British Invasion: Donna Newton Chats about English

Jess Witkins, Me & Donna Newton
at DFW Writers’ Conference

At the DFW Writers’ Conference back in May, I had the pleasure of hanging out with two fabulous Brits, Nigel Blackwell and Donna Newton. Over the weekend, a few phrases they used had to be translated into American English. As George Bernard Shaw asserted, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” In a previous post, I pointed out some British words that we Americans don’t often recognize.

But today it is my pleasure to welcome Donna Newton to my blog to help us clear up a few British slang words and phrases that we Yanks don’t have a clue about.

Julie: Welcome, Donna! This blog idea occurred to me after you offered to let another conference goer “bung his bags” in your hotel room. After hanging out with romance authors all weekend, some of us wondered what on earth that could possibly mean. What does it actually mean to “bung your bags”? 

Donna: LOL. ‘Bung your bags’ means exactly what it says…. To bung (put) your bags in my hotel room. Looking at it now, I can see how it made me look like a dominatrix mistress. 

Julie: Keeping in mind that this is PG-13 kind of place, I have noticed that body parts are not always called the same thing in England. What should we know before we travel to England and put our feet in our mouth? (Feet and mouth are the same there, right?)

Donna: The term is ‘foot in mouth’ and we’re not talking about the cow disease. Okay, body parts. Arms and legs are the same regardless of what side of the Atlantic we live. I think you guys call a ‘bum’ a ‘tush’? In fact, what we call a ‘bum bag’, you call a ‘fanny pack’, which is funny because a ‘fanny’ to us Brits is a ‘mooey’ (front bum to put it politely). 🙂

Julie: Another interesting phrase you introduced me to was “pissed as fart.” Around here, “pissed” means angry, but what does that phrase mean in England? And do y’all have any other colorful words or phrases for that state of being? 

Donna: Ah, yes. ‘Pissed as a fart’. 

Somehow, angry as a fart doesn’t sound quite right. Do farts get angry? 

Well, in the UK pissed means drunk and fart means… er, fart. I’m not quite sure why we all think of ourselves as stale body air when we’re drunk, but hey-ho. ‘Pissed as a fart’ means you are really, really drunk. 

Now, other terms. Let me think. Okay. I do have a funny story that happened to me a year or so ago. I was storm chasing with a group of Americans. Now, I must just explain that when you go storm chasing you are advised to go to the toilet whenever the chasing vehicle stops – you never know when it will stop again! So, gas stop = toilet break. Every time we pulled into a gas station and chasers got out to visit the loo, I’d say, “I’ll see if I can squeeze one out’. I repeated this phrase four or five times a day from Monday thru Thursday. Finally one of the girls asked what I meant. I explained that ‘squeeze one out’ simply means to go a wee wee (or tiddle). I then find out that to you Americans, ‘squeeze one out’ means going ‘number two’. I was horrified to think they thought I was doing number twos five times a day for a full four days. That I had one hell of a diarrhea spruge, no doubt. 

There is also the comment “you couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”, which basically means you are crap at organising. 🙂

Julie: A few streets from where I live are neighbors with two donkeys in their yard. Sometimes I can hear them braying (the donkeys, not the neighbors) in the morning. What was that phrase you used that included the word “donkey”? And what does it mean?

Donna: Donkey? Oh, you’ve got me thinking now. We say ‘Donkey’s Ass’, meaning you are a fool, but I don’t really use that one. That’s all I can think of.

Oh, was it ‘Donkey’s years’? I use that term all the time. It means absolute ages. Like, “I was twenty-one donkey’s years ago.” 🙂

Julie: What about foods? Where do we Americans go astray with British terms for common foods?

Donna: Ha ha. Oh, this has caused many problems. In the U.S. if we ask a waitress for chips, we get crisps when we really wanted fries.

Your crisps are potato chips.

Jam is Jelly.

Jelly is Jello.

I once asked for a buttered roll. Nobody knew what I was talking about. I explained that it was like the cheese and tomato roll they sold… only without the cheese and tomato in it. That really confused them.

My husband once tried to order a cheese and tomato pizza. Now us Brits pronounce tomato as ‘t’muto’. You guys pronounce it ‘to-mado’. The poor girl on the end of the phone just could not grip what we were asking for until hubby put on a really exaggerated American accent. We got our pizza. 🙂

Julie: What about you? Did you find us Americans to be confusing at times? What phrase or phrases did we use that struck you as odd?

Donna: There isn’t much, really. I think we have had American films and TV for so long in our lives, we just know what you guys are saying. We do have to be careful when talking about cigarettes. In Britain, they are called ‘fags’ for short. We got quite a few looks when my friend once said, “I’m going outside to have a quick fag.”

Julie: Finally…you came to Texas and did some shootin’ while here. Rumor has it that you are a great shot. What does a British lady yell when she hits her target?

Donna aims, fires & hits her target.

Donna: “&@#%! Did I just do that?” I guess I have just lost the title ‘lady’.

