10 Expressions Brits Use to Seem Posh in America


Almost Royal‘s Georgie (Ed Gamble) and Poppy (Amy Hoggart) definitely come across as posh. (BBCA)

Some of the most endearingly antiquated and incomprehensible phrases in the English language emanate from Britain’s upper class. Expect to have to explain yourself to straight-talking Americans should any of these highborn idioms leave your lips.

1. Golly gosh
Should you wish to register mild surprise in a genteel manner, this expression gets the job done. “Golly” and “gosh”, incidentally, are thought to be old euphemisms for “God.” Crumbs! Who knew?

2. Old bean
Also see: “old sport”, “old fellow” or even “old fruit.” All are terms of endearment, which subtly imply the object of your warmth is perhaps a tad passed his or her prime. As in, “Really, Old Bean, must you put your keys in the fridge every time you come home?”

3. Poppycock
As every Brit knows, this is a refined yet pompous way of saying something is, frankly, nonsense. What some of us may not know, however, is that the word can be converted into the adjective “poppycocking.” As in, “Stop all that poppycocking around, Old Bean.”

4. Jolly hockey sticks
A phrase used to describe an upper class female (possibly a school girl or school mistress) who’s enthusiastic to an irritating—or irrational—degree. She could have her tuck confiscated or her head shoved down the loo by bigger girls, and it wouldn’t come close to breaking her spirit. “She’s frightfully jolly hockey sticks,” an onlooker might comment.

5. Pip pip
For the uninitiated, this is a cheerful way for posh folk to say “goodbye.” Admittedly, this one hasn’t gotten out much in the last hundred years, but it’s useful for parodying the well-to-do – or understanding Jeeves and Wooster type satire.

6. By Jove
“Jove” is, of course, an abbreviation of “Jehovah”, a.k.a. God. Back in the 18th and 19th century, it was used by people trying to avoid saying the “G” word, which could be deemed offensive. Now, it’s probably only uttered by the occasional aristocrat wishing to register his mild, delighted shock. Or, more likely, the occasional aristocrat wishing to register his mild delighted shock in a terribly written film or period drama.

7. Spiffing
If something is excellent or marvelous, a posh Brit might once have referred to it as “spiffing.” “That’s a spiffing hat,” or “Absolutely spiffing, old chap.” Nowadays, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear it used unironically.

8. Good grief
One of the more familiar expressions on the list, this is not, as the uninitiated might guess, an endorsement of a certain type of mourning. Instead, it’s an exclamation of mild—possibly amused—posh person shock. As in, “Good grief, man. Put some pants on.”

9. Jolly good show
Again, this isn’t necessarily an expression to be taken literally. It’s not: “Jolly good show, that EastEnders.” It’s more often a term of admiration for anyone or anything that’s performed well. Like a football team or share portfolio.

10. Capital
When this word comes out of one of our well-to-do countrymen’s mouths (pronounced “kepitol”), they’re not referring to a city, letter or money used to start a business. Instead, it means “fantastic!”

Join us on Twitter (@MindTheGap_BBCA) for a #MindTheChat at a special time, Thursday, July 24 at 2-3 pm ET, when we’ll be welcoming the stars of BBC AMERICA’s breakout original comedy-reality series Almost Royal.

Do people think you’re more posh than you really are? We won’t tell!

See More:
10 Things Brits Say…and What Americans Think We Mean
9 Adorable Things Brits Do
8 Instances When You Should Play Up Your Britishness in America

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • gn

    Why would a Brit want to seem “posh” in America?

    • Louie Neira

      Because Americans seem to fall over themselves when they hear an English accent. There’s a tendency to get perks or at least noticed when you sound like a “true” Brit.

      • Windy St. George

        You don’t have to sound posh to impress Americans. We can’t tell the difference. We assume all British people are posh, except maybe a stage cockney accent. I thought Rose Tyler sounded refined, at first, for example.

        • Carolyn Hanson Mayer

          True. Add that a Scottish accent sounds rather spiffy to an American, too. (Think David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Sean Connery… Peter Capaldi!)

          As for Cockney, though, I tend to think English redneck. Sorry!

