Officially six months into my London sojourn I’ve compiled a list of my favorite (favourite)* Britishisms.

1. Calling your grandmother “Gran”

Most British shortenings really irritate me (ex: Wills, Becks, Babs) but there’s something about referring to your abuelita as Gran that seems really familiar and innocent and nothing formal or over the top cute like other trendy British words.

2. Things going “pear shaped”

I love this analogy used to describe situations that have gone awry. Once I understood what it meant, it made perfect sense: all the good stuff sank to the bottom. I try to throw it into conversations with British friends sometimes just to let them know that I’m hip to their jibe.

3.  “Innit”

The real zing of the “innit” comes off better written than said but I like it because it’s a direct reflection of how folks around here speak. Similar favorites (favourites) include “Wot!” and “Fook.”

4. “You Lot/ That Lot”

You don’t want to be included in whatever “lot” a Brit is talking about. I could be wrong but I think they refer to groups of people usually whom they hold in disdain or whom they are skeptical of as a “lot.” For example, an old store (shop) owner has been bothered by a group of local youngsters. He might say something like, “Noffin’ but a bunch of punks ’em lot.”

5. “Blimey”

I had this one categorized with “poppycock” and “crikey” for being classic, stereotypic British English that only people in movies produced before 1980, or British characters in cartoons say. But nope, I’ve seen it tweeted and even the receptionist at the gym said it the other day. Internet searching reveals that it comes from the phrase “God Blind Me” and is, indeed, said when the speaker is deeply confounded or surprised.

6. “A Cuppa”

I first encountered “a cuppa” living in Ireland, but I’ve heard it in England quite a bit too. Kind of like Eskimos have a bazillion words for snow, the English have created their own for a cup of tea. The concept is endearing to the point that even if I don’t feel like (fancy) one, if someone offers me a cuppa, I say yes.

7. “Lad”

In the strictest sense of the word, this refers to a young man or boy. But it has evolved into its own concept. A lad is a male probably aged 20-27 who is concerned with kebabs, football, hooking up with (pulling) girls and not much else. American equivalent might be a “dude.” Catalan equivalent is definitely a “nen.”

8. “You alright?”

It took me about two months to not respond “Yeah I’m fine, why? What’d I do?” to anyone who greeted me with this question. Now I know it’s just the same as the American “How are you?” – a nonchalant question about your general state of being used more as a greeting rather than a real question warranting an answer

9. Unable to be “bothered”** or “arsed.”

I had a friend from Manchester who used to use “ I can’t be bothered/ I can’t be arsed” constantly as an excuse to not do certain things like the laundry, call his mom, travel or see old friends. For him it seemed like a perfectly acceptable excuse but to me it always teetered between a diva mentality and laziness. Hey Francis why didn’t you come to the party last night? “I got well pissed the night before and I just couldn’t be arsed.”

* British spellings in parenthesis (round brackets) to avoid confusion

**I like it all the more if pronounced “buvered.”

Any you think should be on the list but aren’t? Any that shouldn’t be on the list? Any I’ve incorrectly defined? Comment below you lousy sod!

Update: As I predicted, my favorite Brits have pointed out an error in my favorite Britishisms. Apparently it’s can’t be ARSED not asked. I guess to my American ear the soft “r” sounded more like the almost unpronounced “k” in the American pronunciation of “asked.” Either way, the phrase makes even less sense to me now especially as an excuse to not do something really not all that difficult.

About sinhblog

I'm a freelance journalist who believes in the fourth branch of democracy.
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3 Responses to Britishisms

  1. Matt says:

    I believe we say ‘can’t be arsed’ when we are unmotivated to run a course of action. Otherwise spot on

  2. Enric Petit Guineu says:

    Massa nivell lingüístic per mi…

  3. Mark Ellison says:

    Very nice collection. You might be interested in this further collection of Britishisms 🙂

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