Practically every language has its informal side. They may be words with a long history that have been given a new meaning, like 'chuffed', a word that dates back to the early 1700s. Here it is, used in a sentence: 'The train chuffed into the station', meaning it made a puffing sound like a steam engine.
In today's British slang, 'chuffed' means you're extremely pleased about something: "I'm so chuffed my team tops the league!".
On the other hand, some slang is made up. Cardi B's 'Okrrr!', though not British, is a fine example of just such a word.
Slang words aren't just particular to each language; every generation has its own slang, too. As an example, the word 'fancy' (to like) was very popular in the 1960s - "Ooh! I fancy that dress!"; today, it is making a comeback: 'What do you fancy for dinner?'
And, finally, slang can 'belong' to a specific city or region. For instance, London slang is very different from Manchester slang, Birmingham slang and Edinburgh slang, and if you spoke one city's slang in any other city, nobody would understand you.
That's why your Superprof put this guide together. You can learn about general British slang and we even included which city the slang is used in.
Words With a Different Slang Meaning
The English language is so rich with slang that it's hard to know where to start and which words to highlight... but perhaps 'chippy' is a good place.
A chippy is where you get Great Britain's iconic fish-and-chips - usually pronounced as one word: fish'n'chips. You might head to your local chippy if you missed family tea or, if you're in another part of the country, you could visit a famous chippy. Don't forget the mashed peas!
Another definition of chippy is someone who is unhappy; maybe about being treated as inferior: "That chippy shopkeeper's daughter is always ready to pick a fight". A chippy can also be a chipmunk.
Fag is another iconic British slang word and it, too, can have several meanings. When used as a verb, it means doing easy, boring work: "She fags for my English teacher" means she's a teacher's assistant. As a noun, fag means something boring or tiresome: "What a fag, having to walk that far!".
Finally, a fag can be a cigarette "I'm going out for a fag, mind the store, luv!" and a leftover piece of cloth, bread or such: "I'll have the fag end of that fish for dinner."
Nob also has many different uses. It can describe a group of wealthy people "Lookit them nobs in their finery!", but it can also mean your head. Your mum might shout "Get that thing off your nob!" if you sit at the dinner table with a hat on.
And then, there's nick, nicked and nicker.
If you nick something, it means you're stealing but, if you get nicked, it means you get arrested - possibly for nicking something. By contrast, a nicker is either a pound sterling (£1) or a soft laugh; it also describes a sound that horses make.
As you master and use these slang words, you’ll see how important intonation is to speak English fluently. It’s hard to use slang without the proper tone and inflexion…
Did you know that Great Britain has more than 30 regional dialects? Thus, it stands to reason that every region has its own informal language – slang.
Unfortunately, this article would be too long to read in one sitting if we covered every single one of them, so Superprof presents a few particularly interesting highlights.
In the north of England, an area that includes Leeds and York, as well as Blackpool, Liverpool and Preston, you may hear some disturbing slang. For instance, if someone uses ‘dead’, they mean ‘very’; not the end of life. You might say “That dress is dead gorgeous!” meaning it’s very beautiful.
Conversely, you might hear people on the bus, on a particularly hot day, saying they’re ‘gagging’. It doesn’t mean they feel like throwing up, only that they’re thirsty.
Finally, you might hear someone say something is grand, maybe like so: “It would be grand if you could ring me later!”. That word’s standard meaning is ‘impressive’ or ‘superior’ but, in this context, it means ‘fantastic.
Indeed, you might even learn different ways to use 'grand' in your elocution lessons...
Scotland is less known for its slang than for its unusual language patterns and accents. Still, the Scots have quite a few delightful slang words.
To chore means to steal; you don’t want to be the one to chore someone’s stuff because it’s just rude.
Besides, choring makes you a chancer – someone who takes crazy chances or makes unreasonable requests.
Braw means ‘nice’ or ‘fantastic’; you’ll never hear anyone say “He was a braw chancer, that one!”. This slang word originated in a comic series!
Scotland and Wales share a slang word: wee, meaning little. Additionally, Welsh people enjoy ‘lush’ things – meaning very nice things. “That’s a lush home, no? Isn’t it tidy?”
In Wales, ‘tidy’ doesn’t mean how neat and clean things are. It means ‘fantastic’.
Pro tip: try public speaking to reduce your accent so you can use these slang words to maximum effect.
Manc is a slang word describing someone from Manchester. Mancs use a great deal of slang; for instance, if you hear a Manc say they’re ‘buzzin'’, it means they are very excited or happy.
Should a Manc tell you about something ‘mint’, they’re not talking about the candy that makes your breath sweet; they’re describing something great.
Don’t confuse ‘mint’ for ‘minted’, though. Minted means rich – “He’s absolutely gorgeous AND minted!”. Translation: he’s rich and handsome.
London truly takes the slang cake. Perhaps it’s because it is a global city and enjoys lots of influence from many cultures, or maybe it’s just because the city is such a source of inspiration.
Whatever the reason, check out these fine slang words, only used in The Big Smoke - a slang name for London:
- bare: a lot of (there were bare man at the shop)
- 'man' is also used as slang in this sentence, it means ‘people’ - but note its singular form
- galdem/mandem: ladies and men, respectively
- creps: what the British call trainers or athletic shoes
- wasteman: somebody who does nothing; they are wasting their life
- ends: where you’re from
- fam: usually family but often used to greet friends – “A-right, fam?”
- long: annoying – “Off you pop with your long self!”
- P's: money - comes from pounds
- shook: scared – “I’m shook of big dogs, fam!”
- pagan: someone you can’t trust
Let’s wrap up this segment with ‘bruv’, something male friends call each other.
Brits have been calling each other ‘luv’ for a very long time; either as a general phrase – “Are you alright, luv?” or during parent-child interactions: “There you go, luv”. You may even hear a shopkeeper calling their female clients ‘luv’… but it just doesn’t sound quite right for one male to address another as ‘luv’. Hence, ‘bruv’.
Over time, as you learn more about voice modulation and accent reduction, you too could call all your mates luv and bruv without sounding like you're trying too hard to fit in!
By the way, 'mates' is another slang term; it means 'friends'.
Slang Related to Food
For this slang category, I will start with my favourite food slang word: sarnie. A sarnie is a sandwich of some sort; the best kind is served hot from a vendor's cart. The greasier the better!
Here's how to use sarnie in a sentence: "Starting the day with a bacon sarnie and a hot cuppa makes the world alright!"
Sarnie can also be a verb meaning to wedge something between two other things. For example, you might sarnie a quick bite of food between meetings.
Perhaps one of the most common food-related slang words is 'pub'. Indeed, it might be so common as to not be considered slang anymore... but it's still considered informal, thus it counts as slang.
Pub is short for 'public house', in the sense that the public gathers there to eat and drink. The person that owns and runs the pub is called a publican. Strangely enough, 'publican' is considered formal British language, even as 'pub' is considered slang.
Shall we pop 'round to the pub and discuss that? Note: 'pop' is also a slang word, it means to go in this sentence but it has many other meanings.
Don't worry if the publican calls you a punter; it's just a slang word for 'customer'... but it can have a darker meaning. People who bet on horse races are called punters, too.
A final word on 'food': it's slang for 'drugs' in some parts so be careful when asking anyone on the street if they know where you could get some food. It might be best to ask where you could get something to eat.
On the other hand, if you have a strong posture and voice power, maybe those chancers will think twice about directing you to their drug den.
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