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16 Birmingham and Black Country slang terms explained

Brummie Black Country Dictionary
Julie (Saint) Andrews

Contrary to what the rest of the country might think, Birmingham and the Black Country are two different places with very distinct accents, dialects and slang.

Due to their close proximity and lax border controls, however, many so-called Brummie phrases have become the subject of a bitter custody dispute between these two neighbours.

To avoid further civil unrest, we've decided to step in and divvy up our regional dialect with this handy Brum/Black Country dictionary…

'Ackee 1-2-3'
A Birmingham-exclusive – a convoluted variant of hide and seek, but much, much more intense.
Verdict: Brummie. Ackee 1-2-3 was immortalised in song in the early-1980s by classic revival ska band The Beat. They were from Birmingham. Case closed.

Tom Lennon

'Bostin’'
A joyous and life-affirming declaration that roughly translated means: super, smashing, or even great.
Verdict: Black Country. In the classic darts-based quiz show Bullseye (filmed at the old Central TV studios on Birmingham’s Broad Street, no less), host Jim Bowen would often say 'super, smashing, great’. He could have expressed himself far more succinctly if the show was filmed in Dudley.

'Scrage'
Scratchier than a scrape and scrapier than a scratch, a scrage is the West Midlands' very own flesh wound. Meaningless to non-Midlanders, for people of a certain age this skin-on-gravel agony will forever be associated with misjudged BMX bunny hops.
Verdict: Black Country.

'Buzz'
Buzz is short for omnibuzz, a large road vehicle that carries passengers. Other places call it a bus.
Verdict: Black Country. Prior to deregulation, Birmingham and the Black Country’s major buzz company was called Wumpty, a local sounding-out of the acronym WMPTE, which stood for the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive. In many ways, the West Midlands Drivers of WMPTE were a real-life, public transport-themed forerunner to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

Rob Walsh/Tom Lennon

'Evelyn Mel'
No one really knows who Evelyn Mel was, but Birmingham city centre used to be full of old geezers standing in blue boxes, waving rolled-up newspapers and shouting her name repeatedly.
Verdict: Brummie.

'This ain't gettin' the babby a frock and pinny'
Roughly translated, this means that the endeavour in question would appear to be pointless and unlikely to generate any kind of adequate financial return. Like launching an online barber shop, for example.
Verdict: Black Country.

'Donnies'
Donnies is a local term for hands. The origin of the phrase in unclear, although it almost certainly pre-dates the film Donnie Brasco.
Verdict: Black Country. Most likely it was inspired by clean-living, well-manicured '70s pop pin-up Donnie Osmond, whose three not-quite-so famous brothers have been known to ‘grab’ a bite to eat at the Coseley branch of McDonald’s.

Tom Lennon

'Gambol'
A Brum-specific term for a gymnastic forward roll. You know, that thing you used to be able to do when you were younger and more flexible.
Verdict: Brummie. This is a term unique to these parts. If you’re talking to people from outside the area, it’s probably best not to brag about how great your kids are at gambolling. They might think you take them to the bookies.

'Face as long as Livery Street'
Livery Street in Birmingham runs from Colmore Row in the city centre to Constitution Hill in Hockley. Along its half-mile length there are numerous businesses, an entrance to Snow Hill station and even a fashionable hot yoga studio.
Verdict: Brummie. A ridiculous phrase – no living creature has a face that long. Not even Benedict Cumberbatch.

'Outdoor'
Outdoor is a local term for off-licence. The phrase 'I'm just popping to the outdoor' has often mystified people from other places. The fact the person saying it invariably returns with a Cellar 5 carrier bag full of booze should be a bit of a giveaway, though.
Verdict: Black Country. ‘In through the Out Door’ was a Led Zeppelin studio album released in 1979. Robert Plant was born in West Bromwich. Case closed.

Tom Lennon

'Bluenose'
Originally a cruel taunt used by Aston Villa fans towards their Birmingham City rivals. In more recent times the phrase has been reclaimed by Blues fans as an act of defiance, a strategy not uncommon among marginalised teams.
Verdict: Brummie. Wolves and Baggies fans have bigger worries right now.

'Shrapnel'
In the West Midlands, this commonly refers to loose change.
Verdict: Brummie. As Danny Smith, co-author of the rather excellent book 101 Things Birmingham Gave the World, recently said: ‘Shrapnel for change is delightfully insensitive for a region hit by the blitz’.

'Tip Tops'
If you went to a Birmingham newsagent or 'outdoor' in the ‘80s or ‘90s and asked for a Tip Top, you'd get cheap, frozen cordial in a long plastic tube that could only be opened with industrial bolt cutters. If you asked for a Tip Top anywhere else you'd get a blank look.
Verdict: Brummie. The Black Country equivalent is, of course, a Tip Ton.

Tom Lennon

'Tararabit'
A terrapin is a type of small turtle. A terabyte is a measure of computer memory capacity. A tararabit is a traditional West Midlands phrase meaning, goodbye, for now.
Verdict: Black Country. Eighties pop duo The Communards famously sang Never Could Say Goodbye. Maybe they could have overcome this somewhat unusual speech impediment by moving to Walsall.

'Yam yam'
Yam yam is a disparaging term that people from Birmingham commonly use to describe people from the Black Country.
Verdict: Brummie. Unlike many of the other words on the list, people from the Black Country have never claimed ownership of this one. In fact, they'd be much happier if it never existed.

'Back of Rackhams'
Birmingham’s upmarket House of Fraser department store used to be called Rackhams. These days, if you take a stroll behind the building you’ll be hard pressed to find anything more salubrious than a bookies, coffee shops and a man in a van selling burritos. According to Brummie legend, though, this area was once a notorious red-light district: a wretched hive of scum and villainy that made Mos Eisley look like Moseley.
Verdict: Brummie. It’s ‘back of Rackhams’, not ‘back of Beatties’.

Tom Lennon

Let us know what you think of our Brum/Black Country verdicts.

More city history on Time Out Birmingham.

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