An illustration of Brittania, the female personification of Great Britain, taken from page 12 of ‘The New British Traveller, or, modern panorama of England and Wales’. Courtesy of the British Library on Flickr.

Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working for io9 and Gizmodo from my home here in England. Aside from the occasional purging of superfluous letter ‘u’ from my posts, where that cross-cultural divide comes up the most is confusing my mostly American co-workers with strange words they’ve never heard before. Here’s a few that have baffled them the most.


Meaning 1: Underwear

Meaning 2: A bit rubbish

Thankfully the classic pants/trousers mixup between British English and American English doesn’t happen all that often, but the amount of times that I’ve described something as being so aggressively average or just a little bit terrible as being “pants” has lead to confusion as to why, say, the appearance of Supergirl’s Red Tornado had anything to do with trousers.



Meaning: Ages, a long time

See also: Donkey’s years

Look, I don’t know why we say donkey’s years either, but it’s kinda fun? Also, the secret to mastering British slang: string complete nonsense words and sounds together and it’s probably something we say like it’s second nature to us.



Meaning: Impressively fancy

One thing I have learned in my time among American people is that they have a stunning capacity to make anything into either innuendo or a slur—and that’s coming from someone who lives in a country with a dessert called Spotted Dick. I recently attempted to describe Star-Lord’s new uniform in his comic as being swish, only to find that in the U.S., “swish” is a derogatory homophobic slur:


And also the sound of a basketball falling through a hoop? What is wrong with you people?



Meaning: To fail at performing a task, to bungle something

Speaking of you guys making everything weirdly sexual. While the concept of a fluffed line is cross-continental, the concept of fluffing and certain genres of adult media has a decidedly lewder meaning in America.


I handled the embarrassment of this particular goof particularly well, If I do say so myself:


Really well.


Christ on a Bike

Meaning: General exclamation of shock

The land of the free, home of the “OMG” doesn’t have seemingly have a lot of exclamations, but let me tell you, we Brits do like expressing shock in a variety of weird ways. I just like this one a lot because it’s silly. And, according to a quick search of io9's Slack archives—which Katharine dug through yesterday, to much delight—I use it quite a lot.




Meaning: To be great, delightful

The second secret to mastering British slang: sound like you’re perpetually stuck in a BBC drama circa 1956.




Meaning: Head

Sometimes I do admittedly push my US/UK verbiage too far. But really, you guys are no fun sometimes.




Meaning: Portmanteau of “Britain” and “Exit”, to refer to the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union

Ah yes, the Brexit—something I have somehow managed to write about multiple times in the past few months despite working for a science-fiction and fantasy pop culture blog. There were innocent times when everyone just thought it was a terrible word, like above, but then as the inevitability of the actual vote for Brexit sunk in, a chance to brainstorm some British-themed-internet content:


God save the Queen, and my co-workers for putting up with my transatlantic nonsense.

James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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