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British Slang: 54 Essential Words for English Learners

British 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, I’ll cover 54 of the most important British English slang terms!

Contents

 

Top British 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! I’ll explain all of that, though.

1. Chuffed

When someone is chuffed, they are very pleased or happy about something.

I’m absolutely chuffed with my birthday present. Thanks!

2. Knackered

If someone says they are knackered, 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 knackered.

3. Bants

“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.

4. Cheeky

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.

A: Are you coming to the pub tonight?
B: On a Tuesday?! Well OK, just a few cheeky drinks.

5. Fag

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.

6. Cuppa

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.

A: Would you like a cuppa?
B: I’d love one. I’ll put the kettle on.

7. Bum

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?”

A: How did you get here?
B: I bummed a lift with Tony.

Here, “lift” means “ride.”

8. Mate

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).

A: What are you doing this weekend?
B: 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?

9. Ledge

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!

10. Gutted

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.

11. Sherbets

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.

12. Trollied

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.

13. Narky

“Narky” is another word for moody or bad-tempered.

She won’t speak to me. She’s been narky with me all day.

14. Fluke

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.

A: I hit the bullseye! (the red target on a dartboard)
B: That was a total fluke! You wouldn’t be able to do it again.

A: I won 10 pounds on the lotto again!
B: That is so flukey!

15. Arsed

“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.

A: Would you like to go out today?
B: Can’t be arsed. It’s Sunday. I’m not getting out of bed.

16. Gagging

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!

17. Cracking

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!

18. Bloody

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?

19. To faff

Do you ever get annoyed when someone takes too long to do something? Maybe you’re just about to leave the house and your partner decides it’s the perfect time to look for a long-lost sock.

In British slang, “to faff” means to spend time doing something that isn’t very important.

Come on! Stop faffing! We need to get to the airport or we’ll miss our flight!

20. To waffle

“To waffle” means to talk a lot about something.

When I’m nervous, I start waffling.

21. Bonkers

In British slang, “bonkers” is used in the same way as “crazy.” 

What do you mean? That’s bonkers!

22. Gaff

If someone invites you to their “gaff” in the UK, they are in fact inviting you to their house. Note that this phrase is often only used in London and the outer areas of the capital. 

What are you doing tomorrow? I’m having a party at my gaff if you’d like to come.

23. Chinwag

A “chinwag” is used in the same way as “chat.” 

I saw my neighbor in town and we had a good chinwag.

24. The chippy

“The chippy” is where people go to in the UK to buy fish and chips.

“The chippy” is often used as a much easier and quicker way of saying “the fish and chip shop.”

I was thinking about going to the chippy. Do you want something?

25. Geezer

This term is most commonly used in London to say “man.” This doesn’t usually have any negative connotations and is often used to refer to men of any age.

There’s that geezer I saw on the train yesterday.

What a geezer!

26. Loo

In the UK, the term “restroom” isn’t commonly used, instead people say “bathroom,” “toilet” or simply “loo.” 

Make sure you go to the loo before we leave. It’ll be a long journey.

27. Dodgy

The word “dodgy” has a couple of meanings in the UK. For instance, it can be used to describe something that doesn’t work well or a person or place that seems strange.

For example:

The WiFi here is dodgy.  (Meaning: the WiFi doesn’t work well)

That man looks dodgy. Be careful. (Meaning: That man looks strange/scary)

28. Lush

If something is “lush” this means that it’s really good. 

That pie was lush! Please can I have the recipe?

29. Footie

In the UK and many other English-speaking countries around the world, “soccer” is known as “football.” “Footie” is a shortened version of football.

Sorry, I can’t go! I’ve got footie after school.

30. Bevvy

If someone asks if you’d like a “bevvy,” they are most likely offering you an alcoholic drink (beverage). 

Do you want a bevvy?

31. Ta

In northern areas of England and some parts of Wales, ta is slang for “thank you.” 

A: I’ve just sent you the link to buy tickets for the festival.
B:  Ta!

32. Dishy

“Dishy” is used as another way of calling someone “good-looking.” 

Did you see the guy who just walked past the window? He was so dishy.

33. Hunky-dory

To say that something is “OK,” you can simply say “hunky-dory.”

Don’t worry about it, everything’s hunky-dory!

34. Jiffy

In the UK, “jiffy” means “soon,” and is mostly used after the words “in a” to reassure the other person that something will happen or you’ll be somewhere soon.

I’m just leaving now. I’ll be there in a jiffy.

35. Brekkie

If someone is talking about “brekkie,” they are referring to breakfast.

What do you want for brekkie?

36. To be miffed

“Miffed” is an expression used in the UK to show disappointment or irritation over something.

I’m so miffed about missing out on those concert tickets. I really wanted to go.

37. Chock-a-block

“Chock-a-block” is a slang term you may hear in different situations in the UK when people want to describe something as “busy” or “crowded.”

