A colloquialism? A word or phrase used in informal language in other words. So says the dictionary. Some might even call it slang. Often I find the best colloquialisms, or my favourites at any rate, are those that cause utter bafflement when they’re translated internationally. I’ve worked with a number of American colleagues over the years, many of them now good friends.
It’s amusing we can often share a language but leave each other utterly baffled.
Mind the gap
Now mind the gap is all well and good if you live or work in London and you’re aware that the gap in question is between the train and the platform edge. I had some sport with an American friend when I told him the ‘gap’ was a large bat that lived in the tunnels and that he’d need to heed the warnings if he heard them whilst underground!
To us, it’s obvious an anorak is a rain coat. Or perhaps cagoule. Both will leave overseas friends baffled. Maximum confusion will follow when you also try and explain that an anorak is also a term for someone who’s a bit excessive, i.e. ‘look at the anorak in the cagoule over there.’
A great British term in all its connotations. For banger, read sausage, actually read small firework, no, you know what, read clapped out car for some banger racing. Not of these translate!
To you and I ordinary, run-of-the-mill. It’s made worse if you’ve explained to someone that a bog can also be a crude name for the toilet, sorry bathroom. Explaining that bog standard really just means vanilla to an American colleague is a tricky business.
The go-to phrase for a botched job. He made a right cock up of it. Not a phrase to use the first time you visit other countries who may think you’re referring to something strictly ‘top shelf’.
The second poultry related item. To you and me a less than polite way to say ‘go away’. For my American friends, probably something that happens to dinner ahead of Thanksgiving.
Bum bag / fanny pack
Here a bum bag, in the US a fanny pack. Both sound ridiculous and childishly amusing to the other. Enough said.
Chunder chuck, barf, etc
Yes, we English have a whole dictionary of phrases concerning being ill. All of them guaranteed to cause bewilderment. I kid you not I worked with a poor chap called Chuck Sickie who was from Illinois. That said, Randy Farmer, worked in HR in the same company, I kid you not.
In the US you’d be called a grunt. Here you’re the poor soul picking up all the jobs that no one else wants to do. Quite why you’re a ‘dog’s body’? Apparently The Royal Navy used dried peas and eggs boiled in a bag (pease pudding) as one of their staple foods circa the early 19th century. Sailors nicknamed this item "dog's body" and it became the name for the work that juniors would do for their officers.
Not being funny, but….or, no offence, but.....
So you want to pretend you’re not being offensive while being as offensive as possible. Simply insert either of these expressions at the start of your sentence to maximise irritation. We Brits claim we’re all about manners but we have some great put downs too!