28 British Slang Terms You Should Know

A cob, bap, or barm—a.k.a. a bread roll.
A cob, bap, or barm—a.k.a. a bread roll.
iStock.com/RichLegg

Welcome to Britain, where the food is heavy and the slang is almost completely impenetrable. It should be easy—Britain exported the English language, after all—but there are so many regional quirks that never made it beyond the borders that things can get quite tricky for the non-locals.

If you want to know what's going on when you re-watch Harry Potter, or when you see Drake on Insta pretending to be a north London roadman, this list of words should help.

  1. Bollocks: literally, testicles. Colloquially, a general expression of annoyance or distaste.
  1. Cob: a bread roll.
  1. Bap: a bread roll.
  1. Barm: a bread roll.
  1. Kecks: a bread rol—hang on, no, trousers. It's trousers.
  1. Knackered: tired, but very. It can also mean worn-out or damaged.
  1. Bladdered: drunk. Insert any noun, add ed on the end of it, and it means "drunk" if you give it the right emphasis. The British have a lot of words for being drunk.
  1. Punter: This one has a few meanings and it's fairly important not to mix them up. It can be used to describe paying customers, usually as part of a crowd or audience, or it can be someone who's gambling (i.e. someone who's having a punt, or bet). The third meaning? A sex worker's client. Seriously, don't get them mixed up.
  1. Owt: something.
  1. Nowt: nothing.
  1. Gutted: incredibly disappointed.
  1. Bird: A woman, usually in the 18-40 age range. Except don't actually use it, because you'll sound a) like a dad and b) sexist.
  1. Peas: money.
  1. Bare: lots of, as in "man's making bare peas."
  1. Hench: muscular.
  1. Tory: a member of the British Conservative Party, used casually in a slightly demeaning way to denote a posh person.
  1. Offie: short for off-license; a shop that can sell alcohol for consumption off the premises. Similar to a liquor store, but usually has a greater variety of non-alcohol products.
  1. Tosser: a casual insult, equivalent to jerk-off.
  1. Pillock: a stupid person. Originally meant "penis," but barely anyone remembers that.
  1. Cwtch: an incredibly Welsh term for a hug (pronounced "kutch," as if it rhymes with "butch.") Specifically, a nice, cozy hug that makes you feel all warm inside, like from your nan or something.
  1. Pants: underwear, not trousers.
  1. Fiver: a five-pound note. See also: tenner, but not twentier. That would be silly.
  1. Skint: broke, no money. A distinct lack of fivers and tenners.
  1. Chuffed: very happy, for example at not being skint after a windfall of fivers and tenners.
  1. Peng: good, or (of a person) attractive. "She's a peng ting [thing]." Other British slang words for attractive include fit, lush, a sort, piff, buff, leng.
  1. Pissed: drunk. Again—a lot of words for drunk.
  1. Fancy Dress: not "dressing fancy." Kind of the opposite—if you're being invited to a fancy dress party, you're being invited to a costume party.
  1. Roadman: Generally someone from London, characterized by heavy use of London-centric slang (modern, not cockney), full matching tracksuits, expensive trainers (sneakers, in American), and hanging around outside shops on street corners.

Quid Pro Quo Has a Nefarious Etymology

MangoStar_Studio/iStock via Getty Images
MangoStar_Studio/iStock via Getty Images

While some altruists will happily lend a hand without expecting anything in return, most of the world runs on the idea that you should be compensated in some way for your goods and services.

That’s quid pro quo, a Latin phrase which literally means “something for something.” In many cases, one of those “somethings” refers to money—you pay for concert tickets, your company pays you to teach your boss how to open a PDF, etc. However, quid pro quo also applies to plenty of situations in which no money is involved. Maybe your roommate agreed to lend you her favorite sweater if you promised to wash her dishes for a month. Or perhaps, in return for walking your neighbor’s dog while he was on vacation, he gave you his HBO login credentials.

No matter the circumstances, any deal in which you give something and you get something falls under the category of quid pro quo. According to The Law Dictionary, “it is nothing more than the mutual consideration which passes between the parties to a contract, and which renders it valid and binding.” In other words, if everyone on both sides understands the expectation that something will be given in return for a good or service, your contract is valid.

Based on that definition, quid pro quo hinges on transparency; all parties must understand that there’s an exchange being made. However, this wasn’t always the case. As the Columbia Journalism Review reports, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary entry states that quid pro quo was used in 16th-century apothecaries to denote when one medicine had been substituted for another, “whether intentionally (and sometimes fraudulently) or accidentally.”

So, if you were an unlucky peasant with a sore throat, it’s possible your herbal remedy could’ve been swapped out with something less effective—or even dangerous. Though Merriam-Webster doesn’t offer any specific examples of how or why this happened, it definitely seems like it would have been all too easy to “accidentally” poison your enemies during that time.

Just a few decades later, the term had gained enough popularity that people were using it for less injurious instances, much like we do today.

[h/t Columbia Journalism Review]

40 Words That Start With X

arthobbit/iStock via Getty Images
arthobbit/iStock via Getty Images

When the lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson put together his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, there weren't a lot of words that started with X; he even included a disclaimer at the bottom of page 2308 that read, “X is a letter which though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language.” Noah Webster went one better when he published his Compendious Dictionary in 1806 that included a single X-word, xebec, defined as “a small three-masted vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.” Although, by the time he compiled his landmark American Dictionary in 1828, that total had risen to 13.

