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This article is for people coming to England from the following countries in particular...
In theory coming to the UK, particularly London, means that someone who speaks 'English' as a first language doesn't have to worry about a language barrier... yeah, right! (Read on if this is you!)
Yes, until now you thought your native tongue was English. Ha!
Actually you probably are speaking American, Canadian, New Zealandish, Australian or some other 'English concoction' you and your fellow countrymen made up... albeit over some time! In fact, English not only differs between English speaking countries, and England, and between each other too, but in England it differs from region to region. Sometimes these regions can be little more than a couple of miles apart! Take Greater London. Just 14-16 miles across (roughly), yet it has nearly 10 million people and at least four native London English accents/dialects, and at least 420 different languages being spoken in 2017! Many English speaking tourists like to start or finish their European adventures in England, and London in particular. Often they have the notion that because they speak a form of English, they'll get along just fine and will understand everything that's said to them whilst here. In Central London, and the Touristic areas, this may be true, to a degree... But wander away from the Tourist path and suddenly we, the real English, are speaking in foreign tongue...
And this is the moment when the English speaking tourist realizes that they really don't speak 'true' English at all!
Read on by picking from the menu below...
Did you know the United Kingdom (UK) is made up of four countries?
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The UK is made up of the countries of England & Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Each country in the UK has its own government (parliament) for certain law making, except England - making England the only country in Europe with no independent representation!
A bit of Social History...
Some terms that the English & British use may not be familiar to you. Many influences from India and Pakistan, Africa and the rest of Europe, especially France, are commonly used. Sometimes the English don't even know that the words they use are foreign, so what chance do you have? Although our language (English!) is the second* most spoken language in the world, the population of England** is only now around 50-55 millions.
* Chinese is the first language by shear population numbers in and around China, but English is the most widely spoken language worldwide.
** The British population is around 65 millions including the population of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The population of England consists mostly of city dwelling, with 10-12 millions in Greater London and South-East England, 4 millions in Yorkshire (inc. Leeds, Sheffield, York, Bradford), 2.5 millions in Greater Birmingham, 2.5 millions in Greater Manchester, 1.5 millions in Greater Liverpool, 1.5 millions in Lancashire. This leaves English village populations with various colloquial words and accents which change throughout England in relatively small distances.
English is an ever changing language, often influenced by immigration and other foreign languages. Throughout history, the English language has changed. Up until around the 11th century, the language spoken by the English (Albion/Celtic/Dane-Viking/Roman/Latin/French etc) changed and was modified by outside influence, migration and invasion. After the last invasion of Britain (1066), things settled down in England for a while and influence came only through religion (Latin) and from our neighbours (French/Germanic/Spanish). Being an island helped keep the language fairly unchanged, but variations of accent occurred from place to place.
In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, English was to start changing radically once again. As the British Empire started to grow to be the largest ever known, English started to gain influence from lots of other languages once again, including Indian, African, and even Arabic. This evolution has continued. As the British Empire declined, our links with other languages did not. Many British Empire countries slowly gained independence and became members of the British Commonwealth instead.
In the 1950's, after the end of World War Two, Britain needed rebuilding, so immigration was encouraged. Commonwealth Citizens were invited to come work in Britain's cities. At the same time, many thousands of British families moved to Commonwealth Countries including Canada, South Africa and Australia and New Zealand. This migration, together with the growth of the European Union and the increase in Worldwide Air Travel has caused one of the biggest changes in the English language in England. Couple this with the huge effect of Global Television and Film and you can understand how this evolution of language has increased and this will probably continue well into the future. Now American, Canadian and Australian English is now creeping into British English!
So, maybe one day you really will speak English? (or English will creep closer to the way you speak it?)
The London language...
- London is famous around the world for it's Cockney Rhyming Slang, but this has almost died out now, as the immigration ripple effect has moved the Cockney's into Essex and other 'Home Counties' that surround Greater London.
- Traditionally, in order to be a 'true' Cockney, you must have been born within earshot of the Bow Bells, roughly 6 miles around St Mary-le-Bow church in London's East-End. In this area you are much more likely to hear Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Turkish or even Polish, than Cockney nowadays.
