10 British Expressions that Americans Find Amusing

I've lived in the US for 12 years and generally consider myself bilingual. I speak American English just as fluently as British English. But there are still times when what I say gets me the "look."

I've lived in the US for 12 years and generally consider myself bilingual. I speak American English just as fluently as British English! But there are some American words that I stuggle with and try to avoid using (see my post 10 silly American words) like “bangs” or “rutabaga." I have my pride, after all.

To be fair, there are many British words and sayings which humo(u)r or confuse my fellow Americans.

Just last week, I used the word “slapdash” in a meeting, only to get what I call “the look” from colleagues. Anyone who’s been a traveler in a foreign country trying to make themselves understood knows that look. It infers, “I have absolutely no clue what you are trying to say but I’m going to nod and smile nonetheless.”

Being a communicator at heart, getting “the look” pains me. But at the same time – and with the glass half full – I seize the opportunity to clarify my statement (which can sometimes lead to further hilarity) or, at the very least, educate my audience about the meaning of the expression so that the next time they find themselves in the room with a Brit, they can nod sagely rather than inflicting “the look.”

Here’s a shortlist of some of those British expressions that have caused me to be on the receiving end of “the look”:

  • donkey’s years (= a very long time)
  • putting a spanner in the works (= throw a wrench)
  • and Bob’s your uncle (= and there you have it)
  • gone barmy (= gone mad)
  • a lotta bottle (= a lot of courage)
  • picking up fag ends (= listening to the end of conversations)
  • dog’s bollocks (= cat’s meow)
  • fancy dress (= costume)
  • chuffed to bits (= very pleased)
  • gobsmacked (= amazed)


I confess that I also proactively alter the way I pronounce several words here to avoid getting “the look.” For example, I’ll ask for wahder, say tooona (instead of tuna) and ask for tom-ay-to. It pains me but “the look” pains me more.

Meantime, my fellow Americans, here are some useful links to sites to help your English cross the pond: Effingpot – the very best of BritishBritish Sayings/British Words and this great post about 20 British expressions you will never hear in the U.S.


Samantha is a working Mom/Mum, muddling through parenthood, career and life one day at a time with a smile on her face. She also blogs at Keeping The Glass Half Full.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sharon Hurley Hall March 26, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Thanks for including Park Ride Fly's post, Samantha. I can't tell you how many times I've had the look for 'Bob's your uncle' - and my hubby likes to throw some Cockney rhyming slang into the mix too.
Barry Willmore May 08, 2012 at 05:00 AM
"Donkeys years" is in actual fact "Donkeys ears" as in as long as donkeys ears.
Denise Zadina July 27, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Brenda Crawshaw July 28, 2012 at 11:28 PM
And whatever you do, don't mention spanking someone's "fanny"; it does NOT mean tushie in GB!!!!
kl bruzzi July 30, 2012 at 05:04 PM
'wouldn't of been' it's wouldn't HAVE been. sorry Jim but you do that alot and makes me crazy and I finally snapped and had to call you out.


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