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6 British English phrases that make no sense

Strop. Codswallop. Knackered. Just like the picture of a chair in the street above (no, we don’t get it either), we Brits do say some strange things sometimes – usually because they evolved from the many, many (many) vastly different regional dialects that exist across the UK (or the strange and very long history of the English language.) Unfortunately, that doesn’t help if you’re learning English in Britain and can’t understand half of what people are saying!

With this in mind, I thought it was time to clarify some of the most bizarre British English phrases you’ll hear and explain what they actually mean. You’re welcome.

1. “Don’t get stroppy!” or “Don’t get in a strop!”

It means: Don’t be angry or rude about something you don’t like. We’re not exactly sure where this one comes from, but it’s possible is evolved from the word obsteperous which means ‘noisy and difficult to control’.

2. “Up on the downs”

It means: This literally makes no sense to anyone who isn’t from the UK, but the explanation is actually quite simple: Downs are hill formations, derived from the Celtic word dun which means the same thing. So when someone says they’re going “up on the downs” they’re actually going up onto a hill.

3. “I’m literally gobsmacked”

It means: When you’re unbelievably surprised and/or lost for words, you’re gobsmacked. In British slang, gob means mouth – so gobsmacked quite literally means someone has smacked you in the mouth and you’re shocked about it. It’s fair to say I’m gobsmacked at this definition because it’s just so bizarre.

4. “Stop waffling”

It means: If someone won’t stop talking about something, you can tell them to stop “waffling”. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean they just continually make waffles for you (shame). It probably started with the word waff which meant yap or yelp in colloquial English.

5. “Bits and bobs”

It means: Various things, usually small items. It’s one of those flexible sayings that can mean many things depending on the context: so you could say “I’m going to the supermarket to buy some bits and bobs for dinner” or “this drawer is filled with lots of bits and bobs”. It means bits and pieces and refers to the old English words for coins (bit and piece).

6. “Lost the plot”

It means: This one can mean two things: when you’re really angry about something and you can’t control yourself, or when you’ve gone a little bit mad. Either way, you’ve totally forgotten what the point of the situation is – so, just like in a story that’s no longer connected to what it first started as, you’ve lost the plot.

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