory suggests that in 17th-century England, heavy rain would flood the streets, washing away debris and even small animals, giving the appearance of it raining cats and dogs.


We can’t go out for a walk, it’s raining cats and dogs out there!

25. Fancy a cuppa?

Meaning: Would you like a cup of tea?

“Cuppa” is a shortened form of “cup of tea,” and asking if someone “fancies” it is an invitation in British English. Tea is a staple in British culture, making this phrase ubiquitous in social settings.


It’s chilly outside, fancy a cuppa to warm up?

26. It’s not my cup of tea

Meaning: Something that you don’t particularly like or enjoy

This phrase likely originates from the British love of tea. Just as everyone has their own preference for tea, everyone has their own likes and dislikes.


I tried watching that TV show, but it’s not my cup of tea.

27. Take the Mickey

Meaning: To mock or tease someone

“Mickey” is thought to be derived from “Mickey Bliss,” rhyming slang for “piss.” So, “taking the Mickey” implies making fun of someone or taking liberties with them.


He’s just taking the Mickey, don’t let it bother you.

28. You look smart

Meaning: You look well-dressed or stylish.

“Smart” originally meant well-dressed or elegant in appearance. Over time, it has come to mean both physically well-presented and intelligent.


Heading to the party? You look smart in that suit!

29. That’s dench

Meaning: Something good or agreeable

This is an adjective that is used when something is seen as good or agreeable. It is similar to expressions like “cool” and “awesome.”

This word was popularized by the British artist Lethal Bizzle. He created the word while playing video games with his cousin.


That is a dench coat.

30. Stop faffing

Meaning: Stop wasting time

When someone spends a lot of time doing very little work, it is called faffing. It comes from the older English word “faffle,” which means to flap around in the wind.

It is used when someone is wasting their time or only pretending to work.


Stop faffing around and start doing your homework.

31. Come over to my gaff

Meaning: Come over to my home

Gaff is just a synonym for “home.” Although it might sound quite similar to gaffe, its meaning is completely different. A gaffe is another word for “mistake” or “blunder.”

In formal English, gaff can also mean a stick with a hook that is used to kill large fish. So, the context of the word largely determines its meaning.


Come over to my gaff; we are having a party there.

32. Dapper geezer

Meaning: A well-dressed man

A “geezer” or “dapper geezer” is a man who is well-dressed in formal clothes. These men usually wear suits and are quite fashion-conscious.

The term comes from the old English word “guiser.”

However, in informal American English, geezer means “odd” or “crazy” and is usually used to refer to old men.


This shirt makes you look like a proper geezer!

33. Innit?

Meaning: Isn’t it?

This is another version of the phrase “isn’t it.” It is commonly used to show agreement rather than to genuinely ask a question.


This place is much better than the last one, innit?

34. It was chockablock

Meaning: Crowded or full

This word is used when some place or thing is extremely crowded or full.

It is sometimes shortened to “chocka.”


The suitcase was chockablock with clothes.

35. Quids in

Meaning: Making money

One pound is often called a “quid” in the United Kingdom. So, “quids in” means that someone has made money—usually more than what they expected—from something.

It can also generally mean that someone is in a position of advantage in a situation.


I will be quids in if I get that promotion next month.

36. To be smarmy

Meaning: To be insincere or fake

When someone is “smarmy,” he or she is being insincere or fake. It is used for people who are not trustworthy and who make you suspicious of their motives.


Do not talk to him again; he looks smarmy.

37. Wally

Meaning: Stupid or foolish

A person who is not very intelligent or is not very good at his or her job is called a “wally.” This expression is used as an insult.

In Scottish English, “wally” means something that is pleasing or strong.


Do not use a wet cloth to clean your computer, you wally!

38. Pea-souper

Meaning: A thick fog

A “pea-souper” is a thick fog that looks gray or green, like vegetable soup.

This expression became popular around the Industrial Revolution in England when lots of factories burned coal and cities like London were always surrounded by a thick fog of pollution.


I will not be going out today; it is a pea-souper out there.

39. Blimey

Meaning: Excitement

Blimey is used to show excitement, surprise or shock.

It comes from the expression “God blind me.” So, “blimey” is used when something so extreme happens that a person wishes that they did not see it.


Blimey! That house just caught fire.

40. Take a brolly

Meaning: Take an umbrella

This is a shorter form of the word “umbrella.”


I always carry a brolly in my bag-pack. You never know when it will start to rain in England.

You can find out more about rhyming Cockney slang by checking out this video by YouTuber iswearenglish:

41. It’s minging

Meaning: To smell bad

It means that something is unpleasant. Most commonly people use the word “minging” to describe something that smells bad. 


You’re minging! Go and take a shower.


While all of these expressions may sound fun and interesting, learners should always be careful when using them. Some slang words have many uses, while others can sound quite similar to each other but have completely different meanings.

The best way to make your speech sound natural is to listen to native speakers and see how they use these expressions. Try watching some British TV shows or use a language learning program for extra support. 

With FluentU, for example, you can create a personalized flashcard deck based on the words that pop up in the program’s English media clips.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

  FluentU Ad

Learning directly from native speakers is the best way to become an advanced English speaker. And, as with everything else, practice makes perfect!

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe