This page lists some of the UK-specific cryptic crossword jargon and references used by setters. It does not aim to cover differences in word-meanings between American and British English. Dictionaries will explain many of these, but the best specific information I can find on the internet is at:
This page is not meant to be a complete guide. The idea is to show some of the words used frequently by British setters, and these are often shown in bold. Topics which are common to most English-speaking nations are ignored, so there's no mention of golf terminology, for instance. Most of the text was written before the rise of Wikipedia as an information source, and the rise of Google as a really effective search engine. Between them, these may be able to find you better information than I've located.
Please note that when (for example) I say that the Tate is the most popular gallery, I'm speaking about popularity with clue writers, not necessarily with connoisseurs of Art.
The most popular sport for British cryptic crossword setters. Cricket terminology is packed with words which mean other things in other contexts, so it cries out for exploitation in clues. There are fuller explanations of cricket on the web than I have the time or inclination to write here. A couple of good sources are:
|Wikipedia cricket article|
|An explanation by a computer studies academic at Purdue university.|
Cricket is played between two teams or sides, each consisting of eleven (XI) players. But 'cricket side' doesn't just indicate 'XI'. The two sides of the ground (left and right of the pitch as viewed by the bowler) are called on and off. On is also called leg. So 'cricket side' often indicates one of these three words, and 'on' may be used as a synonym for 'leg'. (Which sides are 'on' and 'off' depends on the batsman. The 'off' side is away from the batsman's legs, so 'off' is to the bowler's left when he's bowling to a right-handed batsman.)
A batsman is in until he is out (or dismissed) in one of ten possible ways. Each of these has an abbreviation for score cards. The most common in puzzles are b = bowled, c or ct = caught, and s or st = stumped. The shots played by the batsman have various names, including drive, sweep, hook, block. Some of these can expanded by adding a fielding position to say where the shot goes, e.g. cover drive. Batsmen play innings in which they score runs (= r on scoresheets). A shot where the ball goes outside a set of ropes around the ground is called a boundary, and scores four runs, or six if it doesn't bounce inside. Hence boundary = 4 or 6 (possibly in roman numerals). A batsman unfortunate enough to score no runs at all scores a duck (derived from the resemblance of a zero and a duck-egg. Someone scoring a duck in both innings of a match is said to have "bagged a pair".
A bowler, when on (it's that word again), i.e. actually bowling rather than just being one of the five or so bowlers in the fielding side, bowls overs of six balls or deliveries (hence deliveries = over). An over with no runs scored is a maiden (= m on scoresheets). Bowlers may be fast, seamers, or spinners and they may bowl yorkers, googlies, chinamen, or leg breaks. A bowler who dismisses three batsmen with successive balls takes a hat trick. Inaccurately bowled balls are penalised by awarding runs, called extras, to the batting side - hence runs = extras. These may be called wides (=w), byes, leg byes or no balls.
The other ten members of the fielding side take up various positions. One is always a wicket keeper, roughly equivalent to the catcher in baseball. Other fielding positions include slips, covers, mid-on, third man, gully, point, cover point, square leg, and long leg. All the jokes about these were thought of many years ago.
The best known cricket grounds in London are Lord's and The Oval. References to particular players are less common but you might see Don = Bradman or WG = Grace.
Of the two forms played in the UK, Rugby Union (= RU = 'game') is more commonly referred to by setters (the other form is called Rugby League). Points are scored by the try (which may become a goal by way of a conversion), the drop goal, and the penalty. The number of points awarded for each varies as the rules are fiddled with. A team has fifteen players, grouped into forwards (who come in packs) and backs. Forwards include hookers, props, locks and flankers, backs include wings and centres. The recent adoption of American-style names by the main Rugby League teams has not been exploited, so "Leeds" will not yet lead to RHINOS in the grid.
Organised by the FA = Football Association. Matches are sometimes called ties, regardless of the result. Most teams have a nickname which might get used by setters. One to note is Gunners = Arsenal (an alternative to 'RA' - see the Military section). As in Rugby, there are forwards and backs, also midfielders and goalies. Soccer is underused in many cryptic puzzles compared to cricket and golf.
