Craic is Wack
This September will mark one year that I’ve been living in Glasgow, Scotland, and not in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan. One full year of gale-force winds from whatever sea I hope we’re living near, one full year of people asking me if I’ve been to Tenerife yet, one full year of occasionally buying a bloomer from Greggs and then immediately regretting eating the pile of chemical flour paste I received instead.
But, more importantly, it will be one full year of hearing, “Stevie [/Craig/Wullie], get away fae the motor, ya wee d***!” as I walk down this city’s streets rather than hearing the, “Stephen [/Craig/Will], get your ass away from that car!” of my other city’s streets.
Because when people – and by “people”, I mean university students who write for BuzzFeed – compile lists of British slang and how it compares to American counterparts, they’re often focusing on such outdated, England-specific phrases as ‘Bob’s your uncle’ and ‘chin wag’ so that it reads more like a list of Jeremy Clarkson slang rather than any practical regional guide.
I’ll therefore give you my own basic guide to UK slang, both Scottish and Southern terms (see what I did there?), compared with a very hard-done-by (see what I also did there?) city of the American Midwest.
You might ask what makes me such an expert. Well, before my time in Scotland, I spent about eight months in London and another four in Dublin, so I’d like to think I know my linguistic way around grey islands in general, and not just because I’ve watched Peep Show about seven times through. I have excluded the term ‘fags’, for cigarettes, as a PC war rages on in the great US of A and I don’t want Copylab’s SEO to be caught in the crossfire. Enjoy.
In Detroit, it’s an adjective my mother would use to describe her mood after receiving yet another notice that I haven’t submitted this month’s credit card payment. In the UK, it’s used to characterise oneself before your eighth pint, or perhaps before you crack open the first bottle of Buckfast as 9am approaches. Examples: “I’m going to get absolutely pissed before the Leftfield gig.”; “She was so pissed that she lit up a fag [see above] on the train.”
The last time any young American would have heard this was out of the mouth of Theodore ‘the Beaver’ Cleaver in a midnight rerun of the 1950s TV series Leave It to Beaver. Americans just don’t use it as a greeting the way people do in the UK: “Hiya! How you doing?”; “Hiya, you’ve reached the Council. How can I help?” You can’t.
No, Detroit Hockey Mom, I am not alright with you parking in that handicap space because you want to run into Whole Foods for organic orange slices at halftime. As in, the only time this word appears as a question in Michigan is when someone is redundantly asking if you’re OK with what they’re about to do. In the UK, it’s another common greeting: “Alright? How are you?”
If you’re not saying this while clinking two glasses in Detroit, you’re definitely a hipster who’s just finished a shopping transaction and is saying this instead of ‘thank you’ because you have also watched a Channel 4 series and want to be that kid (side note: we use ‘kid’ to describe everyone in Detroit under age 38). But yes, in the UK, it’s said while clinking as well as a thank-you. Even while on Elizabeth’s (David’s) several shores, I never use ‘cheers’ because I will personally never be that kid.
What a contractor has done to your Detroit house before renovating its insides. Otherwise, what a young British lad will describe himself as on the phone to a pal, right after pausing New Order’s ‘Your Silent Face’, when asked how he’s coping with the break-up.
This word does not exist in the Detroit vernacular, probably because if we try to pronounce it, our Midwestern elongation of vowels gives it one more syllable than it should have. In the UK, it’s often associated with things that err on the side of illegitimacy. For example, “Del Boy’s briefcases he got off Trig in the pub are well dodgy.”
“You feel like skivin’? Run down to the shop and get us a pint of milk for the office.” In the UK, to ‘skive’ is to avoid work, usually by leaving early. In corporate America, there’s no need for the word – you’re fired.
- Car park
Most Detroiters would assume that this is some type of venue for showing off your vehicle to other owners, like a car show. In the UK, it’s simply what they call those mundane concrete squares, usually backing up to Costcos, in which cars are parked. ‘Parking lots’, in America.
- The Lurgy
This fictitious epidemic, brought about by the 1950s British radio series The Goon Show, doesn’t actually exist in Britain, so it definitely doesn’t exist in America. But it’s often used in the UK to describe the common flu, e.g. “I ain’t comin’ out tonight, mate. I’ve got the lurgy.”
This is quite a serious and politically correct one in Detroit. It’s reserved for describing actual mental illness and other clinical evaluations of one’s mental state. Across the pond, however, feel free to go to town with this one, using it to describe anything from the new Xbox game you bought to the neighbour down the street who must be ‘mental’ if he’s actually dating Sheila from the Asda.
I hope I’ve now provided you with a useful guide to basic UK slang, and not because I really love Withnail & I or because I’m one of those Americans who visits London for the love of ‘old pub life’ but mistakenly hits up every Wetherspoons on the block since their titles include words like ‘horse’ and ‘duck’ and there’s maybe a plaque or two. Ya get me?