More from the Great British Baking Show

Published 9:28 am Thursday, February 14, 2019

With the enormous popularity of the Great British Baking Show, the U.S. audience enjoys seeing the competition in preparation of challenging dishes and also hearing words and phrases that are distinctively British. Many of these new (new to us) expressions are exclamations.

In Season 5 Catherine said “Heavens to Betsy” and “Oh my giddy aunt!” on several occasions to express surprise or frustration. While we think of giddy as meaning “unbalanced,” “spinning around” or “impulsive,” in British English it means “mad” or “crazy” and in an earlier form meant “possessed by God.” Another exclamation is bang. One contestant described his inability to win in the quarter finals with this expression. “Bang in the middle again. If I mess up tomorrow, I could still go home because Paul doesn’t like people who stick in the middle.” In U.S. English we might use “right in the middle” or “smack in the middle.”

Several of the distinctly British words are adjectives. Two in particular are brill and scrummy. When contestant Danny won the weekly star baker award he said in response, “It’s lovely. It’s brill.” And Mary Berry, one of the judges and an accomplished baker and author in her own right, described a contestant’s baked goods this way, “The seasoning is just right. Really scrummy.” From Mary Berry this is the highest of praise. Both brill and scrummy are abbreviations of the longer and more familiar words brilliant and scrumptious. Scrumptious means delectable or delicious is most likely related to the English word sumptuous meaning lavish, extravagant or resplendent.

To describe an extreme feeling of disappointment, the past participle gutted is frequently heard on the show. When faced with a disappointing result in one of his bakes, John said “I’m quite gutted.” And on hearing that Catherine had not made it to the finals he exclaimed, “I’m glad I’m through but I’m absolutely gutted that Catherine’s going home.” To gut a fish or animal means to remove its internal organs. In British English it also means to find something disappointing.

“Naffed off” is another uniquely British past particple meaning “annoyed” or “irritated.” When one contestant attempted a gingerbread replica of Buckingham palace she said “I don’t think the Queen would like this very much. I think she’d be a bit naffed off with me if she saw this.” Naffed off is a euphemism for a much more vulgar expression.

Finally “to make a pig’s ear of something” means to “make a mess” or “to do something in a clumsy manner.” Sue, one of the judges, was attempting a difficult piping maneuver on a delicate pastry knows as a St. Honorée. She warned the audience “Watch me make a right pig’s ear” as she decorated the top of the pastry with cream. This expression may originate from the saying “to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear” which means “to be unable to make something attractive from something ugly.”

JULIA PALMER is an associate professor of modern languages at Hampden-Sydney College. She can be reached at