- It is pretty much accepted that today's Cockney speaking areas are situated in Essex (inc. Dagenham, Barking, Romford, Chigwell, Harlow, Basildon, Thurrock) and North East London (inc. Tottenham, Enfield*, Cheshunt and Brimsdown).
(*Our original LondonAirConnections office was in Enfield, and the many of the locals spoke with Cockney accents, but the Rhyming Slang was less apparent).
- London itself is really a mixed bag, with at least 122 different first languages, and population of about 8 millions. Like most major cities in the world, the culture is varied, and ever changing...
- Many young Londoner's speak 'Jafaican' (Afro-Caribbean), 'Text-speak' (Cell phone SMS jargon) or a London youth ('init') speak! (The crazy youth become 'da crazi yout'). They will grow up (eventually!) and add this youth speak to the mass of rich London accents and words.
- In 2008/9 more than 2 million Polish migrants arrived in England, as Poland joined the EEC (United European States). Although many have returned to Poland as the economy there has grown, the English high street has been changed forever, and this has made our language even more varied.
- So, understandably, Londoners speak with various phrases and dialects, and the 'London Language' particularly evolves continuously... (sometimes so fast that parents have to ask their children for translations!).
- The Oxford English Dictionary* is updated every year, with much controversy in the media about words that were slang just a year or two before... so what chance does the American Tourist have? Well, hopefully we can help you with the basics...
(*The Oxford English Dictionary is considered the leading English dictionary in and for all of Britain).
- In the UK we go to the bathroom to have a bath, but in the US you pee in it! We use a toilet, but in the USA you use a "can"! (Is that a gas or a baked bean can?)
- In the USA you wear your 'pants' on the outside - our pants are underwear and we wear trousers over our pants!
- In the USA you join a line for the bus, but in the UK we join a queue behind the painted line on the pavement.
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Translations of English you might hear (in London particularly) for Non-English English Speakers,
or as in Cockney we'd like to say...
"So 'ears our cosher lingo to 'elp ya feel at 'ome wid da natives daarn da local rubber dub an whilst in our little Joe Brown - 'ave a gander, ya wont' adam n eve ya mince pies when ya take a butchers (hook)! We 'ope it help your stay be well cushty, an that ya won't orange peel like a dipstick, cause we ain't takin' the mick an' opefully you'll find it useful wiv no agro, alwright? So don't get in a two an eight, clock below an ya'll be alwright geezer! Try not to get it all Pete Tong, but don't be frightened to have a rabbit wid the baked bean if ya ever ave that Buster (Keaton)!"
(Please note this list is mixed current colloquial English that can be heard in Southern Britain at the moment. It is not a Cockney Rhyming Slang list, nor a complete guide, it's just a small list of examples).
|118: as in "try 118 mate!" (118-118 is a telephone directory & inquiry number).
999: as in "Call 999!" (999 is UK Emergency Number, like 911 in USA).
AGRO': aggravation. ("Don't give me any agro.")
AIN'T: Isn't it (Is not that it?")
ALL GREEK TO ME: Don't understand a word.
ALWIGHT: Hello or Okay (London particularly use this phrase but has spread UK wide now)
ANORAK: Geek or nerd (Someone who train spots in a waterproof coat!)
ARSE: Your backside (USA uses Ass!)
ARSE OVER TIT: Falling over. (A little rude)
AUSSIE: Australian (also used for a New Zealander but this is obviously incorrect!)
BANGERS AND MASH: sausages and mashed potatoes. A common, filling and often tasty staple at most pubs.
BANG: Loud noise or The act of sexual intercourse (a little rude).
BAP: bun/roll for sandwiches.
BAPS: (RUDE) Ladies Breasts (Very rude, normally male to male speaking)
BATHROOM: Where you have a bath - not the lavatory
BEE'S KNEES: Very cool - Top notch.
BELL: Telephoning (as in 'I'll give you a bell')
BENDER: A homosexual (RUDE)
BENDER: Drinking heavily (as in 'going on a bender!')
