It's Yer Idiom Innit?
- An Old Git's Guide to Modern Idiom including Slang, Abuse and Cliches
Warning: Political Correctness
Any trace of Political Correctness found on this page is probably an error
I thought I would own up to being an old git right away - although the use of the word "modern" is something of a giveaway.
In my experience, nothing ages a book or magazine article more quickly and definitely than the use of the word "modern" - frequently in relation to such "modern" artefacts as the new electric telegraph or a coal-fired stamp licker.
This word should not be confused with "post modern" which is a really good pretentious phrase used heavily in arts reviews which means er... something er.... which is er....like er.. a bit more modern than er...modern. OK?
But I digress. This guide is intended for those who may be about to embark on a visit to London or elsewhere in the UK and may need a guide to some habits of speech and expressions which they may not understand without reference to this guide
The Mystery of the Rotating Londoners.
If you are visiting London and you listen to East Enders, particularly the women, talking about conversations that they have had, you will soon notice that, according to them, the people they talk to are constantly rotating.
A typical account is: " So 'e turns around and says 'ere what's your game? I turned round and told him to mind his own bleeding business and he turns round and says "Don't you come the old tin man with me, my girl" So I turn round and tell him where to get off"
So much of this turning round goes on that it is likely that conversations have to be prematurely terminated owing to dizziness.
Obviously, such exchanges would be very spectacular to behold and would closely rival ballet for the amount of revolving that goes on.
Sadly, I have travelled extensively round London over the last few years and have yet to observe any excessive rotation taking place anywhere.
The Rising Inflection - hopefully it will sink again?
Some people, particularly between the ages of six and twenty six? are afflicted by the rising inflection? This is a very wearying affliction for the listener? Because it requires a nod every time the speaker does it? It also indicates a total lack of confidence on the part of the speaker? because it seems like a continuous probing for approval? and a total inability to make a definitive statement?
Winston Churchill is widely regarded as one of history's greatest orators. This was regarded as being all the more remarkable in the light of his speech impediment.
Imagine if he had been afflicted by rising inflection:
"We shall not flag or fail? We shall go on to the end? We shall fight in France? We shall fight on the seas and oceans? We shall fight with growing confidence? and growing strength? In the air? We shall defend our island? Whatever the cost may be? We shall fight on the beaches? We shall fight on the landing grounds? We shall fight on the fields? And in the streets? We shall fight in the hills? We shall never surrender?"
We will have been inspired by this speech? Never.
Learn more about inflections Here
South London Dictionary.
Well Very. Not to be confused with "well" meaning "not ill". In fact, look out for "Well ill" meaning extremely ill.(See also "Out of Order")
Can be used for comic effect with words indicating sensitivity, culture or learning.
Examples: "Its well metaphysical", "That's well contrapuntal", "E's well sensitive" , "the understanding between the parties is tacit well tacit." or the cockney gynaecologist: "Phwooaar! Them tubes is well fallopian!!"
That's well profound, innit.
Out of Order. Taking a bleeding liberty. Used in conjunction with "well" as in " He was well out of order", it becomes the justification for any form of rough justice from a "good" kicking, a "slap" (breaks many small bones) to sudden death.
Lifts (elevators) on high rise estates in Hackney are generally out of order and "well out of order" if they have been comprehensively vandalised.
Slang - Rhyming and other forms.
This is by no means a comprehensive list but just a selection of the terms which have caught my fancy by virtue of the images that they conjure up or for other reasons which will be explained.
For a comprehensive listing of the more common expressions, try A wonderfully comprehensive guide. There is another site specialising in rhyming slang but the owner of the site wants visitors to ask his permission to quote any of his wonderful slang expressions and a condition of his assent is that he gets the credit.
Seeing as the whole point of slang is that it is not copyright in any way shape or form, I think that this is well out of order and so I won't even link to it. If you are really keen on slang, you'll find it anyway but many of the terms listed are well esoteric and you will never hear them in day-to-day life.
The terms in my guide are not necessarily bang up-to-the-minute and may have have been around for a long time. Ernest Shepherd, the illustrator of A A Milne's Winnie the Pooh books was born in 1879 and was known as a "Giddy Kipper" (see below) and was even called "Kipper" by his classmates.
"Twerp", meaning bumptious little prat, was very commonly used in the Fifties and disappeared only to resurface about 4 or 5 years ago.
