12 Things British People Call Each Other

Great Britain, London



19th cent in the sense of ‘nonsense’, but its derivation as a nickname is less certain, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a diminutive of ‘kosher’, someone who scavenges in the sewers, especially in London during the Victorian era. The word ‘tosher’ was also used to describe the thieves who stripped copper from the hulls of ships moored along the Thames.

Tog / Todger / Tonka

Cheeky name for a fast London lady, ‘tog’ being the suggestion that she sleeps around so much that she identifies partners by the tog ratings of their duvets.

Todger and Tonka are more endearing and are used by men about men, as they have more than a hint of manhood size about them, Tonka implying a certain size and strength, as in ‘Built like a Tonka’ from Tonka trucks.


This predates Rodney but seemed to pop up a lot in the seventies although it first came into use in the early 1950s, a plonker being someone who has failed to do something correctly, but also vulgar slang for, ahem, a penis.


My father always used to call me this, meaning ‘ignorant person who fails to know something everyone should know’, and someone used it again toward me today on Twitter – it’s not an insult, though, more jocular than you’d expect. Hard to imagine it’s not Christian and Victorian in origin.



One of the very many terms of endearment, usually passing between two men oddly enough, adopted by hipsters and trustafarians who’d like to sound a bit street in the Hoxton/Shoreditch/Dalston nexus.

Biffo, Pongo, Spotty etc.

During WWII the average age of an RAF pilot was 19 and they were often drawn from the upper classes. Blokes in pubs still truncate friends’ names to their RAF names to denote ‘posh pal’, particularly if you’re away for a weekend in the country. Preceded by ‘I say’.


White Van Man’s choice of hurled epithet at cyclists, just one of the many masturbatory (self) abuses that are usually accompanied by the back-and-forth motion of a cupped hand.

Darlin’/ Darling / Sweetie

All-purpose sign of Londonness quickly adopted by everyone who moves here, along with ‘Sorry’. Immortalised by Brenda Blethyn in the Mike Leigh film ‘Secrets & Lies’ in her catchphrase ‘You all right, sweetheart?’ or ‘You all right, darlin’? Put the G on the end of the latter, though, and you get Chelsea Girl and Media Boy-speak. Funny how class can be denoted by the addition of a single consonant. The Old English for ‘darling’ was ‘deorling’, then ‘deyrling’ in the 1500s, and finally darling. ‘Sweetie’ is more affected, and primarily used on Ab Fab. See below for correct use ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘darlin’.


Ah, the ubiquitous ‘Cheers mate’, heard all over town, especially when someone holds open a door to let you through first, or as in ‘Oi, mate, you dropped something.’


Theoretically if you own your own estate (or have a mortgage) you are entitled to put ‘Esq.’ after your name, and I was always told that esquires were liable for jury duty, so ‘Squire’ denotes respect. It has passed out of use a bit since the ‘Nudge,nudge, wink, wink’ sketch in Monty Python – you still hear it used from working to middle class, but rarely the other way around.

Muppet/ Spoon/ Noddy

The so-called ‘Muppet Wing’ of a prison is where they put the mentally disturbed inmates, therefore ‘muppet’ is someone who does something stupid, as is ‘spoon’, usually used in the third person – ‘he’s a total spoon’. ‘Noddy’, from Noddy-No-Mates, also Noddy in Toyland (small ridiculous figure with bell on head) and slang for condom.

Love/ Hon /Dear/ Duck

Used by both sexes, ‘Dear’ dates the early 14th Century, from Old English ‘deore’ meaning valuable or precious and therefore loved. Duck remains more in common use in the Midlands, as ‘Pet’ is in the North.



17 comments on “12 Things British People Call Each Other”

  1. Roger says:

    “During WWII the average age of an RAF pilot[s] were often drawn from the upper classes.”
    Something of a myth there. There were a great many sergeant-pilots and pilots in general came from all parts of society. There was a common sense of identity though and emphasis on distinctive common traits – both in words and appearance – the famous RAF moustache, most obviously.

    I’ve noticed decidedly male heterosexual friends using “she” to and about each other in banter, which surely used to be a gay characteristic.

    “Pal”, said the right way – as in “Well, [long pause] pal…”, is one of the least pally terms around, but it may not be distincly London.

