British-English as a second language

May 12, 2014 at 4:15 pm 11 comments

Eight years on and still no British accent. Some people think they hear a slight English accent when I speak, but I’m no Madonna. No transatlantic accent for me. In fact, recently I was told I have the most American accent ever.

Then I took the NY Times dialect quiz that was making the rounds on social media. The three American cities where my dialect seemed to be derived from were all in Nebraska. I took the quiz a few more times just to be sure. Goddamn you Lincoln, Nebraska. I just can’t quit you.

(I have never been to Lincoln, Nebraska. But I guess that’s what you get when you have a father from the south and a mother from the Midwest and you’ve spent your childhood on US military bases around the world. Plus almost all of your adulthood in England.)

Anyway, I may not have a British accent, but I have adopted quite a few phrases and pronunciations. It’s a mishmash with the pronunciations because ta-mah-to and a-lu-min-eee-um just don’t roll off the tongue. I’m totally ok with rhyming leisure with pleasure though.

As for words and phrases, because there are so many I love I decided to start a list.

So far, I have included:

Fall out

An alternative to quarrel or argue.

We’ve fallen out and are no longer speaking to each other.



Another alternative to quarrel or argue. Rhymes with cow.

They had a massive row last night.



Use when describing a situation that has failed or gone wrong.

It’s all gone pear-shaped.




He was absolutely gutted to hear the news.



Another word to describe being very pleased.

I’m chuffed to bits!


Mad as a box of frogs

Use when wanting to describe someone as crazy; very eccentric.

That woman is as mad as a box of frogs.



Another word for crazy or very eccentric.

He’s gone bats.


Lost the plot

To go crazy, to act in an unstable way, to no longer be able to act in a rational manner.

He has completely lost the plot.


Not on

Use when something is not acceptable.

I can’t believe he canceled our plans. After all we’ve been through, that’s just not on.


On about

Another way to say, “What are you talking about?” It’s a shortened version of “What are you going on about?”

What are you on about?



Short for nightmare. Use when describing a bad time or bad day.

I’m having a mare trying to file taxes.



Another word for tired or exhausted. It can also be used to describe something that is overused or worn out.

After all that traveling, I’m knackered.



Chaotic, disorganized or mismanaged.

The organization of this event is absolutely shambolic.



Used to describe being a little drunk. Can also be used to describe something that’s gone awry.

She was feeling a bit squiffy after the champagne toast.



Another word for whine.

Quit your whinging and just get the work done!


Doing someone’s head in

To disturb, frustrate, or irritate someone.

All this whinging is doing my head in!


Take the piss

To take liberties at the expense of others, or to act unreasonable. It also means to make fun of or pulling someone’s leg.

I already asked my boss for a day off next week so I can’t show up late. I don’t want him thinking I’m taking the piss.


Tits up

Use when describing something breaking, or becoming inoperative, or dead. An alternative to “belly up.”

The company went tits up after the stock market crash.


Leg it

Run or run for it.

We had to leg it to the last train.



Used to describe food that is so good you want more.

That chocolate cake is moreish, isn’t it?


There are many more phrases and words I like but haven’t yet adopted. Some I never will because they just don’t work in my American accent. I do consider myself fluent in British-English, even if I don’t speak it completely and consistently.

Before you think it’s all just take-take with me, I do my part in sharing American sayings. Just last week I taught my British colleagues the phrase “rode hard and put away wet.” Of course, it raised a lot of eyebrows. Mind. Gutter. I had to reassure them that I was not taking the piss.

(I also had to do a quick search to make sure I was right about the etymology of that one. Phew!)


Entry filed under: expat. Tags: , , , , .

Better than a thousand words Drop it like a squat

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Catherine  |  May 12, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    In love with this! I love our British ways and phrases, so proud of them, they deserve to be celebrated!

  • 2. andrea  |  May 12, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Both my kids speak with a weird british-american hybrid accent with lots of british terms, and I love it!

  • 3. Rik Williams  |  May 12, 2014 at 7:01 pm

    ” Some I never will because they just don’t work in my American accent. ” – moar, Mrs Huson; your audience deserves it =)

  • 4. Rik Williams  |  May 12, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    OMG – you could do a Vine series. Mrs Huson’s Britishisms! We need to talk about this. ;p

  • 5. amandakocz  |  May 13, 2014 at 12:06 am

    ‘take the piss/mickey’ is the phrase I most miss using in the US!

  • 6. MomMum-In-Law  |  May 13, 2014 at 1:09 am

    LOL! Just today I was looking at the package of Dairy Milk treats that you brought me. On the outside it says “Moreish crackers”. I thought “Huh? Did they mean Moor-ish ? Like maybe from Spain? Or moor-ish? Like Yorkshire? Now I know what moreish means!

  • 7. melaina25  |  May 13, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I totally say knackered.

  • 8. Jessica {lovely jubbly london}  |  May 14, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Long live the American accent!

  • 9. Rookienotes  |  May 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    British English kicks my butt

  • 10. Becky (yankinyorkshire)  |  May 14, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Great post! I’ve adopted many of these as well and agree that the British pronunciations of tomato and aluminum just don’t seem to ‘roll off the tongue’ in an American accent. Hope you don’t mind I’m linking to your post in a post I am writing as part of a travel series! x

  • […]  have a think, pop round, and watching some telly. I’d definitely recommend you read this great post written by another US ex-pat on some common British phrases and how they fit into conversation. […]


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