Why, I have no idea. This should not be confused with:
Bobbins. I am indebted to the "wonderfully comprehensive guide" mentioned above for throwing light on this one used a lot by one of my Northern colleagues. It turns out it's Manchester rhyming slang for rotten." Bobbins of cotton".
Cakester - A nice subtle codeword for a chubby person - preferred usage: "a bit of a cakester" - see also Salad Dodger.
Jobsworth. A person, usually a security guard, park keeper or a parking attendant who says "Its more than my job's worth" when enforcing some petty regulation.
The BBC was famous for a particular breed of jobsworth. One of these is supposed to have been on duty at Broadcasting House when King Haakon of Norway appeared at the Security Desk, gave the jobsworth his name and told him that he was due to participate in a programme in studio 6.
The jobsworth went to ring the studio. A moment later he put his hand over the phone and called out,"Excuse me, Sir, where was it you said you was King of?"
Another jobsworth story tells how Agatha Christie was the guest of honour at a Foyles literary luncheon. The doorman asked her for her invitation and refused to admit her when she couldn't produce it. She didn't make any fuss but just went home. I would have loved to have seen the resulting panic as the literati looked for their guest of honour and realised the important role played by the doorman....
Do you have any favourite jobsworth stories? e-mail them to me and I'll add them to this page.... This is a subject which could grow and grow!
Aeroplane Blonde One who has bleached/dyed her hair but still has a black box.
Aussie Kiss Just like a French kiss only down under.
Ayrton. Rhyming slang for tenner ( ten pounds). This is after Ayrton Senna, the racing driver which shows that rhyming slang is always being upated. Another word for tenner is "Pavarotti" who is a tenor. (in case you are bleeding ignorant)
Backlog. Constipation as in "I've got a bit of a backlog buiding up". This leads to " I'm just going to clear my backlog." Which reminds me of a 1970s office poster which read " The Backlog's not cleared until the paperworks done."
Big Girls Blouse - weedy milksop, cowardly weakling. This is an excellent example of the use of explosive consonants to let off steam. See "Freaking"
Bondi Cigar This poetic Australian expression describes a turd floating in the water when you are swimming off Bondi Beach.
Which reminds me of a story about a very refined house party where one of the guests came downstairs after breakfast with a very satisfied expression on his face and announced " I have just been helping a fat friend to go to the seaside." Since posting this, I have been reminded of a friend whose favourite expression before going to help a fat friend to the sea was " I'll see you in a minute - I have a large gentleman waiting in the departure lounge."
He has now abandoned this expression in favour of "Launching a performing seal". When challenged, he is only too ready to explain that it is so large that it has a ball on its nose.
... I can't for the life of me understand what he means.
Aeolian Deposit While we are in the botty department, this one is worth a mention. Originating from the geological department of one of our august educational establishments, it is the deposit which the unwitting student finds when he is trying to outperform his mates at a fart lighting contest.
It is not unlike this one from the Chemistry Department of the same seat of learning:
Change of Phase You thought it was going to be gaseous, it was unexpectedly solid and then was all too visibly liquid. Bummer.
Some expressions are just made to be said in certain accents. One of these is the Australian expression "As busy as a cat burying shit" meaning "busy" (Surprise, surprise.)
Just read it out loud and you'll find that you have magically produced an Australian accent.
Brits will know this phenomenon - not many that I know can say "Dudley" or "Droitwich" without a Birmingam accent.
Another wonderful Aussie expression is "as cross as a frog in a sock" - often applied to your computer when the hard drive goes walk about.
Awesome. YouTube-speak meaning "quite good really". The trouble is that so much is awesome that a lot of it is unspeakably dire. If it's really bad, its "oresum, dude" or "Freaking oresum." What this really means is " I have absolutely no taste but I want you to like me". It has got so overused that it is now essential to up the stakes by putting it in capitals - AWESOME - or padding it out with spaces or asterisks A*W*E*S*O*M*E.
After that it will be necessary to resort to inflated percentages - 200% Awesome will probably be the low end of the scale.
Bone of contention Erection discovered by wife or girlfriend while you are both watching Sex in the City.
Bunny Boiler Obsessive and possessive woman. After Glenn Close in the film, "Fatal Attraction". More lovely alliteration.
Coffin Dodger Anyone over the age of 50.
