20 British Insults to Add Color to Your Conversations
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Words like barmy can sound like old-timey slang insults. They’re both classic and timeless, with that little dash of nostalgic culture. In this case, if someone is “barmy,” they’re crazy. You can also use “barmy” as an adjective to modify other words, like talking about a barmy choice.
Example: I think you’ve gone positively barmy.
When you want to describe someone as being contemptible or even downright mean, calling them a blighter is a good option. Usually, a blighter is a man, one whose attitude or actions cause problems or pain for other people.
Example: Did you really delete my book report? You stupid blighter!
Social classes play a big role in British society, just as they do in many other cultures. A “chav” is a young hooligan, particularly of lower socioeconomic status, who acts aggressively. They provoke others. Chavs tend to wear tracksuits and other sportswear, or sometimes gaudy jewelry. British slang insults with similar meanings include “charger” and “scally.”
Example: Kevin’s acting a chav again. He’s always fixing for a fight.
As an adjective, to be “daft” means to be silly or foolish. It’s easy enough to add the word “daft” in front of other British insults for extra sting. You can also use “daft” as part of other slang sayings, like saying that someone is “daft as a bush.” That simply means they’re being silly or acting crazy.
Example: You’re such a daft twit.
Appropriate for describing objects, locations and people alike, “dodgy” means shady or unreliable. You might meet up with a “dodgy” character at a “dodgy” looking building in a “dodgy” part of town. In New York slang, the equivalent term could be “sus.” If you suspect someone is a con artist or a habitual liar, you could say they’re dodgy.
Example: Andy has always been rather dodgy, if you ask me.
Yes, a gannet is a seabird. And northern gannets live and nest in Scotland, among other places around the North Atlantic. But when you use “gannet” as part of your arsenal of British insults, you’re calling someone greedy. The bird has an unfounded reputation for stealing food, and that reputation has extended into British slang. This is similar to how “vulture” is slang for a person who preys on the misfortune of others.
Example: Stop being such a gannet. Leave some for the rest of us!
“Git” is similar in meaning to “blighter,” so you can use it in much the same context. The biggest difference is that git is a tamer British insult. In fact, people can even use it as a term of endearment. British people have a tendency to insult their friends in a teasing manner, and git is a handy word for doing so.
Example: Hey, take off your shoes. Don’t track mud through the house, you git.
Back to discussing people’s intelligence (or lack thereof), “gormless” is another one of those British insults that means someone is stupid or slow-witted. A person who isn’t with the program, who lacks basic understanding of something, is gormless. They might be clumsy or naive.
Example: Pat is a gormless old twit, ain’t she?
Coming from the world of British rock and roll, a “ligger” is a lazy freeloader. This is the kind of person who hangs around during the setup or soundcheck before a gig, but doesn’t actually help out with getting anything ready. They might sneak into parties or sweet talk their way backstage.
Example: Look at all these liggers crowding around the food table.
Minger is a real stinger of a word. In the UK, people use it when they want to insinuate in the harshest way possible that someone of any gender is completely unattractive. That’s why you’ll most often hear British slang insults like “minger” when people are talking about someone else who isn’t nearby.
Example: Did you see that guy at the pub yesterday who was sitting at the end of the bar? What a minger that bloke was.
As you might imagine, Jim Henson’s iconic characters inspired the term “muppet.” As an insult, a muppet is a person who is incompetent, dimwitted or incapable of independent thought. They’re brainless, like the literal pieces of fabric and foam that make up Kermit, Animal and Miss Piggy.
Example: You, sir, are a proper muppet.
Putting on a bit too much makeup or wearing an outfit that’s a tad too loud? Equivalent to saying someone (or something) is tacky, “naff” indicates that someone (or something) is in poor taste. It’s ugly, bad or unsuitable for one reason or another. Naff can also be used as a verb meaning to go away.
Example: Those bright orange trousers are a bit naff, don’t you think?
Another playful, funny word you can use when poking fun with your mates, a “ninny” is similar to a “nitwit.” This is a foolish person, someone who is especially silly and acting out. Naturally, it’s pretty insulting to call someone a ninny,” but gentle ribbing among good friends is par for the course.
Example: Look at Ricky dancing on the bar! He’s such a ninny.
Yes, a lot of British slang words have to do with insulting a person’s intelligence. If a person is a “numpty,” they are a stupid, foolish or ineffectual person. From a linguistic perspective, “numpty” appears to be a relatively new term, only showing up as a common British insult in the 1980s.
Example: Haha! You can’t do that, you numpty.
A more colorful way of saying someone has “gone mental” is to call them a nutter. In American English, the slang use of “nut” or “nuts” works in the same kind of way. A nutter is a crazy or eccentric person.
Example: You’re really some kind of nutter, skinny dipping in December like that.
It will probably come as little surprise to learn that many British insults trace their origins to words referring to private parts. “Pillock” is one such example. While originally describing the male reproductive organ, today it describes a stupid, simple or uncultured person. You could say it’s like calling someone a dum-dum.
Example: James is a total pillock. He’s not going to figure it out.
Prat is one of those wonderfully versatile slang words that lets you be harsh or friendly with how you use it. It’s a clear insult, one that declares someone to be dumb or downright stupid, but the right context can allow you to use it without drawing too much anger.
Example: Mate, stop being such a prat and help me find my car keys that you lost.
To avoid being called a skiver, you need to avoid being lazy. This British slang word is a handy way to insinuate that someone is being a total slacker. It also has a lot of range, so it can be as lighthearted or as stinging as you need it to be.
Example: I told you to unpack those boxes two hours ago. Stop loafing around, you skiver.
Images of blue birds might come to mind if you make the connection to Twitter. But, as an informal British term, a “twit” is a silly or foolish person. Depending on context, you could be commenting on their lower level of intelligence or you might be saying how they’re annoying.
Example: Stop being such a twit and pick up your rubbish!
While the double-Z in “wazzock” might make you think it belongs on a list of popular rap words alongside “fo shizzle,” it’s actually informal British slang. A “wazzock” is a stupid or annoying person. They’re worthless idiots. The term originates from the northern English dialect, related to urination or the smelly linens used for offal.
Example: Stop messing around, you daft wazzock.
A Few Sandwiches Short of a Picnic
When you’re ready to take your British slang insults to the next level, throw in some daft phrases too. Tell your best mate that he’s as “thick as two short planks” (stupid). Or maybe she’s “all mouth, no trousers” (all talk, no action). And to say someone is a few sandwiches short of a picnic means a person is either stupid or mentally deficient.
Want to expand your vocabulary into other subcultures? Read through some popular gaming terms that are now in the dictionary. Many of these are slang you can play in Words With Friends and other word games!
Michael Kwan is a professional writer and editor with over 14 years of experience. Fueled by caffeine and WiFi, he's no stranger to word games and dad jokes.