BENT: Stolen, or not Straight. Not 'Kosher' (see Kosher)
BENT: Homosexual. (as in "He's as bent as a nine bob note!") (There is no 'genuine' nine bob note!) (Very rude, and not used much any more!)
BIRD: A woman. (or a flying feathered animal).
BIN: garbage can.
BLAG: Stole or Talk (as in 'he blagged his way into the club'.)
BLAGGER: A thief.
BLITZ: Bombing of London in 1940-41 during WW2 (& other UK Cities)
BLITZ SPIRIT: Community Joviality During Times of Stress or Duress - particular to London!
BLOKE: a guy, a man.
BLOODY: (RUDE) a swear word, similar to the American 'damn' but a bit stronger. o
BOB: An old word for 5p (pence) (a shilling in old UK currency!) (or a man in the sea who can't swim)
BOG: Toilet - WC
BOG ROLL: Toilet Paper.
BOOKIES: Betting Shop - (Book Makers is a place where you can bet on Horse racing and Football etc.)
BOOT: Car trunk or Heavy shoes/boots.
BOOZE: Alcohol. (the Aussie phrase 'GROG' is also starting to be used in London).
BOLLOCKS: (CAN BE VERY RUDE) similar to the American 'damn or sh*t but can also mean 'you lie', or 'you are talking "Rubbish" '. (WARNING: Can be very rude - don't use with American accent! Americans should not use this word as the meaning depends on the expression of the word and the American accent can make it very insulting. (American Actors often get this wrong on US TV, much to English amusement!)
BONNET: Hood (Car/Truck etc)
BOTTLE: Courage. (ie. 'he bottled it' means he didn't have the courage).
(the) BOX: Television.
BUFF: Good looking. (as in she's Buff) ("In the Buff" means naked, so be careful with this one!)
BUGGER: (CAN BE RUDE!) similar to the American 'damn!' Can also be used towards someone who's not too bright - as in 'Silly Bugger!' (Can be rude - don't use with American accent!).
BUGGER ALL: Nothing or none.
BUM: rear end, bottom.
BUM BAG: Fanny pack (You really should not use Fanny Pack in the UK - see FANNY below!!!)
BUN IN THE OVEN: Pregnant.
BUNG: The throw or chuck something.
(A) BUNG: A bribe
BUTCHERS: to take a Look.. (as in butchers hook).
CAR PARK: parking lot.
CARRIAGEWAY: Street (Carriage is where both the US & UK get the word 'Car' from)
CHAR: Tea. (Indian influenced).
CHAT UP: flirt with, come on to.
CHEERS: Drinking greeting, as in 'hello.' Can also be used in lieu of 'thanks'.
CHINKY: Chinese (normally food)
CHIP: Leave. (as in 'I've got to chip').
CHIPPY: shop that sells fish & chips.
CHIPS: French fries.
CHUCK: To throw something. (Also to break up a relationship, "I chucked 'im!")
CLOCK: Look (or a time piece on the wall!)
CODSWALLOP: Talking 'Rubbish' or nonsense.
COLD TEA: Hot tea that's gone cold! (Yuk!)
CONDOM: A Rubber!
COSHER: Perfect or see 'PUKKA'. Authentic. (Jewish influence).
COWBOY: Someone who isn't an expert at their job. (eg. Cowboy builder)
CRIKEY: 'Blimey' - exclamation!
CRISPS: potato chips.
CUPPA: As in "a cup of tea". (See Tea)
CUSHY: Easy. Indian influence.
CUSHTY: Perfect (as in 'everything is cushty'). Indian influence.
DAMAGE: How much. (ie. 'What's the damage?')
DIAMOND: Solid, good. (ie. 'Diamond Geezer!')
DIPSTICK: Fool (or the measure stick in your car cooling system!)
DODGY: A risk involved. (That's dodgy... not quite right!)
DORIS: Woman - not normally a nice phrase.(ie. 'She was a right Doris!')
