Five British Phrases


The English language can be confusing and hard to understand in some situations, particularly when it comes to the British sense of humour. Here’s an explanation of a few phrases you may hear without having quite understood the meaning. 

  1. To lose the plot – This one is rather confusing as a plot can be the a plan or the series of events in a story, neither of which is particularly easy to lose! This expression is basically another way of saying that someone or something has gone mad.
  2. Donkey’s years – You may be wondering what a donkey has to do with time! This expression means that something has been happening or going on for a long period of time – more often than not a period of several years. Often the amount of time which it represents isn’t clear, it just indicates that something is old.
  3. At a loose end – If you’re at a loose end it means that you have lots of free time and don’t have that much to do.
  4. Cheeky – This word has multiple meanings and makes almost no sense on its own. In terms of an attitude or personality it can mean both rude or offensive as well as funny or endearing, or perhaps doing something which is not appropriate in a certain situation. It can also be used to describe a food or drink that you are eating but is perhaps not the best for you, such as fast food.
  5. Mardy – This is an example of an expression that only exists in certain regions of the UK and is something which you are only likely to hear Britons from the north of the country say. Basically, it means angry or in a bad mood and is more of a colloquial expression.

If you’re interested in learning more about British idioms and the British sense of humour, one of the best ways to do so is to start watching British TV shows and reading a bit more about some of the phrases you pick up so you know how to use them and when.

Many of the UK’s main TV channels such as those run by the BBC as well as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 have websites where you can go and watch various TV programmes, from comedy to the news. Watching a wide range of shows will let you pick up both formal and informal language and help you to work out the difference.

If you’re still stuck or feel like you need more help with the language, you can always get assistance through the Erasmus Society’s Buddy Scheme or the Language Exchange Board on Avenue Campus where you can arrange to meet up and practice with a native speaker.


Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages graduate interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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