Slang

There is a large overlap in Australian and British slang due to Australia’s British heritage and exposure to BBC television programs such as Are You Being Served, Fawlty Towers, Some Mothers Do ’ave ‘em, Press Gang, Wallace and Grommit and Jamie Oliver’s cooking shows. We certainly fare better than our American counterparts, who are baffled by phrases using slang such as ‘bung it in the oven’, ‘I’m chuffed with that result’, and ‘you’re such a duffer’. Americans may be shocked by the use of the word ‘bugger’ and shock back by referring to a ‘fanny’.

Despite this overlap, we still had communication breakdowns due to unknown British slang. On arrival in London we were baffled to be greeted by many Londoners with the phrase ‘you alright?’ ‘Yes, fine thanks’ we’d answer, wondering if we were still looking jetlagged, and getting a slightly odd look from the Londoner we were conversing with. We soon learned that ‘you alright?’ means ‘hello, how are you?’ and the correct response is not ‘yes, fine thanks’ but to repeat ‘you alright?’ back. Another, more self-explanatory greeting is a drawn out ‘hi-ya’.

The term ‘bespoke’ is not slang, but seems to be used differently in the UK. In Oz, I had only seen it used to refer to hand made suits, however in London we spotted it on signage and in advertisements to mean custom-made or tailored. Bespoke applied not only to hand made suits, but to a wide variety of products and services that are tailored to the customer including, shoes, furniture/interior design, holiday packages, telecommunications packages, financial products, and software/websites.

In the UK, the term ‘pants’ can be used as an insult or expletive, where an Aussie might use ‘shit’. For example, ‘the latest plot twist in Eastenders is pants’ or ‘oh pants, my train has been cancelled’. It also refers to underpants, but never to trousers. Referring to trousers as pants is one of the quickest ways to confuse and/or amuse a Brit. A friend was met with an incredulous and somewhat concerned look when enquiring at her local dry cleaner about the cost of having pants dry cleaned. Other terms used as an insult or expletive include ‘shite’, ‘rubbish’ and my sister’s favourite ‘bollocks’. ‘Bollocks’ is quite versatile as you can also use it to express approval by describing something as ‘the dogs bollocks’. Other typically British words to express approval include ‘brilliant’, ‘cracking’ and ‘smashing’.

To ‘fancy’ something is to desire it. When applied to a person you might also describe them as ‘fit/well fit’ or specific to ladies ‘tidy’ or ‘totty’. You may have cause to use these words when you are ‘on the pull’ – out trying to pick up someone.

‘Swotting/to swot-up’ refers to studying, perhaps cramming for an exam. If you decide to pretend you are sick to avoid the exam, you can say you are ‘poorly’ or that you have a ‘lurgy’. Alternately you could just ‘skive off’ or ‘bunk off’ – not go in that day.

You might describe being a little drunk as ‘squiffy’, and really drunk as ‘arseholed’ or ‘bladdered’. Many Australian slang terms for drunk are in use in Britain; pissed, plastered, loaded, shitfaced, and sloshed, but you might want to steer clear from using ‘maggotted’.

If a meeting is conducted under Chatnam House Rules, you can use the information received, but not reveal your source and wishing someone ’the best of British’ is wishing them good luck.

There is of course rhyming slang, ‘dead horse’ for sauce, ‘have a butchers’ for have a look (butchers hook), ‘porkies/porky pies’ for lies, but it isn’t as common as Guy Ritchie films would have you believe.

Also on the subject of slang, I’ve realised that never greet someone with by saying ‘G’day’, but I will occasionally use the phrase ‘Say G’day to such-and-such from me’ which is slightly odd.

I’ll add more slang to this list as it comes to hand, but for now, I’ll end with some Aussie slang I haven’t had a chance to use since arriving – I’m off, like a bucket of prawns in the hot sun!

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