A guide to Some British Street Language

Published: 07th April 2009
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I was born in the UK and lived for many years in the USA. When I was living there and went to watch an English comedy movie, I could always pick out the other Britishers in the audience because we were the only ones to laugh at many jokes. Street English is very different to the English that you will find in a text book.

One of the more confusing idioms is the so-called rhyming slang. This originated in the London markets from the workers who used it as a way of avoiding their bosses understanding what they were saying. The way it works is this: One takes a word like say, Jew. Then one finds a word that rhymes with Jew, for instance two. After that, one finds a word which is commonly associated with the word "two" making it into a phrase. A "four by two" is a piece of wood four inches by two inches. So one COULD say "I met this man who was a four by two," meaning a Jew. That wouldn't be too difficult but after a while it gets worse. Once the phrase, four by two is well known, the rhyming word is dropped. Thus one would say "I met this guy who was a four." For the uninitiated, this would be indecipherable. The slang is also used for what may be considered, obscene words:

"What load of cobbler's." (Cobbler's awls)

"She has a nice pair of Bristols." (Bristol city)

I'll leave you to figure out what they mean!

One might hear something like this: I got out of the jam feeling a bit shovel, went up the apples with this Richard who had really nice bacons. That would mean: I got out of the car (jam jar) feeling a bit sick (shovel and pick), went up the stairs (apples and pears) with this bird (Richard the third) who had really nice legs. (bacon and eggs).

Confusing isn't it? I doubt that the above will help you to understand much because you really have to be brought up in the environment where this is spoken but maybe if you are among British people or see some things like these in novels and movies, you will have a better idea as to what is being said. Following are a few common words and how you may hear the British equivalent:

Hello: Greetings, Wotcha, Wotcha mate, Wotcha cock, Now then,

Goodbye: Cheers, Cheerio, See you, Tata, Tara, T.t.f.n, Tata for now, So long

Keep quiet: Put a sock in it. Shut yer gob. Belt up.

Stop it: Give over

Wait a minute: Hang on, Hang about, Just a sec, Half a mo

Girl: Bird, Richard

Auto: Car

Auto trunk: Boot

Auto hood: Bonnet

Service station: Garage

Sidewalk: Pavement

Mail: Post

Mailman: Postman

Wake me up: Knock me up

Apartment: Flat

Elevator: Lift

Cop: Bobby

Station wagon: Shooting brake

Subway: Tube

German Shepherd: Alsatian

Garbage can: Rubbish bin

What's the matter? What's up?

Dinner: Supper

Highway: Motorway

Fishing: Angling

Toilet: Loo

Vacation: Holiday

Bar: Pub

Glasses: Spectacles, Specs

Sneakers: Tennis shoes

Gas: Petrol

Vacuum cleaner: Hoover (regardless of which brand it is)

Television: Telly, Idiot box

Radio: Wireless

Thug: Yob

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