Like all languages, the English of the lower orders is filled with expressions, usually of surprise at events. Most first appeared in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but many entered the language during the twentieth, especially during and after the first and second world wars. Some are of American origin. Some are obscene, some appear to be blasphemous – a mispronounced version of ‘God’ often starts the phrase. Here are some examples, with their (suspected or proven meaning):“Strike a light!” Amazement, not a command to make some light.
“Gawd strike me pink!” Astonishment, not a prayer to God to change colour.
“Lord luvva duck!” Amazement.
“You could’ve knocked me down wiv’ a feather! Verbal description of an event that surprised the speaker.
“It’s raining cats and dogs!” self-explanatory; domestic animals are not really plunging earthwards.
“Watcher cock! How’s yer muvver off for dripping?” ‘Hallo! How is everything?’
“That ‘orse hasn’t a dog’s chance!” A chosen racehorse turns out to be no good.
“He stopped for a quick cuppa!” The chosen racehorse hardly made it past the post.
“Gotta gasper?” ‘Do you happen to have a cigarette on you?’
“I almost put one on ‘im!” There was very nearly violence.
“Well, blow me down!” ‘What a great surprise’
“She’s got a touch of the tarbrush.” Somewhere among her antecedents there was a person of colour.
“ I wouldn’t get near ‘im, not wiv a ten-foot pole!” ‘I intend to have nothing to do with him’
“Oh give it a rest, will yer?” ‘Could you stop talking for a moment?’
“Oh, come off it!” Can you leave that subject alone for a minute?’
“Here! You’re having me on!” ‘You expect me to believe something I can’t believe.’
“You wanna bunch of fives?” ‘You’re not looking for a fight, by any chance?’
“You want me to push your face in” ‘Would you like me to hit you?’
“He come in (sic) looking like a dog’s dinner!” ‘He arrived looking dishevelled.’
“How’s it going mate?” ‘How are things in general?’
“Leave it out.” ‘I do not wish to discuss it’
“Come on, buck up!” ‘Cheer up, things aren’t so bad!’
“Getta life!” “ “ “ “ “ “
“Who d’you fink you are, Lord Muck?” ‘You appear to have a high opinion of yourself.’
“You know the girl I’m on about, the one at the bar wiv her dumplings boiling over!” ‘the speaker is referring to a lady with over-large mammary glands.
“He’s taken French leave.” Someone has gone off without permission or advice.
“It’s all topsy-turvy.” Everything has been left in a chaotic state.
“He’s kicked the bucket!” Someone has died.
“Ooh ‘ee does go on!” Someone never stops talking or complaining.
“Something smells bad around here.” The speaker suspects that all is not as it should be.
“You could hide them behind corkscrews!” The speaker doubts the honesty of a section of society, politicians or lawyers for instance.
“He’s not all there in the top storey!” Someone is insane.
“He’s not all there.” “ “
“That geezer kicked ‘im in the goolies!” Someone kicked a man in the groin.
“Haven’t laughed so much since Ma caught ‘er tits in the mangle!” ‘It is a long time since I laughed so much.’
“She caught ‘im a whopper in the ear’ole!” Someone has had his ears boxed.
“Well I think she’s the cat’s pyjamas!” ‘In my opinion the lady is absolutely perfect!’
“Let me make a shot in the dark.” ‘Allow me to make an unexpected suggestion.’
“My boy went to school on ‘is first day looking like Lord Fauntleroy!” Someone’s son went to school in school uniform.
“He’s a bit of an eager beaver, ain’t he?” That man is known for his hard work.
“You must be kidding!” ‘You are trying to deceive me’
“She arrived looking like something the cat brought in!” ‘On her arrival, the lady looked rather the worse for wear.’
“I wouldn’t trust ‘im as far as I can spit!” I find this person unreliable.
My ‘usband? ‘Ees in the cloakroom, so to speak!” Someone is in the process of urinating at this moment.
“He won’t pay up, not in a month of Sundays he won’t.” Someone is known for non-payment of debt.
“Go jump in the lake!” ‘Go away!’
“I think you’re jumping the gun a bit.” Anticipating things too much.
“She left him with a flea in his ear.” The lady gave the gentleman a severe lecture.
“Seconds out!” The beginning of a terrible argument, usually between two persons.
“Fried to a frizzle” Horribly over-cooked; this is often used in connection with the condition of dead passengers after an airplane accident.
Impurely sex section:
Doing a fifty-up. The act of masturbation.
Taking a leak. Urinating.
Giving her the Saturday night finger. Indulging in pre-fornicatory play.
“I give her (sic) the once-over last Thursday” The couple indicated had sex last Thursday.
“ I give her the works last Friday!” The couple completed copious copulation last Friday.
“ Go on, give her the once-over tonight, she’s feel better!” self-explanatory.
“ I get my leg over when I can.” This male has sexual relations whenever possible.
Using an adapted form of a colloquial expression, a Cockney English writer, when told that the rather short Polish film director Roman Polanski was about to start work on Dickens’ Oliver Twist said that he thought most of Dickens was impossible to film. “Oliver Twist!” he said, “ I wouldn’t touch it with a five-foot Pole!”
Incidentally, the writer was right; Polanski’s version of the famous novel was a disaster.
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