British English Idioms


This lesson is about British English idioms. An idiom is one type of figurative language in the English language.

An idiom is a commonly used phrase that does not mean what it says.

Idioms should not be taken literally. That means that you should not believe it exactly as it is written.

Idioms can be unique to a language, culture, or area. A British English idiom may not have the same meaning (or any meaning at all) in another language or culture.

Although American English and British English
are similar, they do not always use the same idioms.

However, some idioms are found in both American English and British English.

These are a few well-known idioms that have the same meaning in both American English and British English.
  • a piece of cakegood grade

    (If something is a piece of cake, it is very easy to do.)

    That math test was a piece of cake.

  • just the ticket

    (If something is just the ticket, it is the perfect thing.)

    A day on the beach is just the ticket to help me relax.

  • doing time

    (When someone is doing time, they are spending time in jail or prison.)

    Sam is doing time for theft.

  • off your rocker
    pregnant woman
    (If you are off your rocker, you are acting crazy or insane.)

    Tom is acting weird today. He is off his rocker.

  • with child

    (A woman who is with child is pregnant.)

    Sally is eating healthy because she is with child.


  • lost your lunch

    (If you vomit, you might say you lost your lunch.)

    She had the flu and lost her lunch.

The idioms above are the same in both American English and British English.

Many times idioms in British English are different from idioms in American English.

For example, suppose someone is in jail or prison.

In American English you would say they are:

in the slammer
or
behind bars

In British English, you would say they are:

in the clink


All of these are ways of saying that someone is in prison.

man in jail


Here is another example:

In American English, if you want someone to hurry up, you might say:

Shake a leg!

However, in British English, you would say:

Pull your finger out!
or
Get your finger out!


boy running


Here is one more example:

In American English, if something is very common and easy to get, you might say it is:

a dime a dozen
 

In British English, you might say it is:

ten a penny
or
two a penny

British English idioms

Here are some idioms that are unique to British English.
  • take the mickey/mike outgirl teasing boy

    (If you take the mickey or take the mike, you are teasing or copying someone.)

    The kids would take the mickey out of him because of the way he talked.

  • jobs for the boys

    (This is a reference to people in power who use their power to give jobs to friends and family.)

    The store owner only has jobs for the boys.

  • off your own bat

    (You do something off your own bat when you do something without being told.)

    He cleaned the kitchen off his own bat.

  • daft as a brush

    (Someone who is daft as a brush is not very smart.)

    Sometimes Bill acts daft as a brush, but he is actually very smart.

  • queer fish

    (You might say that someone is a queer fish if you think they are strange.)

    Bob is a queer fish because he likes to eat strawberry jam on his hamburger.

  • on the blower

    (If someone is on the blower, they are talking on the phone.)

    It is considered rude to be on the blower in public.

  • noddy work

    (Noddy work is something that is very easy to do.)

    Washing laundry is noddy workcloset

  • quart into a pint pot

    (If you are putting a quart into a pint pot, you are putting too much into a small space. A quart is more than a pint.)

    Trying to fit everything into my little closet is like trying to put a quart into a pint pot.


  • lose your bottle

    (If you lose your bottle, you lose your courage to do something.)

    Ask her on a date before you lose your bottle.

  • laugh to see a pudding crawl

    (If someone would laugh to see a pudding crawl, that means it is easy to make them laugh.)

    Sally thinks I'm funny, but Sally would laugh to see a pudding crawl.

  • banana skin

    (A banana skin is something that causes embarrassment.)

    No one liked the film. It is a banana skin for the movie industry.

  • bent as a nine bob note

    (If someone is bent as a nine bob note, they are dishonest.)

    Tim is a criminal, and he is bent as a nine bob note.

  • on the dole

    (If someone does not have a job and is receiving financial assistance from the government, you say they are on the dole.)

    After he lost his job, his family was on the dole for two years.

  • in a tick

    (If someone says they will do something in a tick, that means they will complete it soon and quickly.)

    Supper will be ready in a tick.

timer

This was an overview of British English idioms. Now that you understand, it is time to practice! Get our ESL Books.

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