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It might not be quite a tutorial on English speaking in Britain, but it is a amusing collection of sayings,

Gawn, have a butcher's...you know you want to.

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I'll never get Cockney slang. Dick Francis used it in one of his books, which is where I got to know about it. I do not see how anyone can figure out what it means in the course of a conversation. I have enough trouble knowing what people mean when they use the correct words. I really don't know how anyone can make it up on the spot as they talk. I hope this isn't terribly prevalent in England!

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I'ts definitely a mind set, Cole. My grandfather used to come home and ask my grandmother what was for dinner. She would reply, "Bread and duck...under the table." They would then both laugh uproariously. The word duck having two meanings.

The rhyming can be created on the spot, but is usually founded on phrases handed down from one generation to another.

My favourite as a kid was, "Please pass the dead horse," which meant please pass the tomato sauce, of for Americans, "Ketchup."

The real problem is when the witticisms become banal clichés and end up boring everyone due to overuse.

Twisting ordinary words and phrases so that they imply a secondary meaning, often lewd, is a form of wordplay, often with ironic overtones that seems to be lost on many people, and that's a shame, because it can be a lot of fun in conversation.

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Cockney slang is not made up on the spot else the other party would never know what you were on about. There's not that many word substitutions really but it does take a bit of learning.

Probably invented as an aid to keep matters private, pig latin can be regarded in that light too. Although I always found it next to impossible to get on with.

At school, some of us learnt the runic alphabet - made the passing of notes a much less risky activity as although it doesn't take much learning, the secret to the success of it is the fact that there are several two letter combinations in English script, that are one rune. So conventional code-breaking techniques fail. We were very careful never to say this, but make sure any note included at least two per sentence.

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I experienced this in true life once when a young British girl came to America and was working for a Diaper service with my sister. They were a service that laundered diapers and would deliver fresh weekly while picking up the soiled. It took forever for her to get the drift because she kept trying to sell them nappies to begin with. One morning she ran in and asked my sister is she had a rubber as she's made and error. Stunned my sister said "no" and she was out the door saying over her shoulder, "Could you knock me up if you come across one? I'm in a dreadful state."

My sister of course was hot on her heels to get the true meaning and explained that she would need the rubber BEFORE she was knocked up and that if she's already made an error which required a rubber then it was already too late! We had a great laugh over that for many years. Who would have thought that she was looking for an eraser.

I love stories where the American understands the words but not the language. If anyone knows of any good ones I'd love to know.

Cherrio! (Not the breakfast cereal kind.) ;-)

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Two to add confusion:

fags = cigarettes in English

presently = later on in English

There have been a number of "street trader" languages in London, rhyming slang is just one. Another is back-slang where key words in a sentence are spoken backwards. Polari now famously a gay affectation was originally a way for street traders to discuss a mark in front of them. Many Polari words were acronyms. My favourite is "naff" meaning worthless or lacking style it was originally NAFF meaning "not available for f***ing"

My mother (a Londoner) moved to Wales with my Welsh father during WW2 and it took her 16 weeks to learn enough Welsh to avoid being bilked by local shopkeepers.

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"chin wag" - never heard that said IRC.

"to have a butchers", "it's monkeys", "up the wooden hill...", "up the duck" - never even heard of these.

I shall be everlastingly grateful that our timely Declaration of Independence saved us from having to endure over two centuries of these examples of Tyrant Speech. :laugh:

British English seems weird to you, as American English seems weird to use. Then again, this list is weird. You don't really hear them used.


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Nobody talks like this in secondary schools, it is guaranteed to get you funny looks. I have only ever heard "away with the fairies" used by girls, but rarely.

Is "driving me around the bend" used in the US? It means to drive them crazy; to annoy them.

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I agree with Mihangel, all those expressions, except "up the duck" are in very common use.

I suspect that up the duck is a miss-hearing of another very common expression "up the duff" meaning pregnant. As "plum duff" is a pudding I suspect that up the duff is of the same origin as "in the pudding-club" which also means pregnant.

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Is "driving me around the bend" used in the US? It means to drive them crazy; to annoy them.

It's a little weird, but I have heard it on rare occasions. A much more common one would be "you're driving me fucking crazy." :laugh:

The Dude remembers a UK writer who wrote an otherwise-fine gay teen story that took place in an unnamed city in California. I very lightly chided the guy for using the phrase "Father Christmas" in one section of the story, pointing out that we either call the holiday character "Santa Claus" or "St. Nick," and he went ballistic at me in email, insisting that Americans do so use this phrase. (And he was fucking crazy.)

I think you have to be very careful using regional or national dialect in stories, because you never know who might be reading -- especially if they're far more expert at language than you are.

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This is where it becomes important to know your own culture's use of English. I am surprised that Father Christmas isn't more universally recognised, but then again, Australians also use Santa Clause and are familiar with St. Nick. (our use of, "He's got old Nick in him," to describe why the cat, dog, or visiting relative's child is behaving badly might not be common, and has nothing to do with Christmas.

I tend to look up, in my Wordweb thesaurus, everything that is suspect these days, but some words and phrases don't trigger themselves as a problem.

It's been awhile since I had an insane fornication, which in itself drives me fucking crazy.

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'Around the bend' means 'crazy' and it's a well-known and well-used figure of speech here, not a bit arcane.

I've lived in this country, all over this country, for over 70 years and never once have I heard the term Father Christmas used here. I've read it written by British authors, I've made acquaintance with it in British films, but it is simply not used by Americans. Ever.


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Gwilym, If you've never heard these phrases I suspect it may be an age thing. Bit like jokes. I used to think, until comparatively recently that all the jokes I heard at school were handed down from year to year. I now know that I can drag them out of the dusty recesses of my brain, use them and they will be new most people outside my own age range. They might get a laugh too if I am lucky!

This type of expression may also have a regional / dialect element.

'Up the duck' is a misquote - it actually says 'Up the Duff' on the video.

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I've lived in this country, all over this country, for over 70 years and never once have I heard the term Father Christmas used here. I've read it written by British authors, I've made acquaintance with it in British films, but it is simply not used by Americans. Ever.

It is quite common in France to refer to Père Noël which means Father Christmas.


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