MOCKNEY, ESTUARY – AND THE QUEEN’S ENGLISH

In the last two days we have been treated to several (sadly superficial and unoriginal) press articles* revealing the efforts of posh persons to disguise their accents. The assuming of so-called mockney or Estuary English, and the seeming decline of so-called R.P is nothing new, and I wrote about it back in 2013…

 

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TEN WAYS WE DISPARAGE THE ACCENTS OF OTHERS…

 

* A nasal twang

* A thick brogue

* A supercilious drawl

* An incoherent babble

* A boring non-accent

* A provincial burr

* A Home Counties whine

* …what comes out is a kind of screeching

* Your phoney telephone voice!

* ‘…this fake ghetto-speak that seems to have swept across the country where rather than saying ‘like’ it’s ‘lac’, and ‘nine’ is pronounced ‘naan’. D’y’a know what I mean? Drives me so crazy I can’t listen to Radio 1 any more.’

 

The Greater London twang from a public school boy, the refined little ‘haitch’ from a Hyacinth Bouquet, the mysterious vowels of someone pretending not to be from Birmingham: these are all friendly little signs saying: I’m no threat to you, honestly; given half a chance I’d erase my entire self and start again.’

In 1966 Michael Aspel was carpeted by the BBC for selling records of elocution lessons featuring his voice and that of Jean Metcalfe, the ads for which implied, the corporation said, that broadcasting required a posh voice. For virtually the whole of the 20th century, and some would say still today, the English (and not the Scottish, Welsh and Irish) have been defined above all other markers (dress doesn’t count any more, the school they attended may remain a secret) by their accents. And not by simple regional variance as in other European cultures, but by nuances associated with social class. It was Alan Ross of Birmingham University who in 1954 coined the terms ‘U’ and ‘non-U’ (later popularised by the writer Nancy Mitford) to differentiate the behaviour of the upper classes and the masses. Ross believed, though, that by the mid–fifties the upper class was truly distinguished ‘solely by its language’; its vocabulary and especially its intonation. It occurred to me that by this measure, looking at the rough statistics for public school and Oxbridge attendance, in the 1950s and 1960s, at least 94% of the population were speaking with the ‘wrong’ accents. Alone at the top of the linguistic hierarchy was what linguists rather unhelpfully termed ‘RP’ for ‘received pronunciation’, the non-regional high-status accent acquired from family or from one’s place of education and actively promoted by the BBC in particular. Some way below in terms of perceived respectability were the more neutral forms of south-eastern English and Morningside Scots (the lilting educated Edinburgh accent). Clustered at the bottom of the imaginary pyramid were all the regional accents of the UK, with surveys showing that some – Norfolk, Birmingham, Glasgow, Tyneside, for example – were perceived more negatively than others by the general population.

 

The late Malcolm Bradbury, novelist and critic, writing back in September 1994, asked rhetorically, ‘Is there today a standard English? Estuary English, sometimes called Milton Keynes English, seems to be bidding for the position.’ He was referring of course only to the English of England, not the multiple dialects and accents of the wider anglosphere. He went on to characterise this apparent novelty: ‘It seems to have been learnt in the back of London taxis, or from alternative comedians…it’s southern, urban, glottal, easygoing, offhand, vernacular…apparently classless, or at any rate a language for talking easily across classes.’ Interviewed in 2001 Shirley Jones, a 22 year-old student from Stockport affirmed, ‘Estuary English is nice to the ear…it’s 50/50 cockney and young southern professional… I prefer it to the northern accent but I resent it because of the stigma of not speaking it.’ The idea of a replacement ‘standard’ accent actually emerged in 1984 and was promoted by David Rosewarne of the University of Surrey (who chose the term since the accent he had identified straddled the Thames), later by Paul Kerswill and by the Linguistics and Phonetics department at UCL under the panjandrum of phonology Professor John Wells.

 

Estuary is only the most recent attempt to describe an accent, or rather a spectrum of similar accents, that have been heard across the Greater London area and in Essex, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex for a century or so. It has been linked to the exodus of true Cockneys from the East End since World War II, but my own grandmother, a teacher who lived in Woolwich in Southeast London, could distinguish precisely the regional nuances in a pre-war London-wide ‘lower-class’ accent. Something like what is now called Estuary was characterised by my father back in the early 1970s variously as the ‘home counties whine’, the ‘southern drawl’ and the ‘polytechnic accent’; sometimes simply as ‘adenoidal English’, as exemplified by David Frost when presenting TV satire programmes in the early 1960s. Before that ‘breakthrough’, broadcasting had permitted only RP (or the RADA English of trained actors) or the so-called mid-Atlantic accent of game-show hosts like Hughie Green. Certainly the broadcast media reversed its prejudices during the 1980s and 90s, actively welcoming regional and ‘ethnic’ accents as well as the deliberately classless ‘DJ-speak’ which had been evolving on commercial radio since its beginnings. It is now getting frustratingly hard even to find illustrative examples of RP on the airwaves.

Strictly speaking Estuary shouldn’t be confused with ‘mockney’ (mock-cockney) although it often is. The latter is the exaggerated or feigned working class London accent, typically employing glottal stops and ‘f’ in place of ‘th’, as used by violinist Nigel Kennedy, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and, in earlier times and with a camp inflection, by 60s icons Mick Jagger and David Bailey. ‘Mummerset’, the attempt, often by naturally posh-talking actors, at a non-specific West Country burr (made famous by the radio soap The Archers and parodied on the comedy radio shows Beyond our Ken and Round the Horne by the characters Arthur Fallowfield and Rambling Sid Rumpo), is very rarely encountered these days. It may also be significant that regional accents like Brummie, Geordie and Scouse haven’t been re-labelled in recent years. This isn’t to say that they haven’t evolved or been modified by contact with other styles of speaking. Linguists have demonstrated what they call ‘levelling’ of dialects and accents, whereby regional forms lose their most pronounced (sorry) features and incorporate elements from other sources. One phenomenon I have noticed, but which has not been commented upon in any depth is a tendency by younger speakers in most parts of the country towards an imitation of childish or ‘lazy’ pronunciations of individual sounds – again, ‘f’ or ‘v’ for ‘th’, ‘w’ for ‘r’ and glottal stops wherever possible, and of more rhythmic, drawled intonations probably unconsciously influenced by Australian and American speech patterns…

…Prestige comes from the places in which a particular form of speech is practised: the court, the universities, the capital city, the broadcasting authority. (BBC insiders used to tell each other that their ‘BBC English’ was superior because clear and simple, not because they were trusted opinion-formers: we may think otherwise). In a local setting the prestige pronunciation of family names is the one, however unexpected, favoured by the family itself; of place names it used to be that of the surveyor or the squire but now is that of a majority of local people. In the urban playground it isn’t the teacher’s English that is prestigious, but cool ‘yoof-speak’ – that multiethnic vernacular again.

