The English language is a fascinating thing. Even though it is one language, it has many dialects, and even within those dialects, whole cultures can develop their own words, phrases, and meanings. Pub culture is no different. If you find yourself in a British pub, you might hear the following words and sayings below and wonder what they mean. Well, we’ve come along to help decipher some of these so that you won’t be caught flat-footed when it’s your shout. If we’re missing anything, please let us know in the comments.
A pub is a short way of saying public house. The term originated in the 16th Century meaning “any building open to the public”. Usually, the term was applied only to buildings that served ale, wine, other spirits, and food. Another word used in place of a pub or public house was a tavern.
Coaching Inn’s also served alcohol but differed from pubs and taverns in that they were meant to provide accommodations to travelers as well as serving alcohol and food. Over time, as the railway developed and cars became prominent, many coaching inns lost their hotel status and became more like normal pubs. The George Inn is the oldest of these in London and serves as a perfect example.
If you go to most popular pubs now, you’ll find that many are owned by some of the big-name breweries like Young’s or Fuller’s. A “free house” is independent of these macro breweries and tend to serve a variety of ales. Some breweries have their own pubs in their own name such as Brewdog.
In ancient times, a publican (or publicanus in Latin) was a tax collector, with the original meaning being one of “public revenue”. Over time in the UK, this came to mean the owner or manager of the pub, who was required to pay taxes for a license to operate, with the first recorded use being in 1728.
Going out with friends in the UK is a bit different than it is in the States. Whereas in America each person might buy their own drinks, in Britain, it’s customary for each person to buy one round for the table. “Your shout” effectively means that it’s your turn to buy the round.
This is another way of describing a round of drinks, i.e., how many rounds the table has had. It could also mean something akin to a bar crawl, making the “rounds” to more than one pub.
Breweries are much different than any pub. This is typically where the beer originates, and today, many of them have their own taprooms or pubs connected to their production facilities. A brewery is typically a larger place, while a brewpub or microbrewery is smaller and thus produces smaller batches of their beer. You likely won’t be able to find another brewery’s offerings here, though some do collaborate and promote one another.
###Down the Pub
This is a phrase that can have a few meanings but typically is used to let friends know where you are or to ask them if they want to go to the pub with you. You might also say that you met or saw someone “down the pub” as a descriptor for where something happened.
A “knees up” is a way of describing a good time or a lively party. Usually, it’s an informal gathering that can get pretty noisy and involve dancing, which tends to involve a lot of knee-raising if you’re doing it right. Just be careful it doesn’t turn into our next word.
A bender is a session of heavy drinking. It could last a single night or go for several days, depending on one’s constitution. This is different from binge drinking in that binging tends to involve multiple drinks in short succession, while a bender is more prolonged and done at a (hopefully) reasonable pace.