By Jake Smith

A well-known fact is that American English and British English often have their differences. Put a Yank (United States citizen) and a Brit in the same room and they will, of course, understand each other perfectly apart from the occasional argument about whether it’s a ‘sidewalk’ or a ‘pavement’ – I mean, it’s pavement, obviously – or ‘gas’ or ‘petrol – again, obviously petrol, seeing as it is a liquid. Most British people will believe that British English is the only version of correct English, with Britain being the birthplace of the language, but I don’t believe so. Language changes and moulds to its surroundings; cultures integrate and create new words or phrases, driving language into the future so that we live in a world full of diverse and vibrant expressions. Wherever you learn English, you will learn the English of that place, and that’s wonderful. Below, however, I have included five classically British expressions that you will only encounter if you study, live or work in the UK. Use them wisely.

‘A load of old rubbish’

In the UK, we call trash, garbage, litter or waste that we put in the bin ‘rubbish’. If you use the phrase ‘A load of old rubbish’, this usually means that something is nonsense or that it doesn’t work. For example, you could say ‘he was speaking a load of rubbish’ meaning that ‘he’ was talking about something ‘he’ didn’t understand or that it didn’t make sense. Another way to use the phrase would be, for example ‘Oh yeah, my bicycle is a load of rubbish.’ Meaning ‘My bicycle doesn’t really work very well’.

‘No offence, but …’

We Brits are classically polite. Hence this expression which we usually use just before we insult someone. For example, ‘No offence, but this a terrible cup of tea that you’ve made for me.’ It doesn’t really make sense, because it usually means that we are about to be rude to someone, but at least we warned them before.


Usually ‘a cup of tea’ (a merging of the words ‘cup of’) but can be coffee or fruit tea if you specify. For example, ‘Would you like a cuppa?’, ‘Yes please! Make it a mint tea, please, mate.’ You know how much the Brits love their tea. We even sacrifice the whiteness of our teeth for the milky, malty taste of a good old cuppa’.


‘Pretty’ or just nice in general. ‘Peng’ started out as London street slang but has now morphed into a general adjective used by every young person under forty and their dog. For example, ‘Have you tried that delicious sauvignon blanc? It’s peng’, or perhaps truer to its original meaning: ‘I think I’m in love with Stacey, she’s peng, bro.’ 


From ‘Brother’, used to mean friend or ‘mate’. The American equivalent would be ‘Bro’ which is also widely used in the UK, but ‘Bruv’ is quintessentially British in a more ‘pints down the pub’ way than ‘queen’s English’, but, indeed, I do prefer a pint of ale over tea and scones, if I’m honest – I guess you can decide for yourself if you’ll use this one.