Chalfonts Chalfont St. Giles - piles. To my way of thinking this is a funnier term than "farmers" (see below) but this may be because I lived there for a time when I was little and also because it was a term favoured by Spike Milligan so I imagine him saying it and this gives it extra comic value.
Couch Potato Stripes These are the broad white stripes, frequently chevrons, which couch potatoes love to have on their jogging bottoms as a defining style motif. Stripes are said to be visually slimming so the theory must be that a 2 inch-wide stripe on your jogging bottoms allows the consumption of another 30 packets of Chicken Tikka-flavoured Crisps without anyone noticing the effect.
DNA Donor. Sub-sixteen year old boy spitting on the pavement every thirty seconds to prove how hard he is.
Farmers "Farmer Giles" - "Piles". There is a Farmer's Market in Malvern every Friday but there is no sign of any Preparation H there.
Fart Sparks. Yet another Aussie expression full of Antipodean poetry. Meaning "to be more than somewhat annoyed." Correct useage:"Doesn't it just make you want to fart sparks?"
Freaking. Oh perlease. We all know what this is intended to mean but what it tells us is that the user is too much of a wuss to use a proper swearword which wold upset his auntie. If you want to enjoy a harmless expletive that your auntie might like, try using other words with explosive consonants (a big part of the appeal of a big swear up)
When I was at school in Kilburn the 1950s, one of the teachers had a tremendous reputation for the richness of his invective which was never obscene but always hugely effective. Samples included "You blithering idiot", "You unspeakable troglodyte" "You malingering phalarope", "I am frankly apalled by your crass stupidity" The last one may sound mild when you read it but say it out loud and you will find that it is full of really satisfying explosive consonants. It goes without saying that his reputation for blistering invective delivered at full volume, coupled with frequent violent assaults on pupils would not be acceptable to today's school inspectors. Most parents when told about some of his excesses would simply shrug and say "You probably deserved it, you snivelling ninny". Ah... happy days!
Frigmarole. Aussie for foreplay. It is widely accepted that the New Aussie will have the common courtesy to shout "Brace yourself, Sheila" before attempting congress.
Giddy kipper. A very talkative and excitable person. Could also be a bunny boiler.
Gloria Gaynors Trainers.You thought it would be something else, I'll bet.
Greyhound. A very short skirt only two inches from the hare.
IKEA Light Bulb She blows as soon as you turn her on.
Joggling. Jogging for salad dodgers and cakesters.
Johnny-No-Stars. A young man of substandard intelligence, recognisable by a tendency to breathe through his mouth, who works in a burger restaurant where, like Generals, having stars indicates rank, if not intelligence and training.
lol - Textspeak meaning "Laughing out loud". I don't understand the need for this. Presumably like when you put this after a sentence, it tells everyone that what you just said is like really funny? Its like canned laughter in crap US sitcoms? Like all you need to do to be really funny is to say lol after everything? So you can be like rich and famous for like no effort? My brain is rotting so much with the thought of this I'm even doing rising inflections and saying like? Lol.Wow! Like it really works. Lol. Wow! rofl.Its like so cool? Yeah right.
Mystery Bus The bus that arrives at the Frog and Bastard on Friday night while you're in the Gents after your 10th pint, and whisks away all the unattractive people so the pub is suddenly packed with stunners when you come back in. The appearance of this is often followed by:
Mystery Taxi. The taxi that arrives at your place on Saturday morning before you wake up, whisks away the stunner you slept with, and leaves a 10-Pinter in your bed instead. (So I am informed)
NBR No beer required. A stunner i.e. not a 10-pinter.
Pavement pizza. I think I can safely leave this to your imagination. The remarkable thing about these is the carrot content, not that I have made a lifetime study of these urban delicacies.
Quornography Pornography without any meat.
Ruby Murray. Rhyming slang for Curry. Not even an old git like me can actually remember who Ruby Murray actually was. I am reliably informed by my Australian friends that a good one "will give you an arsehole like a dragon's nostril" in the morning.
Saga Lout. Anyone over the age of 50.
Salad dodger. A fat person. When I was in my late teens I worked with a woman who would have qualified for this epithet. She actually consumed vast quantities of salad. However she also consumed anything else that passed within 3 feet of her desk. Many salad dodgers blame their condition on water retention. Stand-up comedienne, Jo Brand is more honest. She blames cake retention.This gives rise to the term Cakester. "Does my bun look big in this?" she asks as she opens her mouth.
