15 British Phrases That Always Confuse Americans

Why do computers offer English (UK) and English (US) options? While it may seem like a shared language, a transatlantic journey reveals surprising differences. Let’s ace British phrases and lingo!

1. Bagsy!

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Start off strong with the British equivalent of calling “dibs” or “shotgun” to claim a right to something, whether it be the front passenger seat or the last slice of pizza.

2. To waffle on

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Someone who “waffles on” is someone who talks endlessly, using vague terms to comment on subjects of no importance.

For a pop culture reference, check out the character of ‘Uncle Colm’ from the TV show Derry Girls (everyone’s dreaded relative who rarely ever gets to the point.)

3. You’re full of beans

women posing

Across the pond, saying a person is full of beans means they are cheerful and currently in high spirits.

In the United States, saying a person is full of beans might be taken as a warning to those around them—consuming beans is infamously associated with bloating and gas.

4. A bodge job

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Not to be confused with the similar phrase, “A botched job.” While “botched” refers to an absolute failure or something done poorly, “a bodge job” refers to coming up with a makeshift or haphazard solution that fixes things temporarily.

5. Have a kip

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Tired after a long afternoon of discovering a new country? Try “having a kip” to get some rest before dinner—also known in the U.S. as a nap.

6. Getting p——d

having drinks

A source of frequent miscommunications among study abroad students. This common British expression is a slang term for getting drunk (or “wasted”, as an American might say). In the U.S., this same expletive is used to refer to “getting angry.”

7. Chinwag

talking at bus stop

Without a doubt, “having a chinwag” is the best way to meet and make friends abroad. The clue is in the word itself: chins wag (or move) when two people get together to have a chat. 

8. Taking the mickey

laughing at someone

An expression entirely unrelated to cartoon mice or other Disney characters. “Taking the mickey” refers to teasing another person or making jokes at their expense. For example, “Don’t get upset; we’re just taking the mickey out of you!”

9. Like chalk and cheese

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Cheese might pair well with crackers or wine, but definitely not together with chalk.

Similarly, the phrase “like chalk and cheese” describes two people or things that are so completely different that they are fundamentally incompatible.

10. Budge up

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A straightforward instruction, better known in the U.S. as “make room” or “scoot over.” It is very useful for anyone who has ever been subjected to any amount of traveling with their siblings.

11. Spanner in the works

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Maybe you are a Type A traveler, and the detailed itinerary is not going to plan. Maybe you organized a surprise birthday party, but the guests received the wrong invitation.

In either case, one could say that someone “put a spanner in the works” to mess up a carefully outlined plan.

12. Totally chuffed

surprising child with present

A person who won the lottery would be “totally chuffed.” Someone who received a new cellphone as a birthday present might be “totally chuffed.” A student who earned an academic honor would definitely be “totally chuffed.”

If you have not guessed, this British expression means pleased or delighted.

13. Pop your clogs

funny grandpa

Not an invitation to wear fancy footwear or bust a move while dancing.

In a slightly morbid turn of events, “Pop your clogs” has nothing to do with Dutch wooden shoes and everything to do with dying. Similar to “kick the bucket.”

14. Dodgy

girl on street serious

If a tourist is wandering through a new city and hears an area described as “dodgy”, that’s a suggestion to take safety precautions because the area is either unsafe or untrustworthy. You can also describe a person as “dodgy”, such as a drug dealer or someone trying to sell you counterfeit bags.

15. Wind your neck in

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Try this one out on that nosy colleague who always offers unsolicited advice. An American might prefer the expression, “Mind your own business.”

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This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching.

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