An Antique Perspective: Slang in 1997

One of my tasks during this strange summer of 2021 was to try to recover old files and folders, deleted in error from my archive at King’s College London during a redesign of the website. Among them was a tour d’horizon of the characteristics and significance of Slang, written in 1997. Now an antique curio, I thought nevertheless it might be worth reproducing here for anyone teaching or learning about slang, or simply interested in that variety of language, so that comparisons could be made and conclusions might be drawn.

338 TATTOO - 1997 | Facebook

SLANG AND THE DICTIONARY


Tony Thorne  

Slang … an attempt of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express itself illimitably … the wholesome fermentation or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away, though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallise.

  Walt Whitman, 1885

What is slang?

 Most of us think that we recognise slang when we hear it or see it, but exactly how slang is defined and which terms should or should not be listed under that heading continue to be the subject of debate in the bar-room as much as in the classroom or university seminar. To arrive at a working definition of slang the first edition of the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang approached the phenomenon from two slightly different angles. Firstly, slang is a style category within the language which occupies an extreme position on the spectrum of formality. Slang is at the end of the line; it lies beyond mere informality or colloquialism, where language is considered too racy, raffish, novel or unsavoury for use in conversation with strangers … So slang enforces intimacy. It often performs an important social function which is to include into or exclude from the intimate circle, using forms of language through which speakers identify with or function within social sub-groups, ranging from surfers, schoolchildren and yuppies, to criminals, drinkers and fornicators. These remain the essential features of slang at the end of the 1990s, although its extreme informality may now seem less shocking than it used to, and its users now include ravers, rappers and net-heads along with the miscreants traditionally cited.

There are other characteristics which have been used to delimit slang, but these may often be the result of prejudice and misunderstanding and not percipience. Slang has been referred to again and again as ‘illegitimate’, ‘low and disreputable’ and condemned by serious writers as ‘a sign and a cause of mental atrophy’(Oliver Wendell Holmes), ‘the advertisement of mental poverty’(James C. Fernal). Its in-built unorthodoxy has led to the assumption that slang in all its incarnations (metaphors, euphemisms, taboo words, catchphrases, nicknames, abbreviations and the rest) is somehow inherently substandard and unwholesome. But linguists and lexicographers cannot (or at least, should not) stigmatise words in the way that society may stigmatise the users of those words and, looked at objectively, slang is no more reprehensible than poetry, with which it has much in common in its creative playing with the conventions and mechanisms of language, its manipulation of metonymy, synechdoche, irony, its wit and inventiveness. In understanding this, and also that slang is a natural product of those ‘processes eternally active in language’, Walt Whitman was ahead of his time.

More recently some writers (Halliday being an influential example) have claimed that the essence of slang is that it is language used in conscious opposition to authority. But slang does not have to be subversive; it may simply encode a shared experience, celebrate a common outlook which may be based as much on (relatively) innocent enjoyment (by, for instance, schoolchildren, drinkers, sports fans, Internet-users) as on illicit activities. Much slang, in fact, functions as an alternative vocabulary, replacing standard terms with more forceful, emotive or interesting versions just for the fun of it: hooter or conk for nose, mutt or pooch for dog, ankle-biter or crumb-snatcher for child are instances. Still hoping to find a defining characteristic, other experts have seized upon the rapid turnover of slang words and announced that this is the key element at work; that slang is concerned with faddishness and that its here-today-gone-tomorrow components are ungraspable and by implication inconsequential. Although novelty and innovation are very important in slang, a close examination of the whole lexicon reveals that, as Whitman had noted, it is not necessarily transient at all. The word punk, for example, has survived in the linguistic underground since the seventeenth century and among the slang synonyms for money – dosh, ackers, spondulicks, rhino, pelf – which were popular in the City of London in the early 1990s are many which are more than a hundred years old. A well-known word like cool in its slang sense is still in use (and has been adopted by other languages, too), although it first appeared around eighty years ago.

