Taking the mickey out of each other is a national pastime in the U.K. Here’s a glossary of the most commonly used insults indigenous to the British Isles:
A fun and versatile word. Anatomically speaking it refers to the testicles. In everyday life, however, it can be uttered in recognition of a mishap such as trapping your finger in a door or dropping your iced bun on the floor, a sort of ruder way of saying ‘oopsy-daises.’ Users find the hard ‘B’ at the beginning to be an extremely satisfying release of exasperation. If something is described as being ‘bollocks’ it either means it’s nonsense or not up to par. Confusingly, if something is described as being ‘the dog’s bollocks’ then it is very, very splendid indeed. As an insult, you might tell someone to ‘go bollocks.’ As a transitive verb it can be used to describe a screw-up. “I bollocksed up at work again, Margaret,” you might tell the wife. Finally, to receive a ‘bollocking’ is to be on the end of a stern telling-off.
A ‘git’ is a smarmy so-and-so who’s rather pleased with himself and delights in bringing others down. However, it can also be used as a term of endearment. For example, if your mate won ten quid on a lottery scratch card you may refer to him as being a ‘jammy git.’
There is one ‘gormless’ kid in every class in British schools. They can be easily identified due to their tendency to incorrectly pronounce words. For example, they pronounce ‘spotless’ as ‘spockless’ and ‘specific’ as ‘pacific.’ A gormless person lacks any basic common sense and may struggle to successfully complete simple everyday tasks like getting dressed. Although the word can stand alone it is best served with a follow-up noun like ‘wanker’ or ‘tosser’ as in the sentence, “Fred you gormless wanker come over here and help me.”
A popular insult in the U.K. Taken literally it means you have a penis for a head, while metaphorically it suggests you’re an idiot.
A remarkably unattractive person.
‘Pillock’ dates back to the sixteenth century and comes from the Norwegian word ‘pillicock’ meaning ‘penis.’ One of the earliest recorded uses of ‘pillicock’ can be found in the third act of Shakespeare’s King Lear when Edgar cries, “Pillicock sat on Pillicock hill,” which is a metaphor for sexual relations (in this context ‘Pillicock hill’ refers to the vulva – he was a saucy one that Will Shakespeare I tell thee). These days the word is relatively tame, as the true meaning has been mostly forgotten. Now it’s primarily used to describe a goofy and annoying person.
‘Plonker’ is a PG friendly word used to describe an imbecile. In the beloved U.K. sitcom Only Fools and Horses, Del Boy Trotter can often be heard referring to his younger brother, Rodney, as a “42 carat plonker.”
The most common use of ‘ponce’ is to describe a man who behaves in an effeminate manner when he shouldn’t be doing so. For example, a footballer that goes down easily and rolls around on the grass feigning injury could be described as being ‘a big ponce.’ Interestingly, the word is also British slang for a man who earns a living working for a prostitute. Ponces differ from pimps because the prostitute employs them, not the other way around.
A ‘prat’ is a magnificent fool, one who rejoices in irritating those around him.
‘Slag’ refers to a loose woman and is pretty much interchangeable with ‘slut.’ It is at its most effective when said aggressively by a male cockney.
While it is possible for a woman to be a dignified slag, a ‘slapper’ is a slag with about as much class as a high school dropout. She’s the drunk in the shortest skirt stumbling around while laughing or crying like a maniac because she had one too many shandies.
If you are a ‘sod’ then you’re a miserable git. However, the word is versatile and can be used to express frustration and/or exasperation. “Sod it!” you might say when you’re struggling to build an IKEA chest of drawers. “Sod off!” you might yell at someone you don’t want around anymore. Sod’s Law is the same as Murphy’s Law in America and decrees, “if something can go wrong, it will.” As with many of the words in this list ‘sod’ comes from a sexual background. It stems from sodomite.
‘Toff’ is a disparaging word used to describe members of the British aristocracy. The leading school of thought amongst etymologists is that the term is a bastardization of ‘tuft’, a golden tassel worn on the caps of undergraduates at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge during the nineteenth century. Another theory is that the word is merely a shortening of “toffee-nosed.” This suggestion derives from the popular use of snuff by the British upper class during the 1800s (after taking a hit of snuff, a man’s nose would often secrete a toffee-like mucus). In a sentence, ‘toff’ is often preceded by the word ‘posh.’ A good example of a modern posh toff is the bumbling Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
‘Tosser’ is synonymous with ‘wanker’ (see below) but is substantially less offensive.
The literal definition of this word is “he who pleasures himself” while the figurative usage describes a person whose company is insufferable. The word is often accompanied by a hand signal whereby the user rolls his hand into a loose fist and mimics a masturbatory motion. The BBC Editorial Guidelines state that the word “can cause moderate offense” and “may generate complaints if used in pre-watershed programmes.” A politer alternative is ‘wally.’
What are some of your favorite British insults? Tell us in the comments below.
Jon is a British expat living in NYC where he is often asked if he’s Australian on account of his Yorkshire accent. He is a freelance copywriter and writer, regularly contributing to BBC America. He has written for many publications including: MLSsoccer.com, First Touch Magazine, Inked Magazine, Contactmusic and more. Follow him on Twitter at @Jon_Langfo