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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

British Slang: our “real” is their “proper”

Published: October 17, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

As some of you may or may not know, I am currently studying abroad in England for the year. I’ve been meaning to write about all the British culture I’ve experienced since I was here, but wanted to wait until I had a better hold on it. I’ve been in this country now for more than a month, so here you go- the first installment of my experience amongst the Brits.

One of the easiest differences there is to spot is the differences in British and American slang. The English are very quick to pick up on American slang and love when we say things that sound like they’re straight out of the O.C. One time I was speaking to a friend of mine saying things like “sick” and “sweet” and he started laughing and said, “I love that you’re here! You sound like you’re straight out of a T.V. show!”

But forget American slang, we all know what we tend to say. One of my favorite things about being here has been learning all the fun British slang that exists. One of the first words I was taught was “chav.” The American equivalent for this, as my British friend said, would be “Caucasian rubbish.”

Another great word is “proper.” They use this when saying that something is better than something else. In America we would most likely say “real.” For example, if my bedroom was bigger or better than someone else’s, I would say that this is a “real” bedroom- the Brits would say this is a “proper” bedroom. I love proper. I think it’s much meaner than real is and I think it’s a word I’ll definitely be bringing back with me to the States.

If you are bummed about something, you’re “gutted” about it. If you’re broke, then you’re “skint.” If it’s cold outside, then it’s “chapping.” Very is nearly always “well,” as in “I am ‘well’ tired.”

The word “on” is also used interestingly here. Instead of saying that you get along with someone, you’d get on with them. If someone wanted to ask what you were talking about, he would say, “what you on about?”

This next one is definitely not a popular one, but has quickly become an inside joke with my flatmates. Instead of “that’s what she said,” SOME people would say “as the actress said to the bishop.” So if someone said, “I can’t get it to fit in there,” someone (probably one of my flatmates) would respond, “as the actress said to the bishop.”

“It’s all good,” would translate into “it’s all gravy.” If someone’s totally smashed then you might say that he was “off his trolley.” If you’re in a “barney” then you’re in trouble.

There are definitely some more fun terms; I seem to learn at least one or two new ones every day. It’s been really rad learning all these phrases, some of which I find incredibly silly and some of which I might bring home with me. I’ll be writing about other aspects of British culture in the coming year, but I promise that if some really awesome phrase comes to my attention in the future, I’ll be sure to let you know about it.