Skip to Content

What do they call periods in England?


Periods go by many different names around the world. In the United States, some of the most common terms are period, menstrual cycle, and monthly. But what do they call it across the pond in England? As it turns out, there are quite a few different British English terms for menstruation.

Common British English Terms for Periods

Here are some of the most frequently used British English words and phrases for menstruation and periods:

  • Period
  • Monthly
  • Time of the month
  • On the rag
  • Aunt Flow
  • Code red
  • Surfin’ the crimson wave
  • The curse

As you can see, “period” is indeed one of the main ways a menstrual cycle is referred to in England and the UK. This is likely because “period” is the most clinical and scientific term for menstruation.

However, there are plenty of informal, and sometimes humorous, British slang terms used as well. Some of these originate in the UK, while others are commonly used in America too.

Origins and Meanings

Let’s explore the background and meanings behind some of the most interesting British period slang:

“On the rag”

This slang phrase refers to the blood and cloth pads historically used during menstruation. It dates back to around the 1930s and paints a vivid, if not unsavory, picture.

“Aunt Flow”

A lighthearted euphemism that personifies menstruation as a visiting relative. The origins are unclear, but it seems to have come into use in the 1980s or 1990s.

“Code red”

Code red cleverly uses the color red to signify blood and menstrual flow. It’s an easy shorthand way to discretely refer to your period without others knowing.

“Surfin’ the crimson wave”

A creative phrase that conjures imagery of riding a wave of blood. This is a newer slang term that emerged somewhere around the early 2000s.

“The curse”

One of the older British period sayings, this frames menstruation as something undesirable or unlucky. It dates back centuries and reflects negative historical attitudes toward periods.

Regional Variations

As with any slang, there are some regional differences in Britain when it comes to period terminology:

  • In Scotland, “being on the red road” or “going up the red climb” are local variants.
  • “Commie” or “communist” is sometimes used in parts of Northern England.
  • “The flowers” or “it’s floral time” are euphemisms heard in some areas.
  • The rhyming slang “Andy Murray” (monthly) is used informally in cockney speech.

So the exact slang terms used for periods can vary around the UK. But most English-speakers understand the most common terms like “period” or “monthly.”

Historical Terminology

The language surrounding menstruation has evolved over time. Here are some of the historical British terms for monthly periods:

  • “Monthlies” – Used from 1600s to early 1900s
  • “Menses” – A clinical Latin term used until mid-1900s
  • “Unwell” – A vague Victorian-era euphemism
  • “Ladies’ week” – Popular in the 1700-1800s
  • “Flowers” – An old euphemism still sometimes used today

While some vintage terms like “monthly” and “flowers” linger on, others have fallen out of use or sound dated now. This reflects both cultural and medical shifts around attitudes to menstruation.

Menstrual Terms in Slang and Pop Culture

Period slang has made its way into British pop culture too:

  • The English electronic band Ladytron has a song titled “Seventeen” with the lyrics “They only want you when you’re seventeen / When you’re twenty-one / You’re no fun”. This contains a sly reference to 17 and 21 being prime numbers, a British slang term for periods.
  • The BBC TV show Call the Midwife, set in 1950s East London, frequently uses vintage terms like “monthlies” and “indisposed.”
  • English comedians like French & Saunders have routines poking fun at the euphemisms women use for periods, mentioning “Code red” and other discreet sayings.

So the British have creatively incorporated period slang into pop culture and entertainment.

Differences Between American and British English Period Slang

While Americans and Brits share some common period slang like “Aunt Flo” and “on the rag”, there are also some differences:

American English British English
On the dot Andi Murray (cockney rhyming slang)
Riding the cotton pony On the blob
Shark week Chummy

As we can see, Americans tend to use more descriptive euphemisms, while Brits employ old-fashioned terms or rhyming slang. But in general, the slang overlaps far more than it differs.

In Conclusion

While “period” remains the most widely used formal term in England, there are a whole host of British informal and humorous slang words used for menstruation too. Some of the most common include “monthly”, “time of the month”, and “Aunt Flow.”

Regional terms vary, and over time language has shifted from using delicate euphemisms to more open and clinical terms. But overall, British period slang remains lively and creative! From Cockney rhyming to vivid metaphors, the English have come up with clever ways to talk more easily about “that time of the month.”