Curiously, despite the public’s increasing fascination for slang, as evinced in newspaper and magazine articles and radio programmes, academic linguists in the UK have hitherto shunned it as a field of study. This may be due to a lingering conservatism, or to the fact that it is the standard varieties of English that have to be taught, but whatever the reasons the situation is very different elsewhere. In the US and Australia the study of slang is part of the curriculum in many institutions, in France, Spain, Holland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe slang, and especially the slang of English, is the subject of more and more research projects and student theses; in all these places slang is discussed in symposia and in learned journals, while in Russia, China and Japan local editions of British and American slang dictionaries can be found on school bookshelves and in university libraries.

 Slang Lexicographers

The first glossaries or lexicons of European slang on record were lists of the verbal curiosities used by thieves and ne’er-do-wells which were compiled in Germany and France in the fifteenth century. A hundred years later the first English collections appeared under the titles The Hye Waye to the Spytell House, by Copland, Fraternite of Vacabondes, by Awdeley, and Caveat for Common Cursetours, by Harman. Although dramatists and pamphleteers of seventeenth-century England made spirited use of slang in their works, it was not until the very end of the 1600s that the next important compilation, the first real dictionary of slang, appeared. This was A New Dictionary of the Terms ancient and modern of the Canting Crew by ‘B. E. Gent’, a writer whose real identity is lost to us. In 1785, Captain Francis Grose published the first edition of his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, the most important contribution to slang lexicography until John Camden Hotten’s Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words, 1859, which was overtaken its turn by Farmer and Henley’s more sophisticated Slang and its Analogues in 1890. All these were published in Britain and it was the New Zealander Eric Partridge’s single-handed masterwork A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, also published in London, in 1937, that, despite its lack of citations and sometimes eccentric etymologies, became the yardstick of slang scholarship at least until the arrival of more rigorously organised compendiums from the USA in the 1950s. Since then several larger reference works have been published, usually confining themselves to one geographical area and based mainly on written sources, together with a number of smaller, often excellent specialist dictionaries dealing with categories such as naval slang, Glaswegian slang, rhyming slang, the argot of police and criminals and the jargon of finance and high technology.

 The Bloomsbury Dictionary Of Contemporary Slang

The Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang was first produced with the idea of combining the enthusiasms and instincts of a user of slang – someone who had been part of the subcultures and milieux where this language variety has flourished ( and in later life still ventures into clubs, bars, music festivals, football matches and, on occasion, homeless shelters) – with the methods of the modern lexicographer (earlier work on the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English being a particular influence) and applied linguist. The first edition set out to record the 6,000 or so key terms and 15,000-odd definitions which formed the core of worldwide English language slang from 1950 to 1990: the new, updated edition, published in Autumn 1997, extends the time-frame almost to the millennium and expands the number of entries by two thousand, losing a few obscure, doubtfully attested or just plain uninteresting terms in the process. The dictionary aims to pick up the elusive and picturesque figures of speech that really are in use out there in the multiple anglophone speech communities, and many terms which appear in its pages have never been recorded before. In keeping with the modern principles of dictionary-making, the headwords which are listed here are defined as far as possible in natural, discursive language. The modern dictionary ideally moves beyond mere definition and tries to show how a term functions in the language, who uses it and when and why, what special associations or overtones it may have, perhaps even how it is pronounced. Where possible a history of the word and an indication of its origin will be included and its usage illustrated by an authentic citation or an invented exemplary phrase or sentence.

As with all similar dictionaries, the Bloomsbury volume is based to some extent on consulting written sources such as newspapers, magazines, comic books, novels and works of non-fiction. Other secondary sources of slang are TV and radio programmes, films and song lyrics. Existing glossaries compiled by researchers, by journalists and by Internet enthusiasts were also checked, but treated, like fictional texts and broadcasts, with caution; investigators may be misled by their informants and, as society becomes more self-conscious in its treatment of new and unorthodox language, varieties of so-called slang appear that are only partly authentic, such as the gushing ‘teen-talk’ (a variety of journalese) appearing in UK magazines like Just Seventeen, My Guy or Sugar directed by twenty- and thirty-something journalists at their much younger readers, or the argot developed by writers for cult movies such as Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Wayne’s World and Clueless. The embellishing or inventing of slang is nothing new; Damon Runyon, Raymond Chandler and P. G. Wodehouse all indulged in it, as did British TV comedy writers for Porridge, Minder, Only Fools and Horses, etc., over the last three decades. For the Bloomsbury dictionary terms have been admitted if they can be verified from two or more sources, thereby, sadly, shutting out examples of idiolect (one person’s private language), restricted sociolects (terms shared by very small groups) and nonce terms (one-off coinages).