I was amazed at how well I shot. Piper took me out on Kristen’s ranch this year – the second time I had ever held a gun. I did okay that time, too. She’s nicknamed me the ‘Spawn of Doc Holliday’.

[For evidence, head to Donna’s blog post about the week’s adventures HERE.]

Julie: What else, Donna?!!! Is there anything else I should include?

Donna: Here are some Cockney rhyming slang terms used in London. They were born donkey’s years ( 🙂 ) ago, but are still used today.

Apple and Pears = Stairs
Dog and Bone = Phone
Jam Jar = Car
Rub-a-dub-dub = Pub
Quid = One Pound
Score = Twenty Pounds
Nifty = Fifty Pounds
Ton = One Hundred Pounds
Adam and Eve it = Believe it
Trouble and Strife = Wife
Ruby Murray = Curry
Hank Marvin = Starving

Julie: Hope all is well in the UK. I’d love to cross the Atlantic and spend some time in my ancestors’ homeland someday. Cheers and all that good stuff!

Donna: Thanks so much for this, Julie. I really enjoyed it. I take these terms for granted so it is funny to see you guys so confused when we use them.

And, it would be so cool for you to come to London. I can show you around!

Donna Newton

Born in Essex, Donna has enjoyed writing stories from the moment she could construct letters into words.

After a varied, and sometimes extremely adventurous job career, which included OK! Magazine and Essex Police, she returned to her first love and embarked on a writing career. With publishing credits writing freelances and commissioned magazine articles, she has now turned her attention, and imagination, to what she is best at – story telling.

She is the wife of one husband, the mother of two children, and counts her laptop among her loyal group of friends. A self confessed adrenaline junkie, when time permits she craves energy fuelled sports that include storm chasing and anything else considered ‘dangerous’.

She proudly boasts finishing the 2010 London Marathon, although will not divulge where she was placed or the time she finished it in.

She teaches with WANA International, is currently plotting her third novel, and is co-writing one of many TV projects with fellow writer Natalie Duggan.

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40 thoughts on “British Invasion: Donna Newton Chats about English

  1. Ah, the fabulous “bung your bags” story! Oooh, I miss all you guys! What a fun post! I want to start using Adam and Eve it now in conversation. I will refrain from using the term fanny pack. LOL

      1. Hang on, fanny pack is one of your terms. We use bum bag 🙂 Although, your term is probably more politically correct – seeing as where most chose to wear them 🙂

        ‘I don’t Adam and Eve it’ gets used a lot over here.

  2. I should have waited until I got home to read this, my coworkers are surely wondering what I’m LOL at! I’m going to be LOL at the story about the bathroom all afternoon. Thanks for a fun blog!

  3. Awesome! I still remember in 6th grade, my friend asked one of the biggest jocks in the world if she could borrow his “rubber”. He almost passed out until she pointed at his eraser. Another friend went to England to spend the summer with her mother. They were in a nice restaurant. She’d lost her napkin, so she asked for one from the server. He was appalled…her mother stepped in and explained that she wasn’t asking for a sanitary product, but a serviette…LOL!

      1. Kitt, what restaurant was this? I use the word napkin all the time. A napkin is a material, er, napkin, and a serviette is a paper one you’d pick up in McDonalds. Now, if you were using the word ‘towel’…..

  4. Gor blimey, luv a duck, top totty Donna Newton’s full of Rex Mossop. Mind, it’s all bubble a squeak to me.

    She’s also the ONLY person who can get away with writing “She is the wife of ONE husband!”

    Good laugh me old muckers!

    Cheers 🙂

      1. LOL! Nig, what’s that under your nose?

        Okay, I will translate: “Wow, gorgeous Donna Newton’s full of gossip. Mind, it’s all Greek to me.”

        Oh, and ‘Me old mucker’ means I’m Nigel’s mate 🙂

  5. I love reading about the differences between England and America. When Bridget Jones’s Diary was popular, it took me a while to understand what a “jumper” was. Finally, I decided it was what we Americans call a sweater — that is, a pullover shirt made of some type of woven yarn. Who knows? I’m probably still wrong.

    I once found a website written by British people who had moved to America listing the notable differences between England and America. One of the things I found fascinating was this: in Great Britain if you go out for drink at lunch on a workday, it is okay. However, if you go out for a drink at lunch in America on a workday, you’re fired.

    Fun post.

    1. Yes, “jumper” is sweater! In fact, in the Harry Potter series, Mrs. Weasley makes her kids a “jumper” every Christmas. That was changed to “sweater” in the American “translation” of the books. LOL.

      Thanks, Catie!

      1. Catie, yes, as Julie confirms, a jumper is indeed a sweater.

        And, trust me, the lunch time drink has caused some Britons problems, too. Like when you get so drunk you don’t actually make it back to work in the afternoon and have to phone you manager at 5pm to bring over your hand bag – something HE definitely did not want to do, lol.

  6. So much fun, thanks you two. My husband’s been listening to Pete Townshend’s latest book on cd and says this posts is going to help him to understand Pete 🙂

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