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How to Speak British English

More expat tomfoolery

By Steffany RitchiePublished about a year ago 4 min read
How to Speak British English
Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

I thought I would share a few basics that many people might already know but also, you don’t really know unless you live here how slightly (ahem) pedantic dear old Britain can be with the “correct” use of the language they “invented” or whatever!

As with all of my expat stuff this is merely my own experience/impression of life in the UK, which sets me up to be corrected in the comments by my friendly British readers who no doubt will find something that will not stand, it’s a dynamic I am well acquainted with in real life so by all means, have at it!

Again this is just a sampling of lexicography/language difference, some of it intended for giggles. I welcome any polite additional commentary, ta very much!

How to “Speak British”

Movie: “Fil-um”

Aluminum: “Al-YOU-mIn-YUM” (Don’t get me started on this one! Why though?)

Basil: “Baahsil”

Elevator: “Lift”

Trash Can: “Bin”

Trunk: “Boot” or “Car boot” (But car is more often “motor”…I just…)

Sidewalk: “Pavement”

Mountain climbing: “Hill walk”

No thanks: “Yes of course thank you”

REALLY No thanks: “Not just now, thanks, maybe later?”

Toilet Paper: “Loo Roll”

Bathroom: “Toilet”, “Bog”, “Gents”, “Ladies”, “Loo”, “Facilities”

Tea: “Tea?”, ”Cuppa?”, “Fancy a Brew?”

I don’t drink tea: “I drink several cups of tea a day. I have a very specific way I like my tea. American tea is hot dishwater, British tea is the only proper tea. Tea solves everything. I am biologically composed of 95% tea.”

Do you have any coffee?: “Sure do!” (pours instant coffee instead and acts like this is normal)

I have to leave: “I’m so sorry, I must be going”, “I have to dash”, “Right, I’m off!”

Is that sarcasm I detect?: If you have to ask…

This food isn’t what I ordered/how I ordered it. This food is burnt. This food looks like someone scraped it off the floor: “This looks/was amazing, perfect thanks so much!”

Can I have a doggy bag?: “I am an animal, and require a bag of food garbage, I’m so sorry I expected to bring the excess food I paid for home, what a greedy American idiot I am!”

I really hate this: “I’m not bothered/hungry/in the mood about whatever this is, would you mind if I — oh no well yes of course I can try it, sorry to be such a bother! What am I like eh?!”

Ketchup: “Tomahto Sauce” (Yes for real, if you ask for ketchup you will get a polite smile combined with a death stare and the person will say “Oh, you would like some TOMAHTO SAUCE?”)

Fries: “Chips”

Chips: “Crisps”

Friend: Mate, Pal, Bruv, Bestie, generally speaking. Almost no one says friend/see the (British) Inbetweeners!

Can you help me?: “I’m SO sorry to bother you. Is there any way you might see fit to help me if you have a moment spare? No worries if not, sorry to be such a bother!” or better yet do not ever ask anyone for help, it’s best for everyone/the British way!

Excuse me: “Pardon me” or “I’m sorry?” (Excuse me is for passive aggressive British Karens or used jokingly when someone is being rude/taking the piss. This has been a hard habit to break for me and is probably still a “tell”)

Thank you: “Cheers!”, “That’s brilliant, cheers!”, “Ta!” “Ta! Cheers! Thanks again!!”

Thank you very much: “I’m an idiot”

Have a Nice Day: No

No: “Hmm I don’t see a problem with that”, “Can I think about it?” “I’m not 100% sure…ask me later?”

Yes: “Hm possibly yes?”

I love this a lot: (quietly mumbles) “It’s quite nice isn’t it”

That is the most beautiful person I have ever seen: “He/she/they’re a bit of alright”

Cell Phone: “Mobile”, always — not sure who was editing Bridget Jones 3!

I do not want to do this today: “Sure, I’m not up to much!”

Math: “MathS” (“MathSSS!” they bark like schoolmasters if you dare forget the s!)

Z: “ZED” (example): “M’am can you confirm the order code?” “Yes it’s A-F-K-Z- “I’m sorry, did you say C?” — “No, Z for zebra” “Oh You mean ZED FOR ZEHBRA AHAHAHA OF COURSE!” “Yes sorry — A-F-K-ZED-9–0-” “I’m sorry 0 for Zero with a ZED or O for Orangutang?” -”I really don’t have a freaking clue anymore, sorry!”

How are you?: “How’s things?”

How are you really?: This will never happen

H: “HAYtch”

Bar: “Pub”

Do you want to go for a drink?: “Pub?”

Grilled Cheese: “Toastie”


Pedestrian crossing: “ZEHBRA crossing” (to be fair this only refers to crossings with no lights — just black and white stripes on the street, hence “zebra”)

Glasses: “SPECS” (rude-ish slang for person who wears glasses: “SPECCY” -only repeating it to forewarn my fellow vision impaired types!)

Gas: “Petrol”

I’m hungry: “I could eat”, “I’m a bit peckish”, “I’m famished!”

Tired: “Knackered”, “Beat”, Spent”

I speak English: “No, you speak AMERICAN English”

*This article was originally published by the author on Medium


About the Creator

Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I mostly write memoir, essays and pop culture things. I am a long-time American expat in Scotland.

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