What do Brits call umbrellas?

Brits have several different slang terms and nicknames for umbrellas that they use in everyday conversation. Some of the most common British English words for umbrellas include brolly, gamp, bumbershoot, and umbrella. Each term has its own unique origins and linguistic history behind it. In this article, we will explore the various colorful umbrellas names used in British vocabulary and explain where these curious expressions come from. Understanding the different British umbrella slang provides insight into British culture and the evolution of the English language.

What is an Umbrella Called in England?

The most common terms for an umbrella in British English are “umbrella” and “brolly.” “Umbrella” is the formal name used in the United Kingdom, as it is in other English speaking countries like the United States and Canada. “Brolly” is a widely used slang shortening of umbrella that is unique to British vernacular.

“Brolly” comes from “umbrella” through a process of abbreviation and alteration that often occurs in informal British speech. The “um” syllable was dropped, the “brell” portion was maintained, and over time the word contracted into “brolly.” This informal umbrella word has been in use since the early 20th century.

Other British umbrella slang terms are more regional in nature or declined in popularity over the decades. However, “brolly” endures as the most common casual umbrella word throughout the UK.

What Does Brolly Mean in England?

In British English, “brolly” simply means “umbrella.” It is an informal noun referring to the collapsible, rainedrop deflecting device used for personal portable shelter outdoors.

“Brolly” can refer to umbrellas of all shapes and sizes, from small fold-up models to large golf umbrellas. It describes any umbrella used for protection from precipitation or sunlight.

This umbrella slang word is often used in phrases like:

– Don’t forget your brolly!
– My brolly blew inside out in the wind.
– Grab your brolly, it’s starting to rain.
– A large brolly kept me dry while waiting for the bus.

So in everyday conversational British English, “brolly” serves as a quick, casual shorthand for umbrella. It adds a touch of whimsy and uniqueness to speaking about this common household item.

Where Does the Word Brolly Come From?

The origin of the British slang word “brolly” can be traced back to the shortening of “umbrella” in the early 20th century. Linguists believe it developed through a few key stages:

1. “Umbrella” was abbreviated to “umbr’ella” in quick spoken English.

2. “Umbr’ella” was further reduced to “brella,” dropping the “um” syllable.

3. Eventually “brella” evolved into the snappier, catchier “brolly.”

This kind of contraction and alteration of words through informal oral use is very common in the progression of British slang terms. The need for brevity and fun in casual English conversations drives the adoption of these umbrella nickname words.

So while “brolly” became ubiquitous internationally, it emerged organically from an umbrella shortening trend unique to British linguistics. The word stuck and is now recognized widely as the signature British English umbrella slang term.

Other British Slang Words for Umbrella

In addition to the ubiquitous “brolly,” British English contains a few other colorful umbrella slang terms that are less commonly used today. Some of these include:

Gamp – This word dates back to around 1848 and is named after Thomas Gamp, a character who always carried an umbrella in the Charles Dickens novel Martin Chuzzlewit. It was a popular Victorian era umbrella nickname, but its usage faded over the 20th century.

Bumbershoot – This whimsical umbrella name is rarely used today but dates back before the 1840s. It has American roots and is a fanciful coined word for umbrella with no concrete etymology.

Bumbershoot – Primarily heard in parts of Scotland and northern England, this regional nickname for umbrella derives from the French word “parapluie.”

While these words are not in widespread modern British usage, they reflect the English language’s long history of umbrella nickname terms before “brolly” emerged as the standard. The diversity of British slang vocabulary is on full display in its many obsolete or obscure words for umbrellas.

When Do Brits Use Umbrella Slang?

Modern British English speakers primarily use the slang term “brolly” in casual, everyday conversations rather than formal writing or speech. It adds a dash of whimsy and informality when chatting about umbrellas with friends, family, and acquaintances in relaxed settings.

Some examples of situations where “brolly” slips into British dialogue include:

– Commenting on rainy weather: “Don’t forget your brolly today!”

– Asking someone to borrow an umbrella: “Can I borrow your brolly? I forgot mine.”

– Reminiscing about umbrella mishaps: “The wind turned my brolly inside out!”

– Talking about purchases: “I just bought a new compact brolly that fits in my bag.”

– Making umbrella recommendations: “You should get one of those clear bubble brollies – they look fun!”

The use of “brolly” instead of “umbrella” adds a dash of Britishness and humor to mundane conversations. It’s best suited for casual chats rather than serious speeches or writing.

Is Brolly British or Australian Slang?

While “brolly” is strongly associated with British English, it is also commonly used in Australian slang. This umbrella nickname originated in Britain in the early 1900s but migrated to Australia and other English-speaking Commonwealth countries soon after.

The two main factors that allowed “brolly” to jump from British to Australian vocabulary are:

1. Cultural/historical ties – As part of the British Empire and Commonwealth, Australia closely followed British English language trends.

2. Need for brevity – Like Brits, Australians favor snappy, abbreviated slang words in casual speech.

So while Brits initially coined the “brolly” umbrella nickname, Australians quickly picked it up as well in the early 20th century. The two nations share the common slang term with slight regional pronunciation variations.

