Migrating Slang
October 27, 2006 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Here in the far-flung reaches of the English-speaking world, we're constantly being told our local language is being taken over by "American Slang". But does it go the other way? Are there any British / Australian / New Zealand or wherever phrases and words that have become commonly used by people in North America recently? Do Brooklynites ever exclaim "Crikey!" or "Bloody Hell!"?
posted by Jimbob to Writing & Language (50 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Happens all the time here in Canada, but considering I live in a province called British Columbia, how surprising is that?
posted by juv3nal at 2:47 AM on October 27, 2006

Here are some. But often when Americans say these words, they put on a fake British accent. At the very least, they aren't a natural part of the language--they're intended to poke fun at British English while getting the point across.

- Randy ("do I make you randy, baby?")
- Shag (means "have sex with")
- Piss-poor
- Ring (call on telephone)
posted by jbb7 at 3:12 AM on October 27, 2006

Well, I don't think it is a national trend, but I know I picked up "no worries" from watching the Croc Hunter. Originally, it was with an Aussie accent, but it eventually became just a natural phrase for me.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:56 AM on October 27, 2006

Here in Vancouver, "cheers" became somewhat common within the last few years, as a substitute for "thanks" (e.g. cashier hands you your change, you say "cheers" before you turn to go). I've been noticing it less frequently lately, but that may be because I don't work in retail any more.

Other terms: dodgy, "can't be fucked" (which I hear is popular in New Zealand); I've heard "daft" a few times, "shite" with a Scottish accent... I'm sure I can come up with more but it's four in the bleedin' morning.
posted by good in a vacuum at 4:05 AM on October 27, 2006

I'm from British Columbia as well. I say "bloody hell" and never knew that it came from elsewhere.
posted by louigi at 4:18 AM on October 27, 2006

I say bloody hell a lot and I'm a Californian living in Toronto.
posted by Melsky at 5:00 AM on October 27, 2006

I'll second 'no worries'... although where I live in the US it gets it street cred from people who had travelled to AussieLand - not just from watching the Croc Hunter. It's been percolating in the States for years!
posted by matty at 5:03 AM on October 27, 2006

I say bloody hell, piss poor, and shite all the time. My grandmother is british though, so what may be normal for me is probably not for others.
posted by ChazB at 5:03 AM on October 27, 2006

I think British tabloids are having an influence because I've been hearing 'snog' more often.

Also, inexplicably many of the people I work with now say 'arse' instead of 'ass'. It was like a disease one winter.
posted by Alison at 5:06 AM on October 27, 2006

Among the high school crowd here in the deep south (keep in mind, I only speak from my experience as a drama kid and the fact that my school is pretty much middle/upper class) no worries is quite common, as are bloody hell, piss poor, daft, to ring, and snog.
posted by Glitter Ninja at 5:20 AM on October 27, 2006

'Wanker' seems to be gaining traction in the US.
posted by Mocata at 5:20 AM on October 27, 2006

I don't remember anyone saying "queue" 30 years ago, and now it seems to be everywhere.
posted by JanetLand at 5:55 AM on October 27, 2006

yes, there are definitely a few brooklynites bloody helling their way through the day, yeah to everything people have said so far ... i'm also personally importing gallon-sized containers of "fer fuck's sake" via the irvine welsh import-export business out of edinburgh.
posted by lbergstr at 5:57 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

In the US, National Public Radio started saying "run-up," as in "the run-up to the election," a few years ago.
posted by lukemeister at 6:01 AM on October 27, 2006

I haven't really noticed any increase usage of Non-American english words/phrases beyond humor oriented stuff inspired from movies or tv. This coming from both Arkansas, Missouri, and Virginia.
posted by Atreides at 6:11 AM on October 27, 2006

Randy's been in circulation for longer than Austin Powers. And piss-poor has been around here forever. Shag and snog have been picked up by VH1's snark-lite celeb coverage. When I was a theater rat in high school, fucking angloism affectations were EVERYWHERE, from arse to shite, and all of 'em sounded contrived and lame.
I'll admit that too much Hellblazer has made me partial to "strewth," but I try not to say it out loud. Describing things with a "right" has picked up lately around here ("right fucked"). If I think of any more, I'll let you know.
posted by klangklangston at 6:35 AM on October 27, 2006

Another thing to consider is that Americans may use the words, but they don't necessarily use them properly. Case in point is foreign swear words. Americans would use something like 'bloody' in a quaint manner even in polite conversation, where someone from England might never do that.
posted by smackfu at 6:46 AM on October 27, 2006

My friends and I say arse and shite and fucksakes, but in a knowingly joking sort of way. It's not like those are things that just crept in that we find ourselves saying naturally. Arse is fun to say with a hard Scottish r in there.

