A guide to the strangest American phrases

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

Getting settled in an entirely new country, or continent, is no easy task - especially when there is a language divide.

On top of that, as you’ll surely know if you’ve moved to the U.S., there are a ton of slang phrases that seem to make no sense at all.

To help you get started, here are nine of the funniest slang phrases that you might come across and explained are their real meaning. We hope all the confusion doesn’t drive you up the wall†.

Driving you up the wall? What are we talking about? Scroll down to find out.

Spill the Beans

“Spill the Beans” is a popular expression in English that’s used to describe when someone reveals secret or private information.

It can mean to disclose a confidential info or reveal something prematurely or unintentionally. This common idiom can be traced all the way back to the early 1900’s.

Passing the Buck

In America, “passing the buck” means evading or shifting one’s responsibility by passing it on to someone else.



Someone says to you that they’re ‘hyped’?

They’re probably just excited, such as when they’re awaiting a sports event, concert or party.


In America, if you “razz” someone, it generally means that you’re teasing them playfully. In sports however, it can also mean heckling.

It’s driving me up the wall†


“It’s driving me up the wall” is a popular term used in America.

We use it when we are very irritated or angry, or perplexed on who did what.



When your new American says he’s “zonked”, then he's basically saying that he's exhausted or tired out from something.

For example:

“I wish I could make it to her dinner tonight, but I am absolutely zonked, I got no sleep last night.”

Pig out


To pig out in America is to eat in excess or overindulge in a food-eating binge.

Your friend might say she "pigged out" while explaining her consumption of a whole pizza and a tub of ice cream by herself at her apartment last night.


If an American casually tells you that they’re going to “nix” something, they don’t mean “nick”, as in steal something small. Using the word “nix” in America means that they’re going to put an end to or cancel something.

Jack Up


The expression “jack up” typically refers to a very abrupt increase or raise, usually in the price of something.

An American also might say "jack up" to motivate or convince someone to do something, for example:

“We have to jack up Mike to finally come out today, he’s been laying in bed all day”

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