DOUGHNUT: Someone with not much in the middle!(ie. brainless!) See 'Plonker'
DRUM: Home, or can be a type of tobacco.
DUMMY: Babies Comforter (or a silly bugger!)
DUVET: Bed covering.
EGGY BREAD: French Toast.
ESTATE: Housing project.
ESTATE AGENT: Realtor.
ESTATE CAR: Station Wagon.
EXCUSE MY FRENCH: Sorry for swearing.
FAG: cigarette. (Not really a UK way to describe a homosexual, this would be considered very rude)
FAG SHOP: (See Newsagent)
FANNY: (RUDE) in the UK 'fanny' refers to female genitalia, not your BUM (see above)
FAFF: To fuss or procrastinate. (Don't faff about!)
FANNY: (NOT RUDE) A ladies name.
FINGERS CROSSED: Hopefully.
FIVER: five-pound note.
FLAT: apartment or condo.
FLIPPING: Polite way to say F#CKING!
FLOG: to sell.
FOOTBALL: soccer. US Football is called 'American football.'
FOOTIE: see football above.
FORTNIGHT: two weeks.
FULL MONTY: Everything.('He ain' t the full monty' means he is not all there!)
FULL STOP: a period (punctuation).
GAFF: Home (as in 'My gaff')
GANDER: Look (to take a Gander)
GAP: (as in "MIND THE GAP"): The gap between the platform and the train (London Underground)
GARBAGE: Scottish Rock Band from 1990's.
GAS: Natural Gas (Fuel), To Talk Too Much (GASSING). or Flatulence. (Break Gas)
GEEZER: (also Geyser/Geyser) See "BLOKE" above - London Term.
GOBSMACKED: Left me unable to talk.
GRAND: either 'terrific' or a thousand pounds.
GRASS: An informer (or the green stuff in the park!)
GUV: Governor or Boss.
HIRE: to rent.
HOOTER: a car horn!
HOOVER: the action of vacuuming.
ICE TEA: Tea that's gone cold. (Yuk!)
INIT: Isn't it? or Is not that it?
IZZIT: Literally "is it?" means "really?"
JACK: Alone. (as in "on his Jacks").
JAM: Jelly (for toast). (see Jelly)
JAM JAR: Car (Cockney Slang).
(A) JAR: A pint.
JOG ON: Move on, get lost.
(A) JOHNNY: A rubber! Condom.
JOHN THOMAS: Man's Penis. (Origin unknown).
KASI (Also spelt KHAZI): Toilet - Bathroom (Pronounced 'KARZI' from the Indian language)
| KNACKERED: tired, worn out. (The 'knackers' yard was where they turned
old horses into dog food!)
KNICKERS: women's underwear.
KNOCKERS: women's breasts.
LEG-UP: to give a helping hand.
LEG-OVER:(RUDE) To score - "get your leg-over!" (Use your imagination!)
LOCAL: Pub (as in 'Meet me at the local').
LORRY: Truck/Semi or 18 wheeler.
LUSH: Good looking. (from Delicious)
LUV: Love - loose term of endearment. (as in 'Alwright Luv?').
LUVVY: Camp or slightly feminine - used particularly towards theatre actors.
MA: Mom (or can be "Mine" in colloquial speak.
MANDEM: Boys/Men. (Made famous recently by London born singer, Jessie. J.).
MANOR: Either 'Turf' or 'house'. (as in... "Ma Manor")
MARVIN: Hungry (As in Starving Marvin!)
MATE: friend, pal. Can also be said as 'Matey'.
MINT: New (As in Mint Condition) (Also can mean "cool" in youth speak!)
MOD: (from modernist) a subculture, originated in London in the late 1950s, early 1960s and a revival in late 1970s.
MONKEY: £500 pounds (Indian Influence) (or an ape like character in London Zoo!)
MUPPET: Stupid (as in 'You Muppet!') or Character from Sesame Street.
MUCKER: Mate (see above - as in 'My old Mucker!')
NAFF: Rubbish - no good.
NAG: Horse (or the wife (as in the nagging))
NANG: Good. (Asian/Black Inner City Slang)
NAP: Short sleep.
