5 British Phrases You Simply MUST Be Using

5 Incredibly British Phrases You Simply MUST Be Using

Slang. I love it; you love it. We use it to artfully punctuate dialogue in our writing, we use the more colorful versions of it when we’ve hit a rough writing patch, and have been known to hurl it at one another during writers’ conferences.

That being said, I have a message for those among us whose parentage is from the British Isles rather than somewhere between sea-to-shining-sea: Your slang is infinitely better than ours, and we American writers would do well to start using more of it immediately.

Such as:

5. Cack-handed

The Internet tells me that cack-handed (left-handed or southpaw) is a bit of particularly Yorkshire slang, and I have almost no more to say about it, except that saying it’s much more fun than saying “lefty.”

It can also mean clumsy, awkward and fumbling.

Credit: jinterwas, flickr.com

Credit: jinterwas, flickr.com

4. Sod off/Bugger off

Roughly an equivalent to “go away” or “get lost,” saying sod off or bugger off is simply more satisfying. As far as I can tell, these phrases are mainline British, although “bugger off” seems to have an Irish twist to it.

3. Manky

The BBC tells me that manky means unpleasant, not-nice, and slightly yucky, and that this word also has identifiable Yorkshire origins.

Credit: Alex Bartok, flickr

Credit: Alex Bartok, flickr

2. Gormless

The British equivalent to the word “clueless,” the word can also be shortened, so you can be more efficient when insulting others (gorm, gormy).

1. The many wonderful uses of ‘arse’

Although this one has made it most of the way around the world at this point, arse is still terribly underused in America. If you ask me, Americans are missing out.

Our equivalent, ass, is tonally flat, nasal-sounding, and in general, an ugly word. That’s why arse, which sounds (somehow) slightly less offensive, has a much wider variety of uses. And, critically, arse can be used as a verb.

According to slang site effingpot:

It is used in phrases like “pain in the arse” (a nuisance) or I “can’t be arsed” (I can’t be bothered) or you might hear something was “a half arsed attempt” meaning that it was not done properly.

What’s your favorite slang term from another country? What about another language altogether? Share it in the comments!

Categories: Food for Writers
  • http://sharingthestoryblog.wordpress.com/ Lisa Reiter

    I do love a bit of slang and it certainly brings dialogue to life. I can add some embellishment to these words current use in Britain – my perceptions from where I sit in middle-age with a teenage boy and parents in their seventies! Generally the younger you are, the more you are likely to be using these words, although piss off and f*** off are more common amongst teenagers now than sod off etc.
    Cack-handed, manky and gormless are accepted in all walks of British life. However, sod-off would be offensive to quite a few as it’s usually used a bit aggressively say when someone you already don’t like is deliberately winding you up.
    Bugger off used between friends would be used with some humour and taken lightly, though most people would want to be certain of the security of the relationship – a good example would be if you had been insulted deliberately for the laugh of everyone in company, but it was NOT intended to upset you – just poking fun that you might acknowledge with “Oh buggar off!” A fair few would still find it ‘strong’ and in the category of swearing – So not one many would choose to use with strangers unless they’re already of the swearing and cursing tribes !
    Hope this helps anyone writing, Lisa

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Upvoted for visibility! Thanks for adding to our understanding of these terms, Lisa!

  • http://grleblanc.blogspot.ca/ Gisele LeBlanc

    Fun post! I love the word “gormless.” Going to have to remember that one!

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Gisele, “gormless” was actually the inspiration for writing this! I came across it in an essay Jeremy Clarkson penned for the Sunday Times and had to look it up.

  • Neil Waring

    All new to this old Wyoming guy – fun stuff!

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Thanks for reading, Neil!

  • http://lorilschafer.com/ Lori Schafer

    All great words, Shanan! My first significant, long-term experience with “Britishisms” actually came from reading Harry Potter books. Funny how their slang always sounds classier than ours – but then, so do their accents 🙂

    • http://www.theprocrastiwriter.com/ Shan

      Hi Lori – some of my first exposure to British slang came from the HP series, too! Although I did hear that the American editions were altered slightly to remove some of the obscure -isms… I wonder what else was lost in translation.

      • http://lorilschafer.com/ Lori Schafer

        Lucky Brits! They probably got the even more super-awesome versions! 🙂

    • Kayla Raye Gardner

      One other phrase that would DEFINITELY lose something in the translation, across the pond is ‘I could sure light up a fag!’ Saying that in ENGLAND means you need a cigarette. Saying that HERE…. would probably get you arrested on a threat to murder charge.

  • Annecdotist

    Lovely to find English English so appreciated across the pond!

  • Kayla Raye Gardner

    I’m a Coronation Street fan, so I’ve heard some great ways of ‘swearing’ without SWEARING. Problem is, to use it in North American lingo might confuse people who are reading. Phrases like, “Bleedin’ heck!” Sometimes, a character would say “Flippin’ ” in substitute for the F bomb. My favorite is a term my mom thinks I got because of the movie Phantom of the Paradise, but the phrase “Swanning Off” does NOT mean to steal someone’s music and take off, it just means to take off from whatever obligation a person might have.

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