11 words British people don’t actually say.

This article is about the “British” words and phrases we don’t actually use in Britain, so if you’re planning a holiday to England, Scotland or any other part of Britain, and trying to learn some colloquialisms, scratch these from your list – the consequences of saying some of them can be a fist to the face (which, curiously, we tend not to call “fisticuffs”). This article has occasional use of the f-word etc.

This article about British words came about after an American blogger mentioned how if he ever came to the UK he’d be sure to tip a bob to the waiter. That was shortly followed up with someone (also American) commenting on a page on dialects with some sense of authority that British people said “sitting room” or “parlour” instead of “living room” or “den.” If you’re writing a British character for a book, these words will throw up a big red flag that kills suspension of disbelief for anyone British reading the book, and if you’re coming to Britain for a trip or travel, you will be mocked for using these words.

So here’s the words and phrases we just don’t say (or very, very rarely) in the UK:

1. British Accent – we rarely classify ourselves as “British” as opposed to our individual countries. For example, I’m English, my mother was Irish (which ISN’T part of the UK), my father was Jamaican (we say Afro-Caribbean not Afro-British, BTW), the man on my birth certificate was Scottish, my best friend at uni was Welsh. So we would start by saying “English accent” or “Scottish accent.” Then we’d get more specific, such as “Northern accent” for people from the north of England.

2. Bob – we call it money or cash, we use the word quid to mean pounds, or p (pronounced “pee”) to mean pence (multiple of penny). If you say “pennies” (multiple of penny) to anyone from the UK who speaks Polish, they will laugh at you because that’s how you pronounce the word “penis” in Polish.

3. Ta – Nowhere do people in the UK say “ta” for goodbye. That’s an Americanism you have imposed on us. “Ta ta” might be said by a posh elderly aunt (or a young lady with adorably misguided aspirations) from time to time, and “tara” (pronounced ter-rah with a long a at the end) is another word for goodbye, but we don’t say “ta” to greet someone’s departure. Ta is an informal way of saying “thank-you” in the North of England (as in, ‘ta very much’).

4. Cheero – Nobody’s said this since the second world war. Cheerio is sometimes used by older people, but again it’s dying out and it’s considered more old fashioned than roast beef. The last time I heard it was in the lyrics to a song in Oliver Twist, in the context “so long fare thee well, pip pip cheerio…” and we also don’t say “thee,” so it shouldn’t be considered an accurate representation of our modern language (it was made in the 1960s, after all).

5. Codswallop – Another old-fashioned term, we tend to say “bullshit” “bull” or “crap” (crap has three meanings – excrement, something that is really terrible, or something that is untrue). Our favourite, however, is “bollocks” when we want to call out something as untrue. The only time in living memory that a British person’s said codswallop was when Hagrid says it in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (we call it Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, BTW) – and that’s set in 1991 (if you do the math from the gravestones etc this adds up).

6. On your bike (actually, it was always “on yer bike”) – Very dated to the 1980s. We tend to say “fuck off” these days or, if we’re being polite, “sod off” or “get lost.”

7. Fitty – this isn’t a word. I’ve lived in Britain for 29 years, I’ve travelled all over, I’ve voraciously devoured literature, and nobody has ever used this word in any context. It’s made up. Some people would say someone is “fit” meaning attractive (or “she’s well fit” or “he’s dead fit”), and there’s the very outdated and generally offensive word “totty” which again no-one has used for a very long time, but we just don’t have the word “fitty.” It even sounds made up. Referring to someone as “fitty” will probably have people wondering whether you think they’re epileptic. If they buy into fear-of-rape culture, they might even use this opportunity to make a scene.

8. Rumpy Pumpy – if you suggest having some ‘rumpy pumpy’ to any woman under 45, she will tell you to fuck off. AVOID! Nobody’s used this word since 1995, and even then it was only in an ironic sense. Nobody actually uses this word to describe sex that they have had or are going to have.

9. Sweet Fanny Adams – no, we say “fuck all” to mean the same thing. Nobody’s used “Fanny Adams” to mean “Fuck All” since World War II.

10. Toodle Pip – again, the only time this gets used is by people who are being ironic. It’s a joke. People are taking the piss when they say this.

11. Cack-handed – I got this claimed as “I’m not co-ordinated” from this page but actually it’s a derogatory term meaning left handed (the hand that you wipe your arse with if you’re right handed), from the days when schools were run by a certain type of nuns (and other pro-social psychopaths) who thought that left-handedness was a sign of the devil. There are plenty of British people out there who hate on lefties due to their subconscious cultural conditioning. Use it anywhere near a left-handed person and prepare to get bitch slapped. It’s as offensive to a left-handed person as the N-word is to most human beings.