NEWSAGENT: Convenience Store, Sweet Shop, Tobacconist (Often Grocery Store too!).
NICKED: Something that is Stolen, or to be arrested by the police. (Example: "You're nicked son!")
NICKER: Money, usually referring to a £1 coin.
NOT BOTHERED/CAN'T BE BOTHERED: don't care. Ex. "I can't be bothered to go out tonight."
NOUNCE: Literally Child abuser, but more recently its become a term of abuse for anyone.
NUTTER: crazy person. Ex. "He's acting like a nutter!"
NUMPTY: a silly or stupid person. (Believed to be originally a Scottish phrase)
OFF HIS HEAD: He is either a nutter or is drunk.
OFF LICENSE: shop that sells alcohol to go. (Also can be an 'Offy').
Oi! : Hey, (To attract someone's attention - normally when they've done something wrong!)
OLD MAN: Various meanings, including... Wife talking about husband, child talking about father, Man talking about his 'John Thomas'. (Has to be heard in context to understand meaning).
P's & Q's: means 'Please' and 'Thank Qs'. So "mind your P's & Q's," means you forgot to say 'please' or ''Thank you'!
PANTS: in the UK, 'pants' refer to underwear. So be wary of using 'pants' to describe your 'trousers'.
PARKY: Cold. (Also someone in charge of a park or garden)
PEANUT: Small male sexual organ (or type of nut eaten in pubs, sometimes salted sometimes roasted!)
PETE TONG: Gone wrong! ('It's all gone Pete Tong', after famous DJ/Musician!).
PERIOD: (RUDE) Ladies time of the month (NOT a full stop!!!)
PISSED: Someone who is Drunk. (Not 'annoyed' as in USA - see 'P'd off' below for that...)
PI**ED OFF: (RUDE) Upset (He's P~~~ed Off)(Actually means very upset!)
PISS UP: A party - where people drink Alcohol (Alcohol is not unusual or taboo in Europe!)!
PLONKER: idiot (a London phrase - means Wally, but literally means WILLY).
PONY: £25 pounds (Indian influence) (or a small horse-like creature!)
PORK PIE: A lie.
PORK PIE: A particular type of hat worn by Jamaicans and Mods.
POUND: UK currency (also old weight measurement)
PRICK: (RUDE) see WILLY, but very rude. o
PUB: Bar - but not always a drinking den, in the UK we use pubs as meeting places before going out.
PUKKA: Perfect or 'Kosher'. (Authentic). Indian Influence.
PULL: 'To go on the Pull', search for a sexual partner. (or the action of opening a door!)
QUEUE: a line. (for a bus or a queue of traffic).
QUID: a POUND (£) in currency.
RASCAL: Someone who is trouble but in a nice way.
(A) RING: Call you. (The British don't "give you a call" they "ring you up" or 'give you a ring').
ROGER: Act of sexual intercourse (Also a name & a radio term for 'understood')
ROUNDABOUT: A Traffic Island to drive around. (Used instead of Traffic Lights at a road junction).
RUBBER: pencil eraser. (or Car tyre) (Not a CONDOM)
RUBBISH: Trash or Garbage.
RUBY: Curry (Rhyming slang 'Ruby Murray' = 'Curry")
RUG: Hairpiece (or a mat in your house).
SAFE: A quick way of saying Okay. (or a metal box to keep thieves out!)
SALOON CAR: Sedan Car
SCARPER: To disappear rather quickly - particularly if in trouble.
SCONE: Breakfast Biscuit. (We would eat these during the day in a 'Cream tea' rather than for breakfast, with Butter or Whipped cream, 'Jam' and a cup of tea).
SCORE: To 'PULL' a 'BIRD' (or a goal in sport!)
(A) SCORE: Twenty 'QUID'
SHAG: Act of sexual intercourse. (Ed note: We have loads of phrases for sex in London!!!)
SHUT-IT!: Close your mouth ("before you say something you may regret!")
SHUT YOUR GOB - see above.
