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British Sayings

Funny & Interesting British Sayings: Top 10

Considered by non-native speakers to be one of the easiest languages to learn, English is full of tricky grammar, a large vocabulary and interesting pronunciation. English is also famous for its colloquial phrases and words. We have compiled a list of some of the funny and interesting British sayings used every day across. Used primarily in the UK, they can also be found across other English speaking countries.

While these phrases are structurally and grammatically correct, their meanings can sometime get lost in translation. Fear not though, as we have laid out each phrase with its meaning and context to get you speaking like a true English speaker in no time.

Top 10 Funny & Interesting British Sayings

You will most likely come across these phrases in England itself, with slight variations across the country. However, you might find some strange looks in other countries where English is not the first language. So lets dive straight in to these funny and interesting British English sayings.

“Things Have Gone Pear-Shaped.”

You will probably hear this phrase used when something goes wrong. To say something has gone pear-shaped is to say that it hasn’t played out as was expected.

This interesting phrase has really only come into use since the second world war. It’s origins are generally linked to the RAF pilots attempt to fly a loop-de-loop but not completing the manoeuvre as expected and instead of creating a circle, creating a pear-shaped track in the sky.

“Were you born in a barn?”

Usually heard being shouted a teenagers or young people across the country, this rhetorical question relates to the ever annoying practice of leaving a door open and letting the cold air in.

This phrase originates from farming days where farmers would leave the barn door open to allow animals to go out to pasture and return at their own will. The rhetorical nature of the question is said with sarcasm and some annoyance with its intent to get the perpetrator to close the door.

“Bob’s Your Uncle!”

This saying isn’t a comment on your family tree, but merely used as an exclamation of a completion of a task or tasks. It’s meaning is effectively “and there it is” or “it’s done”.

The origins of the phrase however are not as clear. One of the most common stories is that it is linked to former Prime Minister of England, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, who during his tenure in the 19th century appointed his nephew as Chief Secretary of Ireland. This position, it is said, was only given to him due to the fact that ‘Bob’ was his uncle.

“He’s made a pigs ear of that.”

Not, as some may assume, a saying heard exclusively in a butchers shop. This interesting phrase is actually referring to the quality of someone’s work or the difficulty of a task (‘it’s a right pigs ear’). To say that someone has made a pigs ear of something is to say they have done shoddy work, or made it more difficult than it should have been.

The phrase dates back to 16th century proverb  ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. Essentially saying that if you attempted to do this it would turn into a mess. The common use of this phrase however came into common vernacular in the mid-20th century.

“I haven’t seen you in donkeys years!”

If you meet-up with an old English friend they might drop this phrase into conversation with you. Don’t be offended, they are not comparing you to a donkey, and it is also in turn not a slight at the animal. They are merely saying that they haven’t seen you in a long time.

Despite the automatic connotation with the four-legged animal, the phrase actually dates back to dock-workers. When loading ships a crane/pulley system was used called a donkey. This crane was incredibly slow and so became linked with a long period of time hence the phrase.

“It’s raining cats and dogs!”

One of the most famous funny and interesting British sayings, this is the only one included in this list which is linked directly to the English love of weather. To say ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ is to say that it is raining incredibly heavily.

The origin of this phrase however is not clear. Links to Norse mythology and the Greeks are the leading theories, but the first recorded use of the saying was in 1651 by poet Henry Vaughn.

“Wind your neck in!”

If you ever get told to ‘wind your neck in’ in England it is best you quieten down quickly. The phrase essentially means be quiet and don’t get so cocky.

While it is not a literal request to wind your neck in, it is effectively telling the person to remove themselves from being involved in the current situation.

“I’ll have your guts for garters!”

Another phrase you want to avoid hearing. If someone says they will have your guts for garters then you have probably done something wrong. Alternatively, it could be used as a threat, if don’t do what they ask then they will have your guts for garters.

The meaning of this phrase is that they will punish you servery, potentially with physical violence. The literal translation is that they will cut out and use your intestines as a garter. The use of the phrase has however developed over the years and is now used as less physuical threat. Though it should be noted that the person saying it is probably still very annoyed at you and it would be best to try and appease them.

The first use of the phrase can be found in Robert Greene’s, The Scottish History of James the Fourth.

“He was legless.”

Now, the use of the term ‘legless’ is one which has two meanings in the UK. The first is the most obvious and literal, to have no legs. The second is one which can most frequently be heard in drinking establishments and from young people. To refer to someone as legless in this scenario is to say that they are or were extremely drunk.

The term legless is used as it relates to the persons use of their legs being impaired due to alcohol consumption. This phrase and its multiple meanings has been used for many years in comedic skits. The classic British comedy Blackadder offers a prime example. “We’re doomed, doomed! Condemned to a watery grave with a captain who’s legless!” “Rubbish! I’ve hardly touched a drop!” “…No, no. I mean you haven’t got any legs” “Oh, yes, you’re right there. Carry on, sorry!”

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist!”

As with many of the phrases in this list, the meaning behind them is somewhat hidden. If someone is to ‘get their knickers in a twist’, they are getting annoyed or frustrated over a situation. It is usually said in frustration by another person as a command to stop getting so worked-up and to calm down.

Other Funny & Interesting British Sayings Phrases

There is an inexhaustible list of British English sayings and idioms which are funny and interesting. From cockney rhyming slang to regional based phrases, even English native speakers come across phrases they don’t understand. The 10 funny and interesting sayings on this page just scratch the surface.

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Next Steps to Learn English

Now that you have discovered these funny and interesting British sayings why not start learning English at home? You can even learn learn in a native speaking country. Cactus offer a range of English courses suitable for all levels, from beginners to advanced. With weekly lessons, you can soon build up your skills to be able to converse in one of these countries that speak English.

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