Blimey, I’m Knackered! An American’s Survival Guide to British English

by Marshall Hall

Brit Speak for Yanks

Back in 1887, Oscar Wilde wrote, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.” One would think, in a world homogenized by technology and social media, that differences between British English and American English would gradually disappear. Ask any recent traveler, though, and you’ll learn that plenty of linguistic idiosyncrasies persist, and new ones emerge all the time. Folks on both sides of the pond may be in closer touch than ever before, but we are still, as George Bernard Shaw purportedly noted, “two nations divided by a common language.”

Blimey, I’m Knackered! is the perfect companion for anyone desiring to bridge the gap between US and UK English or who simply enjoys the evolution of language and culture. American scholar and longtime UK resident Marshall Hall has organized his insightful definitions and explanations of British idioms, colloquialisms, abbreviations, acronyms, and slang into nineteen entertaining and revealing chapters covering everything from transportation and food to politics, education, and wardrobe. Making the book truly comprehensive are sections on pejoratives and “naughty bits.” Hall’s often amusing explanations make the book an engaging read for language lovers and travelers alike. Charming pen-and-ink illustrations by Mark Cowie add whimsy and humor to this entertaining, useful, and unique compendium. No American need ever be befuddled again!

Blimey, I’m Knackeredis now available wherever fine books are sold in North America. It will be in bookstores in the UK and other countries on October 5th.


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Purchase Blimey, I’m Knackered! An American’s Survival Guide to British English

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A professor of socio-anthropology with a lifelong interest in travel and linguistics, Marshall Hall began life on an Ohio farm. He moved from the University of Cincinnati to teach at the American College in London. 33 years later, he still calls the UK home. He is married to an English woman, has UK citizenship, and lives in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, just outside central London.

Blimey, I’m Knackered! An American’s Survival Guide to British English is now available in bookstores, online and wherever fine books are sold. (Due to shipping issues, it will be in UK stores on October 5, 2021.)

“As an American editor who also reads a great deal of British literature, I found Blimey, I’m Knackered: An American’s Survival Guide to British English to be both entertaining and informative. The conveniently arranged guide—which covers everything from differences in names for food, clothing, body parts, and buildings to colloquialisms and rhyming slang—is a treasure trove of definitions, phrases, and sayings. The reference material is lightened by the succinct chapter introductions, amusing illustrations, and clever quotations that are interspersed throughout the collection. If ever I stumble across a phrase or word I don’t recognize when reading a work of British literature or watching one of my favorite British television programs, the index in the back of this guide will make it quick and easy for me to locate an explanation.”— Skylar Hamilton Burris, editor of Ancient Paths Literary Magazine and author of When the Heart Is Laid Bare (07/27/2021)

“This book does much more than its title implies. Yes, it is full of colorful British slang like “scrumping,” (taking fruit from someone else’s tree) or “throw one’s toys out of the pram” (an adult having a temper-tantrum) and words we in the US should adopt such as “whinge” or “oojamaflip.” And yes, the book will save you from the embarrassment of using “pants” or “suspenders” in the US sense. But the reader also gets an education in British history and culture—Roman Britain, Guy Fawkes, the structure of the education system, a complete list of bank holidays. It’s a delightful, unconventional book! Read, enjoy, learn!”–Ellen Finkelpearl, the Helen Chandler Garland Professor of Ancient Studies, Scripps College and author of Metamorphosis of Language in Apuleius and translator of The Golden Ass (08/25/2021)

“If you’ve ever wondered why popular British TV shows are re-made for American audiences or puzzled over whether sixth form is a yoga pose… If you’ve ever attempted to discern whether congratulations or condolences are in order for your Facebook friend who has just returned from the A & E or tried to figure out the difference between a barrister and a solicitor, then Blimey, I’m Knackered! will prove an appealing read. Not meant to be exhaustive or academic, Marshall Hall’s new book is an enjoyable compendium of some of the more popular differences between British and American English. It makes for pleasant browsing by category, and the index is quite helpful whenever the reader wishes to uncover the meaning of a baffling British locution encountered in reading or conversation.

Some of the most engaging sections of Blimey, I’m Knackered! recall the predicaments the author or one of his compatriots encountered as a result of this underestimated language barrier. The book shines in the chapter “In and Around London,” which does much to distinguish the actual geography of the city from the pre-conceived tourist notions based on the famous Underground map. Among other things it includes a complete listing of the various markets held in every corner of London, an impetus for the curious to explore beyond the usual tourist haunts. Hall’s book is appealing, not only for the linguistically bewildered but also for armchair travelers. For a trip “across the pond” with an amiable guide, read Blimey, I’m Knackered!”–Rebecca Lommel, Professor Emeritus in English Language, Southern Methodist University (09/13/2021)

“There are books and there are books. This is a book you will not only read for the essays that open each chapter and the very funny and the easy-to-read definitions (there are 23 names alone listed for the word drunk), but it’s worth finding room in your suitcase so you can take it on your next trip to Great Britain.”–Jan Jackson, Country Traveler (07/31/2021)