Any description of slang that is based purely on secondary or written sources (and most still are) cannot hope to do justice to a language which is primarily transmitted orally. Slang terms may exist in spoken usage for many years, even for centuries, before being written down; some are never committed to paper, so there is an absolute need for work ‘in the field’ with primary sources; eavesdropping on and interviewing the users of slang themselves, and, where they are not able to report objectively on the words and phrases they are using, their neighbours, parents, colleagues, fellow-students and friends must be mobilised. This is the most exciting part of lexicography, if sometimes the most risky. The modern language researchers going undercover to listen in on conversations or setting up networks of informants at street-level can imagine themselves as successors to the pioneering anthropologists of the last century, rather than ‘harmless drudges’ (Dr Johnson’s memorable definition of the lexicographer) toiling alone in dusty libraries or staring at flickering screens.

Slang at the Millennium

The traditional breeding grounds of slang have always been secretive, often disenfranchised social groups and closed institutions with their rituals and codes. This has not changed, although the users in question have. Where once it was the armed forces, the public schools and Oxbridge that in Britain dominated socially and linguistically, now it is the media, the comprehensive playground and the new universities which exercise most influence on popular language: the office, the trading-floor and the computer-room have replaced the workshop, the factory and the street-market as nurturing environments for slang. The street gang and the prison, whence came nearly all the ‘cant’ that filled the early glossaries, still provide a great volume of slang, as do the subcultures of rave, techno and jungle music, crusties and new agers, skaters and snowboarders. Football metaphors and in-jokes have long since ousted the cricketing imagery of yesteryear. Some special types of slang including pig-latin, infixing, and backslang (reversal, as in yob) seem virtually to have disappeared in the last few years, while the rhyming slang which arose in the early Victorian age continues to flourish in Britain and Australia, replenished by succeeding generations, and the even older parlyaree or polari (a romance/romany/yiddish lingua franca) lingers on in corners of London’s theatre-land and gay community. The effect of the media and more recently of the Internet means that slang in English can no longer be seen as a set of discrete localised dialects, but as a continuum or a bundle of overlapping vocabularies stretching from North America and the Caribbean through Ireland and the UK on to South Africa, South and East Asia and Australasia. Each of these communities has its own peculiarities of speech, but instantaneous communications and the effect of English language movies, TV soaps and music means that there is a core of slang that is common to all of them and into which they can feed. The feeding in still comes mainly from the US, and to a lesser extent Britain and Australia; slang from other areas and the slang of minorities in the larger communities has yet to make much impression on global English, with one significant exception. That is the black slang which buzzes between Brooklyn, Trenchtown, Brixton and Soweto before, in many cases, crossing over to pervade the language of the underworld, teenagers ( – it is the single largest source for current adolescent slang in both the UK and US), the music industry and showbusiness. Within one country previously obscure local slang can become nationally known, whether spread by the bush telegraph that has always linked schools and colleges or by the media: Brookside, Coronation Street, Rab C. Nesbitt and Viz magazine have all helped in disseminating British regionalisms. This mixing-up of national and local means that past assumptions about usage may no longer hold true: the earnest English traveller, having learned that fag and bum mean something else in North America, now finds that in fashionable US campus-speak they can actually mean cigarette and backside. In the meantime the alert American in Britain learns that cigarettes have become tabs or biffs and backside is now often rendered by the Jamaican batty

Speakers of English everywhere seem to have become more liberal, admitting more and more slang into their unselfconscious everyday speech; gobsmacked, O.T.T, wimp and sorted can now be heard among the respectable British middle-aged; terms such as horny and bullshit which were not so long ago considered vulgar in the extreme are now heard regularly on radio and television, while former taboo terms, notably the ubiquitous British shag , occur even in the conversation of young ladies. In Oakland, California, the liberalising process reached new extremes late in 1996 with the promotion of so-called Ebonics : black street speech given equal status with the language of the dominant white culture. 

