British Insults, Slang & Phrases: The Ultimate Guide

Here’s our guide to the choicest British slang, insults and phrases:

The British language has many nuances, something Shakespeare made use of back in the day. Today, there may not be as many poets and playwrights playing around with language as there was then (or rather: there are more, they just play with language less as a general rule as plays are no longer written in verse).

But whether you’re going to the Old Blighty yourself, or trying to complete a course in British literature, it’s good to know some common terms, phrases and, possibly, curses. Just knowing English isn’t enough—you have to understand the slang.

The Brits are as fond of slang (some dating back centuries) as the rest of the world. And they have some rather funny examples of how you can use one word to say many different things, chief among them being the word piss. Yes, piss.

You see, there’s a difference between it pissing down, you getting pissed, you being pissed off, you taking a piss and you taking the piss. All five have distinctively different meanings.

Intrigued? You should be. Read on to unravel the mystery (and learn how to tell someone to F off in proper British English—using the Queen’s accent, naturally).

N.B. these are not always dictionary translation of words, but rather a Brit’s take on them.


British Insults

Nitwit: silly, or foolish, person—she’s such a nitwit

He’s a knob: he’s a dick/idiot

Dick: an idiot

Off their rocker: mad—they were off their rocker, they were

Mad as a hatter: mad—stemming from back in the day when hatters used a manufacturing process for felt that, indeed, made them mad (mercury poisoning)

Gormless: clueless; slow witted

Bugger off: go away; run along

Prick: dick; asshole—he’s a prick that one

Tosser: someone who doesn’t have it all together

Daft: silly;stupid—oh, don’t be daft

Daft cow: silly; stupid (referring to a woman)

Cockwomble: idiot; foolish; obnoxious

Fun Fact

An angry Tweeter, after Brexit was announced and Trump made a statement that the Scots had made a wise decision to leave the EU—they voted to remain in the EU—called Donald Trump a “polyester cockwomble.”

Never say the Scots aren’t inventive where language is concerned! It is almost Shakespearean prose! Shakespeare was actually prone to using “colourful” language and invented his own words and phrases. 


British Exclamations & Swear Words

Blasted: usually in relation to something going terribly wrong; you wouldn’t use it if something good happened

Blast it: dammit;

Dog’s bollocks: a person or thing that’s the best of it’s kind (it’s the dog’s bollocks!). The literal meaning? The dog’s balls!

Bloody hell: oh my God—usually in relation to something extremely good, or bad happening

Hell’s bloody bells (or: hell’s bells): oh my God—usually in relation to something bad happening, but not always

Bloody brilliant: wonderful

Blooming brilliant: a nicer way of saying bloody brilliant

Bloody marvellous: wonderful

Blooming marvellous: a nicer way of saying bloody marvellous

Blooming: bloody

Damn: oh no

Nutter: crazy person

Bonkers: crazy—he was bonkers

Blast it: sod it

Sod it: blast it; damn it

Hell and damnation: damn

Fanny Adams: obsolete; nothing (derogatory)

Sweet Fanny Adams: same as Fanny Adams

Goddamn: damn

Plonker: idiot

That’s rubbish: that’s stupid; that’s silly; that’s nonsense

Lost the plot: someone who’s lost the plot is someone who’s gone crazy—after the breakup I believe he lost the plot

Blimey: my goodness; oh my God

Bollocks: literally it means balls, but the real meaning is damn, bloody hell, or similar, when expressed angrily

Fun Fact

While Brits are known to be polite, with their stiff upper lips, they are also experts at swearing. “Hell’s bloody bells, that’s bloody marvellous!” would be a display of great happiness, not rudeness. Swearing is used as much when one is happy as when one is annoyed.

If you want examples of how Brits speak, swear words included, watch the Bridget Jones and Kingsmen movies. Those movies also display many of the different accents—in both franchises Colin Firth speaks using RP (Queen’s English) and Taron Egerton has an East London dialect.   