X has never been a common initial letter in English, and even with today’s enormous vocabulary you can still only expect around 0.02 percent of the words in a dictionary to be listed under it. But why not try boosting your vocabulary with these 40 words that start with X.

1. X

On its own, the letter X is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb meaning “to cross out a single letter of type.” X. X. in Victorian slang meant “double-excellent,” while X. X. X. described anything that was “treble excellent.”

2. XANTHIPPE

Xanthippe was the name of Socrates’ wife, who, thanks to a number of Ancient Greek caricatures, had a reputation for henpecking, overbearing behavior. Consequently her name can be used as a byword for any ill-tempered or cantankerous woman or wife—as used in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

3. XANTHOCOMIC

Explosion of yellow powder against a white background
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Xanthos was the Ancient Greek word for yellow, and as such is the root of a number of mainly scientific words referring to yellow-colored things. So, if you’re xanthocomic, you have yellow hair; if you’re xanthocroic you have fair hair and pale skin; and if you’re xanthodontous, you have yellow teeth.

4. X-CATCHER

In old naval slang, an X-catcher or X-chaser was someone who was good at math—literally someone good at working out the value of x.

5. X-DIVISION

Victorian slang for criminals or pickpockets, or people who make a living by some underhand means.

6. X-DOUBLE-MINUS

Young boy with a terrified expression on his face
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1960s slang for something really, really terrible.

7. XENAGOGUE

Derived from the same root as xenophobia, a xenagogue is someone whose job it is to conduct strangers or to act as a guide while…

8. XENAGOGY

… a xenagogy is a guidebook.

9. XENIAL

A young man fist bumps his musician friend
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The adjective xenial is used to describe a friendly relationship between two parties, in particular between a hospitable host and his or her guests, or diplomatically between two countries.

10. XENIATROPHOBIA

Don’t like going to see doctors you don’t know? Then you’re xeniatrophobic.

11. XENIUM

A xenium is a gift or offering given to a stranger, which in its native Ancient Greece would once have been a lavish feast or a refreshing spread of food and fruit. In the 19th century art world, however, xenium came to refer to a still-life painting depicting something like a extravagant display of food or a bowl of fruit.

12. XENIZATION

A young woman traveling with her camera and backpack
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A 19th century word meaning “the act of traveling as a stranger.”

13. XENOCRACY

A government formed by foreigners or outsiders is a xenocracy. A member of one is a xenocrat.

14. XENODOCHEIONOLOGY

Defined as “the lore of hotels and inns” by Merriam-Webster.

15. XENODOCHIUM

A young woman uses her cellphone at a hostel in India
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A guesthouse or hostel, or any similar stopping place for travelers or pilgrims.

16. XENODOCHY

A 17th century word for hospitality. If you’re xenodochial then you like to entertain strangers.

17. XENOGLOSSY

The ability to speak a language that you’ve apparently never learnt.

18. XENOLOGY

An illustration of an alien waving at the camera
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The scientific study of extraterrestrial phenomena is xenology. The study of extraterrestrial life forms is xenobiology.

19. XENOMANIA

The opposite of xenophobia is xenomania or xenophilia, namely an intense enthusiasm or fondness for anything or anyone foreign.

20. XENOMORPH

Something unusually or irregularly shaped is a xenomorph—which is why it’s become another name for the eponymous creature in the Alien film franchise.

21. XENOTRANSPLANTATION

Surgeons operating on a patient
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Transplanting organic matter from a non-human into a human (like a pig’s heart valve into a human heart) is called xenotransplantation. Whatever it is that’s transplanted is called the xenograft.

22. XERIC

An ecological term used to describe anywhere extremely dry or arid. If it’s xerothermic, then it’s both dry and hot.

23. XERISCAPE

If you live in a xeric area, then you’ll have to xeriscape your garden. It’s the deliberate use of plants that need relatively little moisture or irrigation to landscape an arid location.

24. XEROCHILIA

Woman applies lip balm while outside during the winter
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The medical name for having dry lips. Having a dry mouth is xerostomia.

25. XEROCOPY

A xerographic copy of a document—or, to put it another way, a photocopy.

26. XEROPHAGY

The eating of dry food is xerophagy. It mightn’t sound like it, but it was originally a religious term.

27. XESTURGY

The proper name for the process of polishing.

28. XILINOUS

A pile of soft cotton against a white background
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Something described as xilinous resembles or feels like cotton …

29. XIPHOID

… while something described as xiphoid resembles a sword.

30. XOANON

Derived from the Greek for “carve” or “scrape,” a xoanon is a carved idol of a deity.

31. XTAL

Large double quartz crystal against a white background
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An abbreviation of “crystal,” according to the OED.

32. XYLOGRAPHER

A 19th century word for a wood engraver.

33. XYLOID

Why say that something is “woody” when you can say that it’s xyloid?

34. XYLOPOLIST

Pile of wood logs ready for sale
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A 17th century formal name for a timber merchant.

35. XYLOTOMOUS

Describes anything or anyone particularly good at wood-cutting or wood-boring.

36. XYRESIC

Means “razor-sharp.”

37. XYROPHOBIA

A pile of razor blades
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The fear of being close to or touching sharp implements.

38. XYLANTHRAX

Nowhere near as nasty as it sounds, this is just an old name for what we now call charcoal.

39. XYSTUS

A type of covered walkway or portico.

40. X.Y.Z.

Late 19th century slang for a journalist who takes on any work going, or else 18th century slang for a dandyish or “exquisite” young man.

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