I helped with the preparation of a language guide designed for UK students starting out on their courses this week. Based on a survey and on contributions from across the country the lighthearted but comprehensive guide highlights the dialect differences and the local slang expressions that freshers may encounter when they move to a new area to begin their studies.
With over 495,000 UK students set to depart for three years in a new university town, online learning platform, Quizlet (www.quizlet.com), has worked with local councils, poets, and language experts, to help students learn, understand, and use regional slang relevant to their new university town homes, through curated online study sets.
Working with institutions including the University of Bristol, This Is Edinburgh, Manchester Voices, and Liverpool City Council, Quizlet hopes to encourage students to learn the regional slang and dialect of their new home, in order to help build relationships between undergraduates and the local community, with a parallel survey of Quizlet’s student users revealing that 23% visit their university town only once before moving, and 11% never visit at all.
With essential phrases hand-picked by local experts, Quizlet is hosting regional slang study sets, covering the 20 biggest undergraduate populations as defined by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (www.hesa.ac.uk).
The study sets include over 160 dialectic words and phrases in total covering locations from Devon to Dundee, and Exeter to Edinburgh.
Example phrases include:
· ‘Antwacky’ means ‘Old-fashioned’ in Liverpool
Use in a sentence: “Your furniture is antwacky” / “Your furniture is old-fashioned”
Provided by Liverpool City Council
· ‘Gannin’ yem’ means ‘Going home’ in Newcastle
“I’m gannin’ yem on the train” / “I’m going home by train”
Lisa Matthews, Northern Poetry Library poet & author
· ‘It’s dark over Albert’s mother’s’ means ‘It’s getting cloudy’ in Manchester
“It’s dark over Albert’s Mother’s this afternoon!” / “It’s getting cloudy this afternoon”
Dr Erin Carrie, Project Manager of Manchester Voices
· ‘Half-soaked’ means ‘Slow-witted’ in Birmingham
“He’s a bit half-soaked he is” / “He’s not very clever”
Matt Windle, Birmingham Poet Laureate 2016-2018
· ‘Ginger’ means ‘A fizzy drink’ in Glasgow
“Gie’s a bottla ginger” / “hand me that bottle of pop”
Stuart Paterson, BBC Scotland Poet in Residence 2017-2018
The full list of phrases and downloadable study sets can be found at:
Richard Gregory, VP of International at Quizlet, comments: “Many of us will remember how nerve-wracking those initial university days are. Dozens of faces and names to remember, all in the backdrop of a new city. We created this resource to try and mitigate those university jitters: teaching students about their new surroundings through the important pillars of language and culture. The relationship between students and the local population can sometimes be a challenge, and that’s why all these language experts wanted to get on board to help us bridge linguistic divides.”
How connected do students feel to their university homes? To coincide with the regional language study sets, Quizlet polled over 1,030 students (aged 17-24) across the UK, to understand perceptions towards university towns:
A tenth of students ‘never’ visit their university town, before moving
44% of respondents said they had visited their new home ‘twice or three times’ before moving, while 23% admitted to having visited just ‘once’. Just 22% of students said they had visited ‘multiple’ times before moving, while 11% had ‘never’ visited their university location before making the move.
Nearly half of students don’t use or understand any local dialect words
Students can be reticent to use local dialect words in their new home, with 51% stating they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ use and understand local dialect or phrases, but the other 49% said they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ do.
Students believe locals generally perceive them positively
62% of students believe that local residents have a positive view of them, with students in Cambridge perceiving the most positive relationship (78%). However, 38% of students feel that local residents are ‘negative’ or ‘indifferent’ to them, with students in Durham expressing the worst relationship (65%).
…Although the majority ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ socialise with locals
28% of students asked stated they ‘rarely’ had social interactions with people outside of their university, while 16% stated they ‘never’ socialised with residents. This is in comparison with the 34% who said they ‘sometimes’ spoke and made friendships, while 22% would say they ‘often’ socialised with locals.
I thought it might be interesting to compare the language listed in this new guide with the expressions I recorded at King’s College in London nearly two decades ago. For the curious my article from all those years ago is here…
Student slang as she is spoke – your passport to the in-crowd
Among all the guidance notes, union leaflets, maps and schedules that make up the Fresher’s welcome pack there is one aspect of student life that will almost certainly not be covered. No institution, however enlightened, is likely to provide you with that vital accessory, the key to unlocking the mysteries of undergraduate existence, the passport to instant social acceptance by your peers; a glossary of the very latest student slang.
