Share on Facebook

30 British Phrases That Always Confuse Americans

Although Americans and Brits both speak english, there are tons of confusing British phrases, words, and slang that have unique meanings. Here are the ones you should know.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“A right bodge job”

This is one those British phrases that refers to something someone has done poorly. Make sure you memorize these phrases before going abroad!

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Getting pissed”

This British slang phrase means getting drunk. In the U.S., “getting pissed” on the road is much more acceptable than it is in the U.K. This is why Europeans drive manual instead of automatic. 

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“I’ll give you a bell”

This means you will call someone on the phone later. It has nothing to do with an actual bell!

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Horses for courses”

This phrase essentially means different people like or are made for different things.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Totally chuffed”

At first glance, you might assume this means being worn out or tired. But it actually means pleased or thrilled!

bagsyNicole Fornabaio/rd.com, shutterstock

“Bagsy!”

This British saying is equal to calling “shotgun” or securing something for oneself.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Having a chinwag”

Having a chat or a talk is the same as “having a chinwag”—which makes sense since our mouths move when we speak!

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Find any joy?”

This informal British phrase is similar to saying, “have you had any luck?”

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“That’s pants!”

Brits use this phrase when something is nonsense. Here are the origins of commonly used phrases.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Cashpoint”

This is another term for an ATM!

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Like chalk and cheese”

This British phrase means two people or things are fundamentally different or incompatible.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Pop your clogs”

Nope, this doesn’t have anything to do with shoe wear. This phrase actually means to die.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Spanner in the works”

To have a “spanner in the works” means someone or something messed up the plan.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Pull a blinder”

This means to do something skillfully or give an excellent performance.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Spend a penny”

This is another way of saying you need to use the bathroom.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“They’re such a chav”

This informal (and somewhat derogatory) saying refers to someone who is brash, low-class, or cheap.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“It’s a real dog’s breakfast”

Some people say dinner instead of breakfast, but the meaning is still the same. A “dog’s breakfast” is a mess! Find out the 14 foods you didn’t know were called by different names in the United Kingdom.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“He waffled on”

This informal British phrase means to speak or write in a long, vague, or trivial manner. It’s almost equivalent to dilly-dallying in American English.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Taking the mickey”

“Taking the mickey” means to make fun or someone or something. Don’t miss these annoying phrases you probably use without thinking.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“She wants to splash out on a …”

“Splashing out” means spending lots of money on a luxury item.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Sod’s Law”

The Brits use the saying “Sod’s Law” to explain back luck or misfortune. It’s the British version of Murphy’s Law.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“You’re full of beans”

Again, this saying has nothing to do with consuming beans. It really means to be in high spirits. Check out these 10 words that mean very different things in America and in England.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“He’s cream-crackered”

This slang comes from the British word “knackered” meaning to be extremely tired.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Have a kip”

British people use “kip” instead of nap. Make sure you aren’t using these instant conversation killers.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Give me a tinkle on the blower”

This phrase refers to calling someone.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Fancy dress”

This is how the British say costume! Don’t miss these other popular British phrases everyone should know.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Bob’s your uncle”

This saying has nothing to do with your family tree. It’s an exclamation used when everything is alright, or you’re all set.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Bog-standard”

When something is “bog-standard,” it is the bare minimum or ordinary.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“Chinese whispers”

This is one of those British phrases that means there are untrue rumors circulating a group.

Naypong Studio/shutterstock

“This is a doddle”

A “doddle” is a simple task. Next, check out the words and phrases you are probably using all wrong.

[Source: Oxford University Press, The Evening Standard]

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.