12. Fisticuffs – another one from Oliver Twist, people tend to call a fight a “scrap” a “punch up” a “brawl” or a “fight.” Then they tend to call the police. Assault is a crime in Britain, and is defined as “any unwanted physical contact” but people still do it and the police are utterly arbitrary in whether they choose to enforce it or not, like most other things here. I know someone who got a criminal record for putting their hand on someone’s shoulder, and I know someone who got away with trying to kill their child after years of abuse. It varies.

Generally when looking at British words and phrases, when faced with the choice between a bigger or smaller word, we will use the smaller one. Water will always find it’s lowest level, and it’s the same with language – think about what the minimum is that you need to say to make yourself understood instead of trying to dress it up with loads of words or phrases that might be inaccurate. Communication is about understanding, and the only real rule of communication (at least, general communication, not specialized e.g. academia) is that if most people can’t understand you, you’re doing it wrong. I stated “most people” not “all” because you can’t please everyone and some people will just never understand you.

Wedding Wednesday: How to organise your planning

Minimalist Vegan Wedding:

In this series of articles, I’m going to discuss my wedding, paying particular attention to the planning and veganisation. I will also share with you my resources and inspirations.

Me on my wedding day, June 21st 2014.
Me on my wedding day, June 21st 2014.

The concept:

Neither my fiancee nor I had ever really thought about what sort of wedding we should have. We got engaged in 2011 and then we didn’t get married until 2014. Around November 2013, we woke up one morning and said to each other, “you know what? We should start planning our wedding.” Just about the only thing we knew was that we didn’t want it to be expensive. We decided that a picnic at a public park would be a good idea – but would any of the parks be open for the entire time we wanted our wedding to last? What if they were closed for flooding? What if it rained? We didn’t have answers yet, but we knew we needed an outdoor wedding. It was the only detail we felt certain about, amongst a sea of huge and confusing decisions about all sorts of other little details.

This is the list of articles I will be publishing over the next few months in this Wedding Wednesday Slot. Some of them will be shorter than others:

1. Why get married?

2. Overview of how I organised my planning (you are here).

2b) Getting inspired

3. The budget

4. The venue

5. The food

6. The entertainment

7. The legal bit

8. The dress

9. The groom’s outfit

10. The rings

11. The invitations

12. The name change decisions

13. The decorations

14. The cake

15. The honeymoon

16. The rabbits

17. The relatives

18. The wedding party

19. The day plan

20. What we would have done differently if we were to do it again.

As you can see I’ve got lots of things to talk about as I obsessively overplanned every last detail – I found this helpful to ensure the whole wedding was unified and that everything went to plan.

Wedding Wednesday: Why do you want a wedding?

Starting off my new weekly Wedding Wednesday slot, I thought I would begin where people ought to – with questioning why anybody would want a wedding at all.

Getting married for the right reasons is like doing anything for the right reasons – it’s a good, strong foundation on which to build.  For sure, we could build our house on poor foundations, and who knows?  It might stay up and last the test of time – but it’s less likely.  So if you want the best possible chance of having a happy and long lasting married life with your significant other, you need to introspect and ask yourself why you even want to get married.

Here’s some answers the Internet gave me when I researched this for myself a couple of years ago, and my responses to this.  I may come off as an opinionated asshat about weddings.  I feel quite strongly about them:

This is the same ring my cousin got when she got married 18 months ago.
This is the same ring my cousin got when she got married 18 months ago.

1. For the ring.  
…Or you could just go to a shop and use that Personal Loan to buy something REALLY nice from Tiffany & Co, instead of wasting time and effort on the rest of the wedding.


2. For the dress

…Why not hire one and have a wedding themed fancy dress party instead?


3. For the one “Perfect Day”

What about the day after?  Could you really live with the rest of your life knowing that the one “perfect day” had already passed you by?  The idea that we only get that one “Special Day” and that all the other days are dull is very depressing.  I’ve had my share of perfect days but they were never the “One Perfectest of All Perfect Days” and they sure as hell weren’t my wedding day.  Throwing money at a specific point in time can’t actually perfect it – soon you’ll find yourself throwing more and more money at it for smaller and smaller gains (in maths, known as an asymptote), until even the most patient bridesmaids will wonder whether those seat covers were worth £500.


4. For money/financial security
Could you spend your time and energy doing something productive and contributing to your own financial security by … I don’t know… getting a job you care about and earning your own money?  If you want a wedding so you can become dependent on someone else, you’re going to struggle when they get sick of you sponging and leave you to fend for yourself.  This is NOT the same as taking time out to raise kids, which is more altruistic and assumes that at some point in the future you will get a job.  HOWEVER this is something you should discuss before you get married to be sure you’re on the same page.  A marriage is a 2 way street not a way for a needy dependent person to get their claws into a “good catch.”  Seeking Arrangement is there for that.