So when horny-handed Uncle Gerald disses his niece’s ‘fancy’ pronunciation, or a Head Teacher despairs at her pupils’ ‘impenetrable dialect’, their criticisms could be idiosyncratic – a simple personal preference – or could stem from social prejudice, either regional or class-based. What they can’t possibly be is a reasoned, objective assessment of a cluster of English phonemes. It’s actually more complicated: Uncle Gerald doesn’t seem to have picked up on the fact that ‘posh-ish’, a modest, moderate form of the old RP seems to have made something of a comeback, thanks perhaps to the makeup of David Cameron’s government. At the same time, if that Head Teacher wants to get on the radio, or just hopes to do some paid podcasting for educational purposes, she would be well advised to play up any regional or ethnic inflections in her voice, any cues that will key into the diversity of the audience at large. (I’m still smarting myself at being turned down for the job of presenting a radio series on changing language on the grounds, according to the producer, that my voice ‘wasn’t working class or ethnic enough.’). These are the currents and cross-currents in the national conversation that reflect – or dictate – our reactions to the sounds we hear…

…If there is no scientific reason why one set of sounds is superior to another, why do both individual sounds and wider accents change over time, and why do those hurtful, discriminatory assumptions about them keep on coming? When the author Robert Graves returned to Oxford in October 1961 to take up the Professorship of Poetry, The Times reported him as saying, ‘Only the ordinary accent of the undergraduate has changed. In my day you very seldom heard anything but Oxford English; now there is a lot of North Country and so on. In 1920 it was prophesied that the Oxford accent would overcome all others. But the regional speech proved stronger. A good thing.’

“I speak Black Country. I speak History.”

– Dave, from Halesowen

In a 2012 survey British listeners said they found the dialect of the city of Birmingham, England to be ‘boring’, ‘wrong’, ‘irritating’, ‘grating’, ‘nasal’, and ‘whingey’; very interestingly, non-native listeners found it ‘nice’, ‘melodic’, ‘lilting’ and ‘musical’. Prejudice pops up even when the sounds in question sound exactly the same to outsiders. Black Countryman Steve, recorded for the BBC ‘Voices’ survey, opined:

The Birmingkham accent I don’t like. In the Midlands you’ve go’ the Black Coontray an’ Birmingkham an’ there’s a massive divoide there, bikos people in Birmingkham theyr’e called ‘Brummies’ or ‘0121-ers’ [from the phone prefix] an’ they ten’ not to mix too mooch wi’ the Black Coontray people, boot the Black Coontray – what you’ll foind is they’re the salt of the earth, they’re really noice people.’

The Black Country way of speaking is a marvellous example of the fact that regional English dialects – and American English, too, for that matter – have as much if not more claim to be the authentic voices of an English heritage, and not the Standard English of the southern educated classes, an essentially artificial variety with only a short history. The dialect of the Black Country area remains perhaps one of the last examples of early English still spoken today. The word endings with ‘en’ are still noticeable in conversation as in ‘gooen’ (going), ‘callen’ (calling) and the vowel ‘a’ is pronounced as ‘o’ as in sond (sand), ‘hond’ (hand) and ‘mon’ (man). Other pronunciations are ‘winder’ for window, ‘fer’ for far, and ‘loff’ for laugh – exactly as Chaucer’s English was spoken. Other features still detectable today resemble closely Shakespeare’s iconic version of our language in its Early Modern or Elizabethan incarnation.

 

THE TEN BEST-LIKED BRITISH ACCENTS

According to a 2013 survey by Roxy Palace online casino

1. Irish – 28 per cent
2. West Country – 19 per cent
3. Geordie – 17 per cent
4. Mancunian – 11 per cent
5. Glaswegian – 8 per cent
6. Scouse – 6 per cent
7. Yorkshire – 5 per cent
8. Welsh – 3 per cent
9. Brummie – 2 per cent
10. Essex – 1 per cent

(Do you think the order here would have been the same thirty years ago, and can you see what’s missing?*)

 

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* It’s RP, or Standard English!

To many people’s surprise long-lost recordings unearthed in 2010 revealed that Queen Victoria had an unmistakeably German accent. A century later Lady Diana and Prince Charles were always going to be incompatible, some said, since they spoke in different ways: his accent a clenched military/nursery style from long ago; hers, a plaintive attempt at classlessness. Surely, though, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s English is an icon of steadfastness, a model to aspire to? For most people nothing is more respectable than ‘the Queen’s English’. But according to Dame Helen Mirren even Her Majesty has, unconsciously or perhaps deliberately, let her accent slide. Speaking in 2012 the actress, who was reprising her Oscar winning role as the monarch, said that Her Majesty’s words have become more ‘estuary’ as she has got older. ‘Her voice has changed, and I can use that – she had a terribly posh voice when she was young,’ Dame Helen said. ‘But now even the Queen, while she isn’t quite dropping the ends of her lines – though her grandsons do! There’s a tiny bit of estuary creeping in there’.

This was not the first time that the Queen has been accused of dropping her vocal standards. A millennial study of the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcasts showed that her accent had gone from ‘clipped’ in the 1940s to one more in common with a BBC Radio 4 announcer by 2000. In 2006 another study claimed that she had gone from ‘cut glass URP’ (Upper Received Pronunciation) towards the more democratic Standard Received Pronunciation and its close relative, Standard Southern British English. Now listen to a 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth make her first radio address to the children of the Commonwealth on October 13 1940. Then Listen to the Queen’s ‘thank you’ message to the nation after the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June marking her 60 years on the throne.

Ten per cent of the population would apparently hesitate to employ her son Charles, because his voice is too ‘posh’, if a survey published in 2012 is to be believed. The Prince of Wales is unlikely to be losing sleep over this revelation, but his is an affliction that the rest of the family has quietly been working on. In the survey about employable voices, people disliked accents that were too ‘plummy’, but the Royal Family’s has never been plummy. Nor does it resemble the once dominant ‘lah-di-dah’ tones of the County Set or the snooty Oxbridge drawl. If the Queen has moderated her accent, it remains distinctly that of a remote elite. Her grandchildren William and Harry, in contrast, have moved towards the standard speech of their friends from school and Army. They sometimes come close to a new way of speaking adopted by the privileged younger generation known as ‘yatties’ or ‘ok-yahs’ which mixes glottal stops with a rising inflection (interspersed with gushing squeals, mainly though not exclusively by the females).

As Daily Telegraph pundit Christopher Howse noted, the current Cabinet is, of course, equally expensively educated and equally petrified of being taken for toffs. ‘The Conservatives have bought up a job lot of glottal stops that New Labour had stockpiled for deployment within 45 minutes of being summoned to the television studio. It is just as silly for David Cameron and George Osborne to prune their consonants’, he observes, ‘like mangled old yews around their country houses, as it was for Edinburgh-born Tony Blair, educated at Fettes, the Eton of North Britain to affect a classless mateyness.’

It may not actually be class prejudice that explains the reluctance by a quarter of the 300 ‘bosses’ polled in 2012 to give a job to football legend David Beckham. In the case of Beckham’s voice it’s more probably his unique nasal tones rather than his Chingford accent that are rather off-putting. Nor is it her Dagenham origins that undermine the employment prospects of reality TV star Stacey Solomon, whom 46 per cent of bosses could not picture as an executive. In her case, it’s what she says, not the way she says it. ‘I’m like, ‘Oh fanks, Mum!’’ she suddenly exclaims, the next minute yelling: ‘I don’t even like coffee. I fink it stinks!’ The Vicky Pollard delivery can be done in any number of different voices, but none would inspire business confidence.