SICK: Disgusting or crazy. (but in youth speak it means cool. As in "That's sick man!).
SKINT: Having no money.
SLASH: to go to the 'BOG' &/or have a 'WEE'. (Also American Guitarist!)
SNOG: to kiss.
SOD OFF:(RUDE) get lost.
SOLICITOR: a lawyer.
SORRY?: pardon me? Excuse me?
SORRY!: Apologies. (This is used a lot in London, especially when walking in a crowd bumping into people)
SORT IT OUT: figure it out.
SORTED: That's figured out, or that's done.
SUBWAY: Pedestrian crossing under a street or building. NOT THE UNDERGROUND/TUBE SYSTEM!
STRAIGHT: Either... not homosexual, or telling the truth.
SWEET: (Sweets) Candy.
SWEET!: Good (as in 'Nice!').
SWEET SHOP: (See Newsagent)
TA: thank you.
TAKE THE MICK teasing/taunting.
TAKE THE PISS: teasing/taunting. o
TAKEAWAY: take out food.
TEA: Hot tea (Made with milk, and often sugar)
TEA: dinner. "Going to tea" often refers to going out for dinner.
TIN: Can (As in Baked beans etc)
TOILET - WC/Bathroom
TON: one hundred (normally £100 POUNDS)
TOSSER: see 'wanker'.
TOWN: London. (Pronounced 'Taawnn')
TRAINERS: sneakers/tennis shoes/athletic shoes.
TRASHED: Very drunk or Destroyed (as in 'The flat was trashed after the party!'). NOT GARBAGE'd'!
(The) TROUBLE: The Wife (as in 'Trouble and strife'= 'wife')
TROTT ON: Move on, get lost.
TUBE: The London Underground Railway (Tunneled part only)(Oldest Underground System in the world)
TYRE: tire. As in the rubber wheel of a car.
UNDEGROUND (The): London Subway System.
UP THE DUFF: Pregnant.
WAG: A person who may (or not) have a sense of humour
WANKER: jerk. Quite rude! o
WASHING UP: doing the dishes.
WALLAD: (Black/Asian, meaning fool)
WALLY: to be a Wally is to be a bit stupid, or silly.
WAZZ: (also WASS) Urinate.
WC : Water Closet (Toilet - lavatory)
WEE: 'small' in Scotland (only), 'pee' in rest of UK.
WHITE VAN MAN: Workman who drives a white truck (not a Semi) and reads the Sun newspaper. Often a local delivery driver, painter/decorator, repairman or window cleaner who hogs the fast lane on the motorway!
WICKED: Excellent - as in "Well wicked man!" (Also a great stage play in London)
WILLY: slang for penis. o
WONGER: money.(London phrase - also 'Wonga').
WONKY: Wobbly or not in a straight line.
YOB: Not nice person - (Young 'Orrible Boy!)
Z's or ZEEDS: Sleep. (Note: We say... X,Y Zed, not Zee!)
You shouldn't use those marked "o" or (RUDE) with people you don't know!
Please note that this list is not extensive and does not include much 'Cockney Rhyming slang'. We know some of these phrases are used in some parts of America, and not in others, so we have added them if we have been asked the meaning by guests from the USA...
- If you visit the UK the main language law to remember is to use 'Please' and 'Thank you' or 'Ta' in every request or Transaction.
- Although many Americans & other Europeans may feel this is over polite, in the UK it is considered rude if you don't use these manners.
- You may get ignored if you don't say 'please' which may be annoying, especially if you've been in a Queue (Q) for a while! (translation "Queue" = "line").
- On the plus side for American guests, other than the historic experience of this great vibrant city, London has nothing if a fantastic variation of foods and drinks.
- We even have most major American beers in our pubs too!!! (But don't panic, we still love our warm beer too!).
...so watch your gob and try not to look like a nutter mate!
"There is a saying which goes 'the Americans and English are basically the same ...it's just the language that makes us different!"
"I do hope this little language guide helps shorten that difference just a little."
Sir Keife Iceni - C.E.O. KGC Group
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