Youthspeak

The greatest number of new terms appearing in the new edition of the dictionary are used by adolescents and children, the group in society most given to celebrating heightened sensations, new experiences and to renaming the features of their world, as well as mocking anyone less interesting or younger or older than themselves. But the rigid generation gap which used to operate in the family and school has to some extent disappeared. Children still distance themselves from their parents and other authority figures by their use of a secret code, but the boomers – the baby boom generation – grew up identifying themselves with subversion and liberalism and, now that they are parents in their turn, many of them are unwilling either to disapprove of or to give up the use of slang, picking up their children’s words (often much to the latters’ embarrassment) and evolving their own family-based language (helicopters, velcroids, howlers, chap-esses are examples).

The main obsessions among slang users of all ages, as revealed by word counts, have not changed; intoxication by drink or drugs throws up (no pun intended) the largest number of synonyms; lashed, langered, mullered and hooted are recent additions to this part of the lexicon. These are followed by words related to sex and romance –copping off, out trouting, on the sniff and jam, lam, slam and the rest – and the many vogue terms of approval that go in and out of fashion among the young (in Britain ace, brill, wicked and phat have given way to top, mint, fit and dope which are themselves on the way out at the time of writing). The number of nicknames for money, bollers, boyz, beer-tokens, squirt and spon among them, has predictably increased since the materialist 1980s and adolescent concern with identity-building and status-confirming continues to produce a host of dismissive epithets for the unfortunate misfit, some of which, like wendy, spod, licker, are confined to the school environment while others, such as trainspotter, anorak and geek, have crossed over into generalised usage.

Other obsessions are more curious; is it the North American housewife’s hygiene fetish which has given us more than a dozen terms (dust-bunny, dust-kitty, ghost-turd, etc.) for the balls of fluff found on an unswept floor, where British English has only one (beggars velvet)? Why do speakers in post-industrial Britain and Australia still need a dozen or more words to denote the flakes of dung that hang from the rear of sheep and other mammals, words like dags, dangleberries, dingleberries, jub-nuts, winnets and wittens? Teenagers have their fixations, finding wigs (toop, syrup, Irish, rug) and haemorrhoids (farmers, Emma Freuds, nauticals) particularly hilarious. A final curiosity is the appearance in teenage speech fashionable vogue terms which are actually much older than their users realise: once again referring to money, British youth has come up with luka ( the humorous pejorative “filthy lucre” in a new guise), Americans with duckets (formerly “ducats”, the Venetian gold coins used all over Renaissance Europe).

 This introductory article is adapted from the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, 2nd edition, 1997.

MTV VMAs: Flashback to the 1997 show | EW.com

For other articles on Slang on this site see below or enter keyword (slang, MLE, youth language) in the search box

ALL THE YOUNG DUDES: CAN KIDS SAFELY LEARN…SLANG??

I have been trying to tell the world for a long time that slang is a rich, creative and complex feature of language, and one which has great social and cultural significance. I have argued (again and again) against those who want to ban or censor it and have advocated instead teaching young people about it so that they can judge for themselves its qualities and refine their own usage of it where necessary. What I have hesitated to do is to actually ‘teach slang’ to younger learners, knowing that it is still a controversial (linguists use terms like ‘stigmatised’ and ‘transgressive’) variety which makes many parents, teachers and authority figures uncomfortable. Connie Chang, writing for the National Geographic asked me whether it could ever be possible to teach slang to younger children without risk. In her published article, quoting experts in the field, she describes some interesting developments which suggest a positive answer.

Here is Connie’s article, followed by some further thoughts and some links which illustrate and explore the issues raised. I hope these, along with other articles on this site (put ‘slang‘, ‘MLE‘, ‘youth language‘ into the search box or check the tags at the foot of the page) will help students and teachers, and language-buffs, too, who are ready to explore the language ecosystem in which slang flourishes and operates…

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/family/article/dude-your-kids-slang-isnt-as-bad-as-you-think

