Monday, July 25, 2011

Twenty British Terms I Wish American English Would Adopt

Via Wikipedia’s list of British words not widely used in the United States, via Dina
  1. agony aunt (an advice columnist who responds to readers’ problems, such as Dear Abby)
  2. argy-bargy (a fight that may be more or less serious than an argle-bargle)
  3. Belisha beacon (the orange flashing light mounted at either end of a pedestrian crossing, or zebra crossing, if we’re being all British — also if there’s not a British porn star performing under this name, the across-the-pond porn community is not as on-the-ball as I would like)
  4. bumf (useless paperwork, from the expression bum fodder, meaning “toilet paper”)
  5. chutney ferret (a homosexual, for rather obscene reasons)
  6. courgette (what we Americans call by the far less elegant name zucchini)
  7. dodgems (bumper cars, renamed to be even more literal)
  8. fish fingers (fishsticks a la the cat’s pajamas, the snake’s hips, etc.)
  9. fruit spleggins (fruit jelly, although I can’t decide whether it sounds more sexual or fantastical)
  10. gormless (lacking intelligence, with a vacant expression)
  11. kappa-slappa (in chav culture, a promiscuous woman)
  12. nutty gum (peanut butter, although I think our term makes more sense and that this term should instead be applied to nut-flavored chewing gum)
  13. plonk (cheap wine, especially red wine)
  14. quango (meaning “a semi-public advisory or administrative body funded by the taxpayer the members of which are appointed by the government,” an acronym formed from quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations, though of course it should be applied to something way more interesting)
  15. quiff (the hairstyle and not the more obscene thing it sounds like it might mean)
  16. rodger (as a verb, “to engage in a sexual act”)
  17. reverse charge call (what we call a collect call, but let’s make refer to a special sort of call you can make where the phone company has to pay you)
  18. salad-dodger (an overweight person)
  19. “suck it and see” (an AMAZING turn of phrase meaning “to undertake a course of actions without knowing its full consequences)
  20. verucca (what we call plantar wart, made to sound as pretty as it possibly could)


  1. Numbers 4, 5, 10 and 19 are immediately going into my day-to-day vocabulary. Okay 19 is already in it but only in select situations.

  2. I remember #7 being used at an amusement park back in the Metro... And I picked up #16 from an Brit comic movie in the 80's... but #14 is new and one that I could have used when I was in the Army working as a clerk typist!

  3. Philip-GB3:02 PM

    OK, as a Briton most of these are familiar to me, although a few are hardly everyday expressions ("chutney ferret" is not often heard in polite society).

    But some I have never come across before. "Fruit spleggins" is a mystery to me, I'm guessing it might be a regional dialect term which hasn't yet made it nationwide.

    Similarly, peanut butter really is the common term here, most Brits would wonder what planet you were from if you asked for "nutty gum" here.

    On the the other hand, some are in such regular use that it comes as a bit of a surprise that they are UK specialities (e.g. agony aunt, verruca). And I find it amazing that Americans have never decided to suck it and see (metaphorically, at least).

  4. Darren4:18 PM

    As another Brit, I should say I've noticed "courgette" seems to be on the decline these days. Even the cookery shows on TV occasionally say "zucchini".

    Also, if there were a porn star called Belisha Beacon, it would have been in the 1930s when they were introduced! (Belisha beacons are being gradually phased out now.)

  5. A bunch of these were ripped from a 4chan comment thread that was parodying British words. Nutty gum & fruit spleggings is one such term (peanut butter & jelly) that was pretty obviously made up for that joke.

    It was a joke. You weren't supposed to really believe the British say these things.