If you want to get a feel for some really traditional English phrases or slang, then you need to watch some good old British Black and White Movies. It is so representative of a byegone age but also a sign of how times have changed. Once you could determine which social class people came from just by the way they introduced themselves or said Goodbye.
For instance – “Toodle Pip” was quite a posh way of saying Goodbye. You wouldn’t expect many folk from the East End of London to say “toodlepip!”. They were more likely to say “Cheerio!” And even “cheerio” is a phrase hardly spoken today. It’s an informal way of saying goodbye rather like “see ya” or “lata” which obviously used to be “see you later!” Laziness has a lot to be responsible for in the speaking of the British Language.
In fact as time has moved on, we have become more casual when it comes to speech and enunciation. Shame, but true!
Slang is now very much an integral part of the British Language and shows the cross section of people and how they speak. Some of this will be linked to cockney rhyming slang, such as words like the following;
No, it doesn’t relate to the singer from the 1950’s but to someone being hungry. You see, cockney phrases rhyme and so you work out what it could be….
Hank Marvin – Starving
Apples and Pears – stairs
Butchers Hook – Look
Well, you can see the idea, for sure!
Some of the phrases are just more descriptive of what is being said and quite self-explanatory, such as
Wind your Neck in – don’t be nosy or mind your own business
Spend a Penny – To use Public Toilets previously, you used to have to put 1 old penny in the door to open it. So, spending a penny, meant you wanted to use the toilet
Sandwich Short of a Picnic – means someone is not quite right in the head. The picnic is not complete
Ready for the Knackers… The Knackers yard was a place where you used to send horses to be destroyed and their carcasses used for various things. Anyone who was on their way to the Knackers would know it was the end of their useful life. So if you were speaking to someone and they said “she’s only fit for the knackers” or “I am knackered” it means tired; no more life; run out of energy.
This means that if anything can go wrong – it will. Expect the worst, because it will happen. If you went outside and didn’t take a coat then it would be “sods Law” that it would rain and you would get wet. Another way of saying “Sods Law” is “Murphys Law” – another name but means exactly the same.
Sometimes people are very lazy when they speak and run two or three words together. A good example of this is the word “innit” which simply means “isn’t it?”. Another popular slang word is “Bruv” – meaning Brother. This is a colloquial phrase to mean; Friend; Brother; Family Member. You will often hear someone way “are you ok Bruv?” and it is a friendly way of addressing someone.
Children love to say “Pinch and a Punch” on the 1st of each month. This allows them to pinch or punch their friends in a gentle friendly way. Then the friend who has received the pinch and punch will be able to say “a slap and a kick for being so quick” as a response. Hopefully they won’t slap or kick them too hard.
Still staying on the topic of children, or even pets, if someone refers to them as being “full of beans” it means they are being very lively; high spirited, fun and happy. So if you had a puppy which wouldn’t stay still, you could respond by saying “this puppy is full of beans!”
Once people used to hold the British citizens in high regard for the way they spoke and their beautiful English, but now times have changed and English is spoken in a sort of Patois that is definitely “non standard English!”
You also have to put into the mix that Australians speak English in a different way to South Africans and especially Americans. For instance, the phrase “Gud’Day Mate!” is typically thought of as an Australian way of saying “hello“ to people and British English has long since changed. Although British people would say “Mate” it would be said more by people determined as “working class” rather than “upper class” as it is simply too informal to be said by people of higher birth.
South Africans have a rather delightful say of saying Goodbye, which sounds quite formal. It is “have a good day, further!” meaning that as they leave you, they hope your day will continue to be good; amazing and full of great experiences.
American English is completely different from British English and is even spelt differently. Take for instance
- Programme and Program
- Colour and Color
- Neighbour and Neighbor
- Or even has a different name completely, for instance
Pants in England means, under your trousers, but in America, pants are the equivalent of our trousers. A purse in England is a small bag used for coins, but in America it would be a handbag. A cot in England is for babies but in America it means a temporary Put You Up Bed.
A lot of slang, of course, comes from TV especially American films and for young British people who haven’t been to America, they learn the phrases from the TV. So speaking English is now not a case of “being British and speaking correctly” but a delightful melting pot of “English words” from all of our English speaking countries.
Vive la difference