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Words at Play

Please Don't Whinge About Being Knackered, You Prat

Top 10 Favorite British Words, Vol. 1


Although Merriam-Webster is a dictionary of American English, it contains a range of words rarely heard outside Britain. Here are some of our favourites.

Definition:

a stupid or foolish person

Example:

"Everyone's feeling a bit summery this morning, with a few rays breaking out over Britain and some of you lot daring to break the 'anyone who wears sunglasses in April is a prat' rule that we just made up." - 3am.co.uk, April 6, 2011

About the word:

Prat probably comes from the 16th century slang prat meaning "buttocks." The original pratfall was a fall on the buttocks.

Homepage Image: robmcm / flickr

Definition:

to complain fretfully: whine

Example:

"I shall have one pint of beer less every time I'm in the pub, and I might occasionally whinge about the rises in the cost of living outstripping my wages." - blog post on A Dull Day at Work, April 2, 2011

About the word:

Whinge (short "i" and terminal "j" sound) predates the long "i" whine. The Old English ancestor of whinge meant "to moan."

Definition:

tired, exhausted

Example:

"Went for a 4 miler and then when I got back from work we took the kids swimming. Nice and knackered now." - blog post at SoreLimbs.co.uk, January 18, 2011

About the word:

The slang knacker means "to kill or tire."

Etymologists can't be sure if there's a link between the adjective knackered and the knacker that means "horse-slaughterer."

Definition:

dishonest or suspicious activity; nonsense

Example:

"[Greece] flouted European Union rules on the limits to budget deficits; its national accounts were a moussaka of minced statistics, topped with a cheesy sauce of jiggery-pokery." - Jeff Randall, The Telegraph, May 20, 2010

About the word:

Jiggery-pokery is an alteration of joukery-pawkery. Both joukery and pawkery are English regionalisms for "trickery."

Definition:

cheap or inferior wine

Example:

"Fine diners are drinking premier cru wines at plonk prices as a bring-your-own booze revolution gathers pace in Britain's best restaurants." - Robert Booth, The Guardian, June 20, 2010

About the word:

Plonk is a shortening of the earlier plink-plonk, and it may be a modification of vin blanc, which means "white wine" in French.

Definition:

to talk in a low inarticulate way: mutter

Example:

"Tell me about it. I was chuntering on last night about padded training bras." - michlan on Twitter, April 13, 2011

About the word:

Chunter is sometimes used as a synonym of "complain." The word is probably imitative in origin: when people are chuntering, it sounds a bit like they're saying "chunter chunter." (Mutter is also imitative.)

Definition:

affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint

Example:

"Micmacs [is a] ramshackle and unbearably twee French comedy." - Chris Tookey, Daily Mail Online, February 26, 2010

About the word:

Twee is a baby-talk alteration of sweet. It first appeared in print in a 1905 issue of the British magazine Punch.

Definition:

lacking intelligence: stupid

Example:

"Gormless, unhelpful and poorly trained shop staff create merry hell for customers who are simply exercising their legal rights to a repair, refund or replacement." - Sam Dunn, Two Pennies Worth blog, March 22, 2011

About the word:

The word gaum exists in some English dialects and means "attention or understanding." Someone without gaum (or gorm) lacks understanding.

Definition:

a scientific expert and especially one involved in technological research

Example:

"Brain boffins at University College London have made a major breakthrough in the ongoing effort to bridge the gap between man and machine." - Rik Myslewski, The Register, April 11, 2011

About the word:

Boffin dates to 1945. Although its origin remains a mystery, it may have originated as a slang term for scientists engaged in wartime efforts.

Pukka

Definition:

genuine, authentic; first-class

Example:

"... the record-breaking Sri Lankan [cricket player] has always shown himself a pukka gent...." - William Langley, The Telegraph, July 24, 2010

About the word:

Chef Jamie Oliver rejuvenated pukka with his BBC series Pukka Tukka. That's fitting, since pukka comes from the Hindi and Urdu words for "cooked," "ripe," and "solid."

Want more? See Favorite British Words, Vol. 2




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