  2. Jo W says:

    What about ‘guv’. I thought this had died out but it can still be heard in some of the older markets,not the trendy new markets that seem to spring up here and there.

  3. Paul Tinkler says:

    ‘Pet’ is still in common use in the north east of England, not just as a term of affection, and used for male and female as well. I think it’s a lovely use of the word, particularly in a Geordie accent !

  4. DebbyS says:

    I’m happy to report that I was recently addressed as “me duck” in Newcastle-under-Lyme.l

  5. Ford says:

    I’ve always wondered if “treacle” was rhyming slang ….. Treacle Tart / Sweetheart.

  6. admin says:

    Good point about ‘treacle’. I first heard that from Sean Pertwee, who always called everyone ‘treacle’.

    ‘Darling’ in showbiz circles is said to have evolved from the problem of having to remember (and then promptly forget) so many first names.

    Nice to hear that ‘Guv’ is still used by someone other than taxi drivers!

  7. Peter Dixon says:

    ‘My old marrow’ was a term for a friend, still often heard in the North East as ‘marra’, colleagues who worked in a coalmine were ‘pit marras’ who looked after each other in dangerous work conditions.

    Also up here is the term ‘hinny’ which I hear from shopkeepers; ‘Are you alreet hinny?’. A hinny is a type of scone, but also a female donkey – go figure.

    Men often call each other ‘sonna’; ‘Hello sonna, fancy a pint?’. It sounds somewhat condescending but it originates from the Viking term ‘sunnu’ meaning shipmate or a trusted friend, which brings us back to marra.

  8. Ian Mason says:

    Don’t forget the South West’s “my lover” – an extension of the London/South East “Luv”. It’s a little un-nerving when you’re not expecting it.

    Moving much further north, somewhere around North Shields ‘pet’ becomes ‘hen’.

    In our household, where proper London is spoke, sweetheart has morphed into squeakheart when ad-dressing the cat.

  9. Steve says:

    Talking of Ww Ii pilots, one (of many??) things that annoy me a lot is modern comics making jokes about Jimmy Edwards moustache, which he wore to hide his scarring from when he was shot down in WW II.
    And the train of thought prompts me to mention that Raymond Land shows unexpected good film taste in Carry On up the Khyber.

  10. ceci says:

    Very interesting – south eastern US “heathen” is used for children, in affectionate scolding. And “plonk” is less expensive wine of any kind. And “hon” (short for honey?) as a general greeting, especially in Baltimore, I was called “hon” by a bus driver there just this weekend.


  11. I was called “petal” when I shopped at Peter Dominic in Durham in the early 1970s.

  12. Brian Evans says:

    “Chuck” was a term of endearment used in Liverpool. I may still be.

  13. Brian Evans says:

    In the above I mean “It” not “I”

  14. Helen Martin says:

    We’re watching the “Vera” series just now (again) and it took me a while to get used to everyone being called “pet” but it is very warm once you’re used to it. Around here we get “guy” as in “some guy” or “that guy”, usually male, but not consistently. There are some British usages here, I suppose, but not the slangs of address. We’re more likely to pick up American television and film vocab, although “luv” used to be common and “dear” still is. I have a lower class habit of addressing people as “sir” or “ma’am”, especially if I’m doing something for them as a volunteer. Little girls get a kick out of being addressed as “miss” I find.

  15. Alan says:

    Generally I am addressed as ‘Sir’. I imagine this is to do with my aristocratic bearing and natural air of authority.

    Thank you.

  16. Anne Fernie says:

    Have never heard the epithet ‘bell-end’ outside of the North West (England) – a perennial favourite with white-van-man……

  17. Wayne Mook says:

    Love is used up North especially round parts of Bolton, used by both sexes to both sexes. Mate is used for both sexes to in the same way but is more widespread in the north of England. Both petal and flower get used as well, my uncle Noel (old friend of the family not real uncle.) used it a lot & it’s on his gravestone, on the back, Charlie Williams was also known for using this. Cocker was another one.

    Close to ‘Guy, is Geezer or Geeze.’ and Bruv is still in use. Chap/s can be used quite sarcastically. With Pal, to make it menacing the p is made hard and almost spat out.

    A more derogatory word said to someone is ‘Scrote.’


Comments are closed.