          • MrsPanicStation

            Sorry -Brit here- ummm…Patrick Stewart is not Scottish,he’s Yorkshire! Albeit a very well spoken Yorkshire man…

  • expatmum

    I say “Good Grief” all the time. I must be royal underneath it all! LOL

    • Louie Neira

      no, just watching too many Charlie Brown reruns… =D

      • expatmum

        Actually no – but now I’m wondering where I get if from. Probably just an attempt to avoid far worse expressions in front of my three kids!

    • Mike

      I’m an American who uses it too. I don’t think “good grief” is a strictly Brtish expression.

  • Rene

    Silly article. I’m an American and can tell you that many of those terms are very commonly used by Americans and do not even originate in England. Why would Americans think you sound posh when you say these words? Most American simply hear an “English accent” and care nothing about how sophisticated YOU think you sound.

    • Louie Neira

      And many Americans seem to go gaga when they hear a Brit accent. It’s not what’s being said, but the posh pronunciation.

      • Rene

        Most Americans have NO idea what a supposed “posh” English accent sounds like or even what the word British word posh means. It’s the Brits who are hung up on social status conveyed through accents. Americans don’t give a flying fig about those things.

        • frozen01

          I’m pretty sure most Americans know exactly what the word “posh” means.
          American don’t care about social status conveyed through accent? I don’t know if I’d agree with that. Try having a deep Southern drawl in, say, Washington state, or in any major Northern city, and then tell me we don’t care.

        • Carolyn Hanson Mayer

          Amen. Americans don’t have posh, nor want it.

          Perhaps among the wealthiest in the 19th-Century?

          • Cryer

            You must be in denial if you really believe that.

        • Cryer

          Please try to learn more about British culture so that you don’t post such ignorant rubbish next time.

        • simhedges

          I once met an American from eastern Tennessee. I told her she had a lovely accent and she thought I was joking at first. I assured her I wasn’t, and she told me “it makes most people in America think I’m trash”.

    • Marsha Smith

      I was going to write exactly the same thing. I was also going to add that somebody seems to have posted an old-fashioned or out-of-date list!

  • Davros

    I say “Jolly hockey sticks” at least once a week. And I live in England.

  • Mike

    I’m an American and “good grief” does not sound posh at all. Posh sounds more posh than good grief!

    • MontanaRed

      That’s because it’s one of good ol’ Charlie Brown’s favorite phrases (along with “Aaa-aargh!”).

  • corwalch

    By Jove is NOT, of course, an abbreviation of Jehovah. Rather, it is a reference to Jove, aka Jupiter. Used in place of the word God to avoid a charge of blasphemy. Used in Shakespeare quite a bit. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/by+jove

    • Ramone

      Yeah, I was surprised the author missed that. It’s well documented just about everwhere. Calls the “research” on this entire dubious article into question.

      • Jane Duncan

        The author also uses “…passed his or her prime..” when she means “past.” BBC needs to remove her from the web immediately.

    • Pip pip

      I guess the mistake came about because of the author’s (likely) religion. No offence intended, just a thought.

  • Xaider

    Golly gosh? I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say that since I was born in this country.

    • MontanaRed

      I use it. I’m American.

      • Xaider

        Lol, well I live in mid England and I’ve never heard of it although these terms may have been popular not so many decades ago.

    • Guest

      I don’t think of Posh British people when I hear “Golly Gosh.” I think of something like Andy Griffith. For instance “Well, golly gosh gee whiz, Sally Ann!”. I do however hear a “pip pip, cherrio old chap!” lol

  • Alan Richardson

    I’ve NEVER used any of those expressions . . . Never wanted to sound POSH (that’s a ghastly expression in itself). This article is not top hole. Perhaps it was written ironically.

    • Hank6677

      I’m an American and may I remind you tea drinking fairycakes that we are not all retarded swamp people, and I seem to remember us saving your hides 70 years ago. Let’s see what was it again? Oh yeah, WW2.

      • Anon Y. Mous

        Don’t forget WW1 while you’re at it.

  • Violette Retancourt

    I used to work with a Brit who said “jolly good” so often, I thought he was messing with me.

    • frozen01

      Knowing the sense of humor of the Brits I’ve been around, he probably was.

    • dp

      I know one for whom every third or fourth sentence is just “Smashing!”

      Nigel Thornberry wasn’t so far off the mark, it seems.

  • Jen

    You all must think we’ve never heard of anything….this list is old hat!

