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Cuppa, and other Unique British Slang Terms
Every country has its own slang, but the UK is known for having particular terminologies that are unique and sometimes rather quirky. British slang has been transforming and adapting for centuries from city to city; every different town comes with a slightly new set of words. If you are studying English in the UK, you might notice some of these words or phrases quite quickly.
With the help of movies, television, and social media, British sayings and slang words spread more easily throughout the world than they used to, but some expressions remain uniquely local. Here is a list of old sayings and English slang terms from the UK to help you really fit in with British culture – some of which have since been carried overseas, and others of which will mark you as a true British master!
Bob's your uncle
Definition: Added to the end of sentences to express "and that's it."
Example: To get the restaurant, you take the next left turn and it is right in front of you, Bob’s your uncle!
Origin: This is a phrase back from 1887 when British Prime Minister Robert Cecil made the unpopular decision to appoint his nephew Arthur Balfour (Lord Salisbury) as Chief Secretary for Ireland. For decades after, "Bob’s your uncle" became a sarcastic piece of slang and is still used today; if Prime Minister Robert (“Bob”) is your uncle and gives you things, everything will be easy!
Definition: an informal chat between people
Example: Sorry I was late, Harry stopped me on the street for a quick chinwag.
Origin: no one knows the true origin of this phrase, but most believe it derives from the Victorian times and was popularized more recently in British culture in the 50s and 60s.
Definition: the best; very good (the English usually say the word without pronouncing the last ‘g’)
Example: This gym is cracking because it has everything I need.
Originates from: Unknown
Example: You look daft with that pink sparkly hat on.
Originates from: Another slang expression is "daft halfpenny" (or "daft ha’porth"), used to describe an unintelligent person (a halfpenny was not very valuable in the old British system of money). The expression was shortened and is now used to describe situations as well as people.
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Definition: Someone or something that seems unreliable.
Example: I don't like the look of this rollercoaster, it seems dodgy.
Originates from: Popularized by the Victorian novel Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger was called so because he was a skilled and cunning person.
Definition: a long time
Example: This cake is taking donkey’s years to bake.
Origin: When people put things on ships, they used a crank named a donkey, which was very slow. When asked how long it would take, they would reply, "donkey's years."
Definition: A way to show you don't care or that it's all the same to you.
Example: I don’t mind which movie we watch; I’m easy!
Originates from: The phrase actually makes sense when you think about it: if you don’t have a preference, you’re easy to please!
Definition: a gathering or party with a lot of people in attendance, usually accompanied by dancing and drinking
Example: Who's ready for a big old knees up tonight?
Origin: the origin comes from the old pub song "Knees Up Mother Brown", dating back in the early 1800s. It has origins to the cockney culture in the East End of London.
Definition: If you have "the lurgy," it means you are ill or you have the flu. Don't go near people who say they have "the lurgy" in case you catch it!
Example: I can’t come into work today because I have the lurgy.
Originates from: The word was first used in a BBC radio comedy The Goon Show back in 1954. The plot featured a fake disease called "Lurgi;" since this show, it has been a common expression for a non-serious illnesses.
Not my cuppa tea
Definition: Something not to your liking, seeing as British people can be precious with how their cup of tea is made.
Example: I don’t fancy going to that restaurant for dinner; it’s not my cuppa tea.
Originates from: The phrase has been used since the 1800s but originated as "my cup of tea" to describe something one would like. In the 1920s, "not" was eventually added to describe something you don’t like. "Cuppa" is a more informal version of "cup of," and is often even used to mean "cup of tea" on its own – "Fancy a cuppa?"
Definition: Good luck in a situation in which it wasn’t clear how it was going to turn out
Example: It is such potluck that the sunshine came out in time for the picnic today.
Originates from: This comes from the 1500s, where a pot of stew would be served round with old, not-so-delicious pieces of vegetables and tiny pieces of desired meat. It was "pot luck" if you ended up with the good bits on your plate!
Definition: This describes something as genuine or top quality.
Example: This designer handbag is pukka.
Originates from: The word is a loan word to the UK from Hindi and Urdu roots back in the 1800s. It originally evolved from "pakka," which would describe well-ripened or easily digestible fruit.
Definition: This doesn’t mean feeling unwell; it is actually used in this context to describe something as great or cool.
Example: Robbie's new car is sick!
Originates from: A new piece of slang dating back to the late 1990s, it originated in South London with the teenagers who spawned the "dubstep" music scene.