Growing up in Australia, my childhood was spent watching a lot of British television programmes. I thought I had quite a good grasp of how people in England spoke. But after moving to Britain I started hearing words and phrases which I had no idea what they meant. Here are just a few of the ones that puzzled me.


It amazes me how much ‘bespoke’ is used in the UK; you can have a bespoke kitchen, a bespoke suit, bespoke jewellery, bespoke software, a bespoke holiday and even bespoke music. It means the same as ‘custom’ or ‘custom made’ and is something that has been created to an individual’s specific personal requirements.

According to bespoke tailor Thomas Mahon, the word dates from the 1600s. A customer would go to a tailor and choose a length of material to be made into clothing exactly to their requirements. The material was then said to have “been spoken for”.


A derogatory term for someone, usually unemployed and with a low level of education, from a white working class background and sometimes referred to as ‘white trash’ or ‘non-educated delinquents’. They often engage in anti-social behaviour and wear lots of flashy gold jewellery

It’s commonly thought to be an acronym of ‘Council Housed And Violent’. However, it’s probably more likely to have come from another and much older underclass, the gypsies, the Romany word for child being ‘chavi’.


This word is used as a toast when drinking with others, but it also has other meanings. You can use it to say ‘thank you’ (“Here’s your beer.” “Cheers, mate.”). You can also say “cheers” or “cheers then” to say goodbye, and it’s common to write it in informal emails as an closing salutation.


I was confused the first time I read this on a sign, thinking it literally meant something would be flying over us. In British English it means a bridge that takes one road over another (an ‘overpass’ in American English).


Meaning very disappointed or upset, it’s used a lot on reality TV shows when contestants leave the competition – ”I’m gutted. I have so much more to give.” A very good friend of mine, a primary school teacher, banned the word from her classroom because her students were using it so much!


When I was a teenager and very fashion conscious, I would save up my money to buy pieces of designer clothing. If I didn’t have enough money I’d put the item on lay-by, the shop keeping it for me as I paid it off in instalments.

In British English though, a lay-by is a widened section on the side of a road where you can stop in an emergency.


English people call their underwear ‘pants’ (I would have said ‘underpants’ or even ‘undies’ which is probably very Australian). For me, ‘pants’ are what you wear over your underwear, but Brits call these ‘trousers’. I remember an English friend getting very embarrassed when I asked her if she was going to wear pants the following day. Now I know not to say this!


Said a lot by the famous English TV chef Jamie Oliver, it means brilliant or genuine. It’s a Hindi word that means ‘good’ or ‘proper’.


Not to be confused with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis used in business, swotting is studying hard, often just before you have an exam or big test. I would have said ‘cramming’.

A student who studies a lot, perhaps too much, can be referred to as a ‘swot’ which has a negative meaning. Therefore swotting is fine, but you don’t want to be a swot!