When English Isn’t English – a Brief Glossary of Global Slang

Creative Commons License photo credit: Buzzregog

Without trying to sound patronizing, I think one can safely say that English is one of the most common languages in the world. As common as the English language is around the planet, it varies widely from one location to the next. Indeed, the English spoken in Poplar Bluff, Missouri at times seems completely unrelated to the tongue found in Alice Springs, Australia. I have asked some people from around the world to help compile this list of unique “English” words.

British English
The Queen’s English, our Mother Tongue and the root of all derivations. Yet even British English has developed a number of words and phrases not found in other areas of the world and, at times, can be downright strange.

Gormless – Clueness. “That bloke is gormless,“ or “He’s a total gorm.“
Gutted – Very disappointed. “I didn’t get the job, I’m gutted over it.”
Bladdered – Descriptive way of saying drunk. “He was completely bladdered at the football match.“
Brassed off – Fed up or pissed off. “She can’t do anything right, I’m brassed off with her.“
Codswallop – Word referring to something as nonsense. “That’s a bunch of codswallop.”
Scrummy – Oddly enough, this refers to a particularly good meal or food. “We had a scrummy dinner last night.“

McCaig's Tower Oban Scotland
Oban Pipe Band

Scottish English
While they may share the same island, the Scottish not only have a very distinct culture, but way of speaking as well. A first time visitor may be a bit lost at times, but Keith Savage was good enough to provide a brief glossary of key terms.

Dunna Chuck Bruck: This is written on almost all of the public garbage cans throughout the Shetland Islands. It’s an anti-litter slogan that basically means “don’t throw rubbish.”
Haud Yer Wheesht: I saw this on the doorknob sign at the Skene House in Aberdeen. Instead of Do Not Disturb it said Haud Yer Wheesht, which means “be quiet” or “shut up.” Hilarious. ”Haud yer wheesht, laddie! I’m tryna ta pour this dram,” said Grandma.
Ginger: No, not a redhead. It means soft drink, usually in reference to the vice national drink: Irn-Bru. “Havin’ a lager?” “Nae, ginger for me.”
Oot Ma Nut: Totally inebriated/stoned. Worst possible drunkenness. “Granny’s drams and a wheen a lagers and I was oot ma nut man.”
Spangin’: To jump around wildly, such as at a concert. ”Last night was a spangin’ spree at the folk festival.”


Singaporean English
A former British colony and current member of the Commonwealth, Singapore nonetheless is a melting pot of cultures, each one making their own unique imprint on the culture of Singapore. Among the most important is the Chinese influence on the city, and of course this has made its way into everyday language.

Chongster: Someone who clubs often
Cheem: Profound
Atas: Someone with high standards

There’s a much broader pidgin language found in Singapore known as Singlish, which incorporates a mixture of languages into a creole style speech. This of course has generated entire dictionaries of new words.

Singapore Zoo Kangaroo

Australian English
Australian slang goes far beyond what one observes from ‘Crocodile Dundee’ as Australian bloggers Caz and Craig Makepeace illustrate for us. (the first two were my additions)

Chinwag – Meeting or conversation
Arvo –  Afternoon, “I’ll be there this arvo.”
Dunny – toilet
Fair dinkum – very commonly used it can mean various things depending on context. Usually means speaking the truth or being real, Gee Whiz,  or a friendly substitute for a cuss word.
Cobber – mate, friend “Good on ya cobber!”
Good on ya – Well done, used all the time
Rhyming slang – this is what can make what Australian’s are talking about barely unrecognizable to any outsiders. An American married a good Aussie friend of ours and she said “When y’all get together, I know y’all speaking English but I have no idea what you are saying.” Rhyming slang is when we take a word and replace it with a word that rhymes with it. Sometimes we may even then further shorten or reduce it which makes it even harder to decipher. In this instance:
dog’s eye = meat pie
dead horse= tomato sauce

“On your way back from the dunny, can you grab me a coldie and a dog’s eye with dead horse?”

[Loper Note: I would be very curious to know how rhyming slang came into existence. It seems so strange!]

South Africa Chapman's Peak Drive

South African English
South Africa has an extremely unique history, and the language and slang has been influenced by several languages as well as longtime geographic remoteness. Here are some of the unusual terms Spencer Spellman found on his travels in South Africa.

Hoezit– What’s up or How’s it going? “Hoezit today?”
Stiffy – Computer flash drive. “Do you have a stiffy in your pocket?”
How’s your mind? – Are you crazy? “No way! How‘s your mind?”
Zizith – Really?

Franz Josef New Zealand

New Zealand English
Given its proximity to Australia, one would expect some similarities in language, yet the citizens of these islands have certainly developed their own unique turns of phrase.

Chuddy – chewing gum. “Fancy another piece of chuddy?”
Down the gurgler – failed plan. “What a disaster, that one went down the gurgler.”
Drongo – stupid fool, idiot. “Did you see what he did to that sheep? What a drongo!”
Mad as a meat axe – very angry or crazy. “He’s a complete drongo, mad as a meat axe.”
Ropeable – very angry. I can’t believe what she did, I’m ropeable!”
Wop-wops – situated off the beaten track, out of the way location. “He wants to go where? But that’s in the wop-wops!”

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

13 thoughts on “When English Isn’t English – a Brief Glossary of Global Slang”

  1. “Scrummy” is short for “scrumptious”, which is a real word.

    I don’t know how rhyming slang got started but its roots are Cockney (from the East End of London) rather than Australian. Eg. “Trouble and strife” = “wife”; “tea leaf” = “thief”.

    Sometimes it even no longer rhymes. Eg. “hit the frog” = “hit the road” (it’ short for “hit the frog and toad”) and “butchers” = “take a look” (it’s short for “butcher’s hook”).

  2. Great post! My personal favorite is the British English. Gotta love those Brits! Language is very unique as all languages have different regional dialects and each region thinks there’s is the most correct!

  3. What! I can’t call my mate a “ginger bastard” anymore. All this time I have been mistaken. Funny list of English slang :)

  4. I lived in Australia for 20 years, but never dared use Aussie slang unless I intentionally wanted to be the target of ridicule. Saying “mate” with an American accent is a sure way to get a laugh at your own expense! Although it’s not exactly slang, “yabboes” (roughly equivalent to American “hick”) have a plural for “you” – “youse”.

  5. you should add a few filipino english slang ;-)

    here’s a few:

    “blue seal’: if it’s imported… blue seal marloboro means an imported marlboro (thus more expensive)

    “Bold”: naked… adopted in the early 60’s when movie with nude scenes were tagged as bold films

    “calling card: business card :-)

    “chancing”: making a sexual advance :-)

    “Chit”: restaurant bill


  6. Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading about all the different slang words. But no American slang like “hella”? It’s my favorite American slang word.

    About rhyming slang. From what I’ve read, it came about in East London among the working class (Cockneys) as a way for people to talk about private matters (illegal or otherwise) when there were “outsiders” or police around. It’s like a coded language for them.

  7. Chinwag…that’s from Lancashire!
    As is
    Ginnel [as in narrow unmade lane at the back or side of a terraced house]
    Powfagged or jiggered – meaning very tired
    Got a cob on – sulking
    I’ll go t’foot o’ar stairs – meaning I can hardly believe it
    Mard/mardy – meaning soft as in don’t be mardy.
    Comeuppance – meaning getting what you deserve when you’ve done something wrong

    In Cornwall where I live now it’s a whole other world..
    Teazy – touchy

  8. Who told you those were New Zealand words? Down the gurgler, the wop wops, ropeable are all Aussie slang!

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