Two main forms - flat racing, and National Hunt = steeplechasing and hurdling, which include jumps. Major race courses include Ayr, York, Epsom, Ascot, Aintree, Goodwood and Cheltenham. Major races include the Derby, Oaks, 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas, St. Leger, Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup. The odds offered just before the race starts are the Starting Price, hence odds = SP. As odds of 1-1 are called evens, you can also have odds = evens! You don't normally need to know the bookies' slang in which 'double carpet' = 33-1 for instance. Some of the names for complex bets are used - these include double, accumulator, and yankee. A few famous horses are mentioned sometimes, such as Red Rum and Arkle. An independent betting system is the Tote (short for totalizator).
People who play for Oxford against Cambridge or vice versa are given (and called) blues, hence sportsman = blue. Many sports have a referee, abbreviated to ref., hence arbiter (or whistle-blower) = ref.
The UK has many useful three- or four-letter rivers (or "flowers"), including the Aire, Avon, Dart, Dee, Exe, Fal, Ouse, Tay, Tees, Tyne, Ure and Usk.
Note that 'downs' is a term for chalk uplands in the south of England. A fairly common trick is Fell = SCA, from Sca Fell Pike, highest point in England. Tors and Bens are other popular upland features.
The favourite department in a hospital (=H, from road signs) is ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat). A state-enrolled nurse (out of date as a description, I think) is usefully an SEN. A doctor may be a Dr, GP (General Practitioner), BS (bachelor of Surgery), MO (Medical Officer), or occasionally PhD. 'Doctor' can also be used as an anagram indicator. Our version of the ER is "Accident and Emergency" = "A&E".
If solving puzzles written before 1971, you need to remember that confusing British monetary system called 'LSD' (Librae, Solidi, Denarii - the Latin words for pounds, shillings and pence). Later puzzles may use this system, but will usually speak of (e.g.) 'old Bob'. Here are various amounts of money:
Abbreviations for the main parties (when a 'party' is not a do) are:
A complete list of British Prime Ministers can be found at the Britannia.com site, or at the 10 Downing St site.
Someone who sits in the House of Commons is an MP, and may be encouraged to vote the right way by a whip (that's a person, not a tool for encouraging horses). Someone who sits in the House of Lords is a peer (whether male or female).
The most commonly mentioned civil honours are:
The current monarch is ER = Elizabeth Regina (ER also = Edwardus Rex). Her father was GR = Georgius Rex. VR = Victoria Regina isn't used much. The initials HM (His/Her Majesty) and HRH (His/Her Royal Highness) are used sometimes. From 1981-1997, Princess = Di was used very frequently.
A police station and prison can both be called a nick, though Chambers only shows the prison sense. The police collectively can be called The Law, Fuzz or (Old) Bill. A police constable (PC) may be a bobby, copper, flatfoot, bluebottle, or peeler. They may carry out some of their work in a Panda car. In London, the main police force is the Metropolitan Police or Met, whose HQ is called Scotland Yard or 'the Yard'.
Detectives work for the CID = Criminal Investigation Dept. They may be a DI = Detective Inspector. The favourite TV detective for crossword setters is Inspector Morse, as the books are written by N.C. Dexter, a successful competitor in Azed clue-writing competitions. Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot may be met sometimes, as may Sherlock Holmes or Sergeant Cuff (The original fictional detective, in The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins).
Criminals who are caught may go before the beak = magistrate or judge. Their brief (lawyer) maybe a member of the bar, possibly even a 'silk' = KC or QC (King's or Queen's counsel depending on the reigning monarch's gender). If convicted, they become cons or lags, and do time, bird or porridge. This will happen in the Nick or clink. Famous ones (some from history) include Newgate, Bridewell, Millbank, Marshalsea, Borstal, Dartmoor, Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs, Strangeways, Brixton, Parkhurst, and Ford.
The favourite roads of setters are the M1 (= 'motorway') and A1, both 1's being converted to I's in the grid. Abbreviations for road types are also popular, especially St (street), Rd (road) and Ave (avenue). The two main motorists' organisations are the AA (Automobile Association) and RAC (Royal Automobile Club).
