Brilliant! no, barmy. no, lovely. Ah, cheers.

So I’ve been vacationing in England for three days with my husband, and we’re getting the biggest kick out of British English and our lack of understanding of it, being American and all. You’d think that being somewhat of an Anglophile (I love reading books set in England; I watch foreign films, indies, what-have-you), I’d be a bit better prepared for the difference in vocabulary, let alone the accent. I mean, I already knew that “biscuit” really means “cookie” and that “crisps” are “chips” (and “chips” are french fries).

But it honestly takes us a couple of “excuse me”s to understand people’s meaning around here. The accent and dropped letters make it hard to clearly understand the meaning of words we actually do share, and then different words entirely make it extra-challenging.

We have observed that “brilliant” is a lovely all-purpose word to say that any service was great. Dinner? Brilliant. Sights? Brilliant. And the all-purpose word for anything else? Cheers. Hanging up? Cheers. Buy something? Cheers. Not sure what else to say to anything? Cheers.

Guess what these are. You'll never guess. Really. (Brits, no cheating.)
Guess what these are. You’ll never guess. Really. (Brits, no cheating.)

Food has been fun. I thought that it was a little challenging choosing food from the menu in Paris when we went there 9 years ago. But it’s been just as foreign ordering from British menus. Baps? Queenies? Bangers? And I finally had to ask, What the heck is treacle? I’ve read about treacle tarts for years. Then we went to a pub that served treacle bread. It was just a nice wheaty bread. Hm. What could treacle be if it’s in regular bread and tarts? The answer: it’s a sugary syrup of some kind. Huh. Okay. Then I bought a little collection of chocolates on the Isle of Man, and one was toffee that had treacle in it. My husband and I finally figured out what treacle really is when we popped the toffee in our mouths: it’s molasses, or something darn near like it. Huh. Molasses bread: fine. Molasses toffee: eh. Molasses tart? I’m not gonna try it.

Last of my observations: the Brits can sure conjure up some hilarious-sounding phrases. The one I’ve loved the best so far I saw on a sign in a train station: “lovely jubbly.” Lovely jubbly to you all, fair readers. Cheers.

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

3 thoughts on “Brilliant! no, barmy. no, lovely. Ah, cheers.”

  1. Lovely Jubbly indeed. That phrase is your greatest discovery – Delboy Trotter. The Jubbly is quite delicious as well. Nice read this. Cheers.

  2. Fun post! We’ve been watching Jeeves and Wooster on DVD and then saying things like “pip pip” without any idea what they mean (if anything!)

  3. I do love to hear about all the cultural variations, particularly in the English-speaking world. Maybe places like England and Australia speak the same language, it makes our differences that much more interesting? I don’t know.

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