And anyway, do the speech patterns of successful businessmen impress the rest of us? The bosses in the survey approved, for example, of the accent of Peter Jones from the TV series Dragon’s Den. But Jones and his ilk haven’t really got accents. That’s the point. When he gives his Golden Rules for Success the Dragon sounds, not like the meritocratic version of classless that my father could produce, but neutered, like a recorded safety message on an airliner: ‘Place the lifejacket over your head and secure the tapes at each side.’

 

* Those articles are here:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-6642231/CRAIG-BROWN-reveals-dumbing-posh-accents-going-years.html

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/us-posh-boys-partial-bit-mockney-never-bar-st-jamess-club/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_tw

THE REAL WORDS OF THE YEAR – 2018

It has become a tradition for the major dictionary publishers, along with some linguists’ associations, to nominate a ‘word of the year’, a term (or in the case of Oxford’s 2015 crying/laughing emoji a symbol) which supposedly captures the essence of the zeitgeist, and in doing so marks the proposer as someone in tune with the times and with their target audience. The words chosen are rarely actually new, and by the nature of the exercise calculated to provoke disagreement and debate. I have worked with and written about what linguists and anthropologists call ‘cultural keywords’ and have my own ideas on which expressions could be truly emblematic of social change and cultural innovation. The words already nominated by the self-appointed arbiters are discussed at the foot of the page, but here, for what it’s worth, are mine (in order of preference)…

 

Image result for Artificial intelligence

AI

Yes, strictly speaking it’s two words, but this little initialism looks like a two-letter word and is processed by the brain as a ‘lexeme’ or a single unit of sound and sense. AI, artificial intelligence, is the hottest topic not only in tech-related practices but in fields as (seemingly) diverse as marketing, finance, automotives, medicine and health, education, environmentalism. Zdnet.com has published one of the most useful overviews of AI and its sub-categories and applications:

https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-ai-everything-you-need-to-know-about-artificial-intelligence/

Though it is one of the most fashionable and most resonant terms in current conversation, a slogan and a rallying cry as well as a definition, AI is problematic in the same way as two other recent contenders for word-of the moment, CRYPTO and DIGITAL. The former is shorthand for all the very complex, not to say near-incomprehensible elements that have accompanied the invention of crypto-currencies – bitcoins and blockchains in particular. These advances have yet to prove their worth for most ordinary consumers who will often be bemused by new terminology that seems to be traded among experts somewhere beyond their grasp or their reach. In the same way for the last few years ‘digital’ has been a mantra evoking the unstoppable influence of new electronic media, (related SOCIAL was a strong candidate for buzzword of 2017). Digital’s over-use by overexcited marketing professionals, would-be thought-leaders and influencers has been inspiring mockery since 2016, as in the spoof article in the Daily Mash: https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/business/nobody-knows-what-digital-supposed-to-mean-20160614109525

To put it almost as crudely as the Daily Mash does, there’s a sense in which almost no layperson knows, or can know fully, what Digital, Crypto and AI really mean, and the same goes for the expressions derived from them – ‘deep learning’ comes to mind. Their power derives from their novelty and their ability to evoke a techutopian future happening now. The phrase artificial intelligence was first employed in 1956 and its abbreviated form has been used by insiders since at least the early 2000s, but it is only now that it, and the concepts it embodies, are coming into their own.

 

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INTERSECTIONALITY

At first sight just another over-syllabled buzzword escaping from the confines of academic theory (‘performativity’, ‘superdiversity’ and ‘dimensionality’ are recent examples) into highbrow conversation, intersectionality is actually an important addition to the lexicon of identity studies. It was coined as long ago as 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights activist and legal scholar who wrote that traditional feminist ideas and anti-racist policies exclude black women because they face overlapping discrimination that is unique to them.  The word took 26 years to make it into the OED and is still unfamiliar to many, but during 2018 has featured in more and more debates on diversity and discrimination, marking the realisation that, for BAME women and for other marginalised groups, the complexities of oppression and inequality occur in a matrix that incorporates not only gender and ethnicity but such factors as age, sexuality and social class. There are each year a few forbiddingly formal or offputtingly technical expressions that do deserve to cross over into mainstream use. This I think is one of them and no journalist, educationalist, politician or concerned citizen should be unaware of it.

A bad-tempered take on intersectionality as buzzword was provided last year by https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/30/intersectional-feminism-jargon

 

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CIVILITY

I was intrigued by the sudden appearance (sudden at least by my understanding) earlier this year – its online lookups spiked in June – of a decorous, dignified term in the midst of very undecorous, undignified public debate. This old latinate word’s denotations and connotations were in complete contrast with the ‘skunked terms’ and toxic terminology that I had collected elsewhere on this site. In fact, as is often the case, this word of the moment emerged from a longer tradition, but one largely unknown hitherto outside the US. Its proposer was Professor P.M Forni, who sadly died a couple of weeks ago. In 1997, together with colleagues he established the Johns Hopkins Civility Project — now known as the Civility Initiative — a collaboration of academic disciplines that addressed the significance of civility and manners in modern life. His ideas were seized upon by commentators on this year’s events in the US, with some asserting that the civil rights protests of the past were indeed more civil than today’s rancorous exchanges. Democrat Nancy Pelosi denounced Donald Trump’s ‘daily lack of civility’ but also criticised liberal opponents’ attacks on him and his constituency. Others pointed out that polite debate alone had never prevailed in the struggles against bigotry and violence and that civility was an inadequate, irrelevant response. Cynics inserted their definitions: ‘civility’ = treating white people with respect; ‘political correctness’ = treating everybody else with respect…which prompts the thought that perhaps, in recognition of realities on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s really ‘incivility’ that should be my word of the year.

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Here, in the Economist, is the ‘Johnson’ column’s perceptive analysis of those other nominations for 2018’s word of the year:

https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2018/12/08/the-meaning-of-the-words-of-the-year

While US lexicographer Kory Stamper provides the inside story on the American choices:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2018/12/18/language-nerds-worked-really-hard-that-words-year-list/wJgdhIMAQK7xcBvlc2iHOL/story.html?s_camp=bostonglobe:social:sharetools:twitter

Lynne Murphy‘s annual US to UK export/import of the year:

https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2018/12/2018-us-to-uk-word-of-year-mainstream.html

And her UK to US counterpart:

https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2018/12/2018-uk-to-us-word-of-year-whilst.html

In the New Year the American Dialect Society announced its own word of 2018, a disturbing euphemism employed by the Trump regime and a candidate for my glossary of toxic terminology (see elsewhere on this site):

https://www.americandialect.org/tender-age-shelter-is-2018-american-dialect-society-word-of-the-year

Last, but very much not least, from the militantly millennial LinguaBishes, some excellent examples of millennial/Generation Z terms of 2018:

https://linguabishes.com/2018/12/27/2018-words-of-the-year/

 

 

And, FWIW, I like to think that my own collection of cultural keywords, seeking to define the essence of Englishness back in 2011, is still relevant today:

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AT WAR WITH ‘ACRONYMS’ – TMI via TLA

 

Maria Hill: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?
Grant Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
Maria Hill: And what does that mean to you?
Grant Ward: It means someone really wanted our initials to spell out “shield.”

— Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot episode

 

 

Stuart Andrew  MP

 

Two days ago the UK press reported that the Minister for Defence Procurement, Welsh Conservative MP Stuart Andrew, had declared war. On acronyms. Confounded and irritated by the number of these abbreviations circulating in his office and beyond, he ordered staff to avoid them at all costs. ‘He got fed up with people coming into his office and reeling off a list of letters and assuming he knew what they were referring to,’ a source close to the minister said. ‘I thought DVD had something to do with movies!’ the hapless minister (who has never served in the armed forces) had quipped at a meeting four weeks earlier. DVD was the name of the event at which he was speaking. It stands for ‘defence vehicle dynamics’.

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The flustered politician may have a point – one of the first documents to cross his desk was the latest 402-page guidebook to terminology used in the MOD (Ministry of Defence)*, referencing such titles as AARADCOM – the Army Armament Research and Development Command, and explaining that the initials CCU, for instance, could refer to

Central Control Unit
Certificate of Clearance for Use (for software)
Cockpit Control Unit
Combat Control Unit
Common Control Unit
Communication Control Unit
Computer Crime Unit

In vain did an unnamed MOD spokesperson respond: ‘These terms are used between subject matter experts and not with the general public.’

 

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‘Acronym’ entered English in 1940, as a translation of German akronym, first attested in 1921. It is composed of acro- from Greek akron (tip or top) and the English combining form  -onym, from Greek onoma, name. It denotes a word made up of initials or parts of other words, and should be pronounced as a word in its own right. It is not the same as an ‘initialism’ such as BBC or VIP or PC, where the letters are pronounced separately (the minister’s DVD falls into this category), or an abbreviation such as etc. or  lb (pound) where the relationship between form and sound is not straightforward. So NATO, AWOL, laser (for ‘light amplification by simulated emission of radiation’, radar (‘radio detection and ranging’) are acronyms: ASAP (‘as soon as possible’) is an acronym if said like a word, BOGOF (‘buy one, get one free’) too, but not when said as separated letters.

Some more modern three-letter combinations are genuine acronyms – SIM (card) from ‘subscriber identity module’, GIF (‘ graphics interchange format’), however you pronounce it,  and PIN (‘personal information number’) among them – but those familiar items of business-speak, ROI, SEO, B2B, SME – and now AI – are not, and nor, ironically is the disapproving or jokey shorthand TLA, for ‘three-letter acronym’ itself.

Lighthearted coinages SNAFU (‘situation normal, all fouled up’) or BOHICA (the oppressed officeworker’s injunction to ‘bend over, here it comes again’) are acronyms, but only a few of the so-called acronyms used in messaging and on social media really qualify: BTW, IDK, IMHO, SMH, TL;DR and the rest are strictly speaking initialisms. YOLO, LOL and ROFL, providing they are uttered in full, are among the exceptions.

The reason for the proliferation of acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations, and the justification for their use are obvious. In an accelerated culture they save us from having to – literally – spell out what we have to say or write and at the same time impart an idea of novelty, urgency and dynamism. As my correspondent Graham Guest observed on Twitter in a spoof response to Stuart Andrew’s protestations: ‘Minister, my radio detection and ranging equipment has just picked up a group of sea, air, lands wearing self-contained underwater breathing apparatus diving gear.’

Acronyms are very often controversial, in the same way as jargon and slang, in that they mystify and intimidate those who aren’t familiar with them, and seem to confer prestige and privilege on those who know how to use them. They can reinforce an insider/outsider imbalance in power in the workplace, the seminar –  or the ministerial briefing. A very simple test, though, is to try and replace the offending acronym with its full translation or explanation and see if the resulting sequence of speech, or text, sounds or looks viable. If it’s necessary to introduce a new abbreviated form, it must be glossed  (translated into simple language) the first time it is used, and, as with all insider codes, should only be employed in a context where interlocutors, partners, stakeholders, clients or audiences will readily understand it.

 

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You can hear me chatting about the latest acronym wars on BBC5Live radio (the sequence begins at 47 minutes 26 seconds):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/m0000pvp

 

As a footnote, my book of buzzwords and jargon, first published in 2007, contains examples of acronyms and abbreviations, many still in use, together with observations on the status conferred by mastering business-speak…

 

Shoot the Puppy

 

*An earlier version of it is here if you want to consult it:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/227048/acronyms_and_abbreviations_dec08.pdf

A GLOSSARY OF SKUNKED TERMS*, BREXITSPEAK and THE TOXIC TERMINOLOGY OF POPULISM

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I have been collecting new and controversial language generated by the rise of conservative populism in the US and the UK, by pro- and anti-Trump sentiment in the US and by the divisions resulting from the UK’s Brexit vote. This is a work in progress: the preliminary list of terms as it stands is below. Soon I plan to offer detailed definitions and comments (for example, the first word in the list is my own invention, intended to describe a statement, act or policy showing effrontery, and itself a deliberate affront to a section of the population) and a ‘lexical’ categorisation (into ‘jargon’, ‘slang, ‘catchphrase’, cliché, for instance).

**Please do contact me with new examples, with comments and with criticism, which will be gratefully acknowledged and credited.**

Affrontery

Airfix patriotism

Alpha

Alt-centre

Alt-right

Antifa

Anywheres

Astroturfing

Attitudinarian

Backstop

Based

Beta

Blowback

Bot

Both-sidesism

Breadcrumbs

Brectum

Bregressive

Bregret(s)

Bremain

Brengland

Brexit dividend

Brexiteer

Brexit means Brexit

Brexmageddon

Brexodus

Brextension

BRINO

Butthurt

Cakeism

Calling out

Centrist dad

Cherry-picking

Civility

Cosmopolitan

Corbynista

Corporatocracy

Crash out

Crybaby

Cuck

Cultural marxist

Deep state

Deplorables

DEXEU

Disaster capitalism

Divorce bill

Dog-whistle

Double down

Drain the swamp

Elite

Establishment

Ethno-state

Fake news

Fall off a cliff

False flag operation

Fashy

Feminazi

Finger-sniffer

Fractionate

Gammon

Gammonista

Globalist

Guardianista

Hard Brexit

High-vis nazis

Hobbit

Identitarian

Incel

Individual-1

Jambon jaunes

King baby

Leave means leave

Lentil-weaving

Libertarian

Libtard

Limp-wristed

Little Englander

Londonistan

Low-energy

MAGA

Magic Grandpa

Magic money tree

Mangina

Masculinist

Maybot

Melt

Meninist

Metropolitan

MSM

Nanny state

Nativist

Neglexit

Neon nazis

Neutrollization

No-deal

No-platforming

Normie

Palaeoconservative

Pearl-clutching

People’s vote

Political correctness

Postmodern

Post-truth

Project Fear

Put/stick that on the side of a bus

QAnon

Quitlings

Red pill

Regrexit

Remainiacs

Remain plus

Remoanathon

Remoaner

Roll back

Row back

Shadow blocking

Shire

Singapore-on-Thames

SJW social justice warrior

Skunked term

Snowflake

Soft border

Soft Brexit

Somewheres

Sovereignty

Soy-boy

Sunlit uplands

Taking back control

Targeted individual

Tender-age shelter

Terf

Throw under the bus

Tick tock

Tofu-eating

Tribal(ism)

Troll farm

Truth-squadding

Unicorns

Vassal state

Virtue-signalling

Walk back

Weaponised

Whataboutery

White supremacist

Will of the people

Woke-washing

Yoghurt-knitting

Image result for snowflake slur

I’m grateful especially to the many contacts on Twitter who have already contributed to this modest project, and will credit them by name/handle when a final version is posted or published.

