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Merriam-Webster Dictionary online shows “Top 10 Favorite British Words”. I’m interested in knowing how many of the listed words are understood or accepted by Americans as English, whichever British English or English slang.

The words listed as the top 10 Favorite English are:

  1. prat meaning “a stupid person”,
  2. twee meaning “affectedly or excessively dainty, delicate, cute, or quaint”,
  3. knackered meaning “exhausted”,
  4. jiggery-pokery meaning “dishonest activity, or nonsense”,
  5. plonk meaning “cheap wine”,
  6. chunter meaning “mutter”,
  7. whinge meaning “whine”,
  8. gormless meaning “stupid”,
  9. boffin meaning “scientific expert”,
  10. pukka meaning “genuine, first class”.
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@Robusto: PLL has now corrected "plat" to "prat", and corrected a couple of the meanings. –  Colin Fine May 25 '11 at 12:00
@colin - don't you mean 'chunder' ? –  mgb May 25 '11 at 12:30
I may be opening myself up for ridicule, but I'll go on record that my American ear hasn't heard most of these. The exceptions are twee, which I understood to be a genre of music, and knackered, which I think is more commonly known among Americans. –  HaL May 25 '11 at 14:23
And with wordlists like these is why I refuse to admit to speaking English. I speak American. –  Chris Marisic May 25 '11 at 14:54
....I recognised "Boffin" as a particular family of hobbits, who came to Bilbo's birthday... –  kitukwfyer May 25 '11 at 17:36
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As a reasonably intelligent American, I understand seven of these without the definitions (prat, twee, knackered, plonk, whinge, boffin, pukka). I would say that none of those sound remotely native to the American English speaker with the possible exception of twee, which is occasionally used (although generally with a negative connotation -- sickeningly cute or cloying).

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I understand five without definitions. I have definitely heard twee used (with strongly negative connotations) by American speakers, and I think plonk might be, but almost certainly not any of the others. –  Peter Shor May 25 '11 at 11:06
@Ernest: checking the source, it turns out plat in the question was indeed a typo for prat; have edited to correct that. So you can up your 6/10 to 7/10 :-) –  PLL May 25 '11 at 11:52
@Ernest/PLL/Robust-san. Sorry confusing you. I misspelt plat for prat. To Japanese who can't distinguish R and L sound, this is always a headache when typing in. –  Yoichi Oishi May 25 '11 at 12:00
I only know prat, does that make me one 7th of an intelligent American? –  snumpy May 25 '11 at 14:26
@snumpy: Nope, it makes you a true Patriot :) –  Ernest Friedman-Hill May 25 '11 at 14:35
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I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that none of these words will be correctly understood by most Americans.

I'm college educated, fairly well-read, and I've never even heard of 6 out of the 10 of these.

  • Prat is the only one that I could have defined correctly.
  • I always thought that knackered meant drunk, but that's probably my own mis-understanding of the context in which I heard it
  • I think I've heard jiggery-pokery and whinge before, but couldn't have defined them for you
  • Never heard the other 6.
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Maybe I need to watch more British comedies :) –  BradC May 25 '11 at 17:40
the video link below is funnier :) I completely agree with your first sentence - you have the correct answer. –  Joe Blow Jun 18 '11 at 22:11
+1. I got a pretty dang high score on my SAT verbal (back in the pliestoscene age when I took it), and the only reason I know any of these words is either from personal exposure to Brits, or from reading Harry Potter. –  T.E.D. Oct 28 '11 at 18:10
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Just to give more perspective...

As an AmE speaker:

  • only one, chunter, have I never heard of before.
  • jiggery-pokery sounds like it's from some '30s (american) gangster movie.
  • plonk and boffin don't sound particularly British to me and are rare to my ears.
  • all the rest sound decidedly British, and if their meaning wasn't immediate out of context, the definition hints are all 'oh right, that's what it meant'. I feel like I can remember the instance for each one of them when I heard/read something British and I was shocked at this bizarre new word.

So 1 of these I've never heard of, 3 of these pass as general English, and the rest as particular to British English (not at all American).

That said, I wouldn't expect most Americans to recognize any of these, except maybe jiggery-pokery.

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You won't hear the kids in the street saying 'jiggery-pokery' here either tbh. –  z7sg Ѫ May 25 '11 at 13:54
That's a different matter altogether. I find (to my non BrE ears) prat, knackered, and whinge to sound everyday, and twee and gormless to be very much used just not everyday. –  Mitch May 25 '11 at 14:00
"Boffin" had its heyday in the 1930s, and was archetypally British at the time. Nowadays it is used almost exclusively by tabloid newspapers to belittle intelligent thought. –  user1579 May 25 '11 at 15:18
@All answerers. I’m amazed to find commonality or interactivity between British English and Am English with this question. It seems most American users understand or accept 6 to 9 words of the top 10 Favorite British English list as English. If I’m shown 10 Top Favorite Chinese Words, I may be able to guess the meaning of 1 to 2 words at the best, even we use the same characters, and even I have studied Chinese language in Beijing long before. It would be the same with Top 10 Japanese words to Chinese, again, with whom we share the same characters. –  Yoichi Oishi May 25 '11 at 20:40
@Yoichi: There's no comparison; the distance between Chinese and Japanese (spoken or written) is astronomically larger than the distance between British and American English. That said, I would expect few Americans to recognize any of the words in the above list. "Favorite" is a very unscientific choice. –  Mitch May 25 '11 at 20:47
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I'm American and here's my take:

Twee, plonk and pukka are three I'm not familiar with.

The other's I've heard or used myself.

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In my half century plus as an American, the only one of those words I have ever heard in conversation is "boffin". My hobby is plastic airplane modeling and in that small, specialized community the word is sometimes used referring to an expert on certain types of airplanes, usually British airplanes, and most often the Supermarine Spitfire.

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