For example, you may hear someone who has meetings all day long describe their day as “chock-a-block” to a friend. You may also describe heavy traffic as “chock-a-block.”

I don’t think I can meet today. My day is chock-a-block with meetings.

It was absolutely chock-a-block! It took me half an hour to get out of the car park!

38. Not my cup of tea

Tea is an important part of British culture. Inviting someone for a cuppa and popping the kettle on for a cuppa is the remedy to any problem.

However, when something isn’t your cup of tea, it means that you are not very fond of it and is like saying “I don’t like it” or “it’s not for me.”

A: Why didn’t you want one of the sandwiches? Do you not like tuna?
B:  It’s not my cup of tea.

39. Telly / Telly box

Around the world, a television is often just called a TV, but in British English, it can also be called a “telly” or a “telly box.”

What are you watching on the telly?

Do you want to put on the telly box tonight?

40. Wee

Meaning “little,” this particular slang term is mostly used in Scotland. While other areas around the United Kingdom will understand this word, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear it used elsewhere. 

I’ve got a wee dog. He’s about to turn two!

41. Brolly

Famous all around the world for its gray skies and rainy weather, in the UK, it’s important to always carry a “brolly” just in case it rains!

Have you got a brolly? It looks like it’s about to rain.

42. Fit

While “fit” can mean healthy and active, in British slang it means “attractive.”

That guy over there is so fit. Do you think he’s single?

43. Manky

When someone in the UK describes something as “manky,” it means “gross,” “dirty” or “disgusting.”

The bus was manky. Someone had spilt their drink and the floor was sticky! Don’t let me mention the smell!

44. Sarnie

“Sarnie” is short for “sandwich” in British slang.

I’m thinking of making a bacon sarnie. Would you like one?

45. Cheers

In the United Kingdom, “cheers” is a very popular way of saying “thank you” to someone.

A: Here’s the coffee you ordered!
B:  Cheers!

46. Quid

If you’re planning to travel to the UK, it’s important to know the terms used when talking about money.

A “quid” is £1 (one pound). 

I need a quid to use this locker but I don’t have any change. Do you have one?

However, it is worth noting that you can also add a higher value to the word “quid”:

That taxi cost me 90 quid!

47. Fiver

If someone asks if you have a “fiver,” they are asking you for a £5 bill (five pound note in British English).

You wouldn’t happen to have a fiver to leave for the tip, would you?

48. Tenner

If a fiver is a £5 bill then you might guess what a “tenner” is. That’s right! A £10 bill.

I’ve only got a tenner.

49. Dosh

“Dosh” is often used as a slang term for “money.”

Have you got enough dosh for the bus?

50. Uni

One of the most common characteristics of British slang is the shortening of words—and this word is no different! In the UK, you’ll most likely hear students refer to “university” as “uni.”

Where do you go to uni?

51. Spud

“Spud” is another way of saying “potato.”

I’ve got to go out and buy some spuds for dinner.

52. A brew

If someone offers you “a brew,” it’s like being offered “a cuppa” (see #6). In most cases this means “tea,” although some people might use it to say “coffee” as well.

Do you want a brew?

53. Posh

Posh is a term mostly used to say “fancy” or “expensive.”

That restaurant is very posh.

Note that this term may also be used to describe people as “rich” or “upper-class.”

His family is so posh.

54. Cheerio

It wouldn’t be right to end a list without this British slang term used to say “goodbye.”

Cheerio! See you soon!

Bonus: Cockney Rhyming Slang

Cockney rhyming slang originated in East London in the 18th century. While some of the terms listed below have spread to other parts of the UK, it’s less likely you’ll hear all of them outside of London. 

The key trick behind Cockney rhyming slang is that the second word often rhymes with the actual word you want to say.

Here are some common examples of Cockney rhyming slang that are still used to this date:

Porky pies — Lies

Undoubtedly, one of the most common Cockney rhyming slang terms is “porky pies.” Remember that the second word rhymes with the actual word: so pies means lies

This term is used across the whole of the UK, mostly when talking to children and telling them not to lie. 

Don’t tell porky pies!

Are you telling porky pies?

Note that this term is often shortened to “porkies.”

Butcher’s hook — A look

If you’re going to have a “butcher’s hook” it means you’re going to have a “look” at something, such as browsing in a store or for something in particular. 

You’ll most commonly hear the phrase “have a butcher’s” without “hook” included:

I’m just having a butcher’s.

Cream crackered — Knackered

This Cockney rhyming slang word another slang term you might recognize from above (#2)! Crackered rhymes with “knackered,” so this slang term is used to express tiredness. 

Sorry, I can’t go out tonight. I’m absolutely cream crackered.

You can find more Cockney rhyming slang in this article by The Guardian.

How to Learn More British 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.

You could also 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.

If you want to reinforce the words from this article, FluentU is another option.

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.

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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!

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:

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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.

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FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

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

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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.

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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.)

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