British Duplicity

Taking the piss: mocking someone/something, or making fun of someone/something

Taking a piss: going for a wee

Pissing down: raining a lot (a proper downpour)

Being pissed off: being angry

Being pissed: being drunk

Not too bad: good

British Necessities

Put the kettle on literally means to put the kettle on, but is used to offer comfort, relieve a crisis, warm up, aid an investigation, provide courage, show you care…the list goes on. Whatever the matter, or just to have a natter, the Brits put the kettle on.


British Slang & Common Expressions

Mate: friend, brother (the equivalent of South Africa’s “bru” and similar to the Americans’ “dude”)

Bloke: man

Geezer: man

Cock up: screw up; something went wrong

Nob: someone of a high social status

Give someone a bell: call someone (and for some reason, when asking someone to call you, you use plural in some accents—give us a bell when the dress is ready, will you?)

Gutted: devastated

Chuffed: proud; happy—I was chuffed I passed the exams

Fancy: like—I’ve taken a fancy to those shoes

Knock off: a copy of the real deal (such as a coy of a Chanel bag)

Wonky: unstable; used in everyday language to explain something isn’t quite right

Sorted: arranged; well taken care of; someone who have their interests taken care of, such as being wealthy—after receiving that inheritance, he’s sorted

Cup of tea: indication that you like something; your preference—that’s my cup of tea

Tosh: nonsense

Rozzer: police officer

Miffed: upset; disappointed

Full of beans: energetic; lively

Snog: make out

Bum: bottom

Arse: ass

Get off: make out; snog—they were getting off in the living room

Hoover: vacuum

Fun Fact

Hoover is the name of a vacuum cleaner company (that now also produces other goods). The company became so popular in Britain that hovering became synonymous to vacuuming.

William Henry “Boss” Hoover was the original founder of the company (a relative of his invented a basic vacuum machine and sold the patent to Hoover after his wife became impressed using the machine).

The company was originally named the Electric Suction Sweeper Company, but the name was changed after Hoover’s death.

Wicked: great; amazing; brilliant. Can also mean very—the band was wicked loud. Also, means twisted, mean, or mad—that was a wicked witch

Dodgy: suspicious; not quite right; dishonest—that man was dodgy

A tad: a little bit—it was a tad on the dark side

Toff: a person from the upper classes

Lost the plot: someone who’s lost the plot is someone who’s gone crazy—after the breakup I believe he lost the plot

Bollocking: being punished—he had a good bollocking

Car boot sale: yard sale; flea market

Quite right: that’s right

Right you are: that’s right

Donkey’s years: ages—it hadn’t happened in donkey’s years

Peanuts: very cheap—I had it for peanuts at the local shop

Fortnight: two weeks

Horses for courses: what’s fitting for one case isn’t fitting for another. This came from racehorses being best suited at performing on racecourses

Float my boat: something agrees with you—that man floats my boat

John Thomas: penis

Plastered: drunk—he was plastered

CV: curriculum vitae; resumé

Damp squib: an event that one thought would be great, but turns out miserable, or disappointing

Chock-a-block: closely packed together—the traffic was chock-a-block

Chunder: to vomit

Jammy dodger: being lucky

Fun Fact

Jammie Dodgers are a type of biscuits which were named after the Beano comics character Rodger the Dodger, who managed to dodge chores and homework.

Hence, the term jammy dodger became associated with someone who had undeserved luck.

Kerfuffle: a fuss, or commotion, usually related to opposing views

Meat and two veg: men’s genitalia

Chav: white trash

Cream crackered: very tired. Originated as a rhyme on knackered

Chavtastic: so appalling a chav would enjoy it

It’s monkeys outside: it’s cold outside

Funny Fact

It’s monkeys outside comes from the phrase: “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” This actually does not mean what you think it does.

A brass monkey wasn’t a statue in brass depicting a monkey, but a brass stand where cannon balls were stacked. Possibly, the cannon balls were more likely to fall off in cold weather.

