List of British Words Not Widely Used in The United States - B


(vulgar, though possibly not in origin) error, mistake, SNAFU. See also cock-up. (US: fuck up, screw up, mess up)
(1) a sausage (from the tendency of sausages to burst during frying); (2) a type of small firework; (3) an old car (allusion to their tendency to back-fire), thus the term 'banger racing' = stock car racing. (US: jalopy).
banknote (or note)
paper money issued by the central bank (US: "bill")
soft bread roll or a sandwich made from it; in plural, breasts (vulgar slang e.g. "a lovely pair of baps"); a person's head (Northern Ireland).
barmaid *, barman
a woman or man who serves drinks in a bar. Barman and the originally American bartender appeared within a year of each other (1837 and 1836); barmaid is almost two centuries older (circa 1658).
a small quarrel or fight. Not actually from Cockney rhyming slang, trouble, "Barney Rubble" (see Barney Rubble for the American animation character of the same name)
barrister *
the only type of lawyer qualified to argue a case in both higher and lower law courts; contrasts with solicitor. Occasionally used in the US, but not to define any particular type of lawyer.
bedsit (or bedsitter)
one-room flat that serves as a living room, kitchen and bedroom and with shared bathroom facilities (US: see SRO; compare studio apartment (in British English a studio apartment - sometimes 'studio flat' - would have a self-contained bathroom)' efficiency)
Beeb, the Beeb
(affectionate slang) the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). See also 'Auntie' (above). Thought to have been coined by English BBC radio DJ and comedian Kenny Everett. The British band Queen released an album called At the Beeb in the UK and it had to be called "At the BBC" for US release.
Belisha beacon
orange ball containing a flashing light mounted on a post at each end of a zebra crossing (qv); named after the UK Minister of Transport who introduced them in 1934.
the glans penis, (slang, vulgar) a male orientated insult.
a mildly derogatory term for a silly person. The word is an abbreviation of either 'Berkshire Hunt' or 'Berkeley Hunt' (it is uncertain which is the original phrase), rhyming slang for cunt. (Note that 'berk' rhymes with 'work', whereas the first syllable of both 'Berkshire' and 'Berkeley' is pronounced 'bark', in a manner rather similar to the pronunciation of 'derby' as 'darby'. Note also that it is considerably less obscene and insulting than its basis, cunt)
custom-made to a buyer's specification (US:custom-made)
bicky, bikky
a biscuit (US: "cookie")
a condescending and sometimes derogatory term for a woman (from the Arabic for 'daughter'). Usage varies with a range of harshness from 'bitch', referring to a disagreeable and domineering woman, to only a slightly derogatory term for a young woman.
/ˈbaɪəroʊ/ a ballpoint pen. Named after its Hungarian inventor László Bíró and the eponymous company which first marketed them.
bits and bobs
sundry items to purchase, pick up, et cetera (e.g. whilst grocery shopping)
black pudding
(US: blood sausage)
(slang) to obtain or achieve by deception and/or ill preparation, to bluff, to scrounge, to rob, to wing it. A scam, tall story or deception. Derived from the French word blague.
derogatory term used in place of bloke ("what's that stupid bleeder done now?"); use has declined in recent years.
(informal) an exclamation of surprise. (Originally gor blimey, a euphemism for God blind me, but has generally lost this connotation.)
(informal) man, fellow. e.g. Terry is a top bloke. Also common in Australia and New Zealand. (US and UK also: guy).
blues and twos
(slang) emergency vehicle with lights and sirens (emergency services in the UK generally use blue flashing lights and formerly used a two-tone siren) (US: lights and sirens or code)
police officer, named after Sir Robert Peel, the instigator of the world's first organised police force.
