Bob’s Your Uncle

I have an Uncle Bob. this post isn’t about him though, it’s about Slang. Something I do a lot of on my little community message board, is compare my American slang with my UK ‘cousins’. The word we were recently discussing was sprinkles, that multicolored candy topping that some sprinkle on their ice cream. I learned that the UK version is hundreds & thousands. You do indeed use hundreds and thousands of them at a time, or, at least so it seems if you’ve ever had to clean them up afterward!

menacing long-haired Guy
this bloke is not just some guy, he’s Sir Guy!

I also often find myself “translating” for my husband or parents when we watch British television shows and movies together. Things like Flat instead of apartment or Torch instead of flashlight, don’t cause much confusion

tanktop Lucas on phone
vest=tanktop, because Lucas ain’t no wife beater!

but if someone mentions pushing a trolley through the market? Well, we automatically picture a San Francisco streetcar.

a bit weird bearded interview gif
yes. yes, it would

Years ago I had an amusing instance of slang confusion while reading a book. The main character was visiting his mate (I figured out this meant friend instead of Sailor, straight away *pats self on back*)

Foosball table
foosball=football table=soccer table

and while walking through the home, noticed a Fruit Machine in the corner. It was just a simple mention that had nothing to do with the story itself, but I found myself distracted by it. A fruit machine. Was that a vending machine that dispensed fresh fruit? Did it provide apples and oranges at the touch of a button?

Anne Currey interview hand to mouth gif
I’m crazy, Richard. it’s best you know this now

Months later I came upon another mention of this futuristic fruit machine, which turned out to mean a casino style slot machine. Fruit, because of the pictures of cherries and oranges that win you money if they match up!

wool sweater director's chair
jumper=sweater? oh, good! because Richard in a pinafore dress would be all kinds of wrong

This also brings to mind an interview where Richard jokingly said fans were throwing pants at the studio window. This seemed odd to my American ears, because when we hear pants we think of trousers, not underwear. In a different interview, when the pants incident was being recounted by the host, Richard mistakenly heard “pans” instead. No, Richard, we won’t try to get your attention by throwing intimate undergarments at you and only hinting at our intentions, we’ll throw cast iron and knock you out, then just drag you away; we’re an Army, we don’t mess around!

Come to think of it though, if you call underwear ‘pants’, then what image comes to mind when you hear Cargo Pants? They do indeed carry cargo, of a sort, I suppose…

Sydney finger wag gif

I greatly enjoy these types of differences, as my well worn British and Scots dictionaries can attest.

Porter under hood of car
is there a bee under that bonnet?

There are times though, when the differences are just too much to wrap my head around; reading the book Borstal Boy was one of those times. I had never heard of rhyming slang, so I was quite confused by the select phrases those boys used to communicate with each other.ย Thank heavens for the index in that book!

Rosie Lee= Tea

ones and twos= Shoes


Confession: As a child I always imagined the song Waltzing Matilda to be an epic love story.

Margaret turns at dinner party gif
Matilda, is that you?

As an adult, I was quite disappointedย  to learn it was about stealing sheep. And Matilda was a knapsack!

wool cap autograph signing with attache case

What slang differences have you found interesting or amusing?



57 thoughts on “Bob’s Your Uncle

  1. I’m rather fond of the bangs/fringe one… I’m sure American girls and their bangs cause all sorts of guffaws in the UK…talking about my bangs and my pants in one sentence?


  2. I love talking about language – and your post really made me laugh, Kelbel. As a non-native speaker of English, the boundaries between AE and BE sometimes get blurred for me (I studied both in Ireland and in the US, so was exposed to both idioms). Generally speaking, I find AE vocabulary much more logical than BE. You can tell that the language of the “big melting pot” was adapted to be easily and readily understandable by the many immigrants that came into your country. Sidewalk? Makes much more sense than pavement! Movie? Much more descriptive than film (which could also be taken as the source material for stills photography). And so on. Give us more examples ๐Ÿ™‚ – especially as you illustrated/commented them so well with those RA gifs.


    1. In Australia, we would use foot-path rather than sidewalk or pavement. Traditionally Australians would be more likely to use the British idiom rather than the American unless an Aussie idiom existed. However it seems to be a bit of a generational thing these days with more American idioms being adopted. But I definitely have a fringe not bangs.


      1. here, a foot path would be a dirt path, whereas one that was paved and alongside a road would be a side-walk. pavement is generally referring to what the side-walk or path is made out of, concrete, asphalt, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. slang can get very confusing, even here amongst my “own” in the states, different regions and all that. but more of the British variety: when someone says “tuck in” they mean start eating, while we say “let me tuck you into bed”; brings to mind poor Hansel & Gretel! we have the ever important Biscuits vs. Cookies: we eat biscuits with gravy, it’s more of a crumbly scone type thing that is not sweet whatsoever. “pissed” means angry to me, not drunk. and “shag” is a kind of carpet or rug.