How is Brolly Pronounced in Britain vs. Australia?

The British and Australian pronunciations of “brolly” are very similar, with just a slight vowel sound difference:

British pronunciation – “Browl-lee” – The “o” vowel sound is tighter and more closed.

Australian pronunciation – “Brell-ee” – The “o” vowel sound is broader and relaxed.

But the pronunciation distinction between these regional dialects is very subtle. The word retains the same breezy, two-syllable cadence on both sides of the globe.

In most contexts, British and Australian speakers would understand each other’s umbrella slang usage just fine. The pronunciation overlaps more than it differs across the two main “brolly”-using cultures.

Other British English Umbrella Slang Words

While “brolly” is by far the most common umbrella nickname in modern British English, a few other creative slang terms exist in certain UK regions:

Northern England/Scotland

– Parley – Derived from “parapluie,” the French word for umbrella.

– Parapluie – Direct borrowing of the French term.

Northwest England

– Senner – May come from the Cumbrian word “sennup” meaning canopy or awning.

West Country

– Zammerzell – Origins unclear, possibly combined “umbrella” and “parasol” sounds.

Southwest England

– Gamper – Referencing the Charles Dickens character who carried an umbrella.

While not in widespread use, these regional British umbrella nicknames add diversity to the country’s already rich slang lexicon. The umbrellas Brits carry may shield them from the rain, but also bring color to the nation’s vocabulary.

Do Canadians Say Brolly?

While “brolly” is a hallmark of British slang, it is not commonly used in the English dialect of neighboring Canada. There are a few factors that prevented this umbrella nickname from crossing over into Canadian vocabulary:

– Weaker cultural ties – Canada retained greater independence from British linguistic trends.

– French influence – French umbrella terms like “parapluie” are used more in some Canadian regions.

– American media exposure – Canada aligns more with American umbrella terms through TV/film.

– Lack of abbreviation need – Canadian English does not abbreviate as aggressively in informal speech.

While some Canadian Anglophones use “brolly” from British media exposure, it is not an organic Canadian English slang term. Canadians primarily use the standard word “umbrella” or American phrases like “rain umbrella” in both formal and informal contexts.

What Do Americans Call an Umbrella?

Unlike Brits, Americans do not have any widely used umbrella nickname equivalents to “brolly” in their dialect. Some common American English umbrella terms are:

– Umbrella – The standard formal word used in most written and spoken contexts.

– Rain umbrella – A frequently used descriptive phrase to clarify umbrellas made for rain protection (compared to sun umbrellas).

– Folding umbrella – Specifies the collapsible type of umbrella design.

– Golf umbrella – For large oversized umbrellas used on golf courses or for multiple people.

American English umbrella vocabulary tends to be more literal and pragmatic. Without the British slang tradition, no breezy umbrella nickname like “brolly” has emerged in mainstream American speech. The basic “umbrella” reigns supreme.

What Do Scots Call an Umbrella?

In the Scottish English dialect, “umbrella” is the most universally understood term. But Scots do have some regional umbrella slang words used in informal speech, including:

– Parley – An umbrella nickname borrowed from French, often heard in Glasgow.

– Parasol – A sporadically used term, sometimes jokingly or sarcastically.

– Pourer – Used in parts of east Scotland, based on umbrellas’ rain protection.

– Pluvius – A Latin-origin umbrella word used humorously, meaning “rain-bringer.”

So while Scots don’t have an umbrella slang equivalent as widespread as “brolly,” they have their share of colorful regional umbrella nicknames to add flair to informal conversations. The richness of British dialects ensures even umbrellas get dozens of creative slang spin-offs.

Do Londoners Say Brolly?

As the hub of British culture, Londoners were early adopters of the umbrella slang word “brolly” after it emerged in the 1900s. The term caught on quickly in the trendsetting London lexicon and remains a popular casual umbrella word choice today.

Some examples of “brolly” usage heard around London include:

– “I’m off to the Tube, grab your brolly – it’s pouring out!”

– “Don’t get your brolly tangled up with someone else’s on the bus.”

– “I left my brolly at the pub last night, hopefully someone grabs it.”

– “These London winds will rip your brolly apart if you’re not careful!”

The city’s bustling crowds, wet weather, and vibrant street culture make “brolly” a perfect quick umbrella nickname for Londoners navigating their daily lives. When it comes to umbrella slang, London’s authority matches its primacy in British speech trends overall.


The British slang term “brolly” adds a splash of fun and personality to conversing about life’s rainy necessities. This umbrella nickname has endured for over a century due to Brits’ love of brevity and whimsy in informal dialect. While originating in England, “brolly” migrated to Australia and beyond as a hallmark of colorfully informal English. The word provides a peek into the inventive richness and regional diversity of British slang vocabulary. Next time you see a Londoner unfurl their “brolly” against the drizzle, you’ll know they are tapping into an umbrella nickname tradition that is uniquely British.

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