LivingTravelWhat is a weed in British slang and how...

What is a weed in British slang and how can you be a weed?

In the lingo of the British underworld, a weed is a criminal who taunts his peers. So if you’ve come to this page looking for the latest on the UK marijuana situation, you will be disappointed.

The ‘weed’ in the lingo of the British underworld has nothing to do with smoking marijuana. And it’s not just a noun; It is an action verb too. If you watch movies about London’s criminal subculture or watch a fair amount of British crime drama on television, you’ve probably encountered the word “weed” in various uniquely British uses. Although over time you may pick up on the meaning of the surrounding context, the way the word herb was used in these particular ways is a bit tricky.

Grass as a noun

An herb is criminal or an insider that reports on its associates. An herb is a rat that ‘sings’ to the authorities. By extension, it is used by anyone who reports bad or criminal behavior to another. For example, a teacher trying to figure out who is bullying another student might run into a wall of silence from other teens who don’t want to be seen as a weed or who don’t like weed , in their friends.The demonstrations The «Supergrass» (also the name of a British gang from the 1990s) emerged during the Irish “troubles” and was used to describe IRA members who were informants.

Today, the term Supergrass is still used, usually in newspaper headlines, to describe someone within or with information about major criminal organizations.

Grass as a verb

» For the grass» of someone or some group is to be an informer. So if a weed is an informant, for weed, weed or weed someone describes the act of reporting. When you make someone or something uncomfortable, you are not only fulfilling the role of the informant but also the traitor. This is because weed carries the idea that the ‘weed’ is giving information about your close associates (or hers for that matter, although weed in this sense is rarely used to describe women or girls). If you witness a crime that has nothing to do with someone you know and then give testimony to the police, you are just a witness, not grass; You are testing, you are not learning.

Grassing is about betraying your peers by acting as an informant. The word opens all sorts of other British and underworld slang windows. Grass is singing like a canary a yellow bird, the color of cowards. For the grass it is considered an act of cowardice in the middle of the circles of the underworld.


The use of weed and ‘weed’ in this way emerged as street slang in London’s criminal subculture and dates back to the early 20th century. There are two popular theories on how this came about. One version suggests that it is derived from the expression snake in the grass. That, in turn, It dates back to the Roman writer Virgil. A more likely possibility, as the usage first emerged among the criminal underclass in London, is that it is rhyming the jargon of ‘buy’ or ‘buyer’, which have similar meanings (to buy from someone is to hand them over to the police) .

Follow, if you can, the twisted route through the rhyming jargon that ends up producing this weed use at its end.

  1. Cops are often called “coppers” in British slang.
  2. In London rhyming slang, a cop or copper becomes a “grasshopper.”
  3. Someone who gives their friends or their information to the police “buys” it from the authorities.
  4. That makes that person a “pot buyer.”
  5. Simplify a “weed buyer” and you’ll end up with “weed.”

Maybe that’s where the word comes from and maybe its origins will remain shrouded in mystery.

Pronunciation: ɡrɑːs, rhymes with British ass or ass
Also Known As: inform / inform, shop / buyer, betray / traitor


In 2001, the London Evening Standard reported on an ‘arch-criminal’ named Michael Michael, whom it identified as the ‘largest supergrass in Britain’.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, by Paul Cheston, that gets to the heart of what a herb is and the herb act:

Not only did he report on some of the most dangerous criminals operating today, he gave up his own mother, brother, wife, lover, and the lady who ran his brothels. And, to be emergent, he had been “picking up” his fellow criminals for years. At his trial he accepted the suggestion that he was a ‘polished liar’ and offered the jury this explanation: ‘Yes, I had to lie, even to my family. It is in the business of reporting and dealing… being unfair comes with the territory. My friends, family and lovers are awaiting trial because of me.

Do you want to know more British English? Take a look using British English – 20 words you thought you knew

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