  4. This is fun! Do you get ladders or runs in your hose? Not sure there’d be an RA gif for that. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I’ve always felt that the British “ginger” hair is a much more accurate description than our American “red” hair. Red, really? Your mentioning “shag” reminds me of snogging. I’m curious to know the origination of that one.


    1. pantyhose, do you mean? I very rarely wear them, but when I do I always seem to get a “run” in them ๐Ÿ˜‰ I don’t know for sure where “snog” came from, but the theory is that it’s a Scots word, which means to “cuddle”. and I too much prefer the description “ginger” than “redhead”


          1. I’ve grated up plenty of fresh (beigy-tan) gingerroot, chopped, golden sugared/candied ginger and can buy pink pickled ginger for sushi, but I’ve not yet seen red-brown. What does one do with it to make it that colour?


  5. Love your illustrations!

    This is the best one I’ve heard recently — someone was describing to me how Armitage left the stage in Sydney, and she said, “the PR rep took his hand.” I said, “you mean she took him in hand?” thinking she meant to say something like the PR rep had sort of shepherded him out of there. The person I was talking to was like, “NO, absolutely not, in Australia that means ‘she masturbated him’.”

    OK, then. That would have been a fascinating end to the evening. ๐Ÿ™‚

    (It turned out that the PR rep actually did physically take his hand, which I thought was a bit infantilizing, but whatever works.)

    I shared an Wohnung (apartment / flat) in Germany for most of a year with a woman who’d lived in Oxfordshire till she was eight, then her parents moved to Australia where she did her school and undergrad, but she she did a doctorate at Cambridge and then taught at Trinity College, Dublin. Misunderstandings, especially related to nouns were *constant*. It got to the point that we started discussing crucial issues in German because we understood the same meaning for the nouns, which we couldn’t count on in English.


    1. phrases are more difficult to understand than single words, I think. you can usually tell what the meaning of a word is from the context; not always though! a difficult one for me is “chuff”: it can mean bad, it can mean good, it can mean passing gas…but that “took his hand” thing? very confusing! the naughty words/phrases are always the most fun though ๐Ÿ˜€


      1. I still remember the embarrassment for a newcomer who used the phrase “to beat someone off” meaning to “to fight them off” :-p


  6. (Although, I should add, German only worked for us b/c we both learned High German from textbooks as foreigners. There are plenty of inner-German vocabulary confusions / misunderstandings / dialect issues.)


  7. Kelbel, I do love your posts – they always give me a big smile!

    I too sometimes find it tricky to distinguish between American and British usage now, being a Brit that’s been married to an American for over 35 years… I agree with Guylty that many American words seem more logical, but someone explain to me why a fringe (which is perfectly logical) becomes bangs in America? And I can never, ever call my handbag a purse – a purse is what I keep my money in.

    By the way we also tuck people in to bed in the UK – tuck in does indeed mean buon appetito but I’ll tuck you in is what I’d like to do to RA.


    1. where did “bangs” come from? that is an interesting question, so I looked it up real quick! they seem to think it’s either from the use of “bang” as “abrupt”, you get your hair cut “bang off”; or from the description “bang-tailed” which is used when a horse gets it’s tail cut short. I think the second one seems more logical.


      1. The German term for bangs / fringe is “Pony,” which I assume relates to the hair on the forehead of a pony? ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. One of the things that always raises a big smile over here is the American use of the word fanny. In the UK your bottom / behind / derriรจre is your bum if you’re using slang. We have bum-bags…you have fanny-packs…I think. Trouble is fanny means something else here…see my comment about chuff above. It’s the same thing ๐Ÿ™‚ You can see why we snigger a lot!!


    1. Actually I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to the buttocks as a “fanny” in real life. I think that term is becoming obsolete, as least in most people under a certain age.


      1. regional differences, maybe? it’s true that those who are using it in a serious manner are usually of an older generation, but us youngsters still use it when we’re being silly


  9. I agree with the others…really fun post. My Brit friend would get so comfortable that he would lapse into his cockney and lose me completely. I would laugh so hard because it was completely foreign to my ears. He would laugh because he assumed I woyld just catch on. Fun stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. it does seem like a different language sometimes! it’s fun to just sit back and go with your first instincts; like playing “mad libs” when we were kids


    1. kind of like when Harry says “there you go”. it’s usually used at the end of an explanation. “turn it twice to the right, once to the left; and Bob’s your uncle.” ๐Ÿ™‚


  10. The US and UK divided by a common language. Here is something that I said to my boys awhile back which they knew what I was saying.

    While your brother does the washing up will you check the bin to see if the liner needs changing?
    Translation: While your brother washes the dishes will you check the garbage to see if we need a new trash bag.

