12 things British people say

12 things British people say

by Laura Jones

Updated November 10, 2022

From a scrummy chip butty to everything going Pete Tong, British English can sometimes sound very different to the English you learnt at school. Want to really understand the Brits? Our English teacher, Laura, goes through 12 things only British people say.  

The top 12 things only British people say

1. Fancy a chip butty?

When I lived abroad, chip butties were something that I missed from the UK. A butty doesn’t have anything to do with the American butt; a butty is actually a sandwich. And a chip butty? That’s a sandwich with chips (or fries, in American English) in it. It’s one of the UK’s truly unhealthy but delicious foods that you don’t find in Europe. 

2. Curtain twitcher

The curtain twitcher is the nosy neighbour who’s always watching over the neighbourhood through the window, hiding behind the curtain. ‘Roy is a real curtain-twitcher. I can’t even go to put the bins out in my dressing gown without him watching me.’ 

3. An anorak

Anorak is a British word for a short raincoat with a hood. But it is also used as slang for someone who knows a lot about a certain subject, especially if that subject is a bit geeky. Calling someone an anorak implies that they’re a bit boring because they’re too obsessed with their hobby. ‘Leah is such an anorak. She loves reading statistics about train engines.’

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4. A doddle

Do you think learning English is a doddle? If you can answer yes to this question, it means that learning English is really easy for you. Making a good cuppa? That should be a doddle for a Brit. Putting together Ikea furniture? Not a doddle. Sometimes a recipe for divorce. 

5. To go Pete Tong

What does Tong rhyme with? Wrong! The phrase it’s all gone Pete Tong means that everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. ‘My renovation’s gone Pete Tong – complete disaster.’ This was also the title of a film about a DJ who goes deaf – the definition of it all going wrong. 

6. For / in donkey’s years

‘I haven’t seen Sue in donkey’s years. Last I heard, she’d moved to Australia.’ If something hasn’t happened in donkey’s years, it means not for a long time. We use for donkey’s years when we talk about something that has been happening for a long time. For example, ‘My parents have lived in Yorkshire for donkey’s years; they’ll never move.’ 

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7. Pop your clogs / kick the bucket

Both of these phrases are ways to talk about dying. They’re not very subtle or sensitive, so definitely avoid them if someone’s upset. But, if you’re feeling blase about death, go ahead. ‘When I pop my clogs, I think I’d like to be buried at sea’. Or, ‘I really want to go to Ecuador before I kick the bucket.’ 

8. On your tod

On your tod is a famous example of cockney rhyming slang. This is British slang that originated in London and is based on a rhyme. The phrase means on your own or alone and it comes from a man called Ted Sloane (whose name rhymes with alone), who had a particularly lonely life. You might hear it used like this: ‘Is Dave going to the pub with you?’ ‘No, he’s ill. I’m going on my tod.’ 

9. Scrummy

British chocolate = scrummy. American chocolate = not scrummy at all. Scrummy is a shortened version of scrumptious, which means very tasty or delicious. You can also use it to talk about people, things, and ideas that are very attractive or beautiful. For example, ‘Our hotel room was absolutely scrummy’. If anyone’s a fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might remember the scrumpdiddlyumptious bar. 

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10. A few sandwiches short of a picnic

‘Ben’s a lovely bloke, but he’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic.’ Does this mean Ben’s going hungry at your next outing? Not exactly. It means he’s not very clever, not bright, a bit dumb. 

11. Mad as a box of frogs

Mad in this context means crazy. So if someone is mad as a box of frogs, they are crazy. If you imagine the phrase, you can probably see a box full of out of control creatures, hopping around. The Australian version of this lighthearted phrase is, he’s got a few roos loose in the top paddock. Roos is short for kangaroos, and paddock is a small field for horses, so it creates a very similar image. But I’ve always preferred kangaroos over frogs so I prefer the Aussie version.  

12. Toodles

Toodles, or toodle pip, are informal and quite funny ways to say goodbye in English. So I’m going to finish this blog here and say toodles to you all for now. 

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