Other land transport takes place on railways, often abbreviated to rly or ry, and often referred to as 'lines'. The railways may be organised by BR (British Rail, no longer with us), or LT (London Transport, also now defunct) in London. The main tube lines are: Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria. There is a separate line officially known as 'Waterloo and City' but commonly called the 'Drain'.
A ship, being SS, leads to the corny 'on board' for something between S's, e.g. 'lean on board' as a possible wordplay for STILTS. Sailors are variously (Jack) Tars, ABs (Able Seamen), or salts. A popular trick in some puzzles is jolly=>RM, from a slang name for a Royal Marine. Very occasionally, you might also see "snotty" for a midshipman.
Let's start with Shakespeare, informally known as 'the Bard'. Occasionally, setters use the abbreviations for his works, such as MND for Midsummer Night's Dream. Rep (short for repertory) is a convenient kind of theatre company. The audience is called the house in theatrical slang. The Green Room gets a few mentions.
In the world of literature, setters are keen on Eliot (=TS) and also on Lawrence (= TE much more often than DH). The most popular 'novel' is She (Rider Haggard), and one's favourite poem is Kipling's If. You are sometimes expected to know that the pseudonyms used by the Brontė sisters were Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell. Angel = Clare is also quite popular, from Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Arch use is sometime made of subtitles, such as Patience or Bunthorne's Bride (Gilbert and Sullivan), and Eric, or Little by Little, an 'improving' book forced on schoolchildren in the past.
The usual 'gallery' is the Tate, and the 'V and A' (Victoria and Albert) is the most popular museum.
In the world of music, the main orchestras to look out for are the LSO, LPO (London Symphony/Philharmonic), the RPO (Royal etc. etc.) and the Hallé (of Manchester).
Our noble warriors are divided into three services or forces:
The Army has many soldiers, also known as men. Officers, such as the CO and OC (look them up if you want, but you don't actually need to know what they mean) are in command of the OR = other ranks. Some useful regiments are:
The volunteer section of the Army is the TA = Territorial Army = 'volunteers' or 'terriers'. The Royal Marines = RM are also part of the Army, and 'jolly' is a nickname for a marine.
The Royal Navy = RN = 'fleet' or 'sailors' (but see Transport above) is the oldest of the three, the 'Senior Service'.
The third service is the RAF = Royal Air Force = 'airmen'.
The most commonly mentioned military honours are
The two most popular Archbishops of Canterbury with setters are Cosmo Lang and William Laud. The Church of England is usually abbreviated to 'C of E' in common speech, but more often CE in crosswords, where a Roman Catholic is still occasionally an RC. The most popular diocese or 'see' is that of Ely. Vicars have the title Reverend = Rev. Some clerics may be Doctors of Divinity (DD), and bishops get called Right Reverend (=RR).
Lots of Brisish slang can confuse solvers from other countries. Here, a fag is a cigarette, or (obsolete) a younger boy at a public (i.e. private!) school, acting as a gofer/servant for an older boy. But our most distinctive form of slang is "Cockney Rhyming Slang". In its milder form, things like "trouble and strife" = WIFE are not too hard to guess. But in its most characteristic form, the second part of the rhyming phrase is dropped, so "butcher's" = LOOK, from "butcher's hook", or "raspberry" = the sound also called "Bronx cheer", from "raspberry tart" = fart. These are difficult not just because one word is dropped, but often because the phrase represents something no longer familiar, such as Barnet fair (a fair not held for several decades) in "barnet" = HAIR, or a butcher's hook. Some rhyming slang words are so old and popular that few people (including the British) know that they are rhyming slang. Look up "berk" in your dictionary for a notable example. Searching the web will find you many lists of examples but few are suitable for use as a cryptic crossword reference, as they often include ones that you'll never see in cryptic crosswords, simply because they're not in the dictionary. It's probably best to learn them one-by-one as they come up.
The most useful supermarkets for setters are Asda and Tesco. Their favourite chemical company is ICI, whose shares may be traded in the City (of London) = EC (from its original postal code).
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