Understanding British English

One of the first things I learned when I moved over here was that I don’t know English as well as I thought I did. And I have never been criticized on the way I speak so much as I am here. I mean in Halifax I did get made fun of a bit for my Hants County twang, but I’m laughed at on a daily basis here for the way I talk. The Brits are bullies I tell ya!

…Kidding, they’re not; I do love you sarcastic buggers with your weird “English” language. But back to my story.

I thought I was moving to a country where I spoke the same language. I thought I would fit in pretty well. Not be a minority. Boy, was I wrong.

I’ve been in the UK now for just under a year, and I swear I still learn new words every day. So this post is completely dedicated to understanding British English. I’m no Webster, but this is my short version of a British to Canadian English Dictionary. Be prepared, fellow Canucks, British English just does not make sense. Side note: I probably won’t make much sense in this post either – writing out pronounciation is not easy.

One of my favourite weird sayings here – Ay Up Mi Duck!

Believe it or not, that is English. Nottingham’s slang for hi… People here often say “Ay up” or “Ey up“as hey, and “mi duck” is like calling someone hun or darling or dear. So, already, you can see how I often struggle with understanding British.

So, first thing’s first: they pronounce everything different. And I don’t just mean the accent, or how they don’t pronounce Rs. They also have silent Ws, and Es are pronounced as As sometimes. For instance: Colwick: Colic. Smithwick: Smith-ick. Derby: Darby.

Weird, right?

It’s a foreign language to me. Simple words like address… We Canadians say add-ress. Brits say a-dress. Massage = mass-ahhge. …Okay trying to write pronounciation is hard. But you get my point.

As the old stereotype goes, Brits are obsessed with tea. Which yes, I admit, my tea consumption has increased by roughly 300% since moving here. Which is quite significant considering I didn’t even start drinking tea until I started having interviews for jobs over here. In case you were wondering… Yes, I was that desperate to try to fit in that I forced myself to drink a cup of tea daily until I started liking the stuff. Hey, it worked!

But anyway, back to my point about Brits speaking different. So “tea” doesn’t just mean tea… It can also mean supper. I learned this in my first week at work when my co-worker (or work mate in British) was upset that her ex-husband had sent their young son home without tea. Silly little Canadian me thought my co-worker was a bit nuts and that the Brits take their tea way too seriously. But come to find out, she meant he’d gone home with no supper. So, lesson learned, don’t judge Brits by what they say ’cause honest to God, I haven’t a clue what they mean half the time.

While on the topic of tea, a cupper (pronounced “cuppa“) means a cup of tea. That slang actually makes sense but I still just say tea since I am terrible at faking accents and also feel like an imposter when I try to pronounce it cuppa.

Another fun food fact: pudding in Canada is one specific creamy dessert – chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch… I used to love those little Jello pudding cups I took in my school lunch bag. However, pudding in the UK refers to any dessert. So in Canada, I would say hmm, what shall I have for dessert? Oh, maybe pudding. In the UK, they’d say, so, what are you having for pudding? I actually just went to a dessert place with a friend last week called The Pudding Pantry, which was pretty tasty I must say. But PUDDING WASN’T EVEN ON THE MENU. How misleading.

Oh, and for those of you Maritimers wondering if I’m missing donair… they do have it here. Kindaa. It’s called “donner” or “kebab”, or better yet, a “dirty donner”. It’s not as good as home, of course, and they don’t have donair sauce. They put garlic sauce on them. Just wrong, I know. Thank goodness I’ve brought my own donair sauce for those hangover days when you just need the big pile of greasy, spicy meat.

My first week here also taught me how people say hi here. I thought that people were very concerned about me for the first few days, as every single morning at work I’d be asked if I was alright by multiple people. But no, that’s just their way of saying hi – “Hiya, y’alright?” . Also if you’re Canadian and haven’t been to England I bet you just read that in our Canadian twang. But no, it’s said almost in a singing tone, “hiiigh-yaa, y’all rye?” And you’re supposed to respond with yeah, you?

I seriously struggle with basic things like talking to patients every day at work. Even after almost a year, I struggle to say trousers instead of pants. And speaking of work, don’t even get me started on medical terminology. It was hard enough trying to remember all the medical terms when I was studying it at university. Now I have to try to remember all the terms and hear them pronounced the complete opposite way.

IVs are cannulas and beds are trollies and my Lord, English is a weird language.