I haven't really noticed a whole lot of British stuff otherwise. I never hear bloody hell, snog, and certainly not daft. If snog is cropping up, I'm betting it has to do with Harry Potter. Shag and randy I bet came straight from Austin Powers. I've heard piss poor for a long while but didn't realize that was British. I only hear queue in tech/business settings, like a queue of jobs that an application processes at a set point. I don't hear of queues of people. I've never had anyone say they'll ring me.

One thing I noticed with some consultants we worked with one time was "very sort of". Having lived in the UK, I heard that one a lot when someone was searching for words to describe something. I never understood how something could be both "very" and "sort of", but whatever. These consultants were from NYC and I guess had picked it up in that international melting pot of fancypants business lingo. I thought they were a bunch of poseurs, because they even dropped the r in sort and said it much like a somewhat posh Brit would, blending the sort quickly into the of . "The website was very sottuv... overdone." And they'd play it off like they weren't posing and were all sophisticated. *eye roll*

Personally, I'd like to see "ickle" take hold. It's so cute. If we can get more people watching the British version of The Office, we'll all be better off. Bollocks would be nice. I had an English friend would powerfully bark, "Balls!" when you were talking rubbish (I'd like to get "rubbish" started over here too). He's the same guy who wouldn't let me take my coat off at an outdoor social event in summer, saying that we would leave them on and "sweat for England." It made me feel very proud and kind of English! And he'd say he was "pants" at something when he was no good at it. I like it when Morrissey says something is "cobblers" to mean that it sucks. Also want "bee's knees" and "I'm full of beans". I wish we called the bathroom the bog, too, and used bogroll. And though it's horrible, the most morbidly funny thing I've heard in a while is "window licker".

Oh wait, my absolute favorite of all time is "Bob's your uncle". I think that's fantastic. "You put the plug in here, press that switch, and Bob’s your uncle!"
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:03 AM on October 27, 2006

Here in Ontario I hear "cheers" and "bloody hell" all the time from Canadians; I never heard either in the US. My Canadian husband and I (USian) both say "shite". I say "no worries", without an accent, definitely did not pick it up from the Crocodile Hunter; I did pick up "no wuckers" recently from an Aussie friend online. My husband and his coworkers refer to calls waiting for tech support as waiting in a "queue"; I've heard him and others say "arse". I had no idea "piss-poor" was specifically Brit/NZ/Aussie, I hear and say that all the time, both US/Canada. "Wank"/"wanker"/"wanking" I'm starting to hear more, both US/Canada. (On preview: hah, I do say "Bob's your uncle". I think I maybe picked that up from Pratchett? I've been saying it for years now. And "full of beans" I've heard before in the US, never thought of it as a Brit thing.)
posted by Melinika at 7:20 AM on October 27, 2006

Is "bee's knees" british? because I hear that.
posted by muddgirl at 7:23 AM on October 27, 2006

Can I just say I love the word "pants," now that kookoobirdz has reminded me of it? Michael Davies's ESPN World Cup blog rated England's players by the length of their pants (with the worst performers getting "billowing, puffy, MC Hammer pants". I'm going to have to try and use it more often.

Oh, and re "sweat for England": the American version of that usage is "be on the US National Sweating Team". It means you are good at something, not that you are doing it for the pride of the motherland.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:25 AM on October 27, 2006

I don't hear bloody, shite, arse, bollocks, and taking the piss from Americans nearly as much as I read them, most often online, from folks who think these are quaint ways to avoid using actual cuss words, or a way to display their international sophistication. I think it's rather pretentious (hah, "fucking angloism affectations"), but then again, I think lots of things are rather pretentious. Oh, god, brilliant, too.

Queue has been in use here for quite a while among computer folks. There is no other good way to express the idea of a print queue, I think.

I've never thought of run-up as particularly British at all. But I tend to run with a pretty literate crowd.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:30 AM on October 27, 2006

I don't know if it's a general trend, or if my friends are just weird, but I've been hearing "bloody hell" a lot here in New Jersey.
posted by CrayDrygu at 8:01 AM on October 27, 2006

I hear and say a lot of UK slang --> I blame The Office and Little Britain.
posted by Julnyes at 8:09 AM on October 27, 2006

I use "for fuck's sake" all the time, but I thought my friends (or I?) made it up; I run with a crowd who appreciate creative cursing. I use the phrase "bloody hell" in situations where I might otherwise say "goddamnit", just because I've watched Monty Python since I was old enough to talk. I've heard "cheers" from a couple of people in non-toasting circumstances, and of course it's the standard non-specific toast when having a beer. I've "queued up" a time or two, but usually when around other hackers and geeks. I refer, on occassion, to "buggery", "wanking", and "shagging".

