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12 British Sayings That Americans Don't Understand

12 British Sayings That Americans Don't Understand
LifeThelife3 min read

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REUTERS/Paul Hackett

We're chuffed to bits about the launch of Business Insider UK.

Everyone knows that for the Brits, an elevator is a "lift," an apartment is a "flat," and those chips you're snacking on are actually called "crisps."

But British people also say some other really weird, confusing things.

To celebrate the launch of Business Insider's UK website, we compiled 12 British phrases that will leave Americans utterly flummoxed. You might just see these on our new site.

1. "They lost the plot."

When someone has "lost the plot," it means they have lost their cool. It's a common phrase in English football in particular, and is generally used when a player or coach gets in a fight or does a terrible job during the game.

2. "I haven't seen that in donkey's years."

"Donkey's years" translates to "a really long time," mainly because "donkey's ears" kind of sounded like "donkey's years" and became a rhyming slang term.

The phrase was underscored by the belief that donkeys live a long time (which can be true) and have very long ears (definitely true).

3. "Quit your whinging!"

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REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Quit your whinging - it's always raining in London.

When someone is "whinging," it means they're whining or crying. The next time your coworker is complaining about something, feel free to call him a whinger.

4. "He's such a chav."

This is a pejorative epithet in Britain that's used to described a specific kind of stereotype: A working-class person who's loud or brash and wears (usually fake) designer clothes - especially the classic Burberry check.

It's essentially the British version of "white trash" and should be used sparingly.

5. "You've thrown a spanner in the works."

When you "put/throw a spanner in the works," it means you've ruined a plan. A spanner is the word for a wrench in England, so it's the British equivalent of "throwing a wrench in the works."

6. "Let's have a chin-wag."

Though fairly self-explanatory, having a "chinwag" (sometimes "chin-wag") means that you're having a brief chat with someone, usually associated with gossip. Just imagine a chin wagging up and down, and you'll get the idea why.

7. "I'm chuffed to bits."

If you're "chuffed to bits," it means that you're really happy or thrilled about something. It's also acceptable to say "chuffed" all on its own: "I've just scored free tickets to the Beyoncé concert, and I'm well chuffed!"

8. "That's manky."

Something that is "manky" is unpleasantly dirty or disgusting. Its slang usage dates back to the 1950s, and was probably a combination of "mank" (meaning mutilated or maimed), the Old French word "manqué" (to fail), and the Latin "mancus" (maimed).

You can also feel "manky" if you're under the weather.

9. "My cat? She's a moggy."

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REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

This moggy is quite patriotic.

A "moggy" or "moggie" refers to an alley cat or a cat without a pedigree, but is often used interchangeably as another word for "cat."

10. "This was an absolute doddle to do."

Something that's a "doddle" is a task or activity that's extremely easy. Though the origin is unknown, it dates back to the 1930s and is still common today.

11. "You're taking the piss."

When you "take the piss" with someone, that means that you're being unreasonable or taking liberties. For example, if a cashier overcharges you on something, he is taking the piss.

It can also be a stand-in phrase for when you're mocking or teasing someone, though this is more commonly said as "taking the piss out of" someone or something. For example: "They're always taking the piss out of John because he likes Taylor Swift."

12. "I've dropped a clanger."

When someone makes an embarrassing gaffe that upsets someone else, they've "dropped a clanger."

For example, if you offer your seat to a pregnant woman on the subway and she tells you that she's not actually pregnant, you may have dropped a clanger.

Know of other great British idioms that we missed? Add them in the comments!