I must admit, I have never been a huge fan of TV reality dating shows. But recently as I have been furloughed from work, I’ve found myself looking for some mindless entertainment to pass the days. As I was scrolling through Hulu the other day, the British TV series Love Island showed up on my feed. I have heard a lot about it so I thought I would just watch an episode and see what all the fuss was about. From episode one I was so confused by the entire show that I could not look away.
Now here’s the thing – I’ve been pretty exposed to British English for my entire life. I was born in England but was raised in America. My sister spoke with an English accent for most of her childhood. I grew up watching British TV, British talk shows, panel shows, listened to British music, you name it. And after I graduated from college (university for the Brits), I went and lived in Britain for several months and traveled around England, Scotland, and Wales. So at this point in my life, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of British English and the slang they use. At least I thought I did until I watched Love Island.
I genuinely cannot watch the show without subtitles and found myself having to search a lot of the terms they use. When I watch the show, I feel like I’m in the clip below from the Graham Norton show where Diane Kruger (a German who speaks with an American accent) asks John Bishop (an Englishman from Liverpool) if he could speak with an English accent. The accent section starts at 1:24 -
I thought if I can’t understand what the Love Island cast are saying sometimes even with all of my exposure to British English, how can any other non-British English speakers possibly know what they’re saying? So I thought I’d put together a little Love Island to English guide for some folks that may not know what anyone’s saying on Love Island and yet can’t look away. You may already know what some of the terms below mean, but I thought they are definitely not frequently used in American English and might require some translation for those of us across the pond. For reference, all of these terms were what I had heard used in the most recent Winter 2020 season because it’s the only season I’ve seen.
Without further ado, here are some translations to Love Island slang for the rest of us:
1. Snog (noun)
A snog (n.) is a kiss. It is more intense/passionate than just a typical peck though. Snogging is the verb form which would closely translate to making out.
2. Bird (noun)
A girl. Kind of like how Americans would say “chick.” This is probably easily understandable. But, what stood out to me is how commonplace “bird” seems to be for the guys in the show to describe the woman they’re coupled up with. I think many American women would likely be a little offended if they were called a bird. Much like how Dee in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is often called a bird as an insult.
3. Peng (adjective)
Seriously attractive. “Fit” is what Brits typically used to describe most run-of-the-mill attractive people. For example, everyone on Love Island would be considered fit. But, peng seems to be reserved for only the really really ridiculously good looking.
4. Mug (noun)
A mug for Americans is just a big cup we drink our coffee from. But, in Britain a mug is a gullible person, someone you might think is kind of dumb. When the Brits say “you’re mugging me off” it’s close to how Americans would say “you’re pulling one over on me”, i.e. to deceive or prank.
5. Taking the piss/Taking the mickey (verb)
Make fun of someone, generally done mockingly or making a joke at the expense of someone else. For example, after you mug someone off you could go to your friends after and take the piss out of how dumb they were (see how this is all coming together?)
6. Kicking Off (verb)
Nope, not the beginning of a sports game. Kicking off is someone trying to start a fight or argument, generally acting belligerent.
7. Cheeky (adjective)
The contestants start throwing around cheeky in practically every sentence when "Cheeky" Luke T arrives in the villa. Cheeky is one of those words that is used so often in British English that I feel we all innately kind of know what it means but just can’t really define it. The best definition I’ve come across to explain cheeky is someone who is irreverent but also endearing. Think of the class clown, the kid who’s disruptive in class and is constantly cracking jokes while the teacher’s trying to get through a lesson but people aren’t really mad at because they’re entertaining.
A television character I feel that really embodies the spirit of being cheeky is Jonah Takalua from the absolute gem of a show Summer Heights High. In the clip below, when Jonah says “Puck you” to his teacher and then puts his “balls” on the ground later on, he is being incredibly cheeky.
8. Lush (adjective)
Typically, in American slang we would say lush to describe someone who drinks too much. However, in a lot of Wales and South Eastern England you will often hear people describe things as being “lush,” which they mean to say someone is good or pleasing. It is derived from the word luscious.
To really heighten just how good something is they might throw in a “proper” or “well” before it.
Example 1: “Stacy’s house was like a mansion, it’s proper lush.”
Example 2: “Yea mate, this chocolate cake is well lush.” (at least I would probably describe a cake as lush, okay? I love cake you guys.)
Shaugna is one of the contestants on the most recent season of Love Island and I find I need to look up her expressions the most often. I don’t think they’re specific to British English, I genuinely just think these are things only she says.
Shaugna-ism 1: “He thinks he’s the Gok Wan of relationships”
Gok Wan is a British fashion expert and has been in several British reality TV shows like How to Look Good Naked. So I’m assuming Shaugna used Gok Wan to describe an expert in their chosen field.
Shaugna-ism 2: “smash a few toasties”
I honestly think this just means to make toast.
Shaugna-ism 3: “That went Pete Tong very quickly.”
I did some googling and found that Pete Tong is a British DJ for BBC Radio 1. Shaugna used this sentence to describe a situation in which another contestant got very upset about his bird (see above) being excited about other guys entering the villa. I couldn’t find any stories of Pete Tong having a dramatic outburst or being upset so I really don’t know what this is referencing, but I’m sure it’s something.
Shaugna-ism 4: “I’m having a Tony Blair in here.”
Tony Blair was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997-2007. Shaugna said she was “having a Tony Blair” when another girl entered the villa who had interest in her man. Now I know Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister from 2007-2010, famously flew into rages and threw computers, staplers, and even laser printers at his staff (source) but I could not find much out about Tony Blair’s meltdowns.
10. A Lesson in Geordie
Newcastle native, Rebecca Gormley, joined Love Island mid-season. People from the Northeastern part of England, namely Newcastle and Sunderland, speak with what’s known as a Geordie accent. A good friend of mine from England has a Geordie accent. I’ll be honest, it took me about a solid two and a half months after meeting my Geordie friend to understand what she was saying. But when I finally understood her, I understood something fundamental about the Geordie accent; they don’t speak English like anyone else speaks English.
I want to be clear that I have no hate for the Geordie accent, I sincerely find it a really endearing accent. But some of the words and expressions that they use are so unique to just them which makes it challenging to understand what they’re really saying.
Something unique to Geordies is that they say “me” when they mean “my” and they say “us” but pronounce it like “iz” or “uz” when they mean “me.” Have I completely lost you yet? Here’s an example:
Standard English: I went to the store with my mom and a man started talking to me.
Geordie English: I gan doon to the shop with me maam an a gadgie started chattin to uz.
Now that’s actually just an intro-level Geordie example, but I think it shows some fundamentals to help sort of, slightly, somewhat, maybe begin to understand what Geordies are saying. If you want to see just how far the accent can go into completely unintelligible territory for Americans, here’s a useful guide with some Geordie sayings.
And there you have it! Some of the phrases from Season 6 of Love Island translated for those non-Brits out in the world. To those contestants of Love Island whose accents I can barely understand: thank you for some quality entertainment, never change.