Laughing gear: mouth—usually a rude way of telling someone to be quiet would be to tell them to shut their laughing gear

The old Bill: constable (a.k.a. police officer)

Bang to rights: caught in the act—he was bang to rights thieving around

Stag night: bachelor’s party

Hen night: bachelorette party

Dobber: penis

Bellend: tip of the penis

Rubbish: garbage

Whinge: whine

Skive: appearing to work while in fact avoiding it

Loo: toilet; bathroom—I’m going to the loo

Punter: a prostitute or strip joint’s customer

Nick: steal—he nicked a diamond right out under her nose 

Scouser: someone from Liverpool

Bits and bobs: different things—we had a few bits and bobs stored away in the cupboard 

Gobsmacked: amazed

Chips: french fries

Crisps: chips

Starkers: naked

Chap: man; boy; friend—there’s a good chap

Bog roll: toilet paper

Shambles: disarray; mess—the room was in shambles

It’s gone to shambles: it’s gone down the drain

Anorak: someone obsessively or overly interested in something

Off to Bedfordshire: off to bed

I’ve got the hump: I’m feeling grumpy

Cock up: mess; misunderstanding

Off to spend a penny: going to the toilet

Dishy: good looking—he’s dishy

Bob’s your uncle: your success is guaranteed; there you go; that’s it

Fun Fact

In 1887 Prime Minister Robert Cecil (Bob), appointed his nephew, Arthur Balfour, as Chief Secretary for Ireland. It was an apparent case of favouritism.

As such, the phrase “Bob’s your uncle” came to mean “you’re guaranteed success,” or “that’s it,” or “it’s sorted.”

Pants: knickers; panties

On the pull: looking for love

Easy peasy: super easy

See a man about a dog: excuse oneself for a short person of time, whether to use the bathroom, or do something else

A spanner in the works: something that disrupts smooth operation or functioning—he threw a spanner in the works to prevent her from succeeding in her venture

Nosh: food

Know one’s onions: knowing of that which you speak; being knowledgeable

Dog’s dinner: a mess—it was a tog’s dinner when we arrived at the crime scene

How’s your father?: sex

To have a butcher’s: to have a look

A spot of: a little bit of—let’s have a spot of tea

Have a natter: have a chat (usually leaning towards gossip, or just chatting away without much depth to the conversation)

Up the duff: being pregnant

Strawberry creams: a woman’s breasts

Shag: have sex

Bonk someone: have sex with someone

Bonking: having sex. Here’s a quote form Bridget Jones’ Diary 3: “You need some good old-fashioned lie-back-and-think-of-England bonking.”

Fun Fact

Did you know thieves in Britain used to have their own language called thieves’ cant? It wasn’t a complete language, rather like Cockney it consists of a limited amount of words intermingled with regular language. It’s believed it originated from Romany and that there were different dialects—the Romany had one, thieves another and beggars and petty thieves a third.

Irish travellers also had (and have) their own cant.

Some examples of thieves cant (as recorded in writing—it’s been argued that the spoken cant was different):

  • Ken: house
  • Bene: good
  • Darkmans: night
  • Glymmer: fire

Hard line: misfortune; bad luck

In for a penny, in for a pound: if you started something, you may as well go full out and really dive into it (it stems from the fact that back in the day, if you owed a penny you might as well owe a pound due to the severity of the penalties being about the same)

Cheers: a toast, or thank you

Lass: girl; woman (esp. Scottish)

Lad: boy; man

Aye: yes (esp. Scottish)

Death warmed up: pale or sickly—he looked like death warmed up

Laugh like a drain: to laugh with a loud, coarse, sound

Clink: prison

Laugh up one’s sleeve: to laugh secretly, or to oneself

Bright as a button: very smart, or cheery

Old Blighty: Britain

Full Monty: the whole package; everything—it was the full Monty. Can also mean to be in the nude, as you show everything

Fanny around: delay; procrastinate

Fanny: vagina

Gobsmacked: amazed; shocked

Eating irons: cutlery

Chivvy along: hurry up

Brill: brilliant

Rugger: rugby

Stonking: impressively large; exciting

Box clever: to act wisely

Across the pond: across the Atlantic Ocean, meaning the United States, which you find across the pond

Do a runner: leave abruptly, usually without fulfilling a commitment

Cack-handed: an awkward or inept way of doing something—that was a cack-handed way of repairing the sink

Fun Fact

Cack-handed possibly comes from the idea that people use their right hand to eat and their left hand to wipe their bottoms. And if you use your left hand when you’re right handed, you’re bound to make a mess. It could also come from the fact that people who are cack-handed make a mess.

