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HomeCultureLondon Lingo: A London Word Dictionary - Words Unique to London

London Lingo: A London Word Dictionary – Words Unique to London

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One thing you’ll notice when you travel to London are all the strange words they use to describe things. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don’t.

Rather than pull together a list of British Slang words (which we’ve done already on Anglotopia) we thought it would be fun to put together a list of words you’ll usually only hear in London.

Now, there will be some words used elsewhere but I tried to capture words that when I hear them – I think of London.

So, here’s your guide to some useful London Lingo or as I like to just say: London Words.

  • Tube = London Underground Network
  • The Knowledge = The cumulative knowledge of London’s black cab drivers that they have to learn to be licensed. They have to learn every street in London.
  • Boris Bus = Boris Johnson’s key platform of replacing the old London Routemaster bus.
  • Red Ken = The name of London’s former Mayor Ken Livingston who leaned VERY far to the left.
  • The Standard = What some call the Evening Standard – the evening paper dedicated to London.
  • The City = The City of London – the square mile bit of central London that goes back 2 thousand years.
  • Square Mile = The City of London also
  • Congestion Charge = Tax on all cars entering the central London congestion charge zone.
  • Silicon Roundabout = Area around Old Street that’s a hub for new media and tech companies.
  • Council Estate = Public housing
  • The Blitz = Period in 1940 when London was bombed by the Nazis
  • M25 = The Orbital Highway that encircles London
  • Westway = Elevated Highway in West London
  • Mind the Gap = Watch your step when stepping from a train to a platform.
  • The Palace = When someone says the Palace they’re almost always referring to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official residence in London.
  • Buck House = Buckingham Palace
  • The Tower = Tower of London
  • A-Z = A popular London map guide that’s indispensable to locals and long term visitors (extra note – Londoners will say ‘A to Zed’).
  • GMT = Greenwich Mean Time
  • Cockney = Someone born within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow
  • Offy = Convenience Store that sells alcohol
  • Off License = Convenience Store that sells alcohol
  • Take Away = Cheap to go food.
  • Crossrail = New cross London underground railway line currently under construction.
  • Bobby = London Policeman
  • Clip Joint = A club that claims to be a strip club but usually comes with £100 bottles of water. Avoid.
  • Zebra Crossing = Pedestrian crossing.
  • Home Counties = Generic name for the counties around London which are: Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Sussex.
  • Nappy Valley = Areas of London with high birthrates like Battersea.

Did we forget something? What word makes you think of London? What’s your favorite one? Let us know in the comments!

Want to learn more British slang? Then check out Anglotopia’s Dictionary of British English – Brit Slang from A to Zed. Available from Amazon and in eBook. Details here.

Author: jonathan

Jonathan is a consummate Anglophile who launched Anglotopia.net in 2007 to channel his passion for Britain. Londontopia is its sister publication dedicated to everything London.

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  1. Offys an Off licences are convenience stores that sell alcohol specifically (or liquor as you call it), they are not general convenience stores.

    Boris Bus is a less commonly used term than Boris Bike, a term now in general use referring to the bikes you can now hire and ride at various points around London, a scheme brought in by Boris Johnson, the Mayor. The Boris Bus is only in its very early stages, I believe they have only just revealed the design, so you don’t see many of them around yet, if any, but no doubt that bus will be called the Boris Bus when they are in general use.

  2. I second what Nicola said – an off licence is a place you go to buy alcohol. They may sell sweets and crisps (candy and chips) too, but generally not much else. Didn’t see as many Boris bikes on my last trip to London last Wednesday, whereas a year ago they were everywhere. I wonder why?

  3. This vocab is not restricted to London! I used to live in the UK and I would say all of these words would be understood by anybody living in the south of England and by most people living absolutely anywhere in the UK.

      • “The Palace” in general conversation will normally refer to the staff that work for the royals, rather than the building itself, in the same way that the “White House” or “Downing Street” will issue a press release etc. Even when you do mean the building, there’s a subtle difference depending on whether you’re going inside the walls or not – you’d go to a garden party at the Palace, but you’d give directions for a driver to turn right at Buck House. (there’s some crossover, but there is a distinction)

        In South London, “Palace” (without the “the”) normally refers to Crystal Palace football club, which is a bit different!

        You can’t emphasise enough the distinction between the City of London and the city of London as most outsiders see it – they are completely and utterly different.

        The West End isn’t an end, it’s kind of in the middle. But you always go “up West” even if you travel downhill and eastwards to get there.

        Similarly, you always get an “up train” to “go up to London” from the Home Counties, regardless of altitude. But you “come down” from Yorkshire for example.

        It’s not well known but there’s a menagerie of specialist crossings, like the toucan (“two-can” cross, for pedestrians and cyclists), the puffin (“Pedestrian User-FFriendly INtelligent”) crossing (a high-tech pelican crossing with sensors to detect users and traffic) and my favourite, the pegasus crossing for horseriders (there’s some on Hyde Park corner). Informally any traffic-light-controlled crossing gets called “pelican”, whereas a zebra has only Belisha beacons.

        +1 on there being little awareness of Boris buses, but Boris bikes are universal.

        It’s Takeaway, not Take Away…

        Building nicknames – 30 St Mary Axe is always the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge is the “Wobbly Bridge”, Strata SE1 is The Razor, City Hall is The Testicle.

        Most people would use a tighter definition of the Home Counties, broadly only those actually bordering Greater London (plus Sussex). I know some would expand it out to roughly the area of the old Network Southeast railway district, but it doesn’t feel right.