  • CarolEme

    These attempts to sound more posh actually would make the person sound like an idiot. Sorry, but in my experience NO ONE uses those terms in normal speech in the UK – not when I lived there years ago nor the many times I’ve visited since. Sounds as stupid as that TV show on BBC America.

    • frozen01

      Well, yes, they would make the person sound like an idiot… to one who has been in the UK many times and is used to British culture. But the title of the article is “10 Expressions Brits Use to Seem Posh *in America*”. Not the UK.

  • Teri

    Anyone else hear Sir Lucas from the BBC Pride and Prejudice saying “Ah yes, capital, capital” when they read that one? Anyone?

    • Kimberly

      Right. I actually saw his face and then said it out loud (“kepitol”) in my best Sir William impersonation.

  • gin

    “Stop all that poppycocking around”… In this sentence poopycocking is a verb. Learn some poppycocking grammar…

    • Lewis Brown

      Nope you just made that up. Poppycock is used as a sentence ender. As in what a load of poppycock! Much like your statenent if you will. Never in all my life have I ever heard a fello brit use the term poppycocking.

    • James Peter

      Balderdash. In that sentence, “stop” is the verb, not “poppycock”, the subject being “you” in ellipsis as the mood is in the imperative (very British, of course). I use the phrase “jolly good” on occasion, when preparing lemonade with paprika in my shirtsleeves, and by Jove, I am not British. I’m a little Normand, but Gosh, neither Anglo nor Saxon.

    • simhedges

      As in “stop nonsensing around”? Pappekak!

  • bjb

    What, no “kicking in a nounce” ?

    • Ally Sloper

      Actually the word is “nonce”, it is an acronym of either Not Of Normal Criminal Element or Not On normal Courtyard Exercise. It is used in prisons to signify criminals such as informers, paedophiles, rapists EtC who have to be segregated from other prisoners for their own safety, it certainly isn’t used to sound “posh”

  • Tobi Sandoval

    I have never attempted to sound more “posh” since I moved here. In fact I think I have moments where I sound more Northern.


    This author was probably an american trying to be cool be ref English phrases and came out looking like a DIV <——

  • bill reeves

    One of the fun things about these expressions is that if you are an American like I am you can get away with using them and be ‘ironic’ rather than posh. It’s a wonderful double standard.



  • David Boe

    We love everything the Brits say! There now, on your bikes!

  • Hoodoo12345

    I hope Americans don’t think most British people use ANY of those daft words, I know I don’t or anyone I know.

    • Cryer

      None apart from ‘goof grief’. Which I do use sometimes. :)

    • simhedges

      I use some.

      • Hoodoo12345

        Thats nice.
        Well tally ho, pip pip .

  • Tarifa boy

    What a stupid article. Those are words your rarely hear outside of a period drama, let alone spoken by and English person in the US. Utter nonsense

  • Mariel Thomson

    Dear, as costly, is still used in New England, and “cost him dear” as consequences, not money spent.

  • King Vampire

    I’ve heard all of these. None of these is antiquated. Good grief! Check the sources!

  • therealguyfaux

    Somehow, I never took Little Richard for British when he sang Good Golly Miss Molly.

  • Jwb52z

    The word “poppycocking” in the provided context would not be an adjective. It’s a gerund. There’s no object to be modified or described, which would be required to have it called an adjective. As a gerund, especially in English, what you have there is a word functioning as a noun, although I don’t think there’s technically the verb form of “to poppycock”.

  • monday morn QB

    I would be very careful about referring to someone as “old fruit”. Could be taken wrong.

  • screaminmimi

    To me, these seem to be more or less caricatures of Britspeak, rather than true language uses, no? And besides, to most untuned American ears, *any* British accent might sound posh…

  • mo88

    Jove is another name for the Roman God Jupiter and had nothing at all to do with Jehovah!

  • vn

    I forgot to check who the author was before I read this – I think everything I have read by Ruth Margolis has annoyed me. These phrases sound phony, or at best antiquated, with the exception of ‘good grief’ – Peanuts anyone?

  • T

    Fuck me

  • CFlorida

    That’s funny, many of these are used in America….and they don’t sound posh at all. We use golly, gosh, good grief, instead of spiffing we say spiffy, and we occasionally use poppycock too. I LOVE jolly hockey sticks….never heard that one before, will have to try and remember that one, LOL.