The Brit List: 10 British Words That Don’t Have a U.S. Equivalent

Blackpool rock, in slices

Blag
A little item of criminal slang that has found its way into common use. To blag something is to get it for free, possibly without deserving to. So you can blag your way into parties or concerts, you can blag free CDs or clothes or video games by pretending to be a critic. Or by actually being a critic.

Bubble & squeak
A dish of cooked cabbage, fried with cooked potatoes and other vegetables which is often made from the remains of the vegetables from the Sunday roast. It’s known as colcannon in Ireland.

Cack-handed
Although there are many American English words that mean clumsy, this is unique in that it comes from mocking left-handed people. The implication is that you dropped that priceless ming vase because your dominant hand is the one you should only use to wipe yourself with in the bathroom. Cack meaning poo, y’see. 

Fiddly
If your cellphone still has buttons, and they’re too small for your sausage fingers to operate properly, it’s fiddly. If you’re trying to work out your accounts and there are complicated equations at play, they’re fiddly. If a french plait is beyond you, that’s because it’s fiddly. As is a Gm7 chord on a mandolin (if you only play the guitar).

Grotty
That which is disgusting, dirty or of poor quality. It’s closest American cousin would probably be gross, although arguably grotty describes things that are bearably disgusting. Once those things become intolerable, they become gross.

Jobsworth
Anyone who has ever missed a train by nanoseconds, held up by some official who just HAD to check over your ticket with the kind of scientific rigor you’d normally expect from an archeologist, has met a jobsworth. It’s that person who does everything by the book, on purpose, just to make your day worse, and then claims it has to be that way, because it would be “more than my job’s worth” to do anything else.

Rock
Not the music, this is the mint-flavored hard candy stick, not unlike a candy-cane, but usually straight and pink, that you can buy at British seaside resorts. Often the name of the resort runs through the stick, due to clever work by the manufacturers. So Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock is named after this confection, not a geological feature.

Scrumping
This refers to the act of stealing apples from an orchard. It’s commonly seen as a naughty schoolboy’s pursuit, and something of a rite of passage during late childhood. (see also: scrumpy - a strong cloudy cider)

Shanks’s Pony
Literally means walking, taking a route that would normally involved transportation. It’s a reference to Edward I, medieval king of England, who was known as Longshanks due to his beanpole physique. The joke is that his legs were so long, if he were to ride a pony, he’d still be walking.

Titchy
Little Tich was the stage name of the Victorian actor Harry Relph, who was incredibly famous in his day, and was quite small. Subsequently, titchy is now a part mocking, part affectionate term for someone of a similar stature.

Got any more to add to this list? Tell us here:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

See more posts by Fraser McAlpine