In February 2017 The New European published its own very useful lexicon, from which I have drawn, gratefully but without permission :

https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/culture/the-new-lexicon-of-hate-a-disturbing-a-z-of-alt-right-language-1-4894833

And the BBC listed many of the technical – and some less technical – terms associated with Brexit earlier this year:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43470987

Last year Karl McDonald discussed the language used by Labour party leftists in the i newspaper:

https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/slugs-melts-inside-language-culture-corbynite-left/

And here’s Helen Lewis in the New Statesman on incivility in the UK:

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2018/08/how-britain-political-conversation-turned-toxic

And Philip Seargeant on ‘fake news’:

https://infolit.org.uk/the-role-of-information-literacy-in-the-fight-against-fake-news/

In November 2018 The Guardian published a useful ‘jargon-buster’ guide to the terms being used at this late stage of (or impasse in, if you prefer) UK-EU negotiations:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/19/brexit-phrasebook-a-guide-to-the-talks-key-terms

Here Renee DiResta describes the ongoing ‘Information War(s)’ of which the manipulation of language is one component:

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2018/11/28/the-digital-maginot-line/

I have only just come across this perceptive essay from 2017, by Otto English on his Pinprick blog, in which he coins the terms Ladybird libertarian and Ronseal academic:

Ladybird Libertarians: Dan Hannan, Paddington and the pernicious impact of 1970s children’s literature on Brexit thinking

In January 2019 James Tapper contributed this very perceptive assessment of Brexit metaphors:

https://daily.jstor.org/many-metaphors-brexit/

 

*’Skunked terms’ are words or expressions undergoing a controversial change in meaning. Examples are ‘liberal’ and ‘libertarian’ which have transitioned from referring to leftist, progressive or centrist positions to denote neo-conservative or alt-right affiliations.

Image result for Brexit graffiti

 

GAMMON – UP AGAINST THE WALL

Image result for gammon and pineapple 1970s

 

This week, very late in the day, the mainstream UK media and the wider national conversation finally caught up with a social and political slur that had been trending for more than a year already. The insult in question was ‘gammon’, one of only a couple of pejorative labels (the other, slightly more affectionate, being ‘centrist dad’) directed from the left at the right as opposed to the many (‘libtard’, ‘snowflake’, ‘cuck’, etc.) routinely hurled in the other direction.

The word itself is British and denotes an orange-coloured side or slice of cooked ham or bacon often proposed as emblematic of the garish-looking, odd-tasting and nutritionally suspect dishes served (warm, with a pineapple garnish) across British tables in the 1970s (when, ironically, ‘gammon rasher’ was rhyming slang for ‘smasher’ in the sense of something superlative). Gammon was adopted from French gambon, from gambe meaning leg, in the 15th century, while backgammon is unrelated and probably comes from an old form of the verb to game.

Following the Times’ , the Express and the New Statesman’s belated discovery of the word Twitter was a-buzz on May 14, first with protests, many seemingly by gammons themselves, at what were alleged to be its racist and classist implications and then with more coherent attempts to unpack its real denotations and connotations.

Someone with the handle ‘Build a wall, line all the nazis up along it’ explained…

‘Gammon isn’t about class, it describes white ppl who spend a lot of their time being pink because they’re so angry being white doesn’t make them special’

Exasperated by ongoing witless misunderstandings, I added my own two-penn’orth…

‘Nothing to do with class, it denotes florid, loud, usually lardy middle-aged ranting bigots. #simples

By midday someone else had discovered a reference in Victorian literature that seemed to anticipate the modern usage…

My god, he’s right: @Protooptimism has discovered that Dickens used “gammon tendency” as a political insult in Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9):

 

 

It’s not quite clear whether Dickens’ use of the word relates to the slang sense then prevalent in the underworld, of ‘gammon’, verb and noun, to mean (‘to use) the secret, deceitful language of thieves and tricksters’, hence applicable perhaps to jingoism and bluster on the part of a ‘fervid’ middle-aged blowhard. An intriguing correlation with Irish was noted by another commentator…

No linguists paid much attention at the time to the mutation of gammon from a collective term of abuse for a constituency or persuasion to a label applied to the individual members thereof. The BBC, though, yesterday carried a good, level-headed history of the expression’s first post- Brexit referendum appearances and its rise to prominence…

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-44108080

Urban Dictionary‘s original entry, if you can find it,  could be commended, but it seems subsequently to have been cosmeticised by a gammonista…

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gammon

By the end of a long day the furore (by now dubbed ‘gammongate’) had somewhat subsided, leaving a few wry observational tweets…

Presume after today, use of a certain type of roasted ham as an insult will be prohibited. Hope there’s a gamnesty on previous usage.’

‘Since the words ‘Tory’ and ‘Whig’ both started as insults, I fully expect British politics to soon be contested between the Gammon Party and the Melt Party.’

‘It’s offensive to call people whose reactionary apoplexy makes them go pink-faced “gammons”. The correct term is “people of choler”.’

And, late news, this, perhaps (but unlikely to be) the last word, again from Twitter, this morning…

JamieJones77‏ @JamieJones77

‘I’m a 55 year old white thinning cropped haired old punker. #Gammon isn’t racist, it perfectly describes the bigoted tossers of my own age group who turn pink when they get angry about their privilege being challenged. G’wan bust yer blood vessels you rancid foaming dinosaurs.’

…Five days on I discovered this, from the originator of the expression himself…

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/gammon-brexiteers-angry-white-men-middle-age-immigration-a8352141.html

…and, very belatedly indeed, I was reminded of this excellent summary by A-level teacher and language buff Dan Clayton

http://englishlangsfx.blogspot.com/2018/06/telling-porkies-about-gammon.html

 

Image result for gammon insult

 

In November this year Collins Dictionaries listed the g-word among their words of the year. In the Guardian Poppy Noor argued that the left should steer clear of such name-calling…

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/07/gammon-playground-insult-words-of-2018

A DRILL DICTIONARY

By their keywords shall thee know them?

Image result for drill music

The latest in a long series of moral panics (the term used by sociologists since the 1970s) exploited by the UK press and now subject of rancorous political debate, the issue of knife-crime and killings by street gangs, mainly in London, is genuinely concerning and is only now receiving the attention and analysis it demands. A side-effect of media interest is that the language used by the gang members and by the music genres that celebrate them is being recorded – haphazardly and not always accurately – for the first time. The musical genre in question is UK Drill, a successor to the ultra-hard-edged Trap Rap (from The Trap, slang nickname for the local area where drugs are dealt) that appeared first in Chicago in the 2000s. Drill (the word can signify shooting but has many other slang senses) has been adopted and adapted by hyperlocal urban communities in the poorer parts of London and, despite their claims, doesn’t just evoke the harsh realities of life on inner-city estates, but often glamorises it and seems to promote an ethos of territoriality, boastful masculinity and murderous retaliatory violence.

