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UK slang for international students

Two young women at the top of the Castle Keep in Newcastle, overlooking the River Tyne

By Sophie Cannon at Education UK, 27 January 2014

'Hiya mate, fancy a cuppa and a chin-wag?' 'I can't sorry pal, I'm skint. Gutted!'

When you first arrive in the UK for your studies, you might be mystified by some of the words and phrases local people use. Don't worry, this is completely normal and you will soon be fine!

People here often use slang – especially with friends. You might hear some regional dialect words too. A lot of these words are shared with other English-speaking countries, but many are unique to the British Isles, so even if you're a grade A student or a native speaker, you might still be baffled!

To help you cotton on (slang for 'understand'), here are some common words you may hear. It is best to avoid using slang with strangers, in the classroom, or in formal situations until you're confident with the language. People may think it impolite if you use slang inappropriately. With your friends, however, it can be great fun trying out new words. We hope you enjoy this guide.

Greetings, please and thank you

  • Alright? = Hello. How are you?

  • Hiya or Hey up = These informal greetings both mean Hello and are especially popular in the north of England

  • What about ye? = This is popular in Northern Ireland and is another way of saying 'How are you?'

  • Howay = Let's go or Come on. This is popular in the north east of England

  • Ta = Thank you

  • Cheers = This is usually said as a toast when you raise your glasses to celebrate, but it also means 'Thank you'

  • See you = Goodbye and see you soon

People, friends and family

Don't be confused if someone calls you pet, duck, sweetie, love, chicken, chuck, chucky-egg or sunshine. Older people in the UK often use these terms when they are addressing younger people as a sign of affection and friendliness. (It is usually not appropriate for younger people to use these terms with older people, however.)

Other common slang and dialect terms you will hear are:

  • Bairn = Baby or young child. This word is especially popular in Scotland and the north east of England

  • Lad = Boy

  • Lass or Lassie = Girl

  • Bloke or Chap = Man

  • Mate or Pal = Friend

  • Me old mucker or Chum = These both mean Friend too. They are more old-fashioned now, but you may still hear people use them in a light-hearted way

  • Mum, Mummy, Ma or Mam = Mother

  • Dad or Daddy = Father

  • Our kid = This means my brother or my sister. It is especially popular in the northwest and midlands of England

  • Gran, Nan or Granny = Grandmother

  • Grandpa or Grandad = Grandfather

Descriptions and exclamations

There are lots of slang and dialect words to say something is good or cool – for example, in Wales you might hear people say tidy or lush, while in Birmingham you might hear bostin. In the north of England you might hear ace and mint, and in Northern Ireland you might hear dead on or grand.

Wicked and sick formally mean evil or distasteful, but in slang terms they can mean cool too. These words are particularly popular in London and the south of England.

If something is uncool, people may say it is naff or cheesy. If it is bad or suspicious, then it is dodgy.

If someone is happy, they might say 'I'm made up!' or 'I'm well chuffed!'. When disappointed, though, they might say 'I'm gutted'. If someone is being mardy, this means they are acting moody or sulky.

'It's doing my head in!' means it is annoying me, and 'It's all kicking off!' means an argument is happening.

The word solid usually refers to an object, but in slang, it can mean that something or someone is resilient or difficult. For example, 'She has just run the London marathon. She's solid!' or 'That economics exam was solid!'

Words for emphasis

In the UK, you may hear people use the slang terms well, dead or mega instead of very or really. For example, 'It was dead good' or 'That exam was well difficult!'

Meanwhile a tad means a little bit. For example, 'That is a tad expensive'.

Socialising, dating and parties

  • Do, Bash or Get-together = Party

  • Knees up = This is a more old-fashioned term for a party. People may use this in a light-hearted way

  • BYOB = Bring your own bottle. In the UK, it is common for the party host to ask guests to bring their own drinks. You might see BYOB written on the invitation

  • Mosh-pit = At a rock concert, this is the area at the front of the stage where the most enthusiastic dancers gather to jump around

  • Dance-off = That magical moment when people on the dance floor compete to see who is the best dancer!

