Tricky words and phrases

The Life in the UK test covers some unusual words that aren't typically used in everyday British life. Here we list a few tricky or unusual words along with a detailed explanation of what they mean

MP surgeries

An MP’s surgery is an informal session where you can meet face to face with your Member of Parliament. Many people think that the word ‘surgery’ is a misprint, however this is the term used in British parliament.

Rather like a doctor’s surgery, constituents can turn up at an MP’s office to discuss matters that concern them. MPs usually hold surgeries once a week and advertise them in the local press and sometimes in the local library.

Once at a surgery you are free to raise any subject on your mind.  People come to the MP’s surgery for all manner of reasons ranging from simply wanting to put a point across, to a serious problem requiring the input of the Member of Parliament sometimes because all other agencies have failed to get the problem resolved.

Process of precedent

The process of precedent is used in the English legal system. By this system previous judgements and decisions affect future cases and situations. Where something has been tried by the court and decided in a previous case a precedent has then been set.

Sometimes a case will be tried by the court where no precedent has been set. This kind of case is often referred to as a ‘test case’ as it demands that the legal position be clarified. Depending on the matter being tried, test cases can attract a lot of media attention as such.

Public Office

If you hold a public office you have been elected to, or chosen for, a position in one of the government departments or agencies, for instance by being elected as a Member of Parliament. It is referred to as ‘public’ because the service or function concerned exists as part of the state, and not a private entertprise.


A quango is an acronym (spelt out as QUAsi Non-Governmental Organisation), and is used to describe a range of organisations to which governments have devolved power. A quango carries out specific duties where it might not be appropriate for a cabinet minister to do so. One example of a quango is the Learning and Skills Council which is also Britain’s largest quango. It is responsible for planning and funding further education in England.

Another name for a quango is a ‘Non-departmental public body’.

The Knowledge

Black cab drivers (known as cabbies) in London traditionally have to take a test before they are given a license to drive a taxi in London. This test is known as The Knowledge and requires them to know all of the streets in London, and how to get to them. In the age of sat-navs this may seem like an impossible feat, but cabbies driving a distinctive traditional black cab will have taken and passed this test.

Mini-cab drivers - mini-cabs are normal cars, licensed to operate as a taxi as opposed to the classic cab - do not have to take The Knowledge, which is why they rely on their sat-navs so heavily!