    Do you have a boot or trunk, bonnet or hood, windscreen or windshield? Is it a bird or a chick, bloke or guy, mince or hamburger, sultana or white raisin, double cream or whipping cream, single cream or half and half. I really could go on and on about the differences we have. It is nice to know other people know what I am talking about. I also feel that I really do know more than one language and that is not my bad French.


    1. I grew up in an area that was heavily populated with Brits and Scots, so a lot of the words and phrases have been familiar to me since I was a kid; I just thought that’s how old people talked!


      1. My dad’s families are Irish, Scottish and English and I am not sure when they came over to America but they keep some of the slang that my dad would still say some of it when I was young. The big one I remember was boob, I always wondered why he would say that. It was until I got my British English A to Zed that I figured it out.


  11. Here in Spain, I encounter more British usage than American, and I was married to a Scot, so I am ambi-linguistic. I still did a double-take when a friend said, “Oh, I’ll come round and knock you up.” He was not offering to get me pregnant, just to bang on my door and wake me up in time to go hiking. LOL


    1. I did a double-take the first time I heard that phrase used that way too! ๐Ÿ˜› another one I love is when a kitchen stove/oven is called a “hob”; that just seems all warm and cozy to me


  12. I’ve noticed in “Spooks” they say “legend” instead of “cover”or “history” for undercover work. Also, in the criminal justice system Brits refer to a “form” instead of “record”. Mobile ( pronounced mo-bile – not “moble” instead of cell, and someone will “catch you up” rather than catch up with you. People “come around” instead of “coming over” and do a lot of “sorting” instead of “fixing,” “dealing with it” or handling.. “jumper” not “sweater” Crisps for chips and chips for fries.


    1. I’ve always thought of the form/record type as sounding more sophisticated. pronunciations are a whole other ball game though! (as are phrases; we use a lot of sports related ones in America)


      1. We only chips at our house never fries. The boys also say crisps never chips. I love the look they get from there friends. Chips get ate with malt vinegar also. The boys friends love it when there is fish and chips at our house with the malt vinegar.


        1. I love my “fries” with vinegar! it’s how I always ate them as a kid, but now you hardly ever see vinegar offered at restaurants. I asked for it at “cracker barrel” once, & the waiter didn’t know that you put it on french fries/chips ๐Ÿ™„ my favorite Irish themed restaurant always has a bottle on the table though.


      2. I buy my malt vinegar and other british treats from a store in the US that imports different foods, teas and other things. There really quite a few that do, in fact I have a celtic store in my town that I will get a few things from as they don’t have all the food stuff that we like. I buy Sarsons which we all like. Fish fries are a big deal on Friday nights where I live, but if they do have malt vinegar it tends to be Heniz that will work if there is nothing else, we don’t go out for fish any more as I guess mine is better, says the boys. If I run out of Sarsons, London Pub is better than the Heniz or I better make a order.


    2. Servetus, I know in Wisconsin it is a really big thing, what am I thinking. I just read a write up are area’s visitor magazine about all the great places to eat fish in the area. If my husband’s family from out of town comes for a visit we will go out on Friday night for fish, there a couple places that I will go. Saturday night has been the fish night in our house. Maybe this coming up Saturday night, then sit down to watch RH.


  13. Giggles! This is fun.

    Of course I wondered with your opening line if you were referring to the “Bob’s your uncle” phrase I have often heard. What does that mean? Ha!

    And if RA/Brits use “pants” for what we Yankettes call underwear or panties, I wander if an American interviewer ever threw RA off guard by saying “Love your pants, dude.” (meaning he liked the cut of RA’s trousers) Ha!

    Cheers! ;->


    1. I’ve heard RA say pants when meaning trousers before. I’m sure he’s become more aware of the language differences with the interviewers and whatnot in the business through the years, but it would be fun to hear some of his mishaps with slang!


  14. Irritated at being stranded in an airport hotel during a snow storm, I chatted with a British businessman in my check-in line to relieve the boredom, and we arranged to have dinner together after our meetings. In the elevator after dinner, he blithely proposed (apropos of nothing we had discussed up to that point, I swear) “So would you like a knock up?” I think he meant shag, not impregnation. Not desiring either, I chirped “No, thanks!” and got off on my floor. Three cheers to anyone who can tell me if I was correct using every double entendre I intentionally planted in my story.


    1. The usual expression I’ve heard is, ‘I’ll knock you up in the morning’, which doesn’t mean having it off and potentially putting a bun in the oven and someone ending up in the pudding club ๐Ÿ˜€


  15. Well done, Cill, well done — with the double entendres. But seriously. A wake up call? Why would one guest in a hotel offer to make a wakeup (phone) call to another? You can get the front desk to do that! I remember the question implying a choice on what was to happen in the next 30 seconds — does he get off the elevator with me on my floor, or not? Was it not a proposition for having sex? Did I totally misunderstand? Am I a hopelessly gutter-brained American?


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