Make the running: set the pace; being more involved than others in a situation

Double Dutch: gibberish; incomprehensible

Take the mickey: take the piss; make fun of someone

Wag off: leave early from school, work, or some other duty. Can also mean to warn someone off something or someone

Queer: weird, odd, strange, slightly unwell—I’m feeling queer Also, gay; homosexual

Bees knees: awesome; fantastic

Queer someone’s plans: spoil someone’s plans or chances of doing something, especially secretly or maliciously

Hard cheese: tough luck; bad luck; hard lines—usually referring to someone going through misfortune

In the club: pregnant—she’s in the club

Kick one’s heels: pass time while waiting for something

Leave the field clear; leave the field open: not competing (or stop competing) with someone so that they can succeed

Heath Robinson: an overly complicated or ingenious machine which usually serves a simple purpose

Fun Fact

William Heath Robinson (1872-1944) was a British Cartoonist. He was famous for humorous illustrations of fantastical inventions, involving complicated machinery that often served a simple purpose. In short, overcomplicated, fancy looking machines.

british slang

Money for old rope: money paid for goods of poor value

Not cricket: not fair; dishonest; immortal

Blatant: obvious

Botch: do a bad job with something—she botched us when painting that painting

Her Majesty’s pleasure: prison. It comes from Her Majesty’s Prison—HMP

Plastered: drunk

Lush: pleasing; desirable—she was lush

Cram: squeeze something in; to stuff;  sometimes in relation to learning something—I was cramming before the exam

Pukka: excellent; first class

First class: excellent; brilliant; pukka

Knackered: exhausted

Knickers: panties

Wind-up merchant: a teaser; someone who likes winding people up; someone who like playing practical jokes on people

Dog in the manger: someone who withholds something they cannot use themselves

Fun Fact

Dog in the manger comes from a story about a dog who withheld the hay in a manager from other animals, even though he wasn’t interested in eating it himself.

Nip; nip out: go somewhere for a short amount of time—I’m just going to nip to the shop

Gaffer: director; manager (also: electrician on film sets)

Curate’s egg: something that’s partially good and partially bad

Go spare: becoming extremely angry, or distraught

Riot: great time—the party was a riot

Off one’s chump: mad

Spawny: lucky

Watering hole: pub

Honk: vomit

Earwig: eavesdrop

Argy-bargy: noisy quarrelling

Knees-up: a party where people dance

Numpty: reckless, unwise, or absentminded person

Dander: walk—going for a dander

Big girl’s blouse: wimpy; emasculate; weak man

Beastly: horrible

Naff: lame; uncool; unfashionable 

Have a bash: have a go; attempt at doing something—I’ve never done it before, but I’ll have a bash at it

Scrummy: delicious

Lose your marbles: lose your mind; go mad—I was losing my marbles over one silly little argument

Footy: soccer

At loose ends: not knowing what to do in a situation, or not having anything to do (boredom)—I was at loose ends with the whole thing (meaning: I didn’t know what to do with the whole thing)

Tickety-boo: when something is going smoothly

Apples and pears: Cockney rhyme for stairs

Fun Fact

While the term “cockney” originally referred to city dwellers, later Londoners and even later those from East London (a working class area) and their dialect—Cockney English—it now means the working class dialect in London and those who speak it.

Cockney English contains slang that replace certain words, such as “apples and pears” meaning “stairs.” “Run up the apples and pears to fetch a pitcher, please.” The words replacing a word, as a general rule, rhymes with the word. 

Some examples include:

  • Adam and Eve: believe
  • Alan Whickers: knickers
  • Artful Dodger: lodger
  • Baked bean: queen
  • Baker’s Dozen: cousin
  • Ball and chalk: walk
  • Barney rubble: trouble
  • China plate: mate
  • Daisy roots: boots
  • Duke of Kent: rent

That’s our guide to British insults, slang & phrases. What did you learn that was new?

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