Image result for London knife crime headlines

So far only very few reporters have managed to penetrate the groups whose members occupy and fiercely defend their microzones, fighting for control, too, of economies based on drug trading. The rappers emerging from the same postcode- or estate-defined enclaves compete and feud electronically, dissing and threatening their rivals in their lyrics – and in a few cases have actually been implicated in killings or woundings on the street.

In May 2018 the Metropolitan Police intensified attempts to ban videos associated with the music genre and the gangs caught up in street violence:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/drill-music-stabbings-london-youtube-violence-police-knife-crime-gangs-a8373241.html

I hope soon to engage with members of this subculture and find out more about their values and the way they encode them. In the meantime I have begun to assemble a lexicon of the most significant key terms they use, in a slang which mixes US hiphop argot and Caribbean expressions transposed to or reinvented in London (harking back to the Yardie gang culture of the 1980s). So far just a glossary, my list is far from complete, so please help me add more items if you can, or correct my mistakes. Here is this work in progress as it stands, now updated for January 2019, followed by some relevant links…

Active dependable associate

Akhibrother, friend

Back outdraw (a weapon)

Baggedcaught

Bally, Balibalaclava

Bandoabandoned property

Bangerhit, successful song

Barslyrics

Beefdispute, feud

Bellsbullets

Bitzone’s neighbourhood

Blowleave, escape

Bookie, bukisuspicious

Bora, borerknife

Bozzleader

excellent

Breeze offleave town, disappear

Bruckshotsawn-off shotgun

Canprison

Cheffed (up)stabbed, killed

Chetemachete

Chingknife

to stab

Chingingchilling and hanging out

Codes‘postcode areas’, zones where gangs dominate

Cornammunition

Crashraid, invade

Crashing cornshooting your gun

Cunchout-of-town locations where drugs can be sold

Cuttinleaving, running away

Dashthrow

run (away)

Dasheenrunning away, fleeing

Diligentadmirable, brave, cool

dependable associate

Ding dongdispute, brawl

cheap car

Dippedstabbed

Dipperknife

Donrespected person

Dottieshotgun

Drillershooter, gang member

Drillingattacking, aggressing, invading

Dumpyshotgun

Duppykill, dead

Endzone’s neighbourhood

4-doorsaloon car

Fedspolice

Fielddanger-zone, combat area

Fishinglooking for victims

Flashedstopped, pulled over e.g by police

Fryshoot (at)

Gassedexcited

Glidedrive into enemy territory

GM(fellow) gang member

Go cunch/countryleave the city to sell drugs in rural/seaside locations

Gotattacked, robbed

Grubbyauthentic, tough (neighbourhood)

Gwopmoney

Hand tingpistol

Hittergunman

Iron  – gun

Ketchupblood

Kwengcut, stabbed

Layersprotective clothing

Lenggun

Linkcontact, source for drugs

Lurkstalk a victim, prowl around

Mac(k)automatic firearm

Mashgun

Mazzamadness, crazy situation

Moistdisgusting, pathetic

Mop – large gun

No facemasked, with identity concealed

Ootersshooters

Oppsenemies

Opp-blockenemy territory

OT‘out there’ or ‘out of town’, away on business, dealing in country locations

Oxrazor, blade

Pagan, paigonuntrustworthy person, enemy

Pedmoped

Penprison

Plug –  a contact for drugs

Preeto check out, assess (a person)

Properexcellent, admirable

Psmoney

Rack – quantity of money, £1000

Rambolarge knife or machete

Rams, Ramsayknife

Reppromote or publicly declare for (one’s area, gang)

Ride out for (someone)to defend, even if guilty

Score kill or injure an enemy

Scoreboard, scorecardlist of enemies killed, injured or defeated

Scrumattractive female, sex

Shankknife

Shoutsgreetings, acclaim

Skate, skeetrun away

Skengknifegun, weapon

Slewruin, defeat

Snitchinformer

Spinnerrevolver

Spinnerspetite females

Spittingrapping

Splash, splash up, splash downstab

Squirtspray acid (over someone)

Stickgun

Stickydangerous

Stonesbullets, pellets of crack

Strapgun

Swimmingstabbed

Ten toesrun away, escape

Trapneighbourhood, ‘ghetto’, area where drugs are sold

Trappinghanging out, selling drugs

Treypistol

Tum-tumgun

24sall day

Wapgun

Wassstupid person

Wooshshoot

Worksybusy, diligent

Yatgirl

Yuteyoung person or young people on the street

There are some terms for which I don’t yet have a perfect definition:  doughnut or pepper, for example. These expressions have multiple meanings in street slang, but I’m not sure which one is prevalent in Drill culture. Please advise me if you can.

You can find a dictionary of multi-ethnic London slang and other examples of so called MLE (Multicultural London English) on this site. I have extensive files of youth language, available to researchers, journalists, etc. on request, and here are some more street slang terms from the UK Rap and Grime milieu, many also used by Drill aficionados:

https://pigeonsandplanes.com/in-depth/2013/08/british-rap-slang/draw

And from the mouths of the Drillers themselves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnGZRWUHGh4

The only useful information on alleged links between drill and crime comes from commentators with a street-level perspective:

http://www.gal-dem.com/uk-drill-music-london-gang-violence/

https://pigeonsandplanes.com/in-depth/2018/01/uk-drill-sl-harlem-spartans-67-essay

Belatedly aware that Drill is worthy of attention (‘demonic’ was The Times‘ characterisation), the mainstream press has begun to investigate:

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/drill-music-london-stabbings-shootings-rap-67-abra-cadabra-comment-government-a8305516.html

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/apr/09/uk-drill-music-london-wave-violent-crime

One successful attempt to get inside the world of the gangs reveals the frustrations and futilities of life in ‘the bits’:

http://www.channel5.com/show/inside-the-gang/

And here, from Dazed magazine, is a small selection of some real peoples’ views (they resolutely absolve the music):

http://www.dazeddigital.com/politics/article/39960/1/knife-crime-young-people-east-london?utm_source=newzmate&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dazed_daily

In June this important piece, from youth worker Ciaran Thapar in the New Statesman:

https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/music-theatre/2018/06/treating-drill-rappers-terrorists-colossal-mistake

Here are some examples of the music, with very strong language:

…Compare and contrast all this with Drill’s older brother, Grime, as testified by Jeffrey Boakye:

http://www.gal-dem.com/hold-tight-conversation-jeffrey-boakye/

…And here, from June 2018, a timely review of all Black UK music genres from Yomi Adegoke:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jun/01/grime-afro-bashment-drill-how-black-british-music-became-more-fertile-than-ever

View story at Medium.com

In October 2018, Channel 4 TV commissioned a music video in which drill music is combined with language used by British politicians:

https://www.channel4.com/news/what-do-drill-musicians-make-of-mps-violent-rhetoric-watch-the-music-video

Here is the latest on the subject from the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/06/dont-censor-drill-music-listen-skengdo-am

 

‘BAD’ LANGUAGE RE-REVISITED

In the last post we looked at ways in which women use, and are judged for using, so called ‘bad language’ while earlier posts addressed the n-word and the b-word. Swearing, perennially a contentious topic, has been trending on social media, in the press and, to an extent, has featured in academic discussion, in the UK at least, since the beginning of this year. The ESL teachers’ periodical The EL Gazette asked me for a short opinion piece on whether and how the subject could be approached in the classroom.

