Get your mitts off our lingo (as they say in New York)

No longer must we be divided by a common language. British Airways' new marketing campaign invites Americans to wrap their laughing gear round our nation's colloquialisms. Ace, says John Walsh
Click to follow
The Independent US

"Blimey, mate! I went on my hols in London, England and it was jolly smashing. All the girls were fit, not a minger in sight. The Tube was a doddle, but the bangers were pants. I caused some aggro by having a brill snog during a knees-up, and was flung out on the pavement, where I enjoyed a refreshing kip..."

Stand by for the return of the Dick Van Dyke Effect. From today, American visitors to the UK will have a chance to embarrass themselves, and mortify their hosts, by picking up just enough idiomatic English slang to draw attention to their out-of-town-ness.

In a bold initiative to make US travellers feel at home, British Airways has created the first on-line dictionary of English-English. It demonstrates, more than any linguistic experiment since Van Dyke played Bert, the Cockney chimney-sweep in Mary Poppins ("Ow, itser jolly 'ollerdye wiv Mare-ee..."), the truth of Oscar Wilde's dictum that "We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language."

Ace, Afters, Butty, Chat up, Cheers, Chin-wag, Cracking, Crisps, Doddle, Dosh, Dustbin... The list of key words in the slang lexicon is designed to help the confused flyer from Des Moines and Hackensack blend in with the locals, in teashop, department store and, especially, in the pub. According to the BA website, travellers "can confidently ask for the location of the 'loo' (restroom), the 'lift' (elevator), the 'blower' (telephone) or the 'bin' (trashcan)."

Robin Hayes, the US executive vice-president of BA, suggests that hardcore mockney enthusiasts could rent films such The Full Monty or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels "to try and get a handle on the nuances of British slang... [but] our website is a 'cheeky' bit of fun that may be the easiest and best way to learn some of the uniquely British words and phrases people often bring home from a London vacation."

God help (or perhaps Gawd 'elp) the folks back home. They'll get a very strange picture of England in the 21st century: a world where taxi drivers still call you "Guv," and people routinely offer you "a cuppa' cha", where genial pals in London boozers urge you to "Wrap your laughing gear around this, mate" and, should you be so rude as to steal someone's drink, will laughingly remonstrate, "Hey, keep your mitts off my pint!" A lot of drinking seems to be guaranteed during a London visit, together with much effortful male chumminess ("Fancy a snog?") and a certain reliance on tabloid cliché ("Blimey, it's a scorcher today...")

The BA slang lexicon displays a bizarre bipolarity of class, mixing cockney-sparrow talk with aristocratic yapping, chav blokery with wartime RAF words like "barmy" and "chin-wag." The notional American tourist is urged to use the chav word "loads" as in "I like loads of tomato sauce on my chips," but to say "hols" and "tickety-boo" as if he were Bertie Wooster. The more educated, Henry Jamesian traveller may have trouble with the prevailing note of Eastenders-style rambunctiousness. One feels a twinge of sympathy for the Harvard professor of Classics, at the concierge's desk of the Ritz, shouting, "I do not need this aggro. I am knackered from arguing. Get on the blower to your manager this minute."

Some definitions are misleading or plain wrong. "Pukka," lately reintroduced into the language by Jamie Oliver, is glossed as "amazing", though it actually means "good all the way through". "Serviette" is recommended as Brit-speak for "napkin," although Nancy Mitford outlawed it as social death in the Fifties.

Some words are sure to mislead visiting Yanks. "Mince" is defined only as "ground meat," rather than an effeminate gait, "tinkle" as a phone call rather than a visit to the bathroom, "top" as meaning "brilliant" rather than "kill [yourself]", and "pants" is unhelpfully glossed as "trash" (rather than "underwear-but-not-trousers"). The most-used word in the scripts of Eastenders - "sorted" - is explained as "taken care of" but illustrated by the phrase, "He won the lottery. Now he's sorted"; as if "sorted" actually meant "extremely rich but psychologically disturbed."

British Airways will be advertising their mini-dictionary all over New York this month, in bus shelters and on bar paraphernalia. If it works, the streets of Piccadilly and Mayfair may soon be full of visitors asking each other, "Can I trouble you for some dosh? I left my lolly in the hotel," and asking in cafes for a bacon buddy ("In London, a bacon butty is a typical breakfast.") It may just work. On the other hand, it may go the same way as the Monty Python sketch in which a man is convicted of falsifying a tourist phrasebook, in which a romantic overture is given as "My hovercraft is full of eels."

Way to go, guv'ner.

How to speak English the BA way

* ACE: Means excellent. As in "That party last night was ace"

* AFTERS: Means dessert. As in "If you make dinner I'll bring the afters"

* BANGERS: Means sausage. As in "Let's have bangers 'n' mash for lunch"

* BEER MAT: Means coaster. As in "Let's start a collection of beer mats"

* BLIMEY: An expression of surprise. As in "Blimey, how time flies. Let's catch up"

* BLOWER: Means telephone. As in "Get on the blower and call your mum"

* CHIN-WAG: Means to talk. As in "Fancy a coffee and a bit of a chin-wag?"

* CRISPS: Means potato chips. As in "May I have a bag of crisps with that?"

* DOSH: Means cash. As in "Pick up some dosh and meet us at the pub"

* FAFF: Means indecisive. "We would have been on time if she wasn't a faffer"

* FRINGE: Means bangs. As in "You'll find swanky places to cut your fringe in Soho"

* KNACKERED: Means tired. As in "Work has left me completely knackered"

* LOADS: Means a lot. As in "I like loads of tomato sauce with my chips"

* LOO: Means the bathroom. As in "Can you tell me where the loo is, please?"

* MINGER: Means an unattractive person. "My blind date was a right minger"

* MITTS: Means hands. As in "Hey, keep your mitts off my pint!"

* PECKISH: Means hungry. As in "Feeling peckish? Let's have a bite later"

* SCORCHER: Means a very hot day. As in "Blimey, it's a scorcher today"

* SORTED: Means taken care of. As in "He won the lottery. Now he's sorted"

* TICKETY-BOO: Means going well. As in "Is everything tickety-boo with you?"

* WELLIES: Means gumboots. As in "Let's stomp around in our wellies"