20 words and phrases you’ll only hear in Birmingham
Brummi slang

Birmingham has a rich array of words and phrases that would make no sense whatsoever to people unfortunate enough to live elsewhere.

Here’s our list of some of our favourites.

1. Bostin

The phrase ‘Bostin’ means ‘excellent’ and is the subject of an ongoing custody battle with our Black Country neighbours. Our lawyers have advised us to say no more on the matter.

2. The Ramp

Photo: Tom Lennon

Ask a northerner or southerner to meet you ‘on the ramp’ and they’ll probably ask you to be more specific. If you ask a Brummie, though, they’ll head straight to Grand Central and wait for you outside McDonalds.

3. Cob

Photo: Tom Lennon

A cob is a round and crusty piece of bread. Other places call it a bread roll, a batch, a bap or a barm, but they’re all wrong. It’s a cob.

4. Gambol

There’s a common playground gymnastic feat known as a forward roll, but in Brum we call it a gambol because a ‘forward cob’ sounds daft.

5. Mr Egg

Photo: Tom Lennon

If you ask most people about Mr Egg, they’ll think you’re talking about one of Roger Hargreaves’ lesser-known Mr Men. If you ask a Brummie, they’ll get wistful about a Hurst Street takeaway where – according to their slogan – you could ‘Eat like a King for a Pound’.

6. ‘You’ve got a face as long as Livery Street…’

Photo: Tom Lennon

A face as long as Livery Street is not meant to be taken literally. It means that someone has a long face and is looking glum. If you know someone with a face that’s literally as long as Livery Street then please let us know. We’ve got to see that.

7. Outdoor

Photo: Tom Lennon

‘Outdoor’ is a traditional Brummie word for Off Licence. This phrase often confuses northerners and southerners, which is all the more reason to use it more often.

8. Ackee 1-2-3

Photo: Tom Lennon

Ackee 1-2-3 was a traditional Brummie playground game with rules so fiendishly convoluted that even the eminent local historian Professor Carl Chinn prefers not to talk about it.

9. Traffic Island

Photo: Edie Lennon
Photo: Edie Lennon

Others may call them roundabouts, but we call them ‘islands’. The Kingstanding Circle traffic island in North Brum is said to be larger than several of the islands in the Indonesian archipelago, and so technically could declare itself a sovereign state.

10. Tip Top

Photo: Tom Lennon

A Tip Top is a cheap ice lolly encased in a long plastic tube, and they don’t call them Tip Tops anywhere else. Be warned: any attempt at tearing open the packaging with your teeth may result in emergency dental work.

11. Yam Yam

Photo: Tom Lennon

Yam Yam is a disparaging term that Brummies use to describe people from the neighbouring Black Country. People from the Black Country have disparaging words for Brummies, too, including several colourful Anglo Saxon terms.

12. Snobs

To most people, snobs are stuck-up individuals who look down their noses at the rest of us. To Brummies, Snobs is a legendary indie nightclub characterised by jangly guitar music and the wholesale destruction of white trainers.

Photo: Tom Lennon

13. Back of Rackhams

Photo: Tom Lennon

According to local urban legend, the rear of Birmingham’s House of Fraser store (formerly Rackhams) was once a notorious red-light district. This led to the traditional Brummie nuclear option insult: ‘Your mom works at the Back of Rackhams.’

14. Babby

Photo: Tom Lennon
Photo: Tom Lennon

In Birmingham and the Black Country, babies are commonly referred to as ‘babbies, while ‘bab’ is a common term of affection (as in ‘Oroit, bab?’).

15. Mom

Somebody once said that Britain and America were two countries divided by a common language. We say ‘pavement’ and they say ‘sidewalk’, we say ‘mum’ and they say ‘mom’… well, except for around here, where the maternal moniker of the masses is ‘mom’, mostly.

16. Gully

Photo: Tom Lennon

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘gully’ as ‘a ravine formed by the action of water.’ According to the Brummie English Dictionary, however, a gully is ‘a dirt track access road running behind residential houses, where your dad washes his car on a Sunday afternoon’.

17. Pop

Pop usually refers to a type of music that’s never as good as it used to be. In Birmingham, though, ‘pop’ means fruit squash, ‘fizzy pop’ means carbonated drink, while ‘council pop’ is tap water.

18. 0121

‘0121 – do one!’ is local phrase you can use to tell someone to (ahem) ‘go away’. This proves that Cockneys haven’t got a monopoly on rubbish rhyming slang.

19. Worro

‘Worro’ may sound like some village in Game of Thrones where they breed dragons or something, but in Birmingham and the Black Country it’s a traditional salutation (eg ‘Worro mate, yow been breeding dragons again?’)

20. Tara-a-bit

‘Tara-a-bit – isn’t that something to do with computer memory?’ That’s not something a Brummie would ever say because we all know that tara-a-bit is Brummie for goodbye.

So, Tara-a-bit…

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All photos by Tom Lennon unless otherwise stated.