The Bees Knees and Other British Idioms

I leave tomorrow for my third annual sojourn to Oxford, England where I’ll be participating in the University of Oxford’s Summer Adult Program. In addition to angsting over my wardrobe (there is a fifty-pound weight limit on luggage), packing and repacking (did I mention there’s a fifty-pound weight limit?), and groaning over my passport photo, I’ve been brushing up on my British.

I know what you’re thinking — British is what people from Britain are called, not a language — and oh by the way, they do speak English there you know. And that’s where I’d have to say au contraire mon ami (oh wait, that’s French). Yes, the origins of American English and British (or the Queen’s) English may be the same, but today’s meanings can be worlds apart.

For instance, I recently made a fashion statement with my new bangs (see Facebook post June 15). However, I wouldn’t want to go bragging about that in polite company, because you see, bang to the British means to have sex. Thus, stating that one’s sexual activity has made a fashion statement might raise more than a few eyebrows. So, when referring to that portion of my hair which falls over my forehead, I need to use the term fringe.

But I find swearing in British quite fun. They use such colorful terms as bloody (i.e. bloody hell) and bleeding (not bleeding likely). Then there are the oft used blast, bugger, and sod. Other colorful terms include bullocks, codswallop, and cobblers, all of which are the equivalent of the American oath bulls#!t, most commonly used when referring to anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth.

The Brit’s unique way with words extends to body parts as well. A woman’s frontal parts are called her fanny, while a certain male appendage is called a knob, a todger, a tool, a tosser, a wanker, a willy, (my, they have a lot of names don’t they?) or a John Thomas. Heaven help the poor soul named John Thomas.

So, now you see why I’m brushing up on my British. After all I wouldn’t want to cock up (make a mistake) by telling some poor Brit she has dirt on her fanny and drop a clanger (make a gaffe). She’d probably tell me to belt up (shut up), or worse, box my ears (slap me).

Likewise, if I tell a gentleman I just won the lottery and he says well blow me (knock me over with a feather), I should refrain from slapping his face. Finally, if someone were to tell me my dress was the dog’s bullocks or the mutt’s nuts, I shouldn’t be offended. What she really means is that my dress is fantastic.

I’m looking forward to this year’s Oxford experience, where, by the way, I’ll be studying the history of the English language. It’s going to be the bees knees (fabulous)! For more on British slang visit:

I’ll be blogging, posting (, and tweeting (@rebeccaheflin) from Oxford all next week, so stay tuned to see if I throw a spanner in the works (screw something up).


About Rebecca Heflin

I've dreamed of writing romantic fiction since I was fifteen and my older sister snuck a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna to me and told me to read it. Now I write women's fiction and contemporary romance under the name Rebecca Heflin. In case you're wondering, Rebecca Heflin is an abbreviated version of my great-great grandmother's name: Sarah Anne Rebecca Heflin Apple Smith. Whew! And you wondered why I shortened it. When not passionately pursuing my dream, I am busy with my day-job at a large state university or running the non-profit cancer organization my husband and I founded. I'm a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Florida Romance Writers, RWA Contemporary Romance, Savvy Authors, and Florida Writers Association. My mountain-climbing husband and I live at sea level in sunny Florida.
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11 Responses to The Bees Knees and Other British Idioms

  1. You had me laughing from word one! Have a terrific time.

  2. What a fun post! When I was in England, I remember our tour guide asking, “What time shall I come round and knock you up?”

    I laughed so hard I cried.

  3. Holly Michael says:

    Really funny. We visit England occasionally as gotta be careful what you say. Haha.

  4. jannashay says:

    Terrific post. It put a smile on my face and brightened up my day. I love the British terms. I think they’re colorful and something we should adopt here.

  5. I adored your delightful post. It is the bees knees. 😉

  6. ravenraye says:

    Spent many years growing up in England. Stratton Audley, very near Oxford. Loved this post. I felt right at home.

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