How to Talk British Part 4: Politically Incorrect


Well, hello again, my pretties!

I know it has been ever so long since your Mother Hen has called her classroom to order for another lesson in How to Talk British! I surely hope all of you have been making good use of the terminology learned thus far, and that it has served you well in your daily lives. I believe that everyone should be bilingual, really, and that if you are not up for sitting through countless hours of Rosetta Stone learning Chinese or Russian, this is surely the next best thing. Certainly, I hope you will agree it is more fun!

As some of you may know, I have just returned from holiday in America. That is also known as a vacation to my American readers. When a Brit says they are going “on holiday,” it has absolutely no reference to actual calendar holidays. Here, holiday generally means time off, whether or not it includes an official national holiday.


You say tomato, I say tomato… Photo:

I had a wonderful time, visiting family and getting my American accent topped up again. I had two whole weeks of pronouncing tomatoes TAH-MAY’-TAS in stead of TOW-MAAH’-TOES. It was awesome. (Pronounced aaaah-sum, not aww-sum.)

Whilst I was back, I picked up on a few words that, in the interests of political correctness, needed clarification on both sides of the pond. Let’s start with our first controversial term: Bugger. An American will happily say something along these lines: “Aww, what a cute little bugger!” He or she may be referring to a child, a puppy, anything cute, small and lovable.

Once you cross the Atlantic, you must never say anything like this. Bugger here does not mean small, cute or lovable. Here, a bugger is almost an exclusive reference to one who engages in… well, this is a G-rated blog, my friends but Google it if you must. Trust me when I tell you it is not a word you wish to use in conjunction with children. A foul-mouthed Brit might say “bugger off!” to mean go away, or that something has been “buggered,” meaning it has been broken beyond repair, but they would never refer to little Tommy as a cute little bugger. Ever.


Boogie on down, there Ricky… photo:

Oh, that reminds me! An American booger is what the Brit would call a bogey, which sounds kind of like boogie, which is what your dad does at weddings and anniversary parties. It usually involves a lot of hip gyration and John Travolta posturing. Highly embarrassing! A bogey to an American is an enemy aircraft. The alternate spelling, Bogie, refers to one of my most favourite actors, Humphrey Bogart!

More troublesome terms Yanks need to lose once they enter British airspace: Spaz and spastic. On a beach in California right now, someone is saying, “Jeez, dude, you’re such a spaz!” because dude has either overreacted or done something socially awkward, but ultimately still kind of cool (because, well… dude!).

In England, one with cerebral palsy is referred to as being spastic, and the term spaz is highly offensive on every conceivable level. Avoid its usage at all costs.


Mmmmm… taaaarrrrtt. Photo:


A tart by any other name… Photo:

One more, while we are on the subject of potentially offensive words: Tart. In America as in Britain, a tart is basically a small pie, sweet, lovely. To call a tart a tart is fine.

However, I have heard people referring to their little girls as tarts in America, no doubt meaning they are mischievous or contrary. In Britain, a tart is a girl in tight clothes with loose morals. “She’s looking a bit tarty” is not generally a compliment, and being “all tarted up” means you have gone a bit too far with the lipstick and mascara, and there is likely a hole in your fishnets. The word is perfectly acceptable to use, so long as you are aware of its meaning. While Billy Ray may well use the term for his own little girl, for the rest of us it is probably not wise to use it with reference to our daughters. Just sayin’.

While we are on the subject of terms of endearment, can I just say that in England, there is nothing offensive whatsoever about referring to one’s child as a sausage. No, it’s not the same as calling them a weiner! It is a totally asexual term that just means little Harry (or even little Hannah!) is completely and utterly adorable. I know. It makes no sense, but then, you have to know how much the Brits love their sausages! And besides, the French call their kids little cabbages, and the Yanks say their kids are full of boloney, so maybe it’s not so strange after all. Honestly. I call my grandsons sausage all the time, I really do. “Hello sausage!” “Awww, poor little sausage…” “Goodnight, sausage…” Somehow, the term does not translate well in America. I wonder why.


Yes. I do love this almost as much as my grandsons. Almost. photo:

Moving right along…

There is no point in asking where the restroom is in England, because they don’t exist. Here, the American restroom is called the toilet. I know. Kind of obvious, but there you have it. But, seriously. Who ACTUALLY rests in a restroom? Frankly, I find the public variety the very opposite of restful, so who are we trying to kid, anyway?