“Puzzled by words used by Britons? Want to understand more while watching Love Island UK or Australia? Blimey, I’m Knackered! has you covered. As a lover of mysteries, I watch a lot of British TV on streaming services. It would have been helpful to have this guide when I first started. But even after a decade or more of Acorn, I still found many unfamiliar words in here. For example, doing porridge is not a British version of the plot twist in American Pie. It means spending time in prison. The book includes words and phrases for the entire British Commonwealth. So, The Casketeers, set in New Zealand, will now be completely understandable. The book is alphabetized within chapter groupings of things like slang and wardrobe. There is also an alphabetical index without the groupings. You will be saying Blimey, I’m Knackered! (Dang, I’m exhausted) if you try to read this book straight through. It is better suited for traveling and translating British TV, movies, and books on the fly. Additionally, it would be a fantastic reference for writers planning on setting their novels in the British Commonwealth.”–Diane Hernandez, DianeReviewsBooks.com (09/04/2021)

“Hall has included…a little bit of sensible assist, defining phrases guests will encounter whereas driving, driving public transit, and skimming menus at eating places and pubs. When you have a go on the full English one positive morning, don’t cock a snook on the waiter for bringing you a black banger stuffed with pig guts. That’s simply not cricket.”— Zac Thompson, editor, Frommers.com (08/10/2021)

“I was gobsmacked by Blimey, I’m Knackered! Hall’s perfect ear for Britishisms makes this indispensable for anyone who wants to understand the modern UK. This is a terrific and terrifically entertaining book.”–Eric A. Chiappinelli, Frank McDonald Endowed Professor of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law (08/15/2021)

“The book is a delightful way to discover over 1,200 genuine down-to-earth differences between the two nations’ languages. It doesn’t just explain, it educates with factual references throughout. All done in Marshall’s calm and witty style – and he doesn’t shy away from the naughty bits!”–Paul Vates, drama critic at Frost Magazine. (09/09/2021)

“Whether the words were old hat or brand new, this is a fun and informative book. Perhaps less than in the past, thanks to a ton of British programs and movies,, Americans have been baffled by the unusual colloquialisms they discover upon visiting Old Blighty. They are indeed separated by a common language. This would be a handy guide to read or take when venturing across the pond. And even if, like my family, you are well acquainted with the words, you will be chuffed and gobsmacked by this book.”–Susan Johnson, (Princess Fuzzypants), Facebook (09/03/2021)

“This was so fun. I got to read this while I was watching Love Island (UK) live. It was super fun to feel completely covered in all things British. This would be a cute coffee table book and truthfully, maybe even a fun bathroom read.”–Caroline Craig David, SouthernBelleBooks (09/06/2021)

Blimey, I’m Knackered is a really fun and humorous book that is basically a British dictionary, encyclopedia, how-to guide, and travel guide all in one. I really enjoyed learning about the differences in British versus US culture, especially because the book was so witty and made it easy to understand.”–Crystal Lowery, Goodreads.com (08/19/2021)

“A quite well done compendium of Britishisms for those of us west of the Atlantic…I do recommend reading the book through. I got many laughs as I moved through the narrative. Chapters are laid out to group the bewildering collection into useable chunks which include comments and quips on the chapter’s subject. Groups include “Buildings & Structures”, “Colloquialisms”, “Driving & Transportation”, “Cooking & Foods”, just to name a few. The author has added interesting tidbits from his own experiences and quotes from different celebrities. And don’t miss the “Anatomy & Naughty Bits” section; definitely a “laugh out loud” read! A definite 4.5/5 STARS for this one!”–Cindee Ketches, NetGalley.com (08/26/2021)

“Helpful for anyone who wants to understand British English where for travel or understanding some of the things said in British movies and television shows. Fun to read and learn some new things about the English language.”–Kelly Krechmer, Goodreads.com (08/23/2021)

“I enjoyed this book. I liked reading about the author’s experiences. Some of the illustrations are cute and some of the occasional quotes are clever…I enjoy etymology and reading books about the English language. This book fulfills both criteria and I found it worthwhile reading even though I have no plans to travel to that part of the world.”–Stephen Goldberg, Goodreads.com (08/22/2021)

“Marshall’s book beautifully sums up many of the conversations we had about wearing pants on your bottom and not on your legs, sneakers versus trainers and how trunks are for packing things in and swimming in but your shopping goes in the boot of the car. We now have the definitive guide from Marshall to help us navigate even the most confusing of conversations.”–Councillor Jane MacBean, Buckinghamshire County Council (07/13/2021)

“Marshall Hall’s funny, enlightening book is essential reading for logophiles, linguaphiles, and Americans who can’t understand Guy Ritchie movies. Don’t be a bloody pillock, mate. Read Blimey, I’m Knackered!— Brett Riley, Ph.D., Professor of English, College of Southern Nevada and author of The Subtle Dance of Impulse and Light, Comanche, Lord of Order and Freaks. (08/11/2021)