Teen Slang: The Complete Parent's Guide + Infographic | by Netsanity

Experimenting with language and inventing new language begins naturally in children as soon as they move from making noises to uttering more complex sounds. The creation by babies of seemingly meaningful sound combinations and, soon after, approximations of words is known as jargoning. Toddlers will make up words, participate in babytalk and banter and soon join their older siblings and other family members in inventing nicknames for objects in the home – part of the private domestic language known as familect. As young people encounter new experiences in growing up – dating, grappling with parents and teachers, following fashions and admiring celebrities, and experiment with new behaviour – they often feel they need a new language to describe these things and to convey the novel and intense feelings they have. Adults don’t have a vocabulary for ‘jumping up and grabbing someone’s sweater from behind’, (‘glomping’) or ‘coolest boy in the class’, (‘peng-ting’) so kids need to create their own. Young people also don’t want adults to know what they are up to or what they are feeling, hence the online and messaging codes and abbreviations (‘POS’ for ‘parent over shoulder’, ‘FOMO’ for fear of missing out) and the new, exotic and, for parents and teachers, impenetrable language. In the UK and the US there have been many not-entirely-serious guides for parents to help them…

https://www.dove.com/uk/dove-self-esteem-project/help-for-parents/family-friends-and-relationships/a-guide-to-understanding-teenage-language.html

Slang’s power and resonance is that it’s an alternative, subversive language and that for people who don’t understand it, slang can make them uncomfortable and can feel like a violation of social norms. The 19th century US author Ambrose Bierce defined slang in his Devil’s Dictionary as follows: ‘The grunt of the human hog (Pignoramus intolerabilis) with an audible memory. The speech of one who utters with his tongue what he thinks with his ear, and feels the pride of a creator in accomplishing the feat of a parrot. A means (under Providence) of setting up as a wit without a capital of sense.’  He may have been being ironic but this was certainly the view of many at that time, witness this report of a Victorian lecture…

Strong disapproval of slang continues in the 21st century. Some years ago I debated with Lindsey Johns, at that time campaigning publicly against those like me who he accused of promoting ‘ghetto grammar’ in the UK…

https://www.standard.co.uk/hp/front/ghetto-grammar-robs-the-young-of-a-proper-voice-6433284.html

In the US linguistic conservatism takes many forms…

https://www.eater.com/2014/11/11/7193179/chick-fil-a-manager-bans-unprofessional-teen-slang

Not all recent commentaries are condemnations: here, an interesting take on the significance of slang for young speakers with autism…

https://jtrebat.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/teaching-slang-and-idioms/

‘WOKE’ NOT WOKE

activism, slang and politics collide, and a slur goes viral

The Woke and the Un-Woke - Tablet Magazine

UK feature-writer Sirin Kale took to Twitter last week to voice a complaint heard often recently, particularly from the ‘left’ and ‘centre-left’: ‘I would really like it if people stopped using “anti-woke” and “woke” as lazy journalistic descriptors when they can’t be bothered to actually spell out what a person’s views are. Say what they believe and the reader can decide for ourselves what we think of it.’ In the ensuing conversation @yoyomorena was blunt: ‘The sooner we can understand ‘woke’ as the anti-black, racist code it has become, the sooner we can get back to normal lives.’ Yesterday, on the same platform, a query by Tom Whyman pointed up the way a once-proud self-ascription by the socially aware had fully transited to become the go-to pejorative for conservative journalists and politicians, fighting back, as they see it, against an array of enemies: ‘Is it me or have the right wing press in the past few weeks started using the word ‘woke’ as if it refers to an organised political tendency, as opposed to just a loosely arranged constellation of things they don’t like?’ As if to furnish instant corroboration a Telegraph headline of the same date announced…

Image result for Citizens advice service' launches to help employees in woke

Citizens advice service’ launches to help employees in woke workplaces

The organisation will provide help to ‘casualties of the culture wars’

London journalist Kate Ng had asked me about the same red-flag-buzzword last week and her subsequent piece in the Independent is here…

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/woke-meaning-word-history-b1790787.html

As it has morphed from positive to negative in its connotations, (by 2019 Urban Dictionary‘s top definitions were emphatically negative: ‘The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue’ and ‘Deluded or fake awareness’) woke has spawned elaborations along the way: woke-washing, by analogy with whitewashing and greenwashing, was coined to describe brands attempting to use, or at least proclaim, a concern for social justice as a marketing strategy; wokerati, woke-worthies and woke warriors dismiss critics of white privilege and social inequality, while Wokeahontas was invented in the US to define and mock a female enthusiast for native American rights.