  • It's your round! = In a UK café or pub, it is common for small groups of friends to take it in turns to buy a round of drinks for everyone at the table. In a large group this may not be practical – people may decide to buy their own or split into smaller rounds. If you don't want to take part or you can't afford to, it is perfectly acceptable to say so and buy your own

  • Fancy = To find someone attractive, e.g. 'He just smiled. I think he fancies you!'

  • Ask out = To ask someone if they want to go on a date, e.g. 'He asked me out! We're going to the cinema this Friday.'

  • Chat up = To flirt with someone, e.g. 'He was chatting me up at the party.'

  • Snog = To kiss passionately, e.g. 'Oh dear. My dad and mum were snogging at their anniversary party. I didn't know where to look.' 

  • Chin-wag = To talk or gossip with friends, e.g. 'Fancy a chin-wag?'

Work and play

  • Swot up = To revise or study for an exam

  • Knuckle down = To concentrate and work hard

  • Muck around or mess about = To spend time doing nothing or being silly, e.g. 'Stop mucking around, you have work to do!'

  • Muck in = To lend a hand and help someone with a task, e.g. 'Thanks so much for mucking in. You really helped me clean up.'

  • Mooch = To idle away time in a pleasurable way, e.g. 'I've been mooching around the shops today.'
  • Faff = To waste time or fuss, e.g. 'Stop faffing, we'll miss the train.'

  • Hit the hay = To go to bed

  • Kip = Sleep or nap, e.g. 'I'm just going for a kip after my lecture so I feel fresh for the party.'

  • Sleep like a log = Sleep soundly, e.g. 'After handing in my coursework, I slept like a log last night!'

Food and drink

  • Butty or Buttie = Sandwich

  • Barm cake, Cob, Bap or Batch = Bread roll

  • Cuppa or Brew = Cup of tea

  • Fry-up or Full English = Full English breakfast, usually with eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and toast

  • Sunday roast = A popular Sunday meal, which usually includes roast meat with roast potatoes, carrots, gravy and a Yorkshire pudding

  • Brekkie = Breakfast

  • Tea = This usually means a cup of tea, but in some parts of the UK it also means the evening meal. How confusing.

  • Greasy spoon = A café serving unhealthy food

  • Gastropub = A pub which also specialises in food

  • Chippy = Fish and chip shop

  • Spuds = Potatoes

Money

  • Quid = Pounds sterling. If something costs £1 you may be asked for a quid; the word doesn't change in the plural, so £50 is fifty quid

  • Skint = Poor or lacking money, e.g. 'I can't come to the restaurant as I'm skint this week.'

  • Minted = Rich, e.g. 'It was my birthday last week and I got some money off my family, so I am minted now!'

  • Splashing out = Spending a lot of money

  • That's as cheap as chips = That is very cheap

  • That costs a bomb = That is too expensive

  • That's a rip-off = That is not worth the price

  • Cough up! = Pay your share of the bill!

Objects

  • Brolly = Umbrella

  • Telly = Television. Some people also say What's on the box? to mean What's on TV?

  • Loo = Toilet

  • Wellies = Short for Wellington boots, a type of rubber boot... great for music festivals when it rains

  • Mobile = Mobile telephone. It is unusual to say cellphone in the UK

Cockney rhyming slang

Cockney rhyming slang uses rhymes to hide another meaning. It began in London's East End during the 19th century as a way for local people to share secrets and ideas without others understanding. Now, people across the UK often use rhyming slang for humour. Here are some examples:

  • Apples and pears = Stairs

  • You're having a giraffe! = You're having a laugh!, which means You're joking!

  • Dog and bone = Telephone

  • Mince-pies = Eyes

  • Boat race = Face

In some cases the rhyming word has been dropped over time, which can make it a bit harder to understand! For example:

  • Use your loaf = Use your head, meaning be sensible. This used to be loaf of bread, which rhymes with head

  • Let's have a butcher's = Let me have a look. This was originally butcher's hook to rhyme with look

  • Stop telling porkies = Stop lying. This was porky pies, which rhymes with lies.

New rhymes are still being invented, often related to celebrities. For example, it's all gone a bit Pete Tong means it has all gone wrong. (Pete Tong is a DJ.)
 

To find out more about life in the UK, go to Living and studying in the UK, or find out about English language courses in Learn English.