  4. Isn’t it nick not Knick? Anyway, not London specific but it means in jail, and to nick something is to steal it, been nicked means you’ve been arrested, in case anyone was wondering….

  5. BoJo (The Clown): The (hopefully outgoing in May 2012) Mayor of London

    Innit: a contraction of ‘isn’t it’ but used in almost any sentence. “I got off work early today, innit” / “If you ask her, she’ll let you have it for free, innit” etc, etc.

    Down yer: A variety of uses. ‘Geddit down yer neck’ = drink up/eat up. Down yer can also be used to establish one’s location or whereabouts. ” Last week I was down yer Cyprus. The missus has been bangin’ on for years about going there’

    banged up: arrested / locked up in jail
    Knocked up: pregnant

    Sorry: almost totally meaningless, yet viewed as a panacea for all self-caused problems situations. Barged past someone on an escalator, knocking their bag out of their hand and spilling their coffee all over their jacket because you are too busy wrapped up in your own world? No need to stop, just yell ‘sorry’,or possibly ‘excuse me’ as you continue on your way. Those two phrases have magical powers to right the wrong you just caused, thus exonerating you from any possible blame or contrition. Works in any circumstance where you wish to avoid taking responsibility for your actions.

    • I find myself saying sorry when people barge into ME! I suspect that’s not uncommon in London.

      Chav – where to begin to explain that one? Maybe start with people who say ‘innit’ ….

      I love Bojo, just saying…

      • Innit may have started off with chavvy overtones but it has spread a lot farther now and is often said very much tongue in cheek by middle class folk. I say it occasionally around my mates, but we would know when to or when not to use it..

    • Nappy Valley isn’t a general term for a high birthrate – in which case it would apply far more to the immigrant areas of the East End. Around Northcote Road in Battersea you get a particular kind of well-to-do smug-married parenthood, the kind that all do yoga and have US$1000 pushchairs who have moved out from a smart flat in town to get a bigger house for the kiddies. I guess a US equivalent would be in Sex and the City when Miranda & Steve moved out of Manhattan to Brooklyn. Imagine a whole district of season-6 Mirandas – that’s Nappy Valley. The reference is to Happy Valley in 1920s Kenya, which was similarly divorced from reality.

  6. ‘Zebra Crossing’ reminded me of ‘Pelican Crossing’ — essentially a Zebra Crossing w/ signal lights to signal drivers about pedestrians wanting to cross. Specifically the ‘humped pelican crossing’ (and doesn’t THAT conjure up interesting images!) I encountered near the Greenwich Observatory.

  7. An off license is not just any old convenience store – as the term is generally used in the U.S. – it is specifically a shop licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption off the premises. If it doesn’t sell alcohol, it isn’t an off license, it is a convenience store and there are convenience stores in the UK (including London) that do not sell alcohol, the terms off license and convenience store are not interchangeable.

  8. Thanks, Jonathan. I loved all of them and yes some are not London specific but many are; the square mile. Westway, the Knowledge (an amazing accomplishment in my book!), Silicon roundabout., Buck House, Red Ken etc. It all conjures London for me and makes me want to leave right NOW! When, oh when will I be rich enough to move there? Thought of one more – Harvey Nicks for Harvey Nichols, the tres posh Dept. store.

  9. Another one unique to London :
    Pearly kings and queens – London’s second royal family. Dressed in outfits adorned with pearls and appointed to different districts of London. Usually found fund-raising around the capital.

    Also Nappy Valley is a new one for me.

    • ‘Pearlies’ costumes aren’t covered in pearls…but in designs made up of ‘Mother-of-Pearl’ buttons…….very often antique ones.

  10. If you’re going to mention the underground, which is the subway, you should mention “Subway,” which is an underground pedestrian passage and the only safe way to cross the street in many parts of London.

  11. Thanks El Sid. Great info. I think of the Palace as the staff who run the monarchy, the men in grey suits as Diana called them, the ones who had the knives out for Fergie.

  12. As one who works here and sees London buses everyday I can tell you that I am seeing more and more Boris buses on the road and, weirdly, fewer Boris bikes actually being ridden on the road (although many parked at their docking stations – I guess that novelty has worn off). Oh, and takeaways are not always cheap – the term just means food that you take away, not necessarily cheap food, that very much depends on the establishment. I second the off-licence comments, the key component there is alcohol, what in the US is known as a “liquor store”. I would also add that more often than not I say sorry when someone barges into me, which I think is a default position for many English people.

  13. There is a lot missing:

    All over the world people mostly learn the american way of speaking english. Here are some terms that they don´t teach at school…

    West End
    Mini Cab
    Cheers (instead of thanks or thank you)
    Fully Licenced
    Mate (instead of man)
    Puddin (instead of desert)
    Chips (French Fry)
    Dummy (baby´s sucker)
    Manequin (Dummy – clothing)
    Window Shopping
    To nick (to steal)
    Take the Mick of..

  14. Thanks Jonathan- I enjoyed the list- but there is no apostrophe in Nazis because it is just a plural.

  15. You can grow up speaking English on the other side of the planet and a Take Away will still be a Take Away. There’s nothing very London about that.

  16. Nobody calls a policeman a bobby anymore. That’s seriously 1970s. I’d say a copper is more ubiqitous (along with other more pejorative terms). Also El Sid, your comment was almost better than the original article!

  17. We don’t say convenience store either. We say ‘Corner shop”, because it’s usually around the corner from wherever you are.

  18. Kaz, I scrolled all the way down thinking “corner shop corner shop, why isn’t anyone mentioning the corner shop…” and there you are 🙂 Never heard of a convenience store in London, and life would be utterly impossible without the corner shop.

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