Let's get into a little conversation about the differences between American English, British English and regional dialects. Some words are specific to certain dialects (lass is Scottish, the lads is British, etc.). Some words take different meaning (theatre vs. cinema to mean “movie theatre”). Pronunciation is obviously different, and spelling can be (neighbour/or, gray/grey, etc.).

What I wonder is this: are there some specifically British (or American, or whatever) idioms. I don't see why there shouldn't be, but I can't think of a single one right now. So, can you come forward with such idioms with the following constraints:

  • the individual words do not markedly belong to one dialect
  • it does not refer to a specific cultural element: geographic place, local dish, …

It would be fun to have some from a wide variety of English dialects, to broaden the perspective.

Edit: to clarify, an idiom in this question has the meaning of “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words”

  • You might need to specify a bit more what you mean: does "5 through 8" (i.e. a construction/prepositional use frequent in US English but not British English) count as an "idiom"? How about "There's nowt as queer as folk"?-- is this an "idiom" or a "proverb" (or both)? And does it "belong" to a dialect? ("nowt" is clearly dialectal at its root, but commonly enough understood to have a TV series named after it...) Apr 22, 2011 at 12:11
  • An idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words”. So, “5 through 8” is not one. And “there's nowt as queer as folk” is fully understandable by something (like me) who had never heard it. (And I would also rule it out because “nowt” in itself is markedly Northern English.)
    – F'x
    Apr 22, 2011 at 12:16
  • @Neil, what does "5 through 8" mean? Never heard of that phrase before.
    – Kevin
    Apr 22, 2011 at 13:24
  • 2
    @Kevin -- the point is that British speakers don't use "through" to mean "to", "up to", "until" with ranges. So to a British speaker, the meaning isn't necessarily 'deducible from the meaning of the individual words' (although a problem with this definition is that the extent to which a meaning is deducible will really depend on the individual speaker). Apr 22, 2011 at 14:57
  • 1
    "Lass" is not specific to Scotland, it's used in England (mainly the north) as well, and "lad" is its counterpart. Aug 25, 2016 at 14:14

9 Answers 9


It's hard to be able to identify idioms specific to one english dialect, since either you're not of the region and you are consequently familiar with few such idioms or you are of the region and you aren't able to determine whether or not it's used outside of your home town.

I come from the Southern United States, and I'll share a few idioms that may (or may not) be particular to that particular region:

  • How about them apples? (What you think about that? or How about that?")
  • Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit! (I can't believe it!)
  • Well, color me stupid! (What was I thinking? or Agh! I'm such an idiot!)
  • Bless your heart! (Oh poor thing!)
  • Dumber than a box of rocks. (I think meaning is evident here o.O)
  • Meaner than a sack full of rattlesnakes. (Nice way to call a child a pest)

These are the ones I've grown up with more frequently, though there are lots more here if you're interested.

  • 8
    The real Southern woman can actually use "Bless your heart!" to call you a dumb@$$ while you think she is being kind to you.
    – Kevin
    Apr 22, 2011 at 13:23
  • Sadly, true. :)
    – Neil
    Apr 22, 2011 at 15:15

I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. One that always amused me was the phrase "your bum is hanging out the window", pronounced "Yer bum's hingin' oot the windae", which means roughly "you don't know what you are talking about", or "you are talking nonsense." Occasionally, and sarcastically you might hear a Glaswegian say, in an affected way, "Your posterior has been defenestrated", Which means, basically the same thing.


An excellent example of this can be found in Cockney rhyming slang. These are formed by joining two words, such that the intended meaning is a word that rhymes with the second one in the expression, e.g.:

  • trouble and strife (wife)
  • frog and toad (road)
  • apple and pears (stairs)

There is no equivalent of it, to my knowledge, in US English.

  • 5
    The critical point is that you only say the first one - so unless you know the rhyme it makes no sense. "Lets have a butchers" = have a look (butcher's hook = look)
    – mgb
    Apr 22, 2011 at 14:35
  • 2
    Is this like 'Barney' meaning 'trouble' from Ocean's Eleven?
    – Kevin
    Apr 22, 2011 at 15:17
  • @Kevin - yes, a modern addition: Barney Rubble = Trouble.
    – UpTheCreek
    May 5, 2011 at 8:44
  • Another modern one: "I don't have a Scooby". (Scooby Doo: clue) Sep 6, 2011 at 6:43

I was part of a group trip to New Zealand in November and saw this sign: enter image description here

Our tour guide had to explain. Here's from this webpage:

rattle your dags: hurry up; get a move on. And from Jeff Law...The expression 'Rattle your dags' reputedly refers to a somewhat mucky sheep 'rattling it's [sic] dags (dried excretia hanging from the wool)' when running!

  • 1
    But isn't the word dags specific to this dialect region?
    – Kosmonaut
    Apr 22, 2011 at 13:13
  • I second Kosmonaut: dag is noted as “Austral./NZ informal” in the New Oxford American Dictionary.
    – F'x
    Apr 22, 2011 at 13:33
  • 1
    'dags' is common wherever you need to refer to dried-on sheep shit - it's only in Australia that it's universally a part of the culture
    – mgb
    Apr 22, 2011 at 14:38
  • @Kosmonaut: oops, I missed that part of the OPs Q somehow. Apr 22, 2011 at 22:34

In a couple of weeks, several thousand idiots and masochists are going to walk 40 miles from Keswick to Barrow (Lake District, UK). Those who are too stupid to give up, and actually complete the walk, are conferred the title 'Master of the Fellowship of the Ancient Order of the Barking Dogs'.

I'm not sure what the origins of the phrase are, and I know that the terms is used in some other pockets of the country/world, but in general, few outside the area will know that if your dogs are barking you actually have sore feet.

  • 3
    'my dogs are barking' is not an uncommon phrase in the US.
    – Kevin
    Apr 22, 2011 at 17:52

Well I'll go the the foot of our stairs - I wish to express a degree of surprise. (Yorkshire)

I don't know if it's bored or punched I don't know whether I'm coming or going. I've heard this in Yorkshire and Lancashire. I think there are more vulgar versions of this which specify what is either bored or punched.


There are number of Australian idioms, too. Many of the more well-known ones are more common in rural areas or amongst older generations, but there are newer ones, too.

chuck a ewe-y means to do a U-turn, usually in a car (and despite my spelling, nothing to do with sheep)

have a smoko means break for (usually) morning tea

I'm sure I'll think of more after I post this...

  • Americans hang a ewe-y, although I don't think we spell it that way. Nov 21, 2012 at 0:16
  • I spelt it that way so people would know how we say it. :-) I don't know how Aussies would write that down, TBH!
    – staticsan
    Nov 21, 2012 at 0:24
  • well, if you live up to your nickname, you'll be interested to know that Google statistically favors U-ie. Nov 21, 2012 at 1:11

'To get off after Barking' - to get off the train after the Barking station (Barking mad).

Useage: That geezer gets off two stops after Barking.

Meaning: That man is Barking Mad.


One phrase I picked up from my friends across The Pond:

"Throw a Wobbly" - In America, we would say "Pitch a fit" or "Have a hissy fit."

Uniquely American:

"[Person] is about as sharp as a sack of wet mice." Which is to say, "not very bright."
"Going postal" - To go violently insane. Refers to a spate of incidents involving US postal workers in the 1980s.
"Wall Street" - Matters of high finance. Refers to a street in the Financial District in New York City.
"Ten-four" or "10-4" mean "Affirmative" or "OK". It's a brevity code commonly used in radio transmissions. APCO Definitions from 1940

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