The other day at work, I called a group of my colleagues “Nimrods.” They stared at me blankly. One of them eventually replied, “Er…. thank you?”
Generally, British people know all about American slang- they hear it in movies, TV shows, pop music, etc… and there are literally scores of websites devoted to cataloguing the differences between American and British expressions.
But there’s something different about slang words that come from names. These often have historical or cultural references that sometimes make it harder for them to cross the Atlantic, in either direction.
For example, if you were to call a British person a “Benedict Arnold,” their response, if they had any, would only be confusion. But as every American older than 5 years old can tell you, the name “Benedict Arnold” signifies a despicable traitor. Arnold was a general from the American Revolutionary War who switched sides, and his name has since become a byword for villainy.
Nimrod comes from the Bible and Bugs Bunny cartoons. Nimrod was a descendent of Noah, referenced in the holy book as a “great hunter.” In 1940s Looney Tunes cartoons, Bugs sarcastically refers to his rabbit-hunting nemesis, Elmer Fudd, as a “Nimrod.” Thanks to the Elmer Fudd connection, the name has come to mean a fool or a buffoon. It’s not a common insult, but most Americans would recognise it.
In the UK, a common expression for an everyman is “Joe Bloggs” which is unknown in the US. “Bloggs” is not a real person, but the name apparently evolved from the word “Bloke.” In the USA, the phrase would be “Joe Blow,” “Joe Shmoe” or even “Joe Sixpack,” which would make no sense in the UK, where beer is sold in bottles or ‘tins’ of 4, never 6.
I tried to look online for a list of these types of names and their meanings, but I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to compile the information myself.
Listed below are all the British “names” that are likely to be unfamiliar to Americans, followed by a second list of American “names” likely to be unfamiliar to Brits. I’ve left off name/phrases common to both countries, such as “Johnny-Come-Lately.” For the American names, I’ve included examples of usage.
British names not commonly known/used in the USA:
|Arthur or Martha||★||Confused (esp sexually)|
|Billy Big Bollocks (also Billy Big Balls):||★★||A big shot- proud of yourself|
|Bloody Norah||★★★||Exclamation of shock/surprise|
|Bob’s your uncle||★★★★★||…and there you go.|
|Clever Dick||★★★||A sharp lad, a real geezer|
|Good Time Charlie||★★★||Happy-go-lucky, party animal|
|Gordon Bennett!||★★★||An exclamation of surprise – similar to American phrase “Great Scott!”|
|Hank Marvin||★★||hungry or “starvin”|
Hooray Henry (Henrietta)
|★★||A “toff” or posh person|
|★★||Someone fortunate or revelling in their fortune|
|Jessie||★★||Behaving like a girl|
|Jimmy Riddle||★★||A piss, having to urinate|
|Jobsworth||★★★★||Someone extremely officious about their job, will only do exactly what they are required to do and will never bend the rules.|
|Joe Bloggs||★★★★★||An everyman|
|John Thomas||★★★||A penis|
|Johnny Ten Man||★||Strutting ‘tough’ chap|
|Muggins||★★||A dupe, a patsy|
|Pete Tong||★★★||Wrong, or when things have gone wrong|
|Ruby Murray||★★||A curry|
|Sweet Fanny Adams||★★★||An expression meaning “nothing at all”|
|Tim, nice but dim||★★||Friendly but slow-witted|
American names/expressions not commonly known in the UK:
|Name||Commonly used?||Meaning||Used in a sentence|
|Benedict Arnold||★★★★★||Filthy traitor||“You dirty rat, you turncoat, you filthy Benedict Arnold- you promised me we were going for burritos!”|
|Bogart||★★||A verb – used to indicate someone greedily inhaling cigarette or cannabis smoke (or not sharing anything imbibed or eaten).||“Dude, don’t Bogart that joint like you Bogarted that burrito you were supposed to share.”|
|Great Scot!||★★||A mild exclamation of surprise||“Great Scot- this burrito is expensive!”|
|Guido||★★★★||A derogatory term for Italian Americans||“Yo, check out that Guido sporting all the gold chains eating that greasy burrito.”|
|Jesus H Christ||★★★||An exclamation of surprise||“Jesus H Christ, that’s one big measly little burrito!”|
|Joe Blow||★★★★||An everyman||“Every Joe Blow in this town thinks they know how a burrito should be made.”|
|Joe Shmoe||★★★||An everyman, but perhaps not particularly bright||“Any poor Joe Shmoe who buys a burrito from this place is going to be disappointed.”|
|Joe Sixpack||★★★||An everyman, but perhaps a working class/blue collar version||“It’s not like you’re going to get Joe Sixpack coming in here ordering tofu burritos.”|
|John||★★★★||A prostitute’s client||“Instead of busting Johns, the police should be busting the owner of this shitty burrito stand.”|
|John Hancock||★★★★★||A signature||“I would put my John Hancock on a promissory note for a thousand pounds, to get a good burrito in this country.”|
|Johnny Appleseed||★★||Someone spreading their seed around||“Thank God they’ve opened a Chipotle in London, they should spread those around like they was Johnny Appleseed.”|
|Jim Crow||★★||Racially motivated laws (never really applied to a person)||I can’t think of a burrito reference for this – but Jim Crow laws are bad. Worse even than a bad burrito.|
|Jumping Jehoshaphat||★★||An exclamation of surprise||“Jumping Jehoshaphat, I never knew how much I would miss burritos.”|
|Kilroy (was here)||★★||Iconic American graffiti tag||[Seen on the wall of a bathroom in a burrito restaurant]|
|Methuselah||★||An old person||“The cheese in this burrito tastes older than Methuselah’s balls.”|
|Mickey Finn||★★||A knock-out drop/pill||“I wish someone would just slip me a Mickey Finn, so I could wake up in America and have a real burrito.”|
|Mickey Mouse||★★★||Small-time, second-rate||“This Mickey Mouse country ain’t got any real Mexican food. Like Burritos.”|
|Montezuma’s revenge||★★★||Diarrhoea, esp. when traveling in Mexico||“Yo, I got real bad Montezuma’s revenge from some Burritos I ate in Hackney.”|
|Mutt and Jeff||★★||Two mismatched people||“An American burrito next to a British burrito is like a Mutt and Jeff thing.”|
|Nimrod||★★★||A misfit and an idiot||“Only a Nimrod would order a Burrito at Wetherspoons.”|
|Pollyana||★★★||Someone wildly over-optimistic||“Every time I order a burrito, I’m like a Pollyana, thinking, ‘this time it’s going to be good.'”|
|Sad Sack||★★||A sorry case, a loser||“Some Sad Sack Americans just ordered a burrito at Wetherspoons.”|
|Sam Hill||★★||Confused, lost||“Where in Sam Hill can I get a good burrito in this town!”|
|Uncle Tom||★★★||Someone who sells out their own kind, especially their own race or ethnicity||“Only an Uncle Tom of an American would ever say that you can get a good burrito in London.”|
|Win one for the Gipper||★★||An inspiring call to victory (usually done tongue in cheek)||“Where I come from, burritos are made from fresh tortillas, and from real Monterey Jack cheese, never cheddar. I think we can teach the British people how to make burritos. We can succeed- we must succeed. Let’s do it. Let’s go out there and win one for the Gipper.”|
* Editor’s note: I may have been thinking a lot about burritos when I wrote this.