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British English - Words with Multiple Meanings

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Consider the following:

N. Fancy pants - a show off. Someone I do not wish to know.
V. I fancy the pants [off someone] - (pants being Calvin's not Levi's) I think I'm in love. Someone I *do* wish to know.

The thing about British English is that many words have dual meanings and with so many idioms, it's The British version of English does not necessarily travel well - abroad, across counties, or even across classesvery easy to get the wrong end of the stick (misunderstand). Don't worry, misunderstanding happens to Brits all the time too, as the country is rife with regional accents and different meanings as you travel from one county, to the next. The following article looks at common words which carry a variety of meanings - where often just the tone of delivery distinguishes which term is being used.


Da bomb - very good - borrowed from American English, of the Hip Hop variety. Likely to be used with a liberal dash of irony. "Poundstretcher, hmm, it's *da bomb*."
It bombed - it fared poorly - "Despite spending a fortune on Marks's finger food, Tabitha's 'Thai Evening' bombed."
Costs a bomb - is expensive. "Absolutely everything in London costs a bomb."
It's a bombsite - messy (usually applied to a room).
Bombshell - to reveal some unexpected, devastating news. Top Gear's Clarkson closes with a 'bombshell' every week, thereby diluting its meaning.


Lash out - to physically strike someone. "The passive drunk lashed out, when the barman tried to move him from his stool."
Lash out - to verbally reprove - "Ooh, give Juanita a wide berth this morning, she's already lashed out at Olivia for borrowing her stapler."
Lash out - spend more than you intend on something. Often used sarcastically - "Daniel's really lashed out on nibbles this year. Mini-cheddars *and* Twiglets."
Lash - short for eyelash - "Ah! Ah! Lash in the eye. Get it out!"
On the lash - getting drunk - "After an unfavourable review at work, Adam went on the lash with half his department. The human half."


Fit - a healthy, toned and honed figure. Developed at the gym.
To have a fit (literally) - a medical condition; often involves shaking on the floor.
To have a fit - to get angry and tense - "I got oil from the bike on Judy's dressing gown. She only went and had a fit."
Fit - good looking or attractive; the act of 'being a fitty'.
Fit up - to frame someone, so they get the blame. "Sweetcheeks I know you found a thong in the glove-box, but it's Justin from work. He's fitted me up again!"


Cheers! - to thank someone for something - "Cheers Mikey for the bigup earlier. It went down a storm."
Cheers! - raise your drink and wish everyone well. Traditional behaviour in the pub if it's your birthday, or you're leaving. "Cheers for the book-token everyone!"
Cheers! - (Sarcasm) thanks for nothing - "Cheers for mentioning my STD, I'm sure I'm well in there now!" Often commuted to "Cheers for that," in a deadpan voice.
Cheer up - usually meant to draw attention to someone spoiling the mood, rather than a serious attempt to lift their spirits. Advisable to add "it might never happen," if you want trouble.
Cheery - (Sarcasm) to be miserable - "He's a cheery individual."
Cheerio - Goodbye (see Lionel Bart's Oliver!) - "Cheerio, we'll be back soon..."


Estate - a station wagon, like a standard car but longer at the back.
Estate - country estate - where the posh reside when London gets busy with tourists.
Estate - council estate ('projects' in America), not posh at all. Avoided by the middle classes.
A state - to look a mess (phonetic similarity) - "Amanda looks a state. She's had a botox-fail and her forehead resembles a Klingon's."
Although English is spoken all over the world, many words have select and often contrary meanings in Britain.


Mince - meat that's been shredded in order to stretch further (ground beef in America) - "After his redundancy package came through, Tony was forced to live off 'Basics' mince until he found another job."
Mince - a type of sweet filling used at Christmas in Mince Pies (used to contain meat in the dark ages, but now dried fruit and sugar). Excellent for heartburn.
Mince - to confuse - the act of "Mincing your words".
Mince - to walk with dainty steps. "At the Christmas party, Geoff ironically minced to a Wham song, but the women in his office merely exchanged knowing nods."


Do - the act of doing something - "I need to do it today. Actually, tomorrow's probably better."
Do - A party or special happening - "I'm going to a do round Shaznay and Mortimers' tonight"
Do you - Meaning 'I don't care.' Usually said flatly in response to a shameless self-promoter listing their idiosyncrasies - "I like to finish every meal with a prayer for world peace." "Do you."
Do you - Forward and offensive proposition of sexual intent, often drink-fuelled. "I would very much like to do you." Comes with a low success rate.
Do you - to get pinched by the police. "I'll mostly be driving without a tax disk this year." "The cops'll do you for sure."


Easy - not difficult - "I've just done Teddy's Homework, it was *so* easy." "I hope so darling, he is only six."
Easy - Calm down - "Easy my friend. There's ladies present." (This is fighting talk, so take cover.)
Easy - sexually promiscuous. "Oh that Joanna Lively's so easy... Look at her dancing!"
Easy on the eye - attractive - "I tell you what though, Benjamin's easy on the eye." "I'm telling him you said that!" "No don't, please?"
Go easy on - be lenient with - "Go easy on the boy Harry, he's had difficult week."


Mug - to rob someone of their valuables - "Someone will mug you for your iPad if you keep holding it up for all to see."
Mug - something to put your tea or coffee into; larger and less formal than a cup - "Yup: strong, two sugars. In a mug."
Mug - Easy to fool person - "Terry's a mug. A mug *and* an embarrassment."
Mug - non-complimentary reference to the face; often paired with 'ugly' - "Look at the ugly mug on that."


Mate - friend, buddy - "You and Bazza are mates, aren't you?"
Mate - the act of procreation; usually scientifically applied to animals. David Attenborough would use 'mating' when pointing at monkeys.
Mate - a rank aboard a ship.
Mate - to make two parts fit together. Used by tradesmen like electricians or carpenters when talking about switches, fittings, hinges, etc.
Mate - a lowly assistant, like a plumber's mate; will often make the tea.
Mate! - A passive-aggressive riposte to a friend who you strongly disagree with; or a stranger you're planning to fight. It starts a sentence on its own. "Mate! If you touch my girlfriend once more, so help me I'll send you back to the Stone Age."


Quite - meaning a little bit - "He's quite a good cook - well... he *tries*."
Quite - meaning a lot - "She's quite amazing." "At what?" "Pff... everything."
Quite - I agree absolutely; used by the older and posher - "I think David Cameron should be dipped in honey and fed to bears." "Quite!"

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