Words, Terms and Slang learned from British Television


I admit to being a devotee of British dramas, mysteries, and comedies, and occasionally I come across a term that I don’t understand, and have to look it up. Lately, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey, Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, and Agatha Christie Mysteries. Then there’s Miss Fisher Mysteries, an Australian production. Here are some of the terms/words/phrases I’ve run across. Any that you’ve heard and been perplexed by?

Jumped up (adjective) – denoting someone who considers themselves to be more important than they really are, or who has suddenly and undeservedly risen in status:
“she’s not really a journalist, more a jumped-up PR woman.” Heard on more than one program, but especially on Downton Abbey, when Violet’s maid calls Dr. Clarkson a “Jumped up old sawbones.”  I love this one, and will attempt to include it in my own vocabulary.

All Sir Garnet – Said by Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey (suspected things were not “All Sir Garnet”). This is a one-time British army slang term meaning that all is in order or everything’s OK. It’s a memorial to one of the most famous soldiers of the latter nineteenth century, Sir Garnet Wolseley, later Viscount Wolseley.

Cheeky – Playfully impertinent. “Did you just whistle at that old lady? You cheeky monkey.”  Mrs. Patmore calls a local merchant a “cheeky devil” for flirting with her.

erysipelas – Erysipelas is an infection of the upper layers of the skin (superficial). Erysipelas results in a fiery red rash with raised edges that can easily be distinguished from the skin around it. Mentioned on Downton Abbey, when Isobel Crawley mistakenly diagnoses Mr. Moseley’s rash as erysipelas, when it really is a rash caused by an allergy to rue.

King Canute (Cnut, Knud) – King of Denmark, England and Norway, together often referred to as the Anglo-Scandinavian or North Sea Empire. After his death, the deaths of his heirs within a decade, and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, his legacy was largely lost to history. The medieval historian Norman Cantor has stated that he was “the most effective king in Anglo-Saxon history”, although Cnut himself was Danish, not British or Anglo-Saxon. Cnut’s name is popularly invoked in the context of the legendary story of King Canute and the waves, but usually misrepresenting Cnut as a deluded monarch believing he had supernatural powers, when the original story in fact relates the opposite and portrays a wise king. Mentioned by the dowager Countess Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey.

Agony Aunt –  The writer of an advice column, like Dear Abby. In Downton Abbey, Violet’s butler (Septimus Spratt) writes the Agony Aunt column in Lady Edith Crawley’s ladies’ magazine.

Blue crested hoopoe – The rare bird that the bird watchers argue about in an episode of Midsomer Murders is a Blue Crested Hoopoe – which doesn’t exist. A Hoopoe does, which is a colorful bird found across Afro-Eurasia, notable for its distinctive “crown” of feathers. It is the only extant species in the family Upupidae.

Casu marzu – Also seen on Midsomer Murders. Literally translating into English as “rotten/putrid cheese”, is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese, notable for containing live insect larvae (maggots). Although found in the island of Sardinia, a variety of this cheese is also found in the nearby Corsica, where it goes by the name of casgiu merzu.

Parvenu – a person from usually a low social position who has recently or suddenly become wealthy, powerful, or successful but who is not accepted by other wealthy, powerful, and successful people. The word is borrowed from the French; it is the past participle of the verb parvenir (to reach, to arrive, to manage to do something).

Don’t tell the world about it – Heard more than once, but Lady Flintshire says it when her husband mentions aloud that their days of personal servants are over because of their reduced circumstances.

Blighty – a wound suffered by a soldier in World War I that was sufficiently serious to merit being shipped home to Britain: “he had copped a Blighty and was on his way home”. Mentioned by Lady Cora Grantham’s maid, speaking about Thomas Barrow’s war injury.


Other widely used words and terms:

Toff – Upper Class Person

Punter – customer or user of services (more specifically, of businesses which “rip off” the customer). Occasionally refers to a speculator, bettor, or gambler, or a customer of a prostitute.

Bob’s Your Uncle – There you go!

Bits ‘n Bobs – Various things

Her Majesty’s Pleasure – To be in prison

Knackered – phrase meaning “extremely tired,” often uttered after a long, exhausting day; also see: “zonked.”

Slap And Tickle – making out or heavy petting.

Starkers – completely naked.

Tickety-Boo – phrase for when everything’s going great.

Gutted – a British slang term that is one of the saddest on the lists in terms of pure contextual emotion. To be ‘gutted’ about a situation means to be devastated and saddened. For example, ‘His girlfriend broke up with him. He’s absolutely gutted.’

Gobsmacked – a truly British expression meaning to be shocked and surprised beyond belief. The expression is believed by some to come literally from ‘gob’ (a British expression for mouth), and the look of shock that comes from someone hitting it.

Taking The Piss – Given the British tendency to mock and satirize anything and everything possible, ‘taking the piss’ is in fact one of the most popular and widely-used British slang terms. To ‘take the piss’ means to mock something, parody something, or generally be sarcastic and derisive towards something.

Dodgy – In British slang terms, ‘dodgy’ refers to something wrong, illegal, or just plain ‘off’, in one way or another.

Scrummy – One of the more delightful British slang terms in this list, ‘scrummy’ is used as a wonderfully effusive term for when something is truly delicious and mouth-wateringly good (Heard on The Great British Baking Show.)

Kerfuffle – A rather delightful and slightly archaic word is ‘kerfuffle’. ‘Kerfuffle’ describes a skirmish or a fight or an argument caused by differing views.

