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10 Quirky British Slang Phrases to Add to Your Vocabulary

American English is certainly rich in a wide variety of slang words and phrases, both quite old, such as those from the Colonial Times and very new, only recently added to the dictionary. Certainly, American English is lighter on the ear for most people who speak English as a second language, too - all thanks to Hollywood. However, we often forget what's going on across the pond, in the country where English first developed - the UK.
Anyone who traveled to the UK will know that it often seems like British people speak a whole different language, especially in informal conversations, full of odd phrases like 'chin wag', 'know your onions', and of course, 'Bob's your uncle'. "What on Earth do those phrases mean?" you may ask yourself. If you want to learn a bit of British slang and enrich your vocabulary, this article about 10 essential British slang words is a real find!

1. Bob's your uncle

British Slang Phrases Bob's your uncle
The phrase 'Bob's your uncle' typically comes up at the end of an explanation or demonstration, and it means something along the lines of "it's that simple" or "there you have it". It's very popular across the UK today, but the phrase originated in the Victorian Times as a sarcastic remark. In 1887, British Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil appointed one Arthur James Balfour as the Minister of Ireland. Arthur was his nephew, and he reportedly referred to the PM as 'Uncle Bob'. People thought that the only reason why Balfour got the position was because of Uncle Bob - hence the phrase 'Bob's your uncle'.

2. Know your onions

British Slang Phrases Know your onions
When someone tells you that you know your onions, it doesn't just mean that you know your shallots, chives, and leeks! For example, if you passed our latest grammar quiz with flying colors, we'd be quick to assert that you know your onions, meaning that you're quite knowledgeable about grammar. The term reportedly comes from a man named S.G. Onions who collected fake coins and gave them away as teaching aids for schoolchildren. Children who knew how to count well were said to know their onions, hence the famous phrase.

3. Chin wag

British Slang Phrases Chin wag
Though the phrase 'chin wag' may seem quite odd to Americans, who mostly use the word 'wag' to describe the motions of a dog's tail, it makes perfect sense once you know that once, the word 'wag' was commonly used to describe any object that swings from side to side. Today, the phrase 'chin wag' describes people who engage in an especially friendly, active, and possibly even a bit gossipy conversation, and it masterfully reflect the agility of said conversation, we must add.

4. Bagsy

British Slang Phrases Bagsy
If you ever wondered if there is a British equivalent of calling dibs or claiming shotgun, here you go! Simply shout "bagsy" to claim your rights for the last cookie on the plate or the best seat at the movie theater.

5. Bloke

British Slang Phrases Bloke
Bloke is the ultimate informal way to call a British man, it's pretty much the British version of the American "guy" or "dude". The phrase is widely used and still sounds pretty "fresh", although interestingly, it's nearly 200 years old. Linguists aren't really sure where the phrase comes from for sure, but one of the most prominent theories is that it's a derivative from the Romani (language of the Roma aka gypsies) and Hindi word 'loke', which means 'man'.

6. Gutted

British Slang Phrases Gutted
When someone is so sad that calling them just sad would feel like an understatement, the word 'gutted' would be a perfect fit, at least in British slang. The terms is universally used across the UK today, and it was even printed in some articles, which further adds to its legitimacy and spread, but initially, it was prison slang that meant “bitterly disappointed; devastated, shattered; utterly fed up.”

7. Chockablock

British Slang Phrases Chockablock
We don't really have any fun etymology to share with you when it comes to this phrase other than it has a nautical origin. Truth be told, we only added it to this list because it's really fun to say, just try it! As for the meaning itself, it just refers to something, usually a place, that is extremely full or crowded, much like the American phrase 'jam-packed'.

8. By hook or by crook

British Slang Phrases By hook or by crook
This phrase means that someone is willing to achieve a goal by any means necessary, and it's one of the oldest phrases on this list. It was first recorded in the Middle English Controversial Tracts of John Wyclif that dates back to 1380! Language experts believe the phrase refers to peasants retrieving branches for firewood using different tools - a bill-hook or a shepherd’s crook.

9. Cheesed off

British Slang Phrases Cheesed off
We're not sure why this phrase means what it means because cheese is absolutely delicious, but it turns out that being "cheesed off" means that someone is very annoyed and angry, so don't take that as an invitation to have some charcuterie.

10. All mouth and no trousers

British Slang Phrases  All mouth and no trousers
We all painfully familiar with those characters who are all talk and no action. Well, guess what, there's a British slang equivalent of that very same phrase, and it's 'all mouth and no trousers'. For those who need a bit of context to understand the phrase, 'trousers' are pants in British English, because the word 'pants' actually means something different in the UK - namely, your underwear.
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