Scammels Protruding nipples (like the wheel nuts on a Scammel lorry) This is similar to chapel hat pegs except that the shape is better described.
Silversleeves One who wipes his nose on his sleeve. The alternative is of course Greensleeves but that is the name of a beautiful song supposedly written by Henry VIII - in any case he had very baggy sleeves which gave him a lot of mileage before any colour change was discernible.
Siphon the python A wonderfully alliterative expression for "urinate". Most words for this are either alliterative or disgacefully Onomatopoeiac (sounding like the thing it describes) like slash, whizz and piss which upsets our aunties a great deal. "Gypsies kiss", the rhyming slang for piss has the merit of retaining the onamatopoeia (pronounced "on 'er mat, a pee-er")
My auntie favoured the very refined "tinkle". She also disliked the word "sweat" and would say that "Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies glow". I once heard my uncle refer to her as a bit of a glower - at least I think that's what he said. One of my friends got on the wrong side of her by urinating very loudly when he used our loo. She said that it was just as if we had a horse in there. ...she was even more annoyed when she learned that he had been standing on a chair to gain extra height and boost the sound.
Snout. Although this has come to mean a police informant, when I was in my teens it meant cigarettes or tobacco as in "'Ere, you got any snout, John?". From this you get:....
Snoutcasts. The group of smokers who hang around outside while they finish their snout. There have been instances of some companies banning snoutcasts from gathering by the gate of the factory in case passers by think there is industrial action at the plant. I have often noticed that the babe content of a group of snoutcasts tends to be rather on the high side which could explain the continued popularity of this evil habit.
Syrup. Rhyming slang - syrup of figs - wigs. Sometimes rhyming slang expressions take on a special life of their own. "syrup" is one of these, it just has a nice ring to it. Usually used with "dodgy" as in "Who's the geezer with the dodgy syrup? Not all syrups are dodgy. A colleague of mine had a wonderful one - in fact I think it may have been three with different lengths so that his "hair" can seem to get longer and then suddenly appear to have been cut.Usually, we only get to see the dodgy ones and the dodgier they are, the more famous they become.
Testiculating. Waving your arms about and talking bollocks.
Tramp Stamp. Female tattoo on the lower back.
Twirly. London Bus Drivers call pensioners Twirlies owing to the fact that they had bus passes which entitle them to free travel after 10.00 am. The name "twirly" came from their characteristic cry of "Am I too early?" To which they, being junior Jobsworths, delight in replying: " I'm sorry luv, you're twirly."
Two Bagger. This is the ultimate in unattractiveness. Applying to persons of either sex, these are people who need two bags over their heads before sex with them becomes a feasible proposition. The first bag provides primary protection - the auxiliary bag gives badly-needed extra assurance.
Uri. Rhyming slang for Stella Artois. Uri Geller - Stella. Is it a coincidence that U, R and I are the first three letters of the word "urine"? Probably not, bearing in mind the final destination of the product (I did not mention the ingredients or the taste.)
Wiggle the worm. I just made this one up for those who feel that "siphon the python" is a little bit on the boastful side. Don't be too modest though. I once knew someone whose idea of a joke was to stand at the urinal and fish around inside his fly saying loudly, "It's in here somewhere!". It did not improve his prospects - suspicions of being hung like a hampster will frequently spread like wildfire and can rapidly put a crimp in your lovelife. (Or so I am told)
X Piles. Unwelcome aliens land on Uranus!!
Required Reading (For social historians and students of racy dialogue) "Stand on Me" and "Bang to Rights", two books by Frank Norman, who with Lionel Bart, wrote the hit musical,"Fings ain't wot they used to be" back in the Fifties - or was it the sixties? (I was there so I can't remember)
Frank Norman wrote about Soho in the Fifties and was encouraged to write by Joan Littlewood. He was the Damon Runyon of the West End. Yer actual Damon Runyon is also worth reading if you have a taste for racy dialogue except that it is set in the US and deals with gangsters and their molls. His stories include such classic sentences as "He was more than somewhat dead". The musical, "Guys and Dolls" was inspired by one of his stories.
Middle England-speak Inhabitants of Middle-England may hotly (tepidly) dispute that they use any terms which are not readily understood. This is not so. Here are some common terms which also include some marketing terms which tend to originate from middle England. Er... What is Middle England? It is that part of the UK inhabited by people who drive Volvos or take their children (2.4 in number) to school in huge Tonka-style off-road vehicles which block traffic for miles around.
