Six Pieces of British Slang to Help You in London

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As the nearly 20 million people who have visited London in 2013, estimated by the London Plan, have doubtlessly found, there are serious differences between the way English is spoken in the United Kingdom and the way it’s spoken in North America. Certain words that are considered extremely offensive in the States, for example, are used to mean completely innocuous things across the British Isles, and vice versa.

Whether you’re trying to book hotel reservations or you’re simply trying to have a fun night out at one of London’s pubs near its best hotels, knowing the city’s slang can be the difference between making friends or getting in bar fights, finding your way around the city or getting completely lost. Here are just six common British slang phrases and expressions you’ll encounter on your travels.

  • “Chin wag”
  • If you happen on a couple of friends locked in deep conversation, they’re having a “chin wag,” according to Quizlet’s guide to British slang. Now when your friends tell you they’re off for a bit of a chin wag, you can nod your understanding, instead of staring like a deer in headlights.

  • The Unspoken “V” Gesture
  • Whether you’ve just arrived at your hotel rooms or you’re at a restaurant, you need to make sure you avoid giving anyone the “V” gesture. As TripAdvisor writes, many tourists accidentally give this symbol by counting to two using their pointer finger and middle finger. While in Britain, count to two using your thumb and pointer finger, or you’ll risk giving people the equivalent of the middle finger. This is a great way to lose your hotel reservations for being rude.

  • “Miffed”
  • If, for whatever reason, a denizen of London tells you that you’ve got him really “miffed”, the best thing to do is turn around and walk quickly in the other direction. Meaning “offended” or “upset,” according to BuzzFeed, this is a definite sign you’ve rubbed somebody the wrong way.

  • “Shirty”
  • If you’ve arrived at the establishment where you have hotel reservations and someone calls you “shirty” after engaging you in conversation, they are most definitely not complimenting your sense of style. Instead, as Thought Catalog points out, they’re calling you “insolent” and “ill-tempered.” Start being more polite!

  • “Fortnight”
  • If you’re making hotel reservations and the desk attendant asks how long you’ll be staying and you answer “two weeks,” chances are good he or she will confirm the reservation by asking if you’d like to stay for a “fortnight.” In the States, we generally see the word “fortnight” in fantasy novels and nowhere else. However, in the UK, it’s still used to mean a period of two weeks or so.

  • “Her majesty’s pleasure”
  • Imagine, you’re asked out for a night on London Town by newly-made friends. After getting a little too rowdy, a gentleman appears and explains you’re being taken to spend a night at “her majesty’s pleasure.” He isn’t taking you to have dinner with the queen, nor is he helping you with your inebriated hotel search. Instead, as Quizlet writes, he is taking you to jail, where you’ll remain at her majesty’s pleasure.

As you can see, learning to speak the UK’s lingo can be the difference between having a great time and landing yourself in the slammer. Keep these tips in mind to ensure your trip to London Town is enjoyable, ending only with good memories. More like this article.

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  1. Norman Watkins - January 18, 2014

    I like how you skirted your way around cusswords. Clever!

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