Like any other group leading a self-contained existence outside the social mainstream, students have evolved a private language through which they can label one another, celebrate their shared pleasures, and keep the rest of the world at arm’s length. For at least two centuries the argot of Oxbridge and the public schools enriched the English language (respectable words like ‘mob’ and ‘(omni)bus’ probably started out as student witticisms) Wodehousian
On North American campuses where life is more highly ritualised, with initiation ceremonies, sorority and fraternity-house customs, popularity contests and the rest, there is a vast and ever-changing vocabulary of status
It’s interesting to compare the way the two nationalities talk about the same staples of student existence; for instance ‘aardvark’ in Britain is hard work, while in the US ‘aardvarking’ is engaging in sexual fumbling; ‘we’d better leave’ is rendered as ‘Let’s bail’ or Let’s book’ in the US, ‘Let’s chip’ or ‘Let’s duss’ over here. Boring misfits -the butt of witticisms on both continents are known as ‘lorgs’ in the US, ‘nargs’ in the UK, while an attractive American male is is a ‘jordan’, his British equivalent a ‘smacker’. It used to be that we imported our more fashionable terms from the US – ‘groovy’, far-out’ and ‘fuzz’ in the Sixties, and ‘nerd’, ‘wimp’ and ‘geek’ a decade later, for instance, but a large proportion of today’s vocabulary comes from Black British and Caribbean speech; ‘mampy’ and ‘butters’ (ugly), ‘roasting’ (sexually frustrated) and ‘bruck’ (ruined) are among the best known.
Home-grown rhyming slang is also alive and well and new examples are being coined all the time.’Claire Rayners’ are trainers, often worn with a pair of Steve McQueens, If a piece of work is too easy it’s a ‘Glen’ (-Hoddle; a doddle)’, but perhaps in any case you don’t give a Kate Moss. If you want to borrow a ten-pound note to buy some ‘Richard’ (Gere-beer), it’s cooler to demand an Ayrton (Senna) or a Pavarotti (tenor – get it?), but promise to return it ‘Christian Slater’ and not too ‘Terry Waite’.
Some of the buzzwords and catchphrases used by British students are peculiar to just one university or college, others are invented and swapped among micro-groups made up of just a handful of friends, but there is another large core of expressions which are used and understood with minor variations right across the country. At King’s College London, students have been donating examples of their current argot for the last three years to a research project that will eventually yield a new dictionary of ‘youthspeak’
It’s often assumed that slang is something ephemeral, but it isn’t as simple as that:
words do come in and out of fashion, particularly the words that bestow approval, the successors to yesteryear’s ‘fab’, ‘ace’, ‘brill’ are ‘wick’, ‘dare’, and ‘dope’, but many are recycled and some oldies -‘cool’, ‘sorted’ and ‘shag’ are examples – seem to linger year after year. One remarkable feature is the number of words that mean the same thing: there are hundreds of words for drunk, including ‘gurning’, ‘wazzed’, ‘mashup’, ‘ratted’, ‘faced’, scores to denote idiots (‘chief’, ‘choad’, ‘hole’, ‘smurf’), and dozens of synonyms for exciting, such as ‘kicking’, ‘slamming’ ‘blamming’ and ‘storming’.
The picture of student life that emerges from the King’s survey is a happy disregard for work (almost no slang refers to books, lectures or libraries), and a very pronounced dedication to all things hedonistic.
To boost the confidence of the uninitiated, here is a shortlist of current expressions, culled from the study at King’s and donations from students at several other institutions in the Southeast. Understand them – but stop and think before you drop them into the conversation; there’s nothing more shame-making than a newcomer desperately trying to be hip. And the wrong word in the wrong place can result either in roars of derision or a hideous strained silence – as you mumble “I’ll get my coat.”
A QUICK GUIDE FOR THE UNINITIATED
Arm candy…a fellow student borrowed as an escort for a social function
Catalogue man….an unfashionable, Alan Partridge-style male
Cheesy, grievous, rank…awful
Chirpsing…flirting or chatting up
Jawache, grab, snork…to kiss
Oof…a stunningly attractive female
Pants…disappointing or unlucky
Mullered, spannered, twatted…the worse for wear after drinking
Throw a bennie…become enraged or lose control
Tough, uggers…extremely unattractive
Trust, squids, bollers…money
Vamping, flexing…showing off
This article first appeared in the GUARDIAN newspaper in September 2000