Living and working in the UK has led me to laugh a lot. My British co-workers have come to learn that while conversing with me, my laughter indicates that either I didn’t understand anything they came out of their mouth or that the words they said were pronounced in a very British way. Most of my giggling is due to confusion and misunderstanding of what people are trying to say in general. It definitely makes conversations with me lighthearted.
Here is a collection of twenty phrases with American English translations that I’ve learned since moving here:
1. “Away with the fairies” = Daydreaming.
Example: Tara hasn’t responded to your e-mail? She must be away with the fairies. I personally would say, “Tara is in la-la land.”
2. “Bob’s your uncle” = There you have it. OR And there you go.
This is usually used at an end of list of instructions.
3. “Swings and roundabouts” = It all evens out in the end.
4. “Sixes and sevens” = Refers to a state of confusion
Apparently this is based off a game.
5. “The dawn chorus” = Refers to the chirping and singing birds at dawn.
I tried to sleep in today but was woke up by the dawn chorus.
6. “Horses for course” = Different people are better at different things.
I would say “different strokes for different folks.”
7. “Chin wag” = gossip or gossiping
8. “Donkey’s years” = a really long time
Example: I haven’t seen you in donkey’s years!
9. “To have a butcher’s” = To have a look.
This is derived from Cockney Rhyming Slang of “butcher’s hook” to mean look. When people start throwing cockney rhymes into sentences, it gets incredibly complicated in no time!
10. “It’s monkeys outside!” = It is really cold outside.
This sentences is derived from the sentence, “It is cold enough outside to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” The etymology (or so I’ve been told) of this phrase that ships used to store cannonballs in brass trays called “monkeys.” Whenever it became very cold outside, the monkey would contract and the cannonballs would thereby fall off. I’m fairly confident that this is just urban legend though, but the phrase is still funny!
11. “Up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire” = To go to bed.
The Cockney Rhyming Slang for this would be: “Up the apples and pears to Bedfordshire” in which “apples and pears” translates to stairs.
12. “Her majesty’s pleasure” = In prison
13. “A cockup” = To mess up
14. “Up the duff” = A lady is pregnant. (I think a lot of my friends say, “bun in the oven.”)
15. “Easy peasy” or “Easy peasy lemon squeezy” = really easy
My co-workers and boss say this expression a lot.
16. “Know your onions” = I believe this is a saying based on a French expression. It means to be knowledgeable
17. “A one off” = One time only
18. “The dog’s bollocks” = The absolute best. Americans and Aussies say “awesome.”
19. “Nice one” = It is good. This is a completely underwhelming compliment that isn’t sarcastic, but it definitely feels like it could be. It really is a compliment.
20. “Lose the plot” = This roughly translates to either meaning that you have lost focus or that you’ve gone crazy (or irrational).
Sam used to known his onions but lost his plot. He ended up making a right wrong cockup and is now living at Her Majesty’s pleasure. For those still needing a translation: Sam was knowledgeable but then went crazy. He messed up and is now in prison.
And Bob’s your uncle!
I would love to know other British phrases. Leave them in the comments for us to enjoy (and for me to giggle at for awhile). I’ll test them on my British co-workers!