How Living in the UK has Changed my English

Three years ago this weekend, I moved to London. While there were several cultural changes I had to attentively adapt to, one that’s happened perhaps subconsciously over the years is the adaptation of British English into my language. I haven’t adopted an accent, but there are several tidbits that have snuck their way into my vernacular…

  1. Have/have not

Ah, life; it is full of haves and have nots…especially when speaking British English. In the US, I might ask, ‘Did you make dinner?,’ but now, I’ll ask, ‘Have you made dinner?’

Similarly, there’s ‘have got.’ Before my husband and I leave the house, I might ask, ‘Have you got a mask?,’ whereas in the US I’d probably ask, ‘Do you have a mask?’

If I speak with friends and fam from the US like this, I’d probably sound like a pompous ass…but somehow, it flows naturally here.

2. Pissed

Nope, it doesn’t mean angry! If someone asks if you’re ‘pissed’ or ‘on the piss,’ they’re wondering if you’ve had one too many pints. Think of it this way: if you’re ‘pissed,’ you might piss yourself. But let’s hope you don’t.

3. Taking the piss

What? More piss? This one’s tricky to ‘translate,’ but there’s a couple interpretations. One, to push one’s buttons/joke around – if I’m making fun of someone, they might say ‘are you taking the piss (out of me).’ Two, to slack off/take advantage of – if someone’s always calling in to work sick because their half-sister’s cousin is having their wisdom teeth removed again, you might say ‘they’re taking the piss.’

4. Cheers

Not just for toasting! I admit I do everything in my power to avoid saying this one if I can. It just doesn’t sound or feel natural coming out of my mouth. Meaning ‘thanks,’ I’ll say it if I’ve already exhausted several other ways of saying ‘thank you.’ For example, if someone else is just a step ahead of me as I walk into a building, I’ll say, ‘thank you’ for the first door, ‘thanks’ for the second door,  ‘cheers’ for the third door, and pray there’s not a fourth door. This is, of course, based on the assumption that someone a step ahead of me would hold open the door. If not, I have a slightly different approach where I’ll scoff and say ‘f*ck you’ with my face. I’m good with expressions.


Ah, this one comes in handy. Similar to ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ but for some reason, using the word ‘can’t’ makes the f-bomb sound…less offensive? Just as ‘IDGAF’ is a thing, you can be hip and abbreviate it to ‘CBF.’ Alternates include CBA (‘can’t be assed’), or, if expletives aren’t your thing, and ‘can’t be bothered.’ Wholesome, but still gets the point across.

6. Posh

Fancy, high(er)-end, sophisticated. In the US, I think we say ‘nice’ in most cases – having a meal at a nice restaurant, owning a nice pair of shoes. Though, ‘nice’ probably isn’t the best translation as a descriptor of people, cos it seems as though many ‘posh’ people are…not nice? Idk. Think Posh Spice, the poor soul who seems never to smile…not exactly an embodiment of ‘nice.’

7. Proper

OK, so I only say this one here and there. When I first started dating my husband, I told him “I need to get a proper winter coat. Wait – did I just say ‘proper’?” He laughed and told me you’re fully integrated once you start saying stuff like ‘that was a proper night out.’ Welp, I’ve said that now. When my family came to visit us, I gave my mom a bag of Proper Corn and she started pissing herself laughing at the name of it, which then made me realise how foreign this word was before I moved here. Thanks, mom.

8. Spellings

Hi, have I mentioned I’m an English grad? Newsflash – we write a lot of papers, so I immediately had to adjust my spelling of oh-so-many types of words. From the ‘o’ to ‘ou’ (think ‘colour’ or ‘behaviour’), changing my zees – pardon, zeds – to esses (‘recognise,’ ‘realisation’). There was an adjustment period here for sure, but now it’s become normalised in my writing. Bonus, it’s given way to a few humorous equivalents. My personal favourite? The UK spelling of ‘skeptic’ being ‘sceptic,’ which reminds me of sh*t tanks.

Bonus round! Words that haven’t come out of my mouth ‘cos they feel like speaking an alien language:

Sarnie, blimey, chin wag, chrimbo, bloody, trainers, bloke…

If I start using any of these, please send help.

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