It’s English But Not As You Know It

4 September 2017
Read Time: 5.3 mins

They speak English in England, right? That all depends on what type of English you’re talking about. Rest assured that if you’re planning on spending some time in the UK, even native English speakers will be in for a few surprises. To help you get through your trip without any awkward misunderstandings, we’ve put together a few tips. Take a Butcher’s...

Cockney Rhyming Slang

East End London Street A Cockney is a native of East London, traditionally born within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow. Image: Getty

While this style of chit-chat probably won’t be news to you, be aware that apart from the well known expressions – like “Butcher’s Hook” for “look” and “Trouble and Strife” for “wife” – there are a remarkably vast number of words that you’ll need to have your ears out for.

“Nice new Kettle you’re wearing, mate.”

Huh? Kettle-and-hob rhymes with fob, and back in the day, fob watches were the norm and often shortened to “fob”.

Cockney rhyming slang was invented in the east end of London in the 1840s by market traders, stall owners and street hawkers. It was probably first used as a ‘cant’ – a language designed to disguise what was being said from passers-by. Rather than simply a rhyming association, the original slang reflects meaning in the expressions themselves. For example, “Cut and carried” (married) applies only to the wife, who is cut off from the parental support and carried (provided for) by her husband.

What makes cockney rhyming slang tricky to understand for the uninitiated is that often, the rhyming word is omitted. “Use your loaf” means use your head – “loaf of bread”: head. It can be hilarious at its best and completely confusing at its worst. Chances are, the reason most people love it is because if you know the slang, you can talk in code. Here are a few of the best – old and new – of the east end’s famous linguistic export:

“Bees and honey”: money

“Bottle and stopper”: copper

“Fisherman’s water”: daughter

 “Scotch eggs”: legs

“Army and navy”: gravy

“Day’s a-dawning”: morning

“Mince pies”: eyes

 “Ayrton Senner”: tenner

“John Major”: wager

And one that has become a bit of a ‘Dad joke’: to go “Up the Apples and Pears to Bedfordshire” is to go up the stairs to bed.

Regional Nicknames

It may be called the United Kingdom but often there is a healthy rivalry between the regions (sport, anyone?) and as such, each area has its nickname.


Birmingham canals, United Kingdom Two canals meet in the Gas Street Basin, Birmingham. Image: Getty

If you’re from Birmingham, you’re a Brummie, which is a term derived from Brummagem or Bromwichham, historical variants of the name Birmingham. Brummies pronounce “I” as “oy” and would use the short “a” as in “trap” when they say “bath”, “cast” or “past”.

Speak Brummie: “He’s got a right cob on this morning.” (He’s in a foul mood this morning.)


Liverpool city at night, United Kingdom Liverpool is a maritime city, where the River Mersey meets the Irish sea. Image: Getty

Liverpudlians are most commonly known as Scousers, although no one is completely certain where this name comes from. It’s a shortened form of “lobscouse” which is related to the Norwegian lapskaus, Swedish lapskojs and Danish labskovs and refers to a stew commonly eaten by sailors. In the 19th century, poorer people commonly ate “scouse” as it was a cheap dish and common to seafaring families. The thinking is that outsiders coming to Liverpool called these people “scousers”. What does it sound like? Pull up a video interview of The Beatles in their early days, and there you have it.

Speak Scouse: “Off to me ma’s for tea – she does proper boss scran, y’know.” (I’m going to my mum’s for dinner – she makes great food.)


The River Tyne, Newcastle, United Kingdom The River Tyne runs between Newcastle and its twin city, Gateshead. Image: Getty

A Geordie is a person from the Tyneside region of Northeast England, with Newcastle the focus. There are loads of theories on where this term came from, including the fact that it was established during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, when it was declared that the folk who lived in Newcastle were staunch supporters of the Hanoverian kings – in particular George I. One of the world’s most famous Geordie’s is Sting, although after years of living outside of the area, much of his accent is gone.

Speak Geordie: “That gadgie’s gannin’ proper radgie, like.” (That man’s having a tantrum.)

Scottish Slang

skyline of Edinburgh, Scotland Edinburgh, from the Georgian New Town to the Medieval Old Town. Image: Getty

Further north, things get even more quirky. The Scottish have their own colourful way of talking, enhanced by their unique accent. Here are a few expressions you might just come across in Scotland:

“Ah dinnae ken”: I don’t know

“Pure dead brilliant”: Really good

“No ah umnae”: No I’m not

“Yer bum’s oot the windae”: You’re talking nonsense

“Yer a long time deid”: Lighten up and live in the moment

“Haud yer wheesht!”: Shush! Be quiet!

“Taps aff”: Tops off. (Usually said at the slightest hint of sunshine.)

Welsh Slang

A village near Beddgelert in Snowdonia, North Wales. A village near Beddgelert in Snowdonia, North Wales. Image: Getty

The Welsh, while they have their own ancient language, also have their own way of communicating in English, with some popular phrases that you’ll hear time and again if you’re visiting Wales.

“What’s occurrin’?”: How’s it going?

“Are you bein’ chopsy?”: Are you being cheeky?

“Nice daps”: Nice trainers

“I’ll be there now in a minute”: I’ll be there straight away

“You should see the new I.T. guy, he’s proper lush”: You should see the new I.T. guy, he’s very nice.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to the United Kingdom.

Erin Bennion

Based in Brisbane, Erin is a writer with a penchant for using fancy old French words wherever possible and an insatiable hankering for trawling through vintage markets in small Scandinavian towns (no really). One of her dreams is to take her family to see General Sherman in Sequoia National Park and give that old guy a group-hug. Don’t follow her, she could end up anywhere. Twitter @erinbennion