5. Because you’re pregnant
This can be a really good reason to marry the right person – my Aunt was 15 when she got pregnant and she got married about two days after her 16th birthday.  She is still married now she’s hit the big 5-0 and has three kids, a great career as a nurse practitioner (she started her nursing training after giving birth and worked her way up), a beautiful garden… none of this is because she got married at 16, but it’s the life she and her husband have built together, because they were thrown together by that one unfortunate act.

Conversely, I know someone else who got married at 19 because she was pregnant and thought it would make the father commit.  It didn’t.  Marrying someone doesn’t give you control over their actions and people will do what they like whether you’ve had a wedding or not.  If they’re a no good scoundrel, they aren’t going to change just because they’re married.  Guess who was divorced at 23 and is now struggling to pay childcare?  She would have been a single mum if she hadn’t married him anyway, it just delayed the inevitable and caused everyone involved a lot of stress and drama in the meantime.

6. One of you is terminally ill
This can be a lovely reason to get married, but make sure both parties are onboard, and that the commitment to care is going both ways.  Living with someone who is terminally ill is very difficult and caring for them can get very harrowing towards the end.  Make sure the person who isn’t terminally ill has a good support network, that they maintain contact with friends and family outside the relationship, and that their physical and emotional needs are getting met.  If you’re the carer, remember the best thing you can do to take care of your partner is to keep your own self in good working order 🙂

7. For the romantic fairytale experience
Go to Disneyland.

8. For the wedding presents
Um… the money you spent on the wedding could have been used to buy yourself nice presents instead.

9. For the honeymoon
Book a holiday.

10. For your parents
Parents often think they are doing the right thing by “nudging” people in the right direction but you should marry when you’re good and ready not when someone else wants you to.  Likewise, if your future spouse isn’t ready, take the pressure off by waiting until they’re ready (and stop pestering them about it) because respect goes both ways.

11. For love
Is love enough to get married?  Some people think so.  Others point to the fact that there are two stages that all relationships go through – the infatuation and the cooling off period.  If your relationship is still in that stage where you get chills EVERY time he or she walks through the door, you might want to wait a bit to make sure you haven’t gone off each other, it could be an expensive and stressful mistake.

12. After spending days of research on this, and trying to come up with a better answer, I finally arrived at my own reason for wanting to get married:  To honour, in the eyes of the law, a commitment that you are making, to stay by the side of another person, even if you’re geographically far away, to always keep a place in your heart for them.  For me, then, the wedding was meant to be a reflection of this, not froofy dresses (you know, they look like they belong in a fairytale… or on top of a toilet roll in an old lady’s bathroom, depending on your point of view), rings or anything else.  Those were the garnish on a salad of marriage.  Throughout planning my wedding, I found myself remarking several times to my future husband “can we just skip the wedding and get to the part where we’re married to each other?”

I am pro-wedding but I believe that people should do what’s right for them and that too many people lose sight of what’s really important when they start to plan their wedding – and who can blame them, with the overstimulating wedding industry and the average wedding costing over £17,000 now (including honeymoon, according to The Telegraph and The Guardian newspapers) or $25,000 (excluding honeymoon, according to http://www.costofwedding.com/, a free wedding cost calculation tool), it’s big money for people to make you want more than you need on your “Big Day” (as if you’ll only have one big day in your life).  I am very concerned that people are taking on debts they can’t afford to repay in order to buy their wedding, and that they are doing so for all the wrong reasons.

But what if you’re SUPER EXCITED about all those other reasons, to the point where you’re starting to worry that, according to this very list, your reasons are all wrong?

Ask yourself:  Do you love your partner?  Do you see yourselves getting older together?  Do you communicate with one another and have you both discussed your future plans and your opinions on things at length so you know whether there are any sticking points or areas of compromise?  Do you at least mutually care about each other the same amount and get both of your needs met through your relationship?

If that’s a no to all of those, you probably shouldn’t get married.  If you had at least a couple of “yes” answers, then maybe you just need to hash a few things out and check that you’re both on the same page.  Getting crazy excited about your wedding is natural.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, providing you’re not causing yourself (or other people) financial difficulty, and as long as you are getting married for the marriage, not for the wedding, and that you know that on the day after your wedding, you’re going to wake up with a big smile and say, “I married you.”

How to Buy a Better European Road Atlas

Choose the right map 1: The big road atlas

This post uses affiliate links.  By purchasing anything through them, you are helping to support this blog being able to continue.  All opinions are 100% my own and I am using the links to show you specific products so you know what I think is worth buying and what’s worth avoiding.

Something nobody ever talks about is buying a map. For city-hoppers, who fly from Phnom Penh to Beijing via Ho Chi Min and Tokyo, there’s probably little need for the various types of maps I’m going to talk about here. If you’re driving from A to B, however, you need a good map (even if you have an awesome sat nav) so you don’t end up at the wrong sea.

The two types of maps you need:
1. A big road atlas.
2. Smaller destination maps – this might be an A-Z city map book or a few Ordnance Survey sheets for the wilderness.

