3 phrases Brits use more than the rest of the English-speaking world: Part I

As an American, moving to England seemed like an easy step: they speak English, they watch Friends and The Simpsons, and they’re basically our motherland. Yet while those things are fundamentally true, it doesn’t stop the lingo from constantly confusing a newcomer.

Below is the first of the three most common phrases you’ll hear after spending any length of time with the British (plus what it means in each situation).


At first, I was constantly thinking, “Why is everyone apologizing all the time?” Then I realized that ‘sorry’ is the polite way to indicate several other common phrases:

  • As an apology for bumping into someone on the train, sidewalk (pavement), bus, in the shop, etc.

  • When someone bumps into you on the train, sidewalk (pavement), bus, in the shop, etc.

  • To indicate to someone that you are about to squeeze past them into a seat, spot near the bar, grocery store aisle, doorway, open space, etc.

  • To indicate to someone trying to squeeze past you that you didn’t mean to be in their way.

  • As a synonym for “pardon?” when you can’t hear them and you’d like them to repeat what they’ve just said.

  • When someone has said “pardon?” and you realize you weren’t talking loud enough for them to hear.

  • Forcefully, instead of “excuse me,” when asking someone to get the hell out of your way.

  • Snobbishly when someone has said a forceful “excuse me” and you’d like to tell them to bugger off.

  • When you come to an awkward standstill in a store because you both wanted to go in the doorway at the same time.

  • After the awkward standstill is over to acknowledge you are truly sorry for that horrendous situation.

  • At any point in time where you were the reason someone couldn’t get past.

  • At any point in time where you held someone up for a nanosecond longer than necessary.

  • If someone glances at you because you’ve made a noise louder than the soft murmur that seems to coat all of England.

Public safety announcement: this is by no means a comprehensive list. You’re best off using “sorry” anytime you’re in doubt, trying to be polite, or interacting with other (British) humans.

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phone booths in London and three phrases to know before visiting the UK wording for Pinterest

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