Blimey! 21 British Expressions to Help You Sound Like the English
“It was a dench time,
It was a minging time,
It was the age of swots,
It was the age of wallies,
It was the epoch…”
Okay, I will stop.
Well, that was a British slang version (written by me!) of the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities.”
“Minging” means something that is unpleasant.
A “swot” is the British version of a “nerd” (someone who takes academics seriously and loves studying).
And I will explain the rest of the slang and expressions later in this post.
If you have read the original version of these famous opening lines (you can read the entire novel online), then you know how different they are from my version.
But guess what?
No one talks like Charles Dickens anymore.
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 some common British expressions you can use in casual conversation!
Blimey! 21 British Expressions to Help You Sound Like the English
1. Just popping out
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.”
“Just popping out to use the toilet.”
“Just popping out for a quick phone call.”
This is a shorter form of the word “umbrella.”
“Take your brolly, it is raining outside.”
“I forgot to bring my brolly to the office today and now I will get wet in the rain when I leave.”
“I always carry a brolly in my bag-pack. You never know when it starts to rain in England.”
3. Take the Tube
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 took the Tube after many months today.”
“I prefer taking the Tube to go to work every day. I avoid the morning traffic that way.”
4. Bob’s your uncle
“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.”
“To make instant noodles, just add hot water and Bob’s your uncle, they are ready.”
“Press the power button, type the password and Bob’s your uncle, you can use the computer now.”
5. Bodge something
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.”
“I think he bodged the presentation while editing it.”
“Make sure you do not bodge the car. It is very expensive!”
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 song was dench!”
“Isn’t this so dench?”
“That is a dench coat.”
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.”
“Rob is the only one on the team who does not faff around in the office.”
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.”
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!”
This expression means 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.”
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?”
“That is what I said, innit?”
“The weather is perfect today.”
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.”
“The roads are so chocka today!”
“Let’s go to another club. This one is chockablock with people.”
13. Quids in
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.”
“Sam was quids in after he sold his software to Microsoft.”
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.”
“Market reasoning is deeply, essentially smarmy.” –Tom Scocca, Gawker.com
15. Spend a penny
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.”
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!”
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.”
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.”
This word is used when something is brilliant or someone performs very well, usually on a test or evaluation.
“You aced that interview!”
“Jake is ace at cooking.”
20. Over-egg the pudding
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.”
“The minister has over-egged the pudding by talking about too many things at once in his speech.”
21. Butcher’s hook
“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.”
“I will have a butcher’s hook around the market and see if I can find some nice curtains.”
You can find out more about rhyming Cockney slang by checking out this video by YouTuber iswearenglish:
While all of these expressions may sound fun and interesting, learners should always be careful when using them. As evident in the examples, the same slang word can be used very differently. Often, the spelling or pronunciation of these words may sound similar to another word with a totally different meaning.
The best way to make your speech sound natural is to listen to native speakers and see what words they are actually using and when. That’s the best way to become an advanced English speaker. And, as with everything else, practice makes perfect!