If you've forgotten 3rd grade geography, here's a little refresher: The United Kingdom isn't just made up of England - it's made up of three other countries, too: Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. The birthplace of Shakespeare and Cadbury chocolate may be small, but it's incredibly diverse. With a large immigrant population, over 300 foreign languages are spoken in the UK. Lucky for you, ye-who-readeth-this-article, English a familiar tune to your ears.
So, you've been convinced to intern in the UK. Instead of just watching episodes of The Office to prepare, you’ll need to know the inside scoop on professional etiquette. Knowing what to say in the boardroom and knowing what to save for happy hour at the pub could make the difference between a short-lived internship or a job offer.
First and foremost: nail the first impression
It pays to be courteous and respectful in the workplace. Interning in the UK is no different. It's important to address people you don't know with their title. Go with “Mr. (Last name)” or “Ms.(Last name),” especially if they’re older. You definitely don't want to call someone who has been knighted by The Queen by their first name!
To make a great impression, use proper titles, like Sir, Lady, Countess. Just be sure of their title, there’s no need to go calling your internship supervisor Countess. Also, instead of talking about politics or money at your internship, it's a better idea to talk about TV shows, the weather, and football (or soccer for you yankees). Once the work day is over, you can loosen up with your coworkers over pints at the pub.
When you’re ready to get a little cheeky…
Don't get super caught up or intimidated by formalities. There are still snazzy slang terms to use at work. Bookmark this list of terms, and there's no way you’ll make cringe-worthy mistakes mid-conversation, like saying “I spilled coffee on my pants” (but seriously, don’t say “pants,” unless you want everyone in the office to be thinking about your underwear!).
Here are a few terms you should know, followed by words to avoid, whether in a business meeting, in emails, or around the water cooler!
Workplace Slang 101: The Good Stuff (AKA how to get “in” with your coworkers)
It's A-ok to use this slang at work. Sprinkle these words and phrases into your conversations to integrate into the workplace in a snap. You'll make people think you've been living there for months longer than you actually have.
1. Cuppa Tea, noun
Something you prefer. Could be using positively and negatively. Ex: Working weekends isn't my cuppa tea.
Origin: In the early 20th century, a 'cup of tea' was such a synonym for acceptability that it became the name given to a favoured friend, especially one with a boisterous, life-enhancing nature.
2. Frazzled, adjective
Worn out; tired. Ex: Blimey, that midday impromptu dance party left me frazzled!
Origin: It’s an alteration of an English dialect word, fazle, meaning to “tangle” or” fray.”
3. Lift, noun
Elevator. Ex: I was stuck in the lift for five minutes! I’m taking the stairs next time.
Origin: From the old Norse word lypta.
4. Loo, noun
Bathroom. Ex: Excuse me, could you point me to the loo?
Origin: There are many theories, but here are a couple. First, In the days before indoor plumbing was a thing, people flung their waste out of the window. They would shout Gardez l'eau [gar-day low]. That's French for "watch out for the water". Other people think it comes from "Room 100" because the toilet was commonly located in room 100 of buildings. "Loo" and "100" look similar (apparently), and voilá! A new theory was born.
5. Programme, noun
Agenda. Ex: Would you mind drawing up the programme for the meeting today?
Origin: The word “program” was used in the UK until the 19th century, when the spelling “programme” became more common because of influence from French.
6. Rubber, noun
Eraser. Ex: Do you have a rubber I could borrow for a second?
Origin: While “rubbers” are commonly known as condoms in the states, in the UK they are synonymous with erasers because of the synthetic rubber used to make them.
7. Trousers, noun
Pants. I was in too much of a hurry this morning and spilled coffee all over my trousers.
Note: British people use the word “pants” for underwear. Bear this in mind when you come in from the rain and say that you’ve got “wet pants.”
Origin: Dating back to the 17th century, this word comes from the Irish word triús and Scottish Gaelic triubhas, on the pattern of drawers.
8. You Alright?/Y’alright?, question
How are you doing?
Note: This is a more common greeting than asking “How are you?” to your coworkers.
Workplace Slang 101: Words to Avoid if You Like Your Job
Now that we’ve given you the green light to use these in your internship, be on the lookout for other terms.
Dirty mouth? Not sure how dirty is dirty? Here's how to clean it up. Avoid saying these words at work:
1. Arsed, verb
Bothered. Ex: I can’t be arsed. I have no energy to make photocopies of the programme.
Origin: From the Old English word, ærs.
2. Fanny, noun
Vagina. Do NOT use it in a professional setting. Ex: After making a “fanny pack” joke at her internship, she learned the hard way to say “bum bag” instead!
Origin: One theory is that this vulgar interpretation of the word came from the scandalous heroine in the novel Fanny Hill or The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748).
3. Jammy, adjective
Lucky. Ex: David got that new promotion, He is a jammy bastard!
Origin: It comes from the idioms to have jam on it, real jam, and pure jam (to have something easy).
4. Minted, adjective
Having loads of money. Ex: Drinks are on me tonight! I just got paid- I'm minted.
Origin: Named after the place where coins and paper currency are made.
5. Skint, adjective
The opposite of minted; being broke. Ex: Hurry up payday, I’m skint!
Origin: In the 1920s, this word was a variant of the word “skinned.”
6. Taking the piss, verb
Joking. Ex: He’s taking the piss out of you, but don't take it seriously.
Origin: it has to do with transporting urine.
7. To brick it, verb
To be very scared. Ex: He didn’t do very well in the interview – we felt a bit sorry for him as he was clearly bricking it.
Origin: When you're so scared that you shit bricks. This is a variation.
You'll probably hear your coworkers use these terms after work at the pub, but not during polite office small-talk. Resist the urge to make fanny pack jokes with your manager first thing in the morning.
Use their slang words as a launch pad to get to know your co workers better (and to have a laugh or take the “piss out of someone”). If you don't know what your coworkers are talking about, just ask them! It's a fun way to break the ice and learn more about their culture.
Now that you know what slang to use at your internship in the UK, and what slang to avoid, you'll have a head start on seamlessly integrating into your workplace. Preparing for your internship and observing the language that's used, is a great way you tol fit into the workplace. Every company's culture is different, so it's best to observe how your colleagues talk to each other before you jump in and use words like “fanny” before it's too late. Now that you know some do’s and dont’s about slang in the UK, you’ll become an all-star intern in no time!