Honestly, one of the hardest parts of starting a job in a new country wasn’t even the job itself. It was trying to understand what these people are saying, and get them to understand what I’m trying to say. And to make sure people are actually listening to me explaining MRI and what their scan is going to be like… I have so many patients a day sit there staring at me with a confused and curious face on, watching me speak but clearly not listening to what I’m saying; then when I’m done speaking, say, “You American?” or “Where are you from?”

Even calling a patient from the waiting room is stressful for me now. I mean, sure, in Canada you’d get the odd name here and there that you’d never seen before and struggle a bit to pronounce it. But here, even simple names I would have never questioned how to pronounce, like Anthony… aren’t the same! Many Anthonys here are actually said without the “h”. So it’s Antony instead. How the hell am I supposed to know??

It’s not just everyday names that are said differently… They even say celebrity and famous names completely different to us. Kanye is can-yay. van Gogh isn’t van-goit’s van-Goff. And heaven forbid you try to support your way of saying things with video evidence of how Kanye says his name, for instance. Oh no, there’s no changing a Brit’s mind on how things are pronounced. Regardless of how the rest of the world says it, they’ll never give an inch on the matter.

So, if you’re ever coming to the UK and want to know what the locals are saying, here’s a few simple word translations for you.

You don’t wait in line, or line up. You queue. Or you see that there’s a queue at the bus stop.

You don’t call someone on the phone, you ring them.

French fries are chips and chips are crisps.

Argy-bargy: argument
Bank Holiday Weekend: long weekend
Bap, Butty, or Cob: type of bread roll
Biscuit: cookie
Boot: trunk of your car
Brolly: umbrella
Car Park: parking lot
Cheeky: impolite, shameless, but funny – kids are often called cheeky monkeys
Chuffin‘: similar to friggin‘ – I’m chuffin’ knackered vs I’m friggin’ tired.
Cock up: screw up
Dodgy: sketchy, suspicious
Faff: waste time, not do much
Fit: used to describe someone attractive – he’s fit
Fiver: five pound note/bill
Fringe: bangs
Gutted: very disappointed/unhappy – I was gutted when I didn’t win
Hen Night/ Hen do: bachelorette party
Holiday: vacation
Hoover: vacuum
Innit: slang, abbreviation for isn’t it? – hot out, innit?
Jumper: a pullover sweater (not a hoodie)
Nappy: diaper
Note: bill of money, AKA 20-pound note instead of $20 bill
Off-License or “Offy”: liquor store
Pants: underwear; can also be used in the phrase “that’s pants” – means “that’s garbage”
Pavement: sidewalk
Pissed: drunk, wasted
Post: mail
Pram: baby stroller
Pulling: AKA flirting, or going on the pull: gone out to a bar, looking for a hookup
Push chair: wheelchair
Push bike: bicycle
Rubbish: garbage
Sarcky: sarcastic
Scone: more like a Canadian biscuit
Scrummy: very tasty/delicious. AKA, scrumptious
“Sod Off”: piss off, bugger off
Sorted: arranged
Spanner: wrench
Stag do: bachelor party
Strimmer: whipper-snipper/weed-whacker
“Taking the Piss”: screwing/messing around
Tenner: ten pound note
Toilet or Loo: bathroom/washroom
Trolley: shopping cart or patient’s bed in hospital
Whinge: whine
Zebra Crossing: sadly, no, there aren’t wild zebras in England running around needing to cross the highways. These are just crosswalks with black and white stripes that give priority to pedestrians. There are also Pelican Crossings, and humped zebra crossings… why they can’t just call them crosswalks… I’ll never know

Alright, that’s all I’ve got. Or all I can think of at the minute, as they say. I’ll try to remember to keep adding to this as I learn more and more each day… And no, I don’t have a British accent yet. Like I said, I can’t even fake one. But I am finally starting to understand this strange language they try to pass off as English… just a bit.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Parsa says:

    Hello was just wondering where the location of that sign ey up mi duck is as I am doing photography and my project is neon lights ☺️


    1. Hi there! The sign was in a bar called The Bunker in Nottingham, but it’s now called The Walrus ☺️


  2. Ben Waymark says:

    Okay, I am being super pedantic here, but as a Canadian also living in Nottingham worth noting: fries in UK are skinny bits of potato like what you get at McDonalds or with fried chicken (or Annie’s Burger Shack), chips are the limp fat soggy things you refer to. Not 100% always like that, but generally if someone says fries then mean small ones, and chips mean big fat ones.


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