UK English Slang: 18 Essential Slang Words for English Learners
English slang from the UK (United Kingdom) is significantly different from American slang.
Sometimes even native English speakers from other regions (like Americans) find it hard to understand British slang. So, how can English learners hope to understand it?
It’s just a matter of building your familiarity with it over time. To get you started, we’ll cover 18 of the most important UK English slang terms!
- Top UK English Slang Terms
- How to Learn More UK Slang
Top UK English Slang Terms
Because slang is casual language, some of these might not be appropriate for younger learners.
Also, some words that are fine to use in Britain may be considered offensive in other places! We will explain all of that, though.
When someone is chuffed, they are very pleased or happy about something.
“I’m absolutely chuffed with my birthday present. Thanks!”
If someone says they are knackered (or sometimes, “ready for the knackers yard”), it means that they are extremely tired.
This comes from “knacker,” which is an older word for a person who slaughters old worn-out horses who can no longer work.
“I’ve been up half of the night with the baby. I’m totally knackered.”
“Bants” is an abbreviation (shortened version) of “banter.” “Banter” means to joke or to exchange witty (quick and fun) remarks with others.
“I’m going to Nando’s for some bants with the lads.”
When someone is cheeky, it means that they are being a little rude or disrespectful, but usually in a way that is funny and endearing (cute).
“That is a cheeky smile…are you up to something?”
“Did you just take the last biscuit? That was a bit cheeky!”
It can also be used if you are eating, drinking or doing something that you maybe should not or that is not good for you.
“I’m just going to have a cheeky burger on the way home.”
“Are you coming to the pub tonight?”
“On a Tuesday?! Well OK, just a few cheeky drinks.”
In American English, “fag” is a derogatory (insulting or mean) term for someone who is gay. In British slang, however, it just means a cigarette.
“I’m going outside for a fag.”
Cuppa comes from the phrase “cup of.” The implied (suggested) meaning is a cup of tea (because we love tea…sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason).
The word “tea” is not actually needed. You only need to make it clear if it is a “cuppa” coffee or a “cuppa” anything other than tea.
“Would you like a cuppa?”
“I’d love one. I’ll get the kettle on.”
You may already know that this word is the informal word for “bottom.” It also has another meaning. It is used when somebody uses or gets something from someone else without paying.
“Can I bum a fag?”
“How did you get here?”
“I bummed a lift with Tony.”
Here, “lift” means “ride.”
While in standard English a mate is a life partner, “mate” is commonly used in Britain to mean a friend.
It is also often used to address strangers in informal situations, such as in bars or on public transport.
“Mate” is particularly used between men (but not always). A similar word is “pal” (which is also used in American English).
“What are you doing this weekend?”
“Hanging out with some of my mates.”
“Excuse me, mate, is anyone sitting here?”
“Hey pal, could I get a whisky and a beer please?”
This is a shortening of the word “legend.” A legend is someone who is well-known, often for doing something great or incredible.
The slang word “ledge” is often an exaggeration, or used to make things and people sound more important than they really are.
It might be used to describe a famous person, but also a friend or family member who is not famous. It is often used when someone has done something particularly good or impressive.
“That final goal was amazing, mate. You’re a ledge!”
“Thanks for the tickets, mum. What a ledge!”
The original meaning of “gut” is to remove the insides of an animal before eating it (gutting a fish, for example). It also has the meaning of being bitterly disappointed about something.
“I was gutted when I failed the exam.”
In Britain, “sherbet” is a word for a fizzy sweet or sweet powder.
However, inviting someone to go to the pub for a few sherbets is not an invitation to eat sweets, but an invitation to drink a few beers. It is possible that this comes from the fizzy, frothy top on beers.
“Do you fancy a few sherbets after work tonight?”
Asking someone if they “fancy” something is a way of asking if they would like it.
A “trolly” is the word the British use for a shopping cart. However, when the noun “trolly” is turned into the adjective “trollied,” it is used to describe someone as being drunk.
“I had a few too many sherbets last night, mate. I was trollied.”
Narky is another word for moody or bad-tempered.
“She won’t speak to me. She’s been narky with me all day.”
A “fluke” is something caused by chance or luck. Something can also be described as being “flukey,” meaning that it is particularly lucky or coincidental.
“I hit the bullseye (the red target on a darts board)!”
“That was a total fluke! You wouldn’t be able to do it again.”
“I won 10 pounds on the lotto again!”
“That is so flukey!”
“Can’t be arsed” is a less polite version of “Can’t be bothered.” It is used to express that someone really does not want to or has not got the energy to do a particular thing.
“Would you like go out today?”
“Can’t be arsed. It’s Sunday. I’m not getting out of bed.”
The original meaning of this word is choking or retching (making movements and sounds like vomiting). However, it also means to desperately need or want something.
“I’m gagging for a cuppa. I haven’t had one all day!”
When something is cracking it is particularly good or excellent. People can also be described as “cracking.”
It can also mean to get started on something (and this meaning is also used in American speech).
Another variation is the word “cracker.” Describing a person as a “cracker” means you think they are fantastic.
(Just be aware: This is completely different in American slang. In the U.S., “cracker” can be an insulting term for white people from rural areas).
“That was a cracking dinner. Compliments to the chef.”
“I have lots of Christmas presents to wrap. I’d better get cracking!”
In standard English, “bloody” usually refers to something covered in blood.
In British slang, though, this is an intensifier (something that puts stress or importance on another word) and a mild expletive (swear word).
“Bloody British English is bloody confusing! Bloody hell! Why do they have so much bloody slang?”
How to Learn More UK Slang
Exposure (seeing and hearing the language) is the key to learning new English words, including British slang. You may have to look a little harder, but there are plenty of sources out there.
The problem with slang is that it is always changing and there are trends (like fashions or clothing styles).
A word that was commonly used in the ’80s or ’90s may sound dated (out of place) today. So when you look for slang, it is good to try to find recent examples.
Comedy is always a good place to look, as comedians like to play with words.
“The Inbetweeners” is a popular British comedy show about a group of teenage boys that uses a lot of casual language.
For the same reason, slang appears often in British music, especially in pop, rap and hip hop. Dizzee Rascal is a famous British rapper who uses a lot of modern slang in his music.
There are also some helpful podcasts that you can listen to for more examples of how to use slang in conversation.
If you want to reinforce the words from this article, FluentU is another option. This program uses authentic videos like movie trailers and news clips to show you how British English speakers really use these words.
The videos are from English speakers around the world, so you can focus on British English or listen to different accents.
If you want to check up on a specific term, you can type it into the search box. This will show you all the videos that use that term.
You can make flashcard decks in FluentU, so you could even make a UK slang deck and add new words to it as you come across them.
You’ll always know if you’re hearing slang, and what it means as you’re watching videos since FluentU has interactive subtitles.
This means you can click on any word to see its contextual meaning, so you’ll only see the specific definition that’s being used.
You can take quizzes on FluentU, which change the more you learn. You can even try pronouncing these words in speaking exercises on the iOS and Android app.
Another option is just to dive head-first into a British movie or TV show. This is a great way to simulate immersion, helping you to speed up your learning and get to know more slang naturally.
When you feel confident, you could always try some of your new words out on a real Brit (either in person or on the italki website).
I guarantee they will be chuffed with your efforts!