Here is a very slightly longer version of the article they printed…

DON’T LET YOUR STUDENTS DOWN – TEACH THEM SWEAR-WORDS!?@#$~!?

We have to hope that, although as a nation we are famous for ‘effing and blinding’, ‘bad language’ is not the first kind of language our visiting students encounter. Sooner or later, though, many teachers will decide it’s time to broach the topic, or else their students will demand that they do.

For learners trying to grapple with TV and movie dialogue, song lyrics or real-life or electronic conversations we can begin by helping them decode what used to be called the ‘four-letter words’, the ‘f-word’, the ‘sh-word’, the ‘c-word’. Judging by the language trending on social media and in the UK press we may need to add the ‘tw-word’ too. Nowadays, as surveys have shown, in British English ethnic or gendered slurs – the ‘n-word’, the ‘b-word’ in particular – are just as shocking if not more so, especially for a younger generation much less bothered by old-fashioned sexual or religious oaths.

Teachers will need to negotiate cultural sensitivities very carefully while they explain these terms (and students may lack the surrounding language required to make sense of them; the medical terms for parts of the body or sexual activities for example), then perhaps learners can identify equivalents in their own languages and consider the moral or social assumptions that come with them.

But beware: teaching taboo language at anything but the most basic level demands a lot of teachers. They must understand the linguist’s concept of ‘appropriacy’, the fact that the force of a swearword varies according to who uses it and in what circumstances. Expletives may be used in the heat of the moment to express pain or anger, casually to reinforce friendship or shared interests as well as deliberately to insult and provoke. Teaching them presupposes too an awareness of nuances of meaning – the terms don’t mean exactly the same thing for all ages, genders or nationalities. Finally, you must remind your students that while it’s a good idea to understand swearing it’s almost impossible to swear convincingly in a foreign language, and trying to do that is likely to provoke at best mockery, at worst instant physical retaliation.

                                                                        *  *  *

I hope to follow this, no more really than a squib, with a more detailed consideration of how this tricky subject can be taught – with strategies, examples and ideas for exploitation – and to consider, too, whether what has been called the ‘aesthetic of expletive avoidance’ – deliberately not using rude words – or finding wittier alternatives to those brutal monosyllables may not in fact be more creative, more fulfilling and more productive for students and instructors.

In the meantime, here are links to some relevant recent articles with a bearing on the subject…

https://www.wired.com/story/the-science-of-why-swearing-physically-reduces-pain/

 

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/call-the-fishwife-thoughts-on-sex-class-and-swearing/

 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1469029216301352

 

https://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21735577-new-book-explores-subtle-and-strategic-art-swearing-power-profane-language

 

…the very latest, from April 2018…

Mind your tongue: teen swearers perceived as less trustworthy and less intelligent

 

 

Image result for swearing emoji

Linguist Stan Carey has written on ‘expletive avoidance’ as a literary device and also on how alternatives to expletives may be deployed in popular culture. He has kindly shared those insights, which are reproduced here…

https://stancarey.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/literary-expletive-avoidance/

https://stronglang.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/freak-those-monkey-fightin-melon-farmers/

 

BADMOUTHING LADIES?!

Image result for profanity

I talked last week to London journalist Faima Bakar about the varying reactions to ‘bad language’ as manifested by men and women. In her investigations she is still finding that many males routinely chastise females, telling them that swearing is unattractive and inappropriate.

Both genderfluidity and the questioning of gender norms have fundamentally changed perceptions of feminine behaviour and of masculine responses too. At the same time the effects of social media in empowering women and giving them an equal voice have been transformative. But we can see from the messages exchanged on social media that many men have not evolved, cling to macho attitudes whereby  – probably because they feel embattled and insecure – they choose to, or pretend to believe in such dated concepts as ‘ladylike women don’t use bad language.’

Swearing as a male trait is definitely embedded in 20th – century and to some extent 21st -century attitudes and assumptions: According to Jay (2000), individuals having high scores on the trait of masculinity will also swear most frequently, and:

https://books.google.si/books?id=00EsBwAAQBAJ&pg=PA140&lpg=PA140&dq=swearing+masculine+trait&source=bl&ots=PfQoPlse0w&sig=_FVQD7VghjJfaC-IiamKKym6HPg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjmuv3NidjYAhVHIewKHTpyAgMQ6AEILTAB#v=onepage&q=swearing%20masculine%20trait&f=false

Studies have shown that more honest and more intelligent people swear more – which may be a justification, if one is needed, for women’s effing and blinding in the 21st century!

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/swear-wearing-honesty-lie-more-honest-facebook-psychology-cambride-university-maastricht-hong-kong-a7512601.html

Despite this evidence, perceptions of those who swear call in question the notions of honesty and sincerity – and intelligence.

Mind your tongue: teen swearers perceived as less trustworthy and less intelligent

Swearing is the language of power and indulging in it is part of the public or private exercising, or performing of power and of the celebration of it. Women’s language, as formerly perceived, was the language of powerlessness or reticence:

https://www.academia.edu/2962962/Profanity_and_Gender_a_diachronic_analysis_of_mens_and_womens_use_and_perception_of_swear_words?auto=download

In a patriarchal society men impose taboos, then men claim the power to break those taboos – such as by using profane or offensive language. It’s very interesting to me not just that women are now reclaiming power in society and are swearing but that they are consciously using swearing as a statement of that power. This is evidenced, for example, on Twitter where there are many feisty (I’m aware that the word can be male code for ‘uppity’), witty, outspoken women who boast in their profiles or in their tweets that they are ‘sweary’. These tweeters, who include comedians, actors and writers as well as numerous unknown impresarios of obloquy, tease, mock and criticise offensive or unreconstructed males and use very rude words in doing so.

Here’s Faima’s article, with her own original insights and conclusions, in today’s Metro newspaper:

Do men find women who swear unattractive?

Faima has written on the same subject before, with some contributions by me too. Here is a link to that article, with some additional observations:

https://tonythornesite.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/not-girls-talk/

On a personal note, although I’m a linguist and obliged to treat ‘taboo’ language with absolute objectivity, and although I challenge the right of others to invoke moral or social disapproval, I still, hypocritically perhaps, criticise my own partner (who is not a native speaker of English) and my teenage son for being pottymouths, pointing out that delighting indiscriminately in expletives (which they both do) nearly always implies a lack of respect for hearers. Linguists assert that language can’t be viewed in isolation, but depends always on context, on the speaker or writer’s intent and on audience. Judgements can be made but based on what they call ‘appropriacy’ – the suitability of an utterance to its time, place and to those on the receiving end. If foul language is used, it should be indulged in only in the right setting – between friends who willingly join in, as part of a private conversation, a performance, even a Twitter tirade.

An update: ten days after Faima’s article was published Debbie Cameron responded on her blog:

https://debuk.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/call-the-fishwife-thoughts-on-sex-class-and-swearing/

And in March Emma Byrne treated the same subject in Elle magazine:

https://www.elle.com/life-love/a19431418/swearing-double-standard/

 

 

The N-word Yet Again

On July 10 Samir Dathi tweeted: ‘Anne Marie Morris suspended for using N-word. Good. But why is someone who called black people ‘picaninnies’ our foreign secretary?’