“This warts-and-all compendium of British English words and phrases showcases the inventiveness and wit of the language while also conveying the historical and cultural factors (and, at times, prejudices) underlying certain terms and turns of phrase, from the quotidien to the bawdy. Travelers–and others interested in British English–will appreciate the context and insights of the chapter introductions, the careful attention to regional differences in the language, the practical tips woven throughout the book, and the edifying plunge into the waters of rhyming slang, often baffling to the uninitiated.”–Beth Castrodale, award-winning author of Marion Hatley, In This Ground, and I Mean You No Harm (07/23/2021)

“Marshall Hall’s Blimey, I’m Knackered is an approachable, useful, and entertaining dictionary.”— Kalene Westmoreland, Ph.D., College of Southern Nevada (08/11/2021)

“Entertaining, educational and wonderfully thorough ! It also provided a refreshing and comforting flashback to my many years of living in Blighty!”–Joseph Houghton, Administrator and Director at Troy University (07/06/2021)

1.
Buildings and Structures

The architecture of the UK is the result of a multitude of influences, including cultural values, expediency, local building materials, urban density, and available expertise. Visitors to Edinburgh, as an example, will no doubt notice architectural styles, building materials, and urban layouts that are distinctly different from the red brick and Portland stone of London. The countryside has its own historic and often very practical styles that include thatched roofs that are newly installed and maintained even today.

The population booms of the Victorian and post-World War II eras called for new ways of thinking about and constructing housing for the masses. In the late nineteenth century, this resulted in excessively long terraces of houses sharing common dividing walls with “two up-two down” room layouts and an outdoor toilet. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Victorian terraced houses were seen as slums, and many were cleared away to make room for the new and modern high-rise tower blocks, which have themselves started to be cleared away for the next wave of high-density housing. Both have enjoyed a regeneration in recent decades as demonstrated by the protective historical listing given to several of the high-rise tower blocks and seen in the gentrification of the London Docklands and other London, Manchester, Glasgow, and many other city neighborhoods.

For practical reasons, houses in the UK are not built of wood. It’s just too damp, and clay tiles are the roofing material of almost all housing. Residential interiors also reflect a unique value and class system that Americans might find it difficult to understand. In many rural communities, toilets only started moving indoors in the last hundred years, central heating is a modern luxury, and mixer valves for the baths and sinks are still sometimes difficult to find.

BACK-TO-BACK HOUSE
A back-to-back shares three walls with other properties (the back wall and both sides), so the door and windows are on the front of the house. The typical back-to-back house had a living room and kitchen on the ground floor, a bedroom on the first and attic floors, plus a basement. It was renowned for squalor, disease, and poverty due to the cramped design and poor sanitation. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mill and mine owners of the Midlands and northern England built mile upon mile of them to cram the maximum number of workers into the minimum space at the lowest possible cost. Few back-to-back houses have survived besides some in the West Yorkshire cities of Leeds and Bradford. Elsewhere, the National Trust has saved a small number, including six in Birmingham out of the original sixty thousand in that city.

BLOCK OF FLATS
An apartment building.

BREEZEBLOCK
Cinderblock.

BUNGALOW
A smallish (by American standards) single-story fully detached house. The word is derived from the Hindustani word “bangala,” meaning “belonging to Bengal,” in reference to the type of houses built by early European settlers. (The folk etymology that claims the word is derived from “build four short walls, and ‘bung a low’ roof on it” is unsubstantiated.) The bungalow became popular as an architectural style in the late nineteenth century.

BUREAU-DE-CHANGE
A currency exchange.

COAL HOLE
An interesting bit of history. As you walk along the streets of any large English city, look down at the sidewalk (pavement), and you will see small steel discs approximately fifteen inches in diameter. They cover holes through which the coal merchant could deliver coal to the basement of a townhouse without needing entry. These holes were known as “coal holes.” Some older coal hole covers are quite intricate and collectible, while many of the modern ones are just plain. Coal holes were rendered obsolete in the 1950s with the introduction of gas heating systems and legislation requiring smokeless fuel.

(skipping ahead)….

PARADE OF SHOPS
Also widely referred to as a “shopping parade,” this is a row of assorted stores (e.g., newsstand, butcher, grocer, fast food outlet, bookie, thrift store), usually in a residential part of town. If someone says, “I’m off to the shops,” it’s safe to assume they mean the local parade. This is different from a “strip mall” in the USA. What Americans call a “strip mall” is known as a “retail outlet” in the UK.

(skipping ahead)….

ALL FUR COAT AND NO KNICKERS
Referring to a woman who looks good on the surface but has no substance.

ARGY-BARGY
A big deal, usually an emotional crisis, a lively discussion or dispute, an argument or quarrel. “There was a bit of argy-bargy between the two of them, but they shook hands later.” Some argue that “argy” is a modification of the word “argue.”

AT HER MAJESTY’S PLEASURE
Being locked up in prison for life.

 

Casebound Hardcover: $24.00 USD;  17.99 GBP
ISBN: 9781945501494 — First Edition: August 31, 2021  5.5 x 8.5 256 pages
ISBN: 9781945501500   ePUB: $11.99 USD, 10.99 GBP