Exotic. This is not really slang but a marketing codeword meaning "contains mango".
Exotic should not to be confused with "erotic". The use of the word "erotic" indicates little or no mango content.
However, one dictionary definition of Exotic is "a striptease performer". These are not famous for their mango content but references are often made to other types of fruit.
Fayre - Ye Olde Tea Shoppe-speak for "Fair" or pub speak for "Fare".Use of the "Fayre" spelling has a cosy villagey appeal to middle Englanders and adds an additional 20% to the bill. The fact that it is archaic only adds to the appeal and so you will see adverts for "Computer Peripherals Fayre" and "Leading Edge Design Fayre".
It is the exclusive preserve of people with little or no marketing skill who don't realise that the use of the word "fayre" is so naff that it tends to repel more than attract. It's probably only a matter of time before Virgin Trains jumps onto the bandwagon and introduces fayre increases.
Personally, I always steer clear of anything spelt "fayre" . Fayre enough?
I.D. Hapesay - This was frequently heard being uttered by Peggy Archer on the popular radio soap, The Archers, and in Harrods Food Hall - this simply is an expression of hope. Roughly translated, it means "I do hope so". Similar expressions are "steedio" meaning "studio" and "Haygarth" meaning "Hogarth".
I think you'll find.... This is a wonderful phrase used by Middle Englanders for correcting ignorant proles. It is uttered with a air of false modesty with the stress on the word "think". Typical usage might be " I think you'll find that this is not your seat.
Air Hair Lair. This wonderful Middle England phrase was coined by the late Kenny Everett. Just read it aloud and I think you will find that you have uttered a perfect Middle England Greeting. Members of my family adopted this as a greeting without thinking of its effect on bystanders and often received looks of pure hatred as a result.
Raced Chicken Foreigners can frequently be found looking for the stadium where the chicken racing takes place and are very disappointed to discover that "raced chicken" is simply chicken which has been stuffed with Paxo and placed in an oven for an hour or so. Still, at least it is quite tender - racing does tend to toughen meat as anyone who has eaten racehorse will tell you.
Which reminds me......
French slang. Slang is the pepper and salt of any language and the French have got some very colourful expressions which are interesting although the French have also got Academicians who are a kind of Thought Police who would like to see all this sort of thing stamped out, together with Franglais expressions like "le weekend" or "le fast-food". One that seems to escaped the attention of the Academy is "Afanaf" which means 50/50. (Half-and-half, gettit?)
Apart from all the usual racy terms, the really interesting ones, to my mind, are the ones that are similar to the English ones but reveal the essential difference between the English and the French. Typical of these is the French letter (condom, protective) which is "le capot anglais". Syphilis, which was known in England as the French disease was known in France as the English disease.
Obviously there are a host of words pertaining to sex and sexual matters but the other interesting thing is the sheer number of words for money of which "grisbi"; "lucre"; "fric"; "pognon"; "braise"; "peze"; "oseille" and "le flouse" are just a few. The English have frogs in their throats while the French have cats in theirs - "un chat dans la gorge". Actually, when you have a really tickly throat, I think that the French expression has the edge.
Where the English talk of the top man as "The big cheese", the French refer to "le grand legume" - the big vegetable. This plays entirely differently iin English. A good example of this is the story about Margaret Thatcher going to a restaurant with some of her aides. After she had ordered, the waiter asked her "What about the vegetables?" " Oh" said Margaret, "they will have the same as me."
Someone who splits hairs is said to "enculer les mouches" - bugger flies. I have known a few enculeurs over the years. Some expressions are really very descriptive. Someone with very shaky hands is said to "sucrer les fraises" - sprinkle sugar on the strawberries. Someone with atrocious breath is said to "tuer les mouches a quinze pas" - kill flies at fifteen paces. A buxom woman is said to have the world on her balcony: "Elle a le monde sur lle balcon". I once saw a waitress who perfectly illustrated this expression in a Bierkeller in Munich. Her tray was so full of le monde that she only had room for three glasses on the edge of it. No-one was complaining though.(Except the other waitresses who could get 12 glasses and a bottle on their trays.)
The car that will never sell in France. This is the Toyota MR2, a very racy little number but in French it is pronounced "Emerdeux". This is not a desirable attribute of any car.
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