Learn to Speak British English Before Moving to the UK

One of the biggest most potentially embarrassing differences in Canadian versus British English is the use of the term “pants”. In fact, you may want to start practicing now just to ensure you get the hang of things before you step foot in the UK and inevitably end up telling someone that you like their pants. In the UK, pants refers to underpants and only underpants. Trousers. The word you are looking for when referring to your longer leg coverings is trousers. Just keep practicing and you’ll get the hang of it. Moreover, you also shouldn’t be offended if someone asks you for a rubber. They need an erasure to fix a written mistake, they aren’t propositioning you for something else.

Beyond these two major points of conflicting terminology, there are a great many other British terms and sayings that you’ll want to be familiar with to avoid getting lost in conversation.


  1. Sod’s Law

You’ll like here variations on a reference to Sod’s Law such as “Sod all” and “Sod it”. Sod’s law is bit of an extreme variation on Murphy’s law, which you may be more familiar with. The essence of Sod’s Law is that whatever can go wrong will go wrong and in the worst possible way.

  1. “You okay?” or “You alright?”

Don’t be alarmed if you are frequently greeted with these phrases in the UK. No, you don’t look poorly (sick) or ragged, this is just the British equivalent to asking “How are you?” The typical British response is to issue a short and positive response (“yeah” or “yes”) and reciprocate the question (“and you?”). One derivative of this would be when you are asked the same thing by a server or bartender in a restaurant or pub in which case they are asking you whether you’d like to order anything in which case you should respond accordingly.

  1. Knackered, zonked, or buggered and needing a kip

All of these just mean you are plain old exhausted or tired out and needing a nap. Careful if you try to used buggered though, there are other variations on this phrase that have very different meanings. Knackered is pretty universally used though so it’s a good choice if you’re unsure.

  1. Pudding

Another word that you think you are familiar with but has a quite different meaning when used in the UK. “Pudding” in the UK essentially refers to all desserts or more generally the sweet treat you have after supper. You can have fruit for pudding or cake for pudding or biscuits for pudding etc. The goopy sweet mixture that we call pudding in Canada would actually be called “custard” in the UK. And just to ensure your confusion, you may find one night that you do indeed have custard for pudding.

  1. Waffle

Hopefully you won’t hear this regarding any of your academic work but if you do get told to stop waffling, it typically means you are running on with little or no direction. Many students are guilty of this in early drafts of their dissertations when they gape at their expected word count and wonder how in the world they’ll ever write that much on one topic. But don’t worry, once you get into the thick of your research you’ll find yourself easily editing out all of your waffling bits.


Be sure you check out Across The Pond’s Predeparture Guidelines that will be available later this summer which includes many other helpful tips for preparing for your studies. It has a plethora of British terminology and slang incorporated throughout!

If you would like to find out more about studying in the UK, please contact one of our Advisors.