It took me over two years to understand English — and I am American.
Americans arriving for the London Olympics will find that the chasm between British and American English can seem as large as the ocean that separates the two nations. Here’s a primer:
Brilliant — The land that gave us the poetic cadence of William Shakespeare now places everything into one of two categories: brilliant and rubbish. Shades of gray are not permitted. Brilliant does not mean smart or ingenious. It can mean anything from “OK,” “great” or “fun” to “stop asking questions.” Each of the 542 British Olympic athletes is likely capable of using the phrase 10 times in a single press conference.
Brolly — Essential British accoutrement also known as an umbrella, carried by men and women alike daily without embarrassment. See weather.
Football — A way of life not related to the American game with helmets. Balls are propelled forward by everything except hands and arms, unless you are a goalkeeper or Diego Maradona. Describing this as “soccer” might get your teeth knocked out in a bar fight (see trollied).
Gutted — An emotion beyond “disappointed” but not quite “suicidal.” Unlike fish, British athletes can be gutted more than once. Related to the nation’s historic inability to win football matches on penalty kicks.
Kettle — Electric device used to boil water for tea. Also the British police practice of corralling protesters.
The loo — The toilet.
Over the moon — The opposite of gutted. Something to do with cows jumping.
Oy tink — Phrase heard with increasing urgency in bars as the night goes on and the sports debate gets more heated. Alternate spelling: “I think.”
Punter — Nothing to do with a fourth down. A bettor in a land where casinos are as common as pharmacies.
Rain — See Inuit entry for snow. Too many variations to list.
Rubbish — See brilliant. No plural. Conjugate as: “I was rubbish,” “we were rubbish,” “the ref was rubbish,” “the decision to ban me for doping was rubbish.” Occasionally also used to mean “garbage.”
Sticky wicket — A cricket term used to describe when one is between a rock and a hard place. Easily applicable to other sports.
Taking the piss — Not to be confused with what is done in the loo. Winding somebody up or playing a joke on them. A favorite ploy of drinkers and sportswriters.
Trollied — Drunk, as in taking too much from the drinks trolley. Alcohol has fueled so many bar fights in Britain that one firm created a pint glass that doesn’t shatter so it can’t be used as a weapon.
Weather — See brolly. Also see rubbish.