I once referred to a bunch of debris from a play's set construction as "rubbish". Several people proceeded to make fun of my choice of word. Traumatizing.

I think that most of my Brit/Aussie/NZ use comes about simply because I like to mix up my vocabulary a bit. I can't trace any of it to Austin Powers, as I hadn't seen that movie until just a couple years ago. Monty Python and the internet have always been my two main sources of Anglicisms.
posted by Netzapper at 8:15 AM on October 27, 2006

Do Brooklynites ever exclaim "Crikey!" or "Bloody Hell!"?

No. In ten years of living there, I never heard these exclamations.

I myself use "f*ckwit" and wish that that other 'Murikins used it more often. But I have a college degree and I live among sophistimicated cosmopolitan urbanites. So I'm not typical.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:25 AM on October 27, 2006

I've recently started talking about things as having gone pear shaped due to the influence of an Australian co-worker.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:27 AM on October 27, 2006

Also, inexplicably many of the people I work with now say 'arse' instead of 'ass'. It was like a disease one winter.

I know this isn't answering the question, but it takes a weird twist here in the UK. EG: "Hey, did you watch Jackarse last night?" etc.

Sorry to go OT.
posted by unmusic at 8:35 AM on October 27, 2006

I've been told that the expression "go pear-shaped" is British, and I use that quite a bit.

I've heard a few Americans talk about "taking the piss," studying "at the University," and "standing on line."

I also hear people asking (though not of me, of course) "What are you on about?"
posted by Afroblanco at 8:43 AM on October 27, 2006

Is "bee's knees" british?

No, it's an Americanism from the early 1920s.

Interesting thread; I always have to temper my irritation at Yanks tossing around Brit slang they picked up from watching TV with the reflection that it's just language change at work and I don't want to turn into a fuddy-duddy before my time.
posted by languagehat at 8:43 AM on October 27, 2006

Rock Steady - that's unfortunately a misunderstandpretation of 'pants'. Pants in British English means underwear, so "billowing MC Hammer" pants makes no sense.
posted by patricio at 8:47 AM on October 27, 2006

As a US-ite, I definitely use a handful of Commonwealth phrases, albeit infrequently. Arse, Shite, Bollocks (don't I have a filthy mouth?), referring to University, Cheers, etc. It probably doesn't help that I have a huge crush on most of the Commonwealth countries, and my best friend is South Effrican.

What totally interests me, however (derail ahead), is how the American slang gets turned around in other countries. I want to hear our slang get bastardized and come back to us in a totally different form.
posted by god hates math at 8:53 AM on October 27, 2006

I've heard a few Americans talk about "taking the piss," studying "at the University," and "standing on line."

Standing on line isn't British. I'm not convinced randy is either, I've certainly never heard anyone us it. Maybe it is one of those old fashioned posh people words like bonk.
posted by ninebelow at 9:10 AM on October 27, 2006

I've heard (and sometimes said) "sorted," as in "Did you get that cell phone problem sorted?" I'm not sure if that's how it's used in Britain.

Thirding or fourthing "ring me" for "give me a call" and "Cheers" as an informal sign-off in e-mails. (I personally picked up "Cheers" about 7 years ago from an Anglophilic, bow-tie-wearing boss and I've found it very useful since.)

Is "Good on you" a Britishism? I hear that from time to time. "On holiday" as well, sometimes with a fake British accent, sometimes not.
posted by slenderloris at 9:36 AM on October 27, 2006

"what are you on about" and "Bloody fucking hell" are pretty common for me and my friends. "Sorted," "pissing down rain," "go all pear shaped . ." I'm sure there are others. But most of us have been abroad, and most of us read a lot of Brit Lit in school. And most of us read British newspapers online (that's totally bleeding into my punctuation habits, btw).

Of course, this is the same group that decides you're "one of us" if you love Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran, so we are probably weird.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:46 AM on October 27, 2006

Love pear shaped.

As for on line, I've noticed a regional difference there. The only people I've heard use "stand on line" are New Yorkers at this point. Heard Woody Allen say it. Heard Bill Maher say it, don't know if he's from there for sure. Random other people from up that way - could just be a northeastern thing. The only time I'm on line is when I'm on the internets. I only stand/wait IN lines, myself. Not sure whether people in other regions stand on or in. Do Brits stand on?
posted by kookoobirdz at 10:31 AM on October 27, 2006

Americans have definitely started signing off emails with 'Cheers' in the last few years, so I've started writing 'ta ra' instead, to see if that'll catch on.

