One day over coffee I said to a good friend of mine, “My house is so messy. I’ve got to give the entire place a good Hoovering.”
And my friend, to his very great credit, did not say, “What are you talking about?” What he did say was “God, I love British television.”
Because he, of course, is also a big British TV fan (I try to surround myself almost exclusively with people who can talk Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, and Poldark with me), he knew that when I said “Hoovering,” what I meant was “vacuuming.” He was also smart enough to know that most of my British vocabulary (inadvertent or not) comes from watching rather more British television than is good for me. So here’s some of my most frequent Britishisms and slang terms, and the Brit television moments from which they (at least partially sprang):
1. “Hoovering.” To vacuum. And used, perhaps most memorably, in the comedy show Coupling, when perpetual oddball Jeff explains how he got into trouble when he was doing some “girlfriend Hoovering.” (You don’t have to watch this clip long; the vocab’s at about the :50 second mark):
2. “And so say all of us.” My youngest son was playing with a Peanuts book/keyboard toy that plays the song “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” And when it came to the end I sang, “And so say all of us!” (Instead of, “Which nobody can deny!”) The first time I heard “and so say all of us” on a British show or movie, I thought, well that doesn’t make any sense, and it just sounds wrong. Now, I’ve heard it so often that it’s my preferred version. What was I clinging to, after all? It’s not like “which nobody can deny!” rhymes with “jolly good fellow either.”
Now, tracking down a clip in which that song appears is a bit trickier. I’m pretty sure they sing it in the movie Cold Comfort Farm, starring Kate Beckinsale, but I can’t find a link for that. So have instead this very strange kid’s video offering this version of the song. Trust me: if you watch enough British TV you’ll get very used to this wording too.
3. “About,” pronounced “aboot.”
Okay, this one is actually Canadian, but it gets points for sheer amounts of usage at my house. In fact, we use this so regularly now (even my husband has given in and started saying it) that I have to consciously make an effort NOT to say “about” this way when I am not in my house. Because, sadly, I do not live in Canada. Yet. And of course, if you want to hear the Canadian “aboot,” you go straight to Red Green:
There’s one in there. It’s subtle, but it’s there.
4. “Damp squib.” As in “something that fails on all counts.”
Yeah, I know I can’t get away with “damp squib” (or “damp squid,” as Roy in The IT Crowd says it) in America. But I wish I could.
Side note: I went looking for a graphic to use with this post and discovered there is a ton of fascinating stuff about the British accent (and how it is changing) out there, among other slang and accent stories. I CANNOT explore that fascinating rabbit hole right now–but I’m going to at some point, you can bet.
So. What British slang have you picked up from watching their TV?