Learning English Expressions

“England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

—George Bernard Shaw

Growing up in Chicagoland, I am a native English speaker. However, now that I live in Spain, I have learned lots of expressions used by British people. The part of Alicante Province where we have retired is filled with retired Brits who have tired of rainy English weather and have opted instead for a place in the sun. So, ironically, even though we are in Spain, most of the people we know here are English. Through doing yoga with them, singing with them, discussing books with them and dining out with them, I have learned lots of English expressions I didn’t know before.

For example, while performing a yoga move recently, my lovely English yoga instructor advised us to “give it some welly” when we did the move. Welly refers to Wellington boots and it means to give whatever you are doing some force. Originally, this expression referred to putting your foot down hard on the car’s accelerator but has expanded to mean apply power to whatever you are doing. I think this particular expression is my favorite, but there are many more funny English expressions.

Give it some welly!

One term that Americans use that makes British people laugh is “fanny pack.” Americans use this to refer to a small bag you put on top of your butt (or bum if you are going to be British about it) to hold your wallet or cell phone. To English people, a fanny is a woman’s vagina. So it’s not something you put your wallet or cell phone into. Most assuredly, not. In a similar vein, if you are British and end up in an American school, make sure you don’t ask for a rubber when you need to borrow an eraser or you will be laughed out of the classroom.

Here are some other expressions I have learned here hanging out with the Brits:

Pop your clogs: This means to die. But you don’t have to be wearing wooden shoes at the time.

Lose the plot: This means to not understand what is going on, as in my neighbor’s friend is in a nursing home because he ‘lost the plot.’

faffing about: This means someone is wasting time doing nothing in particular. My hubby is very good at this one!

twig: This means to understand something. If someone wasn’t twigged, he didn’t understand something. It has nothing whatsoever to do with small tree branches.

A wet weekend: A very boring experience or person, as in she sounds as exciting as “a wet weekend.”

Kitchen roll: This is what we Americans call paper towels. It’s not bread made into rolls and left in the kitchen for storage.

Bullocks: Literally, this means testicles or balls, as in “Did you see the size of that stray cat’s bullocks?” But the expression now is more frequently used to express that someone is talking rubbish or nonsense. But if someone says something is “the dog’s bullocks,” that means it’s the best, according to the Urban Dictionary. If you don’t believe me, click on this link: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Dog%27s%20Bollocks.

Gazunder: This one means a chamber pot. However, it also means to lower the price you agreed to pay for a house at the last minute. So make sure you pay attention to the context when you hear this one because the two usages of the same word have no relationship to each other.

Rumpy-pumpy: This means sexual intercourse that is usually done in a quick and light-hearted manner, according to the Urban Dictionary. To be honest, I haven’t heard anyone use this one in a conversation with me since I got to Spain but I can always hope, right?

Also don’t ask for “chips” at a restaurant when you want potato chips or you will get French fries. They call potato chips “crisps” here. Cookies are biscuits. Car trunks are boots and car hoods are bonnets, not fancy hats that women wear on Easter Sunday.

It’s a good thing I haven’t been talking with any people from the East End of London speaking Cockney because they really do have their own special rhyming language, as in “boat race” means a person’s face and “apples and pears” means stairs and “gold watch” means Scotch. “Trouble and strife” means your wife! To top it off, going out for a curry or Indian meal is referred to as “going out for a Ruby Murray” or just going out for a Ruby for short. Apparently Ruby Murray was a popular singer in the 1940s and 1950s. I never heard of her but “going out for a Ruby” is a common expression in English, whether you are from the East End of London or not.

Remember this: Next time you talk to an English person, don’t assume you are both speaking the same language, because you are not!


12 thoughts on “Learning English Expressions

  1. I think it is actually ‘bollocks’ and nowadays it seems that once prohibited words have become common currency.
    May I add a few cockney phrases that are in common use among some members of my family who live in that area of London?
    In ‘my sky’ means pocket and is short for sky rocket, i.e. pocket.
    A bit of old Tom, short for Tom Foolery, i.e. jewellry.
    On my Jack, short for Jack Jones, i.e. I’m alone.
    Dog and bone – an easy one. Phone
    Barnet, short for Barnet Fair, i.e. hair.
    A butcher’s, short for butcher’s hook, i.e. take a look.
    Kettle, short for kettle and hob, i.e. fob watch. Even tho’ not many fobs worn today the phrase is still used.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing all these other cockney expressions. I would think listening to these family members talk would certainly keep one’s mind engaged! Almost like trying to solve a puzzle.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You’re correct about the word being bollocks rather than bullocks. Bullocks are young bulls, while bollocks are descriptive of testicles.

      Bollocks can be bad: “he’s talking bollocks”. Or good: “those jeans are the dog’s bollocks”.

      In my case – after an accident left me not quite the man I used to be: “oh bollocks!! I’ve lost my bollocks.”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. That was fun! In the USA, when referring to actors it is common to call them “the talent”. When I was in Birmingham England for a tradeshow, an attractive woman was standing in our booth studying her script. I assumed she was our locally hired professional speaker, there to do our presentation. I introduced myself and asked if she was “the talent”. The very angry face told me I had just stepped in it!!! She gracefully told me that “the talent”, in England, referred to hired hookers!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very good, Nancy…

    Years ago, I thought to write up these kinds of “English” differences between our languages, but never did.
    BTW, bullocks is meant to only be said to really emphasise a point and can be ” unacceptable” as a major curse word.

    Liked by 1 person

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