Tosh – A nifty little British term that means ‘rubbish’ or ‘crap’.

Wanker – Possibly the best British insult on the list, it fits a certain niche for a single-worded insult to lobbied out in a moment of frustration, anger, provocation, or, of course, as a jest amongst friends. ‘Wanker’ fits the closest fit by ‘jerk’ or ‘asshole’, but to a slightly higher value.

Brilliant – not a word exclusively in the British lexicon, but has a very British usage. Specifically, when something is exciting or wonderful, particularly when something is good news, ‘brilliant’ can mean as such.

Barmy – Crazy, insane.

Chin-wag – A chat or brief conversation.

Collywobbles – Nervousness; butterflies in the stomach.

Peckish – Slightly hungry.

Tosser – A contemptible idiot.

Twee – Overly dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint. “Her bunny-themed tea set is so utterly twee.”

Blimey – (informal) an exclamation of surprise. (Originally gor blimey, a euphemism for God blind me, but has generally lost this connotation.)

Bubble and Squeak – dish of cooked cabbage fried with cooked potatoes and other vegetables. Often made from the remains of the Sunday roast trimmings.

By-election – special election.


This entry was posted in Hobbies & General Interest, Humor, The Culture, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Words, Terms and Slang learned from British Television

  1. holly100 says:

    I’ve always like the word “treacle” for molasses.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. auscitizenmom says:

    I like this thread. I have always been interested in some of the words I heard in British shows. At least now I have CC so I can figure out what they are saying, and the Internet to look it up for the meaning. I had looked up several of the words you listed because I had no clue what their meanings were.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. texan59 says:

    Not once did I see a reference to twisted knickers anywhere in this article. As well, when is someone going to tell these Brits that the word is spelled Downtown, not Downton. 😆 😆

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Slap and tickle = Rumpy Pumpy = Canoodleing! My hubby is British, and I lived in the U.K. for years. I really love the English language.
    Cozzie = Bathing suit, Lippy = lipstick, Lekkie = electricity ( My lekkie got turned off!)

    Liked by 5 people

  5. lovely says:

    I love the vernacular of the Brits.

    A couple more;

    Affray – Group fighting in public that disturbs the peace.

    If one has “pissed themselves” in London they are drunk.

    Blinking – Considered a polite way of expressing severe disappointment. “Someone stole my blinking bicycle!” Often used to replace more crude terms while in gentle company.

    And a word in case you ever find yourself in the company of some English folks, “tosser” is not considered a term for “A contemptible idiot” by the average Brit and not a word I would use in polite company 😉.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. czarowniczy says:

    Setee, chunker, hooter, skive, bugger, dog’s dinner, hoover, the well-used bonnet and boot, and the list could go on but I’d be getting into the naughty bits. When you’ve had a British Nana there were times you needed a translator in elementary school.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. nyetneetot says:

    The derogatory, “sod”.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. czarowniczy says:

    “Great Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language.” Attributed, in one variation or another, to George Bernard Shaw.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. The Tundra PA says:

    In one of the early seasons of Downton Abbey, Robert/Lord Grantham referred to “left footers”; it took me a while to uncover that he was referring to Catholics (when the middle daughter married the Irish chauffer, who was Catholic). It refers to using a type of shovel or spade used to dig peat.

    Lately DH and I have been watching a show on Netflicks called Rosemary and Thyme, which we are finding delightful. It is about two middle-aged women who are gardeners and amateur sleuths.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pam says:

    I’ve watched all the same things as you, Stella, except Agatha Christie. I think Foyle’s War was outstanding. I’m no prude, but I am so sick of the ever-increasing levels of filth and perversion and gore in the current movies and tv series that I went on a search to find more decent things to watch, which took me back to older movies and tv shows. I discovered a treasure trove on youtube. I haven’t had cable for years, and have used a Roku for my TV and paid for Netflix monthly, but I’d about run out of good things to watch on Netflix. My Roku allows me to access youtube on the tv screen, so my husband and I are now watching mainly 40’s and 50’s movies, and many British movies/tv shows. We are being highly entertained with movies like Charade, Indiscreet, Joan of Arc (1948 with Ingrid Bergmann), Hawaii, Song of Bernadette. I also found more British historical mini-series there, some I’d never heard of before. Some of the more popular old movies are still under some sort of copyright law, but I was very surprised at what I found available. In a few hours, I put more than a hundred movies and series into my youtube library. Best of all, we watch them for free (except for our wireless internet charge which we pay for anyway.)

    Liked by 2 people

  11. nyetneetot says:

    ‘Up Pompeii’ and ‘I, Claudius’ surprised me with how English like the ancient Roman language was.


  12. I loved “Up Pompeii”! In Scotland they had a great show called “Rab C. Nesbitt”, The funniest thing out of Glasgow ever! When they started to play it down south (England), they had to put subtitles because the Scottish Brogue was so strong. Sigh, I miss Scotland…

    Liked by 2 people

  13. stella says:

    Another one from Downton Abbey:

    like billy-o

    Lord Grantham: “But darling, you don’t want to rush into anything.”
    Rose: “But I do. I want to rush in like billy-o.”

    Origin not clear.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. stella says:

    Another from D.A.:

    If it’s all right with you, Miss Denker, I’d rather talk to the organ grinder. (Thomas Barrow)

    Variation of: “Talk to the organ grinder, not the monkey”.

    Its meaning is “talk to the decision-maker, don’t waste your time with someone who just works there”.


  15. amwick says:

    We have all heard “sticky wicket”, I always thought it had something to do with cricket.


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