30 British Slang Terms You Should Know

Know your bollocks from your barms.

Whatever you do, don’t mess up the meanings of ‘punter.’
Whatever you do, don’t mess up the meanings of ‘punter.’ / mattjeacock/E+/Getty Images

Welcome to Britain, where the food is heavy and the slang is almost completely impenetrable. It should be easy—Britain exported the English language, after all—but there are so many regional quirks that never made it beyond the borders that things can get quite tricky for the non-locals.

If you want to know what’s going on when you re-watch Harry Potter, or when you see people on Insta pretending to be a north London roadman, this list of words should help.

1. Bollocks

Literally, bollocks means “testicles.” Colloquially, it can be used as a general expression of annoyance or distaste; it also means “nonsense.”

2., 3., and 4. Cob, Bap, and Barm

Bread rolls on a pink background
Is it a cop, a bap, or a barm? / Daniel Grizelj/DigitalVision/Getty Images

All terms used to refer to a bread roll. According to the BBC, there may be as many as 20 terms across the UK for “what is perhaps the most inoffensive foodstuff known to man.” 

5. To Have a Cob On

When someone has a cob on, that means they’re annoyed or in a bad mood. One reader of The Guardian speculated that the phrase may have come from the old practice of wearing bread as a status symbol and was originally used in a derogatory way to mean “high and mighty” before evolving to its current meaning. It might also come from the fact that male swans, or cobs, aren’t exactly the sweetest of creatures.

6. Kecks

Slang for “trousers,” but can also refer to knickers or underwear.

7. Pants 

Red underwear on a clothesline.
In the UK, they’re pants. / Peter Dazeley/The Image Bank/Getty Images

In the UK, pants refers to underwear, not trousers.

8. Knackered

Very tired. It can also mean “worn-out” or “damaged.”

9. and 10. Bladdered and Pissed

Both bladdered and pissed mean “drunk.” Insert basically any noun, add -ed on the end of it, and it means “drunk” if you give it the right emphasis. The British have a lot of words for being drunk.

11. Punter

rolling dice on a green background
Don’t confuse the many meanings of ‘punter.’ / Flavio Coelho/Moment/Getty Images

Punter has a few meanings, and it’s fairly important not to mix them up. It can be used to describe paying customers (usually as part of a crowd or audience), or it can be someone who’s gambling (they’re having a punt, as in “bet”). The third meaning? A sex worker’s client. Seriously, don’t get them mixed up.

13. and 14. Owt and Nowt

According to Collins Dictionary, owt means “anything”; nowt, meanwhile, means “nothing.”

15. Gutted

Gutted means “incredibly disappointed.”

16. Bird

Bird is a British slang term for a young woman.

17. Peas 

Green peas.
‘Peas’ is a slang term for money. / Maryna Terletska/Moment/Getty Images

Money. Per The Independent, this term “belong[s] to MLE—multi-ethnic or cultural London English[.]”

18. Bare

Bare means “lots of,” as in “that person is making bare peas.”

19. Hench


20. Tory

A Tory is a member of the British Conservative Party; the word is used casually in a slightly demeaning way to denote a posh person.

21. Offie

Offie is short for off-license, a shop that can sell alcohol for consumption off the premises. It’s similar to a liquor store, but usually has a greater variety of non-alcohol products.

22. Tosser

This insult for “a foolish or despicable person” probably comes from toss off, meaning “to masturbate.”

23. Pillock 

Since the 1960s, pillock has been used as a term for a stupid person, but when it originated in the 1530s it meant “penis.”

24. Cwtch

Two people hugging
That’s a good cwtch. / Hinterhaus Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images

A Welsh term for a hug (pronounced “kutch,” as if it rhymes with butch)—specifically, a nice, cozy hug that makes you feel all warm inside.

25. Fiver 

A five-pound note. See also: tenner.

26. Skint

Skint means “broke, no money”—in other words, a distinct lack of fivers and tenners.

27. Chuffed

An adjective meaning “very happy”—for example, at not being skint after a windfall of fivers and tenners. It apparently derives from the obsolete 16th-century word chuff, meaning “swollen with fat.”

28. Peng

Peng means “good,” or, if you’re talking about a person, “attractive”—you might say, “She’s a peng ting,” with ting meaning “thing.” According to Collins Dictionary, peng likely derives from “Jamaican creole kushungpeng[,] high-quality cannabis.” 

29. Fancy Dress

The Waverley Ball
Fancy dress ball, 1844. / Print Collector/GettyImages

Fancy dress does not mean “dressing fancy.” In fact, it means kind of the opposite—if you're being invited to a fancy dress party, you’re being invited to a costume party.

30. Roadman

A roadman is generally someone from London, characterized by heavy use of London-centric slang (modern, not cockney), a matching tracksuit, expensive trainers (or “sneakers,” in American English), and hanging around outside shops on street corners.

A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.

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