British Phrases Deciphered: A Guide to Surviving London Lingo

When I decided to move to London, I worried about things like the weather, money and what shoes to bring. The last thing I thought I would have trouble with is the language. I mean, the English speak English after all, right? Quickly after my arrival, I found myself questioning my abilities in speaking the English language. I felt unbelievably disoriented and kept finding myself tilting my head sideways and saying, "Wait, what?" This had nothing to do with English being my second language, and had everything to do with the fact that I was naive enough to believe that American English was the only English that existed — and boy was I wrong.

Driving on the other side of the road isn't the only thing that Londoners do differently, and if you've ever contemplated visiting the other side of the pond, then I suggest you pay close attention — you're about to learn some English English. Below are some of the most common words and phrases you'll encounter in England.

1. "You alright?"
No, they really aren't asking if you feel fine. This is essentially the British equivalent to our very American "How are you?" Expect to encounter this phrase a minimum of five times a day, especially in the workplace. I know what you're thinking — how do you answer that? A simple "I'm good thanks, you?" will do.

2. "Mate"
No, you're not watching an episode of the Crocodile Hunter. But it is likely that you will come face to face with this word via text message. For example, you're bored on a Friday night and decide to text your co-worker to see if there is anything interesting going on. You might get an answer along the lines of "My mates and I are going to a new bar in Notting Hill, would you like to join?"  Mates means friends. Also, your reply should be yes.  

3. "Colleagues"
You know how I just said co-worker? That is so American. The first time I said this in front of a local, they chuckled. The Brits say "colleague" and that's that.

4. "Are you keen?"
The first time I heard this word I was completely lost. Is that French? Italian? Slang? No. If someone asks you if you're keen to do something, what they're trying to say is, “Are you down?”

5. "At mine"
I hate to admit this, but when someone asked me to have dinner "at mine," I legitimately thought it was the name of a restaurant and proceeded to ask what type of cuisine they serve. Let's just say that I'm still teased about it and it's been months. “At mine” is simply another way to say my house. Now that I think about it, it totally makes sense. Such a rookie move...

6. "Brill"
This is the short way of saying "brilliant," which is a common reply Brits use for anything that is cool, smart or amazing. This word is used so often it's not even funny. English slang FTW.

7. "Holding thumbs"
A very unique way of saying crossing fingers... go figure. I actually like this phrase. Want to use this phrase but don't know how to? Here's an example: "Totally holding thumbs that I pass my economics final."

8. "Mad"
In American English this mean you're angry. In British English it has a whole different meaning. The English use the word "mad" is used to describe anything crazy, like a person or a party. "Last night was absolutely mad..."

9. "Bleak"
So how do Londoners express that they're angry? They're bleak! This word is bizarre to me, but I can't help but love it... It has a nice ring to it. "I'm so bleak I might burst."

10. "Proper"
Will you look at that? It's a word we use in America all the time, except Brits use it way more. Technically it means the same thing in both places, but I've heard it used here more than I ever have in the 22 years of my life. Want to describe one of the most amazing burgers you've ever ate? You can just simply say it was a "proper" burger and absolutely brill.

Alright mates, if you ever decide to visit London make sure to take note of this guide unless you're keen to get made fun of.  Your colleagues are bound to drive you mad unless you know how to make a proper cup of tea. Don't get bleak if you don't remember a phrase or two; you'll eventually get used to it. I'll be holding thumbs that your study abroad experience will be just as brill as mine. Once you're back from London we can meet at mine to compare experiences. It only took me five months, but I think this makes me officially British.

Photo credit: eaworldview.com