I don't hear bloody, shite, arse, bollocks, and taking the piss from Americans nearly as much as I read them, most often online, from folks who think these are quaint ways to avoid using actual cuss words, or a way to display their international sophistication.

I've actually been accused of using those terms pretentiously online by Americans who don't realise that I'm British...

studying "at the University," and "standing on line."

Neither of these are Britishisms. (One would say 'studying at University', or 'Uni' which probably now counts as British, though I'm pretty sure it was originally an Australian abbreviation; I've no idea what 'standing on line' means.)
posted by jack_mo at 10:33 AM on October 27, 2006

Some of my friends and I use "brilliant!" in a non-ironic way. I too love "Bob's your uncle," but I always have to explain myself when I say it, and friends who have studied in the UK tell me that no one says it over there.

Also, inexplicably, I have two American-as-apple-pie friends who pronounce the word "rather" with a British accent.
posted by clair-de-lune at 10:34 AM on October 27, 2006

I think there may be some people who picked a lot of British slang up from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Giles and Spike (despite his mediocre accent) used slang frequently. BtVS fans are pretty hardcore and probably far more represented on the Intarweb than in real life.
posted by Arch_Stanton at 10:35 AM on October 27, 2006

You stand on line if you're from New York. Otherwise you probably stand in line.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:49 AM on October 27, 2006

I've heard "sprog" get quite a bit of play lately, both as the substance and as the offspring.

Also, there was a run of people in meetings using "Brill" to praise things, but it seems to have passed.

If I hadn't had an Australian workmate at a previous job, I would have been way confused.
posted by Gucky at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2006

Patricio: Pants in British English means underwear, so "billowing MC Hammer" pants makes no sense.

You've apparently never done my grandmother's laundry.

I know that pants=underwear, but when you say "Beckham was pants" you don't mean "Beckham was underwear" any more than "Beckham was shitty" means that he was actually covered in excrement. Michael Davies (a Brit) was just using a silly way to rank levels of pantsness.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:33 AM on October 27, 2006

Nearly all of these are used only with a strong self-conscious awareness of the source, as a deliberate attempt to be different, or because the speaker watches too much Monty Python. (Usually all three.) Often the fake accent comes along with the word, either unconsciously or for sarcastic effect. Most are more common in writing than aloud.

"No worries" is probably on the way to complete assimilation, but it isn't there yet. Queue does get used, but only as techspeak, never for a line that you stand in. "Bloody hell," maybe. The rest, not so much.

Oh -- is using "X is different to Y" instead of "different from Y" regional? I've been noticing that a lot lately, but not sure whether it's imported usage or just incorrect.
posted by ook at 1:38 PM on October 27, 2006

You stand on line if you're from New York. Otherwise you probably stand in line.

In Britain, you queue, so "on line" definitely isn't a Britishism.
posted by unmusic at 1:57 PM on October 27, 2006

I've noticed that some Americans say "bloomin'" which I used to think was something yanks didn't say.
posted by Kattullus at 1:59 PM on October 27, 2006

Things I picked up from the internet, Monty Python, and Joss Whedon (in that order): Bloody, queue, pants, mum instead of mom, sprog, all the variants of wank, pissing down rain, "in hospital" instead of "in the hospital," bog-standard, and "have a cuppa," though I mean coffee instead of tea when I say it.

The rest of my slang is mostly Southern, although I speak with a newscaster's General American accent. The only explanation I can offer is that my friends encourage it. They love creative language.
posted by cmyk at 2:24 PM on October 27, 2006

A quick comment about British vs. North American prepositions: I've always found it interesting, as a Canadian who watches a lot of BBC News and classic British TV comedies, how we differ in things like:

"I went hiking at the weekend" vs. "on the weekend"

"She lives in Main Street" vs. "on Main Street"
posted by good in a vacuum at 3:16 PM on October 27, 2006

Hmm. I use a lot of these words (bloody, snog, shag, pisspoor, dodgy, shite), and have done so for years. I think a lot of people I know use them too- it just never occurs to me to notice. I attribute it to having spent an unreasonable amount of time drinking and rolling spliffs with friends from the UK. Assimilation is unavoidable under those circumstances. Unfortunately one fantastic phrase, "can't be arsed" sounds colossally stupid coming out of my mouth. Shame, because it's really a great thing to be able to say.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:11 PM on October 27, 2006

My favorites are:"Taking the piss", "Can't be arsed", "Bloody Hell", and though I never realized it was British, "shite".
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:29 PM on October 27, 2006

I hate it when people say that stuff.

Although I like (but wouldn't use) the NZ term "Sweet As" - it's just weird.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:17 PM on October 27, 2006

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