Morris, the Conservative MP for Newton Abbot’s use of the phrase ‘nigger in the woodpile‘ provoked widespread condemnation and resulted in her suspension and an abject public apology, but the UK public and media have a very short memory. It was far from an isolated instance of this crass archaism being invoked by British politicians, as this website records:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/search/?q=%22in+the+woodpile%22&o=o

The expression originated in the USA (Mr Slang, Jonathon Green has a first citation as the name of a popular song from the 1840s) where it was usually associated with an image of a runaway slave in concealment, but it is in the UK where it has enjoyed a lengthy and unfortunate afterlife.

I can testify that the phrase was used by middle-class speakers in conversation in the UK the 1950s and 1960s. It was possible to use the n-word (not the whole phrase) in Britain up to the end of the 1950s without having a conscious racist intention. The WW2 flying ace Guy Gibson, for instance, named his beloved pet dog ‘Nigger’ and I can remember myself using the word in a public swimming pool in suburban London in about 1959 to point out a black child playing nearby (a rare thing in our lower middle-class neighbourhood). Even then my father rebuked me very sternly, saying ‘we don’t say that and you mustn’t use the word!

Yasmeen Serhan reported on the MP’s gaffe for American readers in The Atlantic:

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/anne-marie-morris-suspended/533220/

Image result for nigger in woodpile

Attempts were made, by Tory supporters and some linguists, to excuse the MP on the grounds that she is 60 years old and so for her generation the words in question carry little or less force. Professor Geoff Pullum of Edinburgh University was among those who also suggested that when the n-word is in combination with other words as part of a stock phrase, it might not carry the same negative charge (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=33594). I’m told, for example, that in the parlance of small-boat sailors in the UK the phrase ‘boat-nigger’ is used to denote the most junior member of the crew. Other commentators opined that inadvertent racism is nonetheless racism, but where quibbles about slurs and taboos are concerned, I think the acid test is actually to debate them in real-life environments. I have discussed the n-word and similar controversies with a range of young people and with older members of BAME communities* and they are simply not acceptable. Quite apart from clumsiness and insensitivity on the part of somebody in public life, it’s arguable, too, that Morrison used the expression wrongly: it doesn’t mean an unanticipated or an unappreciated future eventuality, but a hidden snag. The nuances – the semantic components and assumptions embedded in the phrase are interesting and challenging to unpick – the connotations of such usages may also mutate over time. Potential confusions are illustrated by the several interpretations or misunderstandings posted on Urban Dictionary:
On a very personal note, it occurred to me that finding an escaped slave today, perhaps in the woodshed behind a prosperous suburban or rural home, is entirely possible in a Britain where traffickers and slavemasters prey on migrants, refugees and the poor and desperate. Oh and, on the subject of the Foreign Secretary, a satirical Twitter poll resulted in this:
  Whether B[oris] Johnson should also be expelled for calling black people ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’: Yes: 95% No: 5%’)
AT, also on Twitter, reminded me of this case, for comparison:
It’s not only in English that such words have conflicted and conflicting resonances. Jonathon Green again: ‘Do you know nègre, which is the equivalent of ‘intern’ or maybe ‘gofer’? Also means a ghost-writer. Still used, I am told, without the slightest hesitation and nary a blush. The usual nègre, if the irony even needs noting, is of course white.’ And here (in French) is someone I know personally causing a furore in 2015:
In August 2017 this – provocatively titled but heartfelt and authentic – opinion piece was published by Steven Dunn:
…then in September this, also a personal take, on, inter alia, Kanye West and Piers Morgan, from Jessica Morgan:
…in October, from University of Calgary linguist Darin Flynn in The Conversation:
…yet more on racial slurs, from Indiana Professor Michael Adams:
 …and Geoffrey Pullum on British English deprecations:
Nearly a year on and the c-word has been trending transatlantically. Here’s Deborah Cameron’s interesting take on reclaiming a slur:
…in August 2018 Bethan Tovey reflected on some recent linguistic debates, including reference once again to the n-word:
…most recently, student journalist Nathan Graber-Lipperman has posted a lengthy reflection on the n-word and its relationship with hip-hop and white youth:
*https://tonythornesite.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/the-b-word/

A SINGLE CURRENCY? – the status of English post-Juncker and post-Europe

 

 

President of the European Commission, Eurocrat par excellence and Brexiteers’ bugbear, Jean-Claude Juncker raised a laugh in Florence a couple of weeks ago with his public provocation, opining that post-Brexit the English language would lose its status as the EU’s de facto lingua franca. IMVHO he’s probably wrong: even in his native Luxembourg (first language Luxembourgish, a Mosel-Franconian dialect of German) one fifth of the population currently claim to use English for everyday communication and three quarters say they speak it fluently.

In the wider EU 46m Germans and 23m French citizens are estimated to have a good command of English, 38% of the remaining nationalities, too. Only 12% over-all claim fluency in French and 11% in German. In Brussels and Strasbourg,  the cities where EU business is primarily carried out, English is, in the Eurocrats’ jargon a relay language, an intermediate code used in meetings, in corridors and in cafes by those for whom it is a second or third language. This is especially the case for those coming from the more recent member states who are generally reluctant to embark on learning French or German when English is already familiar from school, university and from exposure to popular culture.

In fact, the language actually used beyond the formal speeches and official documents is an odd sort of English-based hybrid sometimes known as Euro-speak, laced with ‘continental’ usages (alien to native speaker English but common to other European tongues) whereby terms like subsidiarity, conditionality and conventionality are exchanged and standard English words shift in meaning so that control comes to mean check, assist means attend, execute means carry out, actual replaces current and resume can mean both re-start and sum up. Perhaps in time it is this dialect which will come to dominate in practice while the official languages remain as they are today. Well-meaning attempts to introduce an alternative common language have so far come to nothing. A petition calling for the artificial language Esperanto to be added to the official list has received only 12, 383 signatures to date – in an EU population of around 450m.

In the Guardian this week Tess Reidy has been considering the fate of English post-Brexit and pace Juncker, with the help of experts and some contributions by me. Her article is here…

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/may/24/which-language-would-ease-our-way-in-the-post-brexit-world

The EU is well aware of the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of its own communication practices, as evidenced by its recognition of the jargon issue…

http://termcoord.eu/2014/06/eurojargon/

Though it took the BBC to decode the global English jargon of the Davos summit:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42791874

Here from the European Court of Auditors is a very useful guide to EU misuses of the English language…

https://wordstodeeds.com/2017/06/02/guide-to-misuse-of-english/

Here are some further thoughts from Marko Modiano of Gävle University, published in September 2017…

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/weng.12264/full

 

 

And, in November 2017, a challenging, if possibly slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion from Italy…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/25/eu-should-force-uk-give-us-english-language-brexit-former-italian/

Michael Swan took issue last year with the way the notion of ‘English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)’ is often presented:

http://www.eltresearchbites.com/201802-rethinking-english-as-a-lingua-franca/#comments

And here, should there be any doubt is the very latest confirmation, from Esther Bond writing in slator,  that English is not about to lose its official status:

https://slator.com/demand-drivers/eu-provides-clarity-on-post-brexit-future-for-english-language/

Finally, for any readers who are actively engaging with EU and other terminology (as translators, interpreters or proofreaders for example), here’s a useful list of online resources…

http://albionlanguages.com/best-online-terminology-resources/