Interesting British Words and Phrases You Might Want to Know Before Studying in the UK

Dec 5, 2017 4:00:00 PM

It was comforting to know that I would be studying abroad in another English-speaking country, however, one of my biggest concerns was losing points on assignments by forgetting “u” in “colour” or if my writing style wasn’t “proper” (British) English. Turns out, professors did not mind the US spelling (for the most part), were quite understanding, and well prepared for students to come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, languages, often non-native speakers. 

Most of us got through academic work successfully, however, at first, casual conversation was a bit of a struggle. Some phrases or words seemed “strange” (to an American) and even though it’s the same language, parts of British English sounded so different or foreign to someone who was not familiar with the lingo. From my experience, it seemed as though British phrases are more contextual. Some sayings are easier to infer the meaning, but others may not be understood appropriately if the context is not considered.

Tea: the Brit’s “favourite” drink, right? Interestingly enough, “tea” doesn’t always refer to the physical hot or cold beverage as we know it. In the UK, tea can also mean “dinner.” For example, “have you had your tea yet” simply means “have you eaten dinner yet” which might not at all involve drinking tea. You would for sure not hear that in the states!

Born and raised in Southern California, the term “dude” is used among young people to refer to another person no matter the gender. In the UK, you’ll hear “mate” pretty much every day, and I love it! To me, it sounds just a bit more endearing and friendlier than “dude”. Someone may introduce their good friend as their “best mate” or say that they’re going out with their “mates” for a night out. And if someone is describing another person that is not their “mate” they might use the term “bloke,” referring to a male and “doll” as female. I have never heard of the word “bloke” in my life, and when someone told me to look for the “tall bloke at the till” I was lost. “Till”, meaning check-out counter, therefore, I was to look for “the tall guy at the check-out counter.” I’ve also been referred to as “your American doll from California” which at first I did not like the sound of. I then “realised” that doll is simply synonymous with “girl” and not meant to offend or suggest all women are “dolls” but another way to say “the American girl from California.”

After living in the UK for over a year, I’ve adopted a few sayings that I’m sure I’ll naturally lose after moving back to the US, but there is one that will stick forever: “I can’t be bothered”. I have convinced myself that there is no true American equivalent that effectively communicates the mood or emotion of “cbb.” But it basically means “I don’t care” or “I really don’t want to do something.” “I can’t be bothered” truly took on its meaning when a certain master’s degree student started to procrastinate more than she should during the “autumn” (fall) term. I guess after a while she “could be bothered” and finished her assignments well and on time!

I’ll be “gutted” (bummed) when I move back to the US and won’t be able to use my new lingo like “lift” for elevator, “fortnight” referring to a 2-week period, “gobsmacked” meaning astounded, or “fiver” or “tenner” referring to a 5 or 10 “note” (dollar bill). No more dropping 20 quid (bucks) on chocolate and sweets, and no more “pub grub” (hearty British food). UK care packages always welcome! “Cheers!” (Thanks!)

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*Photo by: Jim Wileman