Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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”.
share|improve this question
1  
@Robusto: PLL has now corrected "plat" to "prat", and corrected a couple of the meanings. –  Colin Fine May 25 '11 at 12:00
5  
@colin - don't you mean 'chunder' ? –  mgb May 25 '11 at 12:30
2  
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
2  
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
3  
....I recognised "Boffin" as a particular family of hobbits, who came to Bilbo's birthday... –  kitukwfyer May 25 '11 at 17:36

10 Answers 10

up vote 7 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).

share|improve this answer
1  
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
1  
@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
4  
I only know prat, does that make me one 7th of an intelligent American? –  snumpy May 25 '11 at 14:26
2  
@snumpy: Nope, it makes you a true Patriot :) –  Ernest Friedman-Hill May 25 '11 at 14:35

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.

share|improve this answer
2  
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
1  
"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

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.
share|improve this answer
2  
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

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.

share|improve this answer

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.

share|improve this answer

American here.

I recognized everything except Twee, plonk, chunter and pukka. I'm not sure what that says about me as most people seemed to have heard 'twee' before. I actually use 'whinge' more than 'wine' now. I had always heard gormless to mean someone who was hopelessly naive or gullible rather than stupid. I also took prat to be more like 'jerk' than 'idiot'. Don't know if that's regional or because most of my vocabulary comes from context clues.

share|improve this answer
    
What's the AmE equivalent for "plonk?" Do you just say "cheap wine," or is there a specific term for it? –  Elian Apr 19 at 0:54
    
"Plonk" was used quite a bit in the dark comedy hit movie "sideways" a few years ago. The characters were wine experts. Ordinary Americans might say swill, Thunderbird, Boone's Farm, or rotgut. –  Ernest Friedman-Hill Apr 19 at 1:43

I'll toss in my answer.

I did not recognize twee as primarily British, and use it myself. I know plonk from Rumpole and some other British fiction, see it as British, don't use it. I thought whinge was Aussie in origin, it's not (yet) common in the States, but it's a great almost-onomatopoetic word, so I use it often. I knew boffin from a biography of Churchill, who used it in reference to the top scientists working for British war effort, see it as British, don't use it. Vaguely aware of gormless and knackered, hadn't heard of the others. I assume pukka is an import from the Raj?!

share|improve this answer

I know all of these but chunter. But then, I watch a lot of British TV.

Americans have heard twee a lot in recent years, because some social commentators have picked it up as a handy description of certain trends in pop culture and entertainment (and have broadened its meaning in the process).

share|improve this answer

Five out of ten for me. But I've heard 'pukka' used in a different sense. e.g., Two travelers (one American and one Brit) debark from ferry in Georgetown, Penang (Malaysia). While walking through streets, the Brit sees a Malaysian government employee in khaki uniform, which includes English baggie trousers. The Brit, noticing the baggy trousers, says: 'Penang is very pukka.' The American (me) interprets this remark to mean that among Penang's inhabitants, British customs,culture and clothing styles are still held in esteem despite Malaysia becoming an independent nation.

share|improve this answer

As a Briton, I can verify that boffin is still in used in schools, where it has been abbreviated to boff. It is used by schoolchildren to refer to a child who is particularly clever, and is therefore a target for abuse and ridicule. I have heard both my children referred to as boff by their peers.

I'm amazed no-one has mentioned the etymology of plonk in this thread though, so here goes. British and Australian soldiers in World War One converted the French vin blanc into plink-plonk (amongst others, such as ving blong, plinketty-plonk), which became shortened to plonk, to refer to ordinary/cheap wine, though not necessarily bad wine. This died out in the UK, as the average man here didn't drink wine. However, it survived in Australia, as they did make and drink wine there. It returned to the UK in the 1950s, apparently.

A source of more info is here

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.