Bob's your uncle
"there you go", "it's that simple". Sometimes "Robert's your father's brother" (as used in the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) (Some areas of US have the phrase Bob's your uncle; Fanny's your aunt)
something of low quality or (more commonly) someone who lacks ability at something, (e.g. "Our new striker is bobbins") From bobbins of cotton=rotten.
a cheap or poor (repair) job, can range from inelegant but effective to outright failure. e.g. You properly bodged that up (you really made a mess of that). (US: botch or cob, shortened form of cobble) See Bodger.
scientist or engineer, sometimes abbreviated to boff
bog roll
(roll of) toilet ("bog") paper (slang). Occasionally 'shit roll' or 'shit rag' (vulgar). 'Giant bog-roll': kitchen towel.
completely ordinary, run-of-the-mill, unadulterated, unmodified. Originally from "British Or German standard", from a time when engineers wanting a certain quality would make such a specification. (US vanilla).
boiled sweet
type of confection (US: hard candy)
(vulgar; originally ballocks, colloquially also spelled as bollox) testicles; verbal rubbish (as in "you're talking bollocks") (US: bullshit). The somewhat similar bollix is found in American English, but without the anatomical connotations or vulgar sense meaning 'mess up'. The twin pulley blocks at the top of a ship's mast are also known as bollocks, and in the 18th century priests' sermons were colloquially referred to as bollocks; it was by claiming this last usage that the Sex Pistols prevented their album Never Mind the Bollocks from being banned under British obscenity laws. Related phrases include bollocksed, which means either tired ("I'm bollocksed!") or broken beyond repair; bollocks up, meaning to mess up ("He really bollocksed that up"); and bollocking, meaning a stern telling off. Compare dog's bollocks, below
bone-idle *
the panel which covers a vehicle's engine and various other parts (US: hood)
Separate rear storage compartment of a car. US: trunk
football/athletic shoes (US called cleats or spikes)
a type of men's hat (US: derby)
brass monkeys
cold – from "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey". According to a popular folk etymology, this phrase derives from cannonballs stowed on a brass triangle named after a "powder monkey" (a boy who runs gunpowder to the ship's guns) spilling owing to the frame's contraction in cold weather. (This is however incorrect for several physical and linguistic reasons.) The phrase is a 20th century variant of earlier expressions referring to other body parts, especially the nose and tail, indicating that the brass monkey took the form of a real monkey.
brekkie, brekky
(slang) synonym of breakfast
(musical) a note of two bars' length (or a count of 8) in 4/4 time (US: double whole note)
(vulgar, rhyming slang) breasts; from football team Bristol City = titty
(informal) umbrella
brown bread
(rhyming slang) dead; "You're brown bread, mate!"
browned off
Fed up, annoyed or out of patience.
bubble and squeak
dish of cooked cabbage fried with cooked potatoes and other vegetables. Often made from the remains of the Sunday roast trimmings. (Irish: colcannon)
(vulgar, literally a synonym for 'sodomised') worn out; broken; thwarted, undermined, in a predicament, e.g. 'If we miss the last bus home, we're buggered' (US: screwed). Also used to indicated lack of motivation as in "I can't be buggered". Uncommon in the US.
bugger all
little or nothing at all; "I asked for a pay rise and they gave me bugger all"; "I know bugger all about plants"; damn all. US: zip, jack or (offensive) jack shit. Usage is rare in the US.
building society
an institution, owned by its depositors rather than shareholders, that provides mortgage loans and other financial services (US equivalent: savings and loan association)
bum bag
a bag worn on a strap around the waist (US: fanny pack)
to wander aimlessly or stroll/walk without urgency to a destination; usually synonymous with bungle when used in the US.
bumf, bumph
useless paperwork or documentation (from "bum fodder", toilet paper)
a windfall; profit; bonus
bureau de change
an office where money can be exchanged (US: currency exchange)
burgle *
(originally colloquial, back-formation from burglar) to commit burglary (in the US, burglarize is overwhelmingly preferred, although burgle is occasionally found).
a sandwich (esp. 'chip butty' or 'bacon butty').
(US: special election)
a local law (US: ordinance)

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