10 British idioms that Americans won’t understand

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1. I’ve got the hump

Feeling blue and grumpy? Then in England you have got the hump. Usually it refers to feeling grumpy for no real reason, which is a common occurrence on a grey day in the UK. But do be careful with the word “hump,” because to hump someone means to have a bit of “How’s ya father?” By which we obviously mean to have sex…Is that all clear?

2. What a cock up!

Don’t worry Americans, there is no cock going up anything here. In fact, this is a pretty innocuous British way of saying the something got messed up.

Example: We went to the theatre and all the actors forgot their lines and the orchestra played the wrong songs. What a cock up!

3. Going up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire

Feeling tired? Well, head up that wooden hill (the stairs) to Bedfordshire (bed). Bedfordshire is a county (like a state but much smaller) of England, so it is just word play…simple, right?

4. I just went arse over tit

You know when you fall over really badly? Maybe you tumble down the stairs or fall over revealing your underwear to the world. Well, in England you went arse over tit!

5. I’ve got to go see a man about a dog

Need to take care of some business and don’t necessarily want to share all the details? Well then you can say you are going to see a man about a dog and no one will ask any more.

6. Let’s have a butcher’s

A well-used piece of Cockney rhyming slang (a way of speaking using rhyming words, developed in the East End of London) that has been shortened for everyday use. “Let’s have a butcher’s” is short for “Let’s have a butcher’s hook,” which means a ‘look.’ See what we did there? So if someone has something new or interesting to show you, you would ask for a “butcher’s.”

Example: “Let’s have a butcher’s at your new dress.”

7. I’m off to spend a penny

My American friends tell me that saying “I’m going to the toilet” feels pretty explicit to them, like I might as well tell them exactly what I’ll be doing in there. So maybe they would prefer I said that I was off to spend a penny, which literally means I am going for a wee…or as you would say in the US, a pee.

8. Sweet Fanny Adams

Sweet Fanny Adams basically means ‘nothing’ and is a much more polite version of Sweet F**k All, which means the same thing. The Fanny Adams version can be used in polite company, even with your granny.

“What did your boyfriend get you for your birthday?”
“Sweet Fanny Adams…can you believe it?”

9. He’s a bit dishy

This is a common way to describe a good-looking guy. Maybe used a little more in older generations, but I have certainly heard it pass my lips a few times.

10. Going up the apples and pears

Here’s another bit of Cockney rhyming slang for you: ‘Apples and Pears’ rhymes with ‘stairs’ and that is exactly what it means.

“Where’s the toilet”
“It’s just at the top of the apples and pears”

Watch the video: 10 British Idioms in 10 Minutes


  1. Akiramar

    Absolutely with you it agree. In it something is also to me your idea is pleasant. I suggest to take out for the general discussion.

  2. Toukere

    Wait for.

  3. Graegleah

    I apologize for interrupting you, I would also like to express my opinion.

  4. Brazil

    Same and so

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