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An Illustrated Guide to Weird British Expressions [Infographic]

Posted by Amit Raj on 13/11/2016

If travelling abroad feels like a stretch too far this year, there’s plenty that’s exotic about Britain itself. You don’t have to cross any major bodies of water to find strange sights, peculiar rituals and frankly outlandish language. Our islands may be small enough to fit into the state of Texas three times over, but our culture is wide and varied. Yet many of us take our neighbours for granted, and pack our bags for an international trip when we need a change of scene. If you’ve only visited a couple of major cities or taken the occasional trip to the British seaside, you only have a fraction of an idea of how your compatriots live – and as we’ve seen recently, on some levels we have a lot less in common than you may think.

But it’s not all about political divides. There are some amazing contrasts in the landscape and the lifestyle of folk from London to the west country, from the tip of Scotland to the edges of Wales. And while, as a ‘Kingdom’, we have a lot of shared words and phrases that baffle English-speakers from overseas, there are plenty of terms different groups of Brits use that folk just the other side of county borders won’t recognize.

Take a trip to Liverpool or Manchester, for example, and try making conversation in one of their amazing pubs. In their different ways, people from both cities can be very friendly and welcoming – but if you hear them tell you “You’re pecking me head”, it’s probably time to back off. It’s not too hard a phrase to decode: imagine how you would feel if a bird alighted on your shoulder and repeatedly pecked your head. That’s the image your new-found north-western friend is trying to evoke. In short: you’re talking too much.

Likewise, venture further north and you can enjoy the warm humour and no-nonsense attitude of the Scots. But provoke one of them to tell you “You’re all bum and parsley,” and you’ll know you’ve overstepped the mark. A less homely version of ‘bum’ might be used if you’ve become particularly familiar with your host. It means you’re – to use a more common British idiom – too big for your boots, a know-it-all, a pseud.

Of course, there are lovelier phrases on offer, too. Make your way south-westerly to Herefordshire, Shropshire, and even further south, and you’ll be greeted by a veritable army of badgers. Answer a question correctly? “That’s the badger!” Go to a great party? “It were just the badger!” In the west country, the badger is an unofficial icon of satisfaction. Nobody ever uses the word “badger” in anger. It makes you wonder who the original badger was, that he or she is commemorated today in utterance of this thoroughly charming phrase.

If you’re planning on exploring some new parts of Britain, you don’t need to worry about packing a phrasebook – some of the most common expressions have been gathered in a great new infographic which you can keep handily loaded on you iPad – so you needn’t make a pig’s ear of conversing with the locals. 

British Expressions Infographic