How to Understand British Terms

Two Methods:Sample British TermsUnderstanding British Terms

Some English speakers communicating with wikiHow editors from the U.K. will need to know just a little more about the lingo. Note that some of these terms are also used in parts of the British Commonwealth such as Australia and New Zealand.

Sample British Terms

Sample British Terms

Understanding British Terms

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    Be aware that certain food items are called by different names:
    • Chips are thick fries, and french fries are the thin fries.
    • Crisps are potato chips.
    • A biscuit is a cookie. A British person would only call chocolate-chip biscuits a 'cookie'.
    • Scones are a baked item made of firm dough. They are neither soft like bread or crisp like a cookie or a biscuit but are somewhere in between. They can be sweet or savoury and are eaten topped or filled as appropriate.
    • Jelly is a gelatin dessert (Jello), the type given with ice cream in hospital; fruit preserves are jam.
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    Learn the different terms for parts of a building:
    • The ground floor is the same as the American first floor.
    • The first floor is the one above this, and other numbers follow as normal.
    • A lift is an elevator.
    • A flat is the general term for an apartment.
    • A bedsit is a one-room flat (efficiency apartment) that serves as a bedroom and a living area.
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    Study these terms for when you are on the move:
    • The boot is the trunk of the car. A trunk in Britain is a kind of old-fashioned large suitcase.
    • The wing is the fender of the car.
    • The bonnet is the hood of the car.
    • The "windscreen" is the windshield as goes for the wipers.
    • However, a trunk call, is a long-distance (on a trunk-line) phone call but the term is not associated with automobiles at all as one might be lead to believe. Trunk call is not used in modern British English.
    • A roundabout is a traffic circle.
    • The colours of traffic lights are called red, amber (not yellow) and green.
    • A lorry is a truck (not necessarily a "pick-up truck"). They are, more often than not, the type that carry goods.
    • The sidewalk is called the pavement or the footpath (unpaved walkway).
    • Petrol is gasoline (e.g., "Can we stop at the petrol station?").
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    Avoid embarrassment of not understanding these differences:
    • A bum is a derrière/posterior, not a homeless person.
    • Spell and pronounce ass as "arse", bearing in mind that an "ass" may also be four-legged or even a more derogatory synonym for a two-legged "twit".
    • Do not call your "bum" your fanny. In the U.K., a "fanny" is a word meaning the female, external genitalia (vulva)!
    • A "fag" is a cigarette. (The British are well aware of the American meaning.)
    • While thanks to American culture, "faggot" is sometimes used as the derogatory name for homosexuals (avoid in polite company), in UK "fagot/faggot" can be used to mean "a cigarette, bundle of firewood, a chopped meatball," or "a bundle of anything", though this is an obscure usage.[1]
    • The "loo", "bog", "WC/water closet", or just "toilet" is the American English "bathroom" (e.g. "Where's the loo?"), though if you say you're going to the bathroom, people will get the idea.
    • A rubber is a pencil eraser, as well as meaning a condom.
    • "I'm stuffed" means "I'm full". The word stuffed can also be interpreted in a negative or insulting manner depending on context (e.g. "Go get stuffed." is a bit more polite than "F**k off.", having roughly the same meaning).
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    Remember when throwing something away that:
    • Rubbish is garbage or trash and goes in the rubbish bin if it is inside, or a dustbin if you mean the large outside receptacle.
    • A trash bag is called a bin liner or bin bag.
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    Use these terms when talking about clothing:
    • Trainers are sneakers,
    • Wellingtons (Wellington boots, wellies, boots) are calf-length rubber (or plastic) waterproof boots and have nothing to do with beef. They are named after the Duke of Wellington.
    • Pants in England are worn underneath your trousers or jeans, just like American panties. While the British may understand what you mean, due to the invasion of American culture, they will likely find the mental image this conjures amusing and may call you out on it, also called "knickers".
    • Tights, are pantyhose with two legs, "stockings" is the term used for pantyhose that have two separate garments, just like socks.
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    Finally, study these terms which may cause confusion:
    • The phrases "taking the mickey", "taking the Michael" and "taking the piss" mean making fun of or teasing.
    • The phrase "on your knees" means to show respect, beg, or even plead,
    • To ring is to call on the phone (e.g. "I'll ring you later").
    • A pram or buggy is a baby stroller.
    • A trolley is a shopping cart used for shopping in large shops such as supermarkets.
    • A dummy (short for "dummy teat") is a pacifier.
    • A lolly is a contraction of "iced lolly", a popsicle.
    • A mobile or mobile phone is a cellphone.
    • A bodge or botch is a poor job (or repair) that just about works.
    • A brolly is short for an umbrella. Very occasionally called a "gamp" after a character in a Dickens novel.
    • Going on "holiday is a vacation.
    • A torch is a flashlight.
    • Maths is the shortened mass noun for mathematics, American "math".
    • Washing-up liquid is dish detergent.
    • An aerial is a TV or radio antenna.
    • Anti-clockwise is counter-clockwise.
    • The phone is engaged means that the phone line is busy.
    • Punt in the UK refers to a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water. Punting refers to boating in a punt. In America, especially in American Football, a punt is when you clear the ball down the field. That was the joke used on Emma Watson by David Letterman ("Here, we do that on 4th and long"). The English equivalent is a drop kick, but the mechanics are different. A punt in rugby is a kick in which the ball is hit BEFORE touching the ground. It's also slang for 'a bet' or a gamble, as in 'I took a punt on it not raining tonight', 'I had a punt on a horse race'.
    • "Football" is soccer. The American game is called American football, and is viewed as a second-rate version of rugby.
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    "Hockey" is field hockey. "Ice hockey" is the other one, American hockey.
    • "Fit" is used as attractive/sexy, amongst the young, though also means healthy or in shape.
    • "Mental" is used to say something or someone is out of the ordinary/something different/mad, but not necessarily in a negative context, i.e: "The girl I met last night was completely 'mental' ".
    • Drunk, "I'm going to get absolutely hammered tonight.""He's mullered." "You're off your face." "shit-faced" (not polite) "trollied" "pissed" or "pished", also, means drunk.
    • Annoyed would be described as "pissed off".
    • "Piss off" is another term for "go away"
    • "All right?", "Hi", "Hey" are used as "hello".
    • "Mate" is used as "friend".
    • "F**k" is used in a wide range of expressions. Do not use it, if you are trying to make a good impression unless a lot of people are saying it -- and it appears as if it's being accepted there. Even then, limit the crude/rude words, especially when you are among strangers.


  • While wanker is used in some humor in the US, but as a reference to "someone who masturbates", it's derogatory. Again, don't use this in polite company.
  • Cussing is known as swearing. It's very prevalent in some communities and absent in others. The same person may cuss up a storm at one place, and not say one such word in a more polite place. The rules vary greatly. When in doubt, keep it clean. Nothing is more likely to offend than a misplaced swear word!
  • Where ever you go in the U.K. there are different accents. Some say Geordies (people who live in the Newcastle/Northumberland area) have their own language!

Sources and Citations

  1. fagot/faggot from "Collins English Dictionary" - 'Complete & Unabridged' 10th Edition, 2009.

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