"Blimey, that's brilliant!"

September 08, 2010 by in 2010-11 Season

An in-depth look at British Slang by Carly Lyons, Marketing Intern

Growing up, one of the things I always loved about theatre (and reading for that matter) was its ability to transport you to a different time and place. I mean, I don’t foresee being able to travel back in time in my near future, so what better way to do so than through theatre? And although I’d love to travel overseas, I’m not sure how far off that is in my future either.

That being said, one of the my favorite things about shows that take you to a place outside of wherever you are (currently Cleveland, Ohio) is that you get to experience cultural things you may not get to normally experience. Our first show of the season, The 39 Steps, takes place in 1935, in London, England. Aside from being outrageously funny, the show throws into the mix a lot of British slang, which actually has a pretty interesting background.

British slang, otherwise known as English language slang, is a type of informal language used in Great Britain. While some slang words and phrases are used throughout all of Britain (e.g. knackered, meaning "exhausted"), others are restricted to smaller regions, even to small geographical groups. London has its own varieties of slang, one of the most well-known of which is Cockney rhyming slang. Some of these terms are also used in other countries, such as Australia or Canada.

Contrary to popular belief, British slang is not considered a lower-class trait. It stems from Shakespeare to Chaucer and encompasses nearly every generation of human speech. From Cockney rhyming slang to short-lived colloquialisms, England contains a mixture of expressions that often leave us Americans thoroughly confused.

Throughout The 39 Steps, one might hear a variety of words, including:
blimey: Oh geez!
bloody: One of the most useful swear words in English. Mostly used as an exclamation of surprise i.e."bloody hell.” Something may be "bloody marvellous" or "bloody awful". It is also used to emphasize almost anything, "you're bloody mad", "not bloody likely"
brilliant: great! awesome!
cheerio: not a breakfast cereal, just a friendly way of saying goodbye.
chap: boy or man
Crikey!: My God!
“down the garden path”: a phrase meaning to lead someone down the wrong or false path
flat: apartment
lavatory: bathroom
lass: a girl or young woman who is unmarried
mate: address for a friend

So if by chance you find yourself strolling the streets of London, England in the future, have a brilliantly good time, and don’t let yourself be led down the garden path! Who knows -- you may find yourself on an adventure to find the 39 steps…




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