19 British Phrases That Have Made Their Way into American Vernacular

The English language may be globally dominant, but it constantly evolves and generates regional slang, accents, and dialects. American English differs from U.K. English in many ways, but there are a few Britishisms that have persisted or been recently adopted. Here are 19 such phrases that are slowly making their way into everyday American conversations!

Brilliant

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American English traditionally uses this word to mean “exceptionally talented or intelligent” or “very bright” (as in light), but there is a third way it can be used. In addition to these meanings, the Cambridge Dictionary states that “brilliant” also means “very good” or “excellent.” Social media and British TV shows now bring this more frequent usage to the U.S.

Bodge

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Have you ever created or repaired something in a clumsy or makeshift way? In Britain, this would be called a “bodge job.” To “bodge” something is to make or fix it in a rushed, less-than-ideal manner, resulting in a solution that may work temporarily but is inelegant, flawed, or destined to fail. Americans are adopting the term to add some humor to shoddy workmanship!

Chip Shop

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Across the U.K., “chip shops” are traditional fast-food establishments that exist in every town, specializing in battered fish and chips. While American fish and chips shops have existed for some time, the term “chip shop” has only recently begun to be used here—it’s especially prevalent in areas with a lot of U.K. immigrants or a particular fondness for fried British cuisine!

Cheers

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In America, “cheers” typically functions only to make a toast or well wishes—for example, “Cheers to the bride and groom!” In Britain, however, it’s also an informal way to say thank you and is frequently used by the lower classes to show gratitude for small favors. While “cheers” to show thankfulness is much less frequent in the U.S., it is slowly crossing the Atlantic. 

Taking the Mickey

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Thanks to quintessentially British movies like Snatch (2000), certain lower-class slang has been introduced into American English. According to Collins, to “take the mickey” out of someone is to gently tease or mock them, often in a good-natured way. This idiom has become increasingly common in modern American conversations, particularly among younger generations.

Right, Then

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This versatile phrase has many uses in British conversations—it can be used to start work or a meaningful discussion, to agree with a decision, or to signal the end of something, e.g., “Right, then! We better be leaving.” Although Americans may be familiar with the word “right,” adding “then” is becoming popular, giving the phrase an appealing British flair!

Quite

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While “quite” is synonymous with “very” in American English, British usage often adds extra emphasis or even understatement. For instance, “That’s quite good” could be genuinely complimentary, but it more likely means that the person isn’t very enthusiastic about how good it is! This subtlety is making its way over the Atlantic thanks to British TV shows and movies.

Off License

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In the U.K., an “off license” is a shop authorized to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises, hence the name. Pubs in the U.K. have liquor licenses for drinking on-site, but off-licenses are simply alcoholic grocery stores. This concept is still foreign in America but is gaining traction. If you want to sound really British, try calling it “the offie” around your U.K. friends!

See You Later, Alligator

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This playful rhyming goodbye sounds childlike but is used by British people of all ages when bidding farewell to friends or casual acquaintances. However, it’s understandably absent from professional environments! The standard rhyming reply is “In a while, crocodile,” and both phrases are now finding their way into American playgrounds and schoolyards.

The Whole Shebang

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This Britishism is slang for “absolutely everything” or “the entire thing.” It is synonymous with phrases such as “the whole nine yards” or “the full works.” This informal phrase is harmless and fun to say and is slowly being incorporated into the American language, particularly in areas heavily influenced by cross-Atlantic immigration with strong British communities. 

Dodgy

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“Dodgy” is a versatile adjective to describe something suspicious, unreliable, or of poor quality. It can apply to appliances or objects (“That toaster looks a bit dodgy”) and building standards to high-crime areas or questionable characters (“I wouldn’t trust that bloke; he seems a bit dodgy”). The informality of the term makes it a handy addition to the American lexicon.

Mind

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This word is frequently used to soften making a request and is almost always short for “Do you mind…” For example, a British person might say, “Mind opening that window for me?” as a polite, informal way to ask someone to take action on their behalf. Although used in American English, it often sounds slightly old-fashioned—”Could you please…” is more common.

Queue

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According to Etymoline, the British word “queue” comes from the Latin for “tail” and refers to a line of people waiting for something. What Brits call “queueing,” we typically call “standing in line,” but the word “queue” is creeping into American conversations. It is especially common in formal settings or written communications, where the more colloquial “line” can seem inappropriate.

Pants

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Anyone who’s hung out with Brits will know that they call pants “trousers” and only use the term “pants” when talking about underwear! This can lead to confusion, particularly since U.K. usage has entered American pop culture via British media and fashion. The word can also mean “poorly made” or “bad,” although this use is rare in the U.S.

Bonkers

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This informal term means “crazy” or “out of one’s mind” and can refer to people, actions, objects, or even ideas. It is typically used to describe something harmlessly absurd or eccentric and is rarely meant to be offensive. Americans like this whimsical word, and some have started to use it in everyday conversations, particularly the younger generations.

Rubbish

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“Rubbish” is a noun that refers to garbage or trash, but it can also be used informally as an adjective that means “poor” or “of terrible quality.” It can also be used for ideas or events that are nonsensical or disappointing—it’s basically a blunt way of expressing disapproval. Some Americans have adopted this Britishism, many of whom learned it from British media.

Fancy a Cuppa?

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This informal question literally translates to “Would you like a cup of tea?” with the word “fancy” being used to ask, “Are you in the mood for…” The World Population Review asserts that the U.K. is the third biggest tea-drinking country worldwide, making it a near-sacred cultural beverage. In America, tea drinking is on the rise, and you may hear this phrase being uttered in certain places.

Chuffed

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To be “chuffed” is to be delighted, which is particularly relevant when discussing personal achievements or good fortune. A British person might use the term if they were happy with their work, had purchased a bargain object, or had experienced a win. The word has recently become increasingly common in American English, particularly among those living alongside Brits.

Batten Down the Hatches

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Are you preparing for a physically or emotionally challenging situation—like a hurricane or revelation? To “batten down the hatches” means to prepare for stormy weather or difficult times, which comes from securing a ship’s hatches in rough seas. Americans are more likely to use idioms like “brace yourself” or “get ready for the storm,” but most of us at least understand the British phrase.

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