This article is going to talk about how to choose a road atlas. Stay tuned for next Travel Tuesday when I’ll talk about how to choose smaller destination maps.

1. A big road atlas. This has largely been superseded by GPS navigation, aka Sat Navs, but it totally depends on where you want to go. If you are travelling somewhere with poor mobile phone/GPS coverage, or you don’t have the right countries in your sat nav (or even if you do) it’s well worth taking a paper map as a back up. At the very worst, you can use it to do big-picture route planning and see where you are compared to your overall travel goal. I bought a Philip’s European Road Atlas last year for driving from York UK to Rome, Italy via Salzburg, Austria and Stuttgart, Germany. I didn’t pay a huge amount of attention to which one I bought – I thought I’d spent plenty of time choosing one with the most countries covered and the best scale of detail. At 2am, somewhere in central Germany on our first travel day, lost in a hell of redirecting ring roads and traffic cones, with nothing on the (ample) signposts matching ANYTHING on our map, however, I wished I’d spent that little bit more time (and money) and selected my map a bit more wisely. The AA one looked a lot better when I flicked through it in a shop – so I’m going to get this one. I’m also considering a separate, broader scale atlas just for France and Germany.

Things to look for in a big road atlas:
1. Scale. Does it cover ALL of the countries listed at the scale advertised on the front? We bought the Philip’s European Road Atlas because we wanted to go to Romania, and it was one of very few that covered it. We did not end up going. When the Philips Road Atlas arrived, it transpired that it only did Eastern Europe in 1:4,000,000 scale (which would be fine if they didn’t have roads, junctions, towns, etc etc that weren’t remotely marked on the map) in the route planner pages at the front, and only did Western Europe in the advertised scale of 1:800,000, which wasn’t the best scale for the densely populated countries such as Germany and Belgium that we passed through on our journey, and it did struggle in Italy as well.

2. Coverage. Does it cover the countries between your starting point and your destination in enough detail to enable you to actually get there? For example, if we had gotten a map which only covered Western Europe but that covered it in a better scale, we could have saved about one full travel day not being lost (we lost on average 2 hours a day from accidentally taking the wrong road or not having any of the options on the signposts match up with anything on the map), which would have meant more time and energy for sightseeing. Because our original trip focus was Eastern Europe, I didn’t pay attention to how good the mapping of the Western European countries was, which ultimately made our trip less awesome than it could have been. Because there are more people per square kilometre in Western Europe, there is more infrastructure and there are also more settlements. This means you need a map with the same level of detail as you would need to drive around the south of England, not the north of Scotland.

3. Symbols. WTF do those symbols mean??!! If you don’t know, this might not be your best map. Usually there’s a symbol guide at the front (along with the scale, and approximate times and distances), but if you’re struggling or if it’s all in a funny font or all in a foreign language that you don’t speak, try a different one.

4. Font size. Some maps have a font size that is far too small for driving. I don’t recommend reading maps whilst the vehicle is in motion, but even when you’ve stopped, you need to find where you are as quickly as possible. If you can’t read the words because they’re too small, you WILL struggle, because remember they’ll all be unfamiliar words anyway. Make it as easy as possible for future you to get the job done.

5. Price. Most people buy the cheapest map they see. STOP! Don’t do it. I spent a couple of hours choosing my map, and it still wasn’t a good fit. Buying the cheapest one you see will cost you money in the long run in the form of all that petrol you’ll waste when you’re driving around and being lost.

Final advice on your road map:
1. Never see it as a “just in case” for if your sat nav breaks, even if that’s the intended use. Scrutinize that map so you know whether it will actually get you to where you need to go when it matters most. When you lose sat nav signal (I did once we left Dover, and never got it back all through Europe), you will be stressed, usually in a hurry to make a decision or not in a sensible place to stop, and you will need that map to work fast. My map was a back up, but it wasn’t good enough. There’s no shame in buying a second one after the first one arrives if you bought it online and its crap.

2. Change the page on your map every day of your journey, so you can just pick it up and find where you are when the sat-nav loses signal.

3. Familiarize yourself with what your route looks like on the map, so your brain can speed up your response using it’s pattern-recognition abilities. The human brain is an incredible tool if you use it right – I always do this when I’m road tripping so I can find where my car is on a page as fast as possible.

4. Draw with a marker pen where you’re going (if you’re cool with writing on your map). I wish I’d done this at every rest stop. Or at all.

5. If you have a passenger navigator, get them to follow the route with their finger or regularly update themselves on where you are in relation to the map in some other way. Pins, post it notes, or a pen would also work but a finger leaves no trace so the map is still readable.

Stay tuned for next Travel Tuesday when I will talk about smaller scale sheet maps, and feel free to ask me any of your questions about maps in the comments or via Twitter.