Idioms have to be the best thing about learning a language, even though they can get you in a muddle, I love finding out where strange expressions come from and impressing people by being able to speak like the locals.
While many idioms work perfectly well across the English language, many more are regional and might not be understood outside of a certain country, or even a particular city.
British English is full of its own sayings and we’re known for having many accents and dialects within a small area. Learn some of these peculiar British expressions and you’ll be loved by Britons everywhere.
1. “As the actress said to the bishop.”
This idiom is a silly expression; it’s used to highlight something that someone has said that sounds sexual (usually they haven’t said it on purpose). We’re obsessed with innuendo, as you might know from our TV or radio comedy.
2. “She’s up the duff.”
To be up the duff is to be pregnant. It’s a bit of a jokey and naughty way of saying it and it would be considered quite rude if you were to say to a stranger, “I see you’re up the duff.” Don’t confuse this with “to duff someone up”, which means to beat them up!
3. “Bob’s your uncle.”
This indicates that something has been successful (or will be). For example, if you ask for directions, someone might say, “You go straight on, turn the corner and, bob’s your uncle, it’s right in front of you.”
4. “This film is dull as ditchwater.”
If something is “dull as ditchwater” it means it’s utterly boring. A person who is dull as ditchwater has very little personality.
5. “I didn’t think you were the sort of person to lose your bottle.”
To lose your bottle is to lose your nerve or your courage to do something. “I was just about to do the bungee jump, when I lost my bottle.”
6. “This job is money for old rope.”
When something is money for old rope, it’s a very easy way of making money, or an easy way of gaining something for yourself.
7. “He’s such a nosey parker!”
A nosey (or nosy) parker is someone who is always sticking their nose in other people’s business. In other words, they interfere with other people’s affairs.
8. “I don’t give a monkey’s.”
To not give a monkey’s is to not care at all. No one seems to be able to agree on the thing that belongs to the monkey, but it might be Cockney rhyming slang for a rude word.
9. “The radio is on the blink again.”
Something that’s on the blink is broken or not working as it should be. Usually this is used for machines and electronics, so a TV or computer could be on the blink, but a wooden toy wouldn’t be.
10. “I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.”
A barge pole is a long pole you would use on a barge, which is a type of boat. The pole is used to push or guide the barge along. If you wouldn’t touch something with a barge pole, you don’t want to go anywhere near it. Americans say “ten foot pole” (perhaps they don’t have barges).
11. “A nod’s as good as a wink (to a blind horse).”
Meaning “I understand what you’re saying, even if you haven’t said it plainly and directly.”
Now that you know some British idioms, you can take them to the UK and show them off – or use them elsewhere and confuse people!
Laura is a Brit, who is half Scottish and has lived in England and Wales, so she’s got Britain covered. She currently writes about idioms (amongst other things) for Listen & Learn.