And, for the record, what is the DEAL about being so shy about calling a toilet a toilet? Even in my American bathroom, we never called it a toilet: It was called the stool! Seriously? We all know what the doctor calls your stool, so why is this any less obvious and embarrassing? I say, let’s just call it what it is: It’s a toilet. Or, alternatively, the loo. The can. The bog. The water closet. The WC. The John. The Crapper…

One thing more: A bathroom is only EVER called the bathroom when it contains a tub. If it has a shower, it is called a shower room. If it has just a toilet? You guessed it. It is called THE TOILET. (You can read my dissertation on British toilets by clicking here! I’m actually something of an expert…)

And while we are here, can I just say that bidets are kind of gross? Practical, maybe. But… no. Just… no.

Good grief. Where is this post taking me, anyway?

sally field

This is exactly how I feel whenever anybody clicks the like button. No, seriously. It really is. It’s sad. Very, very sad…

I think I’ve chased this ugly little rabbit down the u-bend as far as this Mother Hen will fit,  Best to let that bunny run for the moment and return to sanity! I hope you are enjoying this educational journey through the dark waters of international relations. If you are, please let me know, either here on WordPress or on my Facebook page.  Y’all know I am a glutton for comments and likes, and every writer – good or bad – lives with in constant fear they are typing into the void… I’m not, am I? AM I??

(backing slowly out of your personal space…)

Mother Hen

© motherhendiaries 2014 all rights reserved


Feel free to check out parts 1, 2 and 3 of How to Talk British… just use the search bar at the bottom of the page if the links are not showing below. Ta!

25 replies »

  1. LOL, that was fun, thank you. I love the photo, how pretty! I’ve never called my kids sausages, lots of other things, but never a sausage. Cabbages yes, and once I told one that I think we found her under a rock. Americans really are funny about restrooms. Sometimes we show a prudishness that surprises me. Everything is in your face 24/7 but then we’ll whisper politely, “Where’s the ladies room?” I’m American and these sudden nose dives into modesty even catch me off guard.


    • You are SO RIGHT!! Us Yanks ARE prudes about some things for sure! There is an entire genre of comedy in this country centered around the toilet and all things personal. Prudish little me had to learn to get over it pretty quickly if I wanted to have a life. Now? Meh … it’s just a toilet! I am forever amazed at our little differences. Look at the film ratings: Americans rate very highly (as in R and worse) for actual sex and nudity. On the other hand, violence slides right on past llike it’s nothing. I was horrified to know that The Dark Knight slid through with a PG rating, even though it is gratuitiously violent the whole way through. Over here, nudity is not a big deal (it is, but not to the film ratings people), but violence or drugs? Straight to a 15 rating or higher. One must use great care in choosing on both sides of the water, but for very different reasons. 🙂 Always great to hear from you, IB.


  2. Thanks for reminding me that I have got to write a post about difference between the British and American meanings of faggot, and about something completely ridiculous that happened to me on account of it.


    • Haha! I think I discussed “having a fag” in England back in How to Talk British part 2… having said that, I look forward to hearing your take on it! Goodness, words cause no end of trouble… 🙂


  3. Very interesting post. These are things one usually does not think of when only relating to either british people or americans, but creates a lot of giggles when you have to relate to both. Luckily I have no such stories myself, but having worked with both brits and americans I’ve heard a lot of funny little misunderstandings. Spesially due to english not being the first language in Norway and that people’s language skills are not always up to speed. British and american english being different on some occations does not make it easier for us norwegians 😉


    • I cannot imagine how difficult this must make things for you! And as for us learning Norwegian? Probably not going to happen. We barely know our own language – haha! But you, my friend, have excellent English! The fact you get the humour is testament to that. And Norwegian is an incredibly difficult language for us outsiders to get our heads around. French, Italian, Spanish, I can understand a lot of because of their Latin base. But Norwegian? I’m totally and completely adrift! My hat is off to you, my bilingual friend.


  4. And, if you are in any other European country, they speak British English. (You cannot imagine how long it took me to communicate my need for a bathroom or restroom my first day in Austria.)


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