The question that Kate and I had discussed briefly has not, I think, been raised before: must the victims of sneering and jeering by powerful opponents abandon their identity label, attempt somehow to reclaim it, or find a substitute for it? I canvassed an assortment of people, most of them it must be said not identifying as conservatives, on possible candidates to replace ‘woke’. Nobody suggested the words that progressives of my own generation once embraced; ‘radical’ or ‘liberationist’, but this is no surprise. The first now sounds ambiguous while the second was appropriated by neocons and conservatives in the US more than a decade ago. No real workable favourites emerged and no consensus was reached, but the formulations we considered are gathered in this wordcloud for what it’s worth…

An earlier article in the Guardian traces in some detail the trajectory that ‘woke’ has undergone, with useful comments on the controversies accompanying its mutation…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/nov/21/how-woke-became-the-word-of-our-era

Why Any Literate Person Should Never Use the Word 'Woke' Ungrammatically -  Daily Squib

In March, after two months of articles in the conservative press excoriating the ‘woke agenda’ and its followers, came news, via the Sun, that steps were being taken to curb the influence of leftwing comedy…

https://www.thesun.co.uk/tv/14311062/bbc-tim-davie-axes-nish-kumar-the-mash-report/

In April Clyde McGrady wrote in The Washington Post about the parallel history of ‘cancel’, conservative America’s scare-word of choice…

And in the Guardian Evan Smith suggested that the UK right’s ‘war on woke’ is nothing new…

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/apr/21/conservatives-war-on-woke-loony-left-political-correctness?CMP=fb_cif

Finally, in late April, I came across a Twitter thread by Joshua Adams which sets out perceptively and pithily the links between the word’s transitions and Black responses to it…

JOSHUA@JournoJoshua Hope folks realize that a part of the reason the Right pounced on “woke” and now use it as a meaningless catch-all pejorative is because folks on the Left stripped it from its context in the Black experience, and made it mean “excessive social awareness.” It didn’t mean that.

LAST WORDS (ON 2020)?

The annual end-of-year competition by publishers, lexicographers and linguists to nominate a Word Of The Year, thereby excite debate and, just perhaps, sell some dictionaries into an exhausted and impoverished marketplace took on a new poignancy, if that’s the right word, in 2020. The usual pontificators and publicists set out their selections from among the cloud of neologisms and repurposings generated by COVID, Brexit and BLM. Oxford Dictionaries broke with tradition, having listed their contenders, to announce that no single term could do justice to the year – a sentiment I very much agree with.

The same roundup of 2020’s language novelties was taking place in other places. Here’s my friend Licia Corbolante‘s Italian perspective…

word cloud 2020

Elsewhere on this site are my own successive reports on #coronaspeak as it has developed and mutated since February. Some of my examples (in fact rather a lot of my examples) were featured in a late piece in the Independent

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-glossary-covid-terms-dictionary-2020-b1766827.html

For francophone friends here is a French perspective on the unprecedented conjunction of Brexit and COVID facing the UK. In it my collaborator RTL/RF1 correspondent Marie Billon also comments on Word Of The Year with a momentary intervention by me…

https://www.rfi.fr/fr/podcasts/accents-d-europe/20201216-brexit-les-entreprises-et-les-expatri%C3%A9s-inquiets-face-aux-incertitudes?ref=tw

Much as I appreciate Licia’s and the Independent’s wordclouds, in signing off I couldn’t do better than gratefully reproduce the Guardian’s version, featuring the terms chosen by its readers to epitomise this plague year…

Word of the year poll: Guardian readers describe 2020 as 'shit' | Australia  news | The Guardian

…oh, and by the way, my word of the year, for what it’s worth, is vaccine.

On the last day of the year (and, though few have noticed, of the decade) I was given, by Euronews TV‘s Good Morning Europe programme one more chance to pontificate on the subject…

https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/31/lockdown-social-distancing-quarantini-dissecting-the-2020-pandemic-lingo

(the video link in the article is hard to find. It’s here: https://www.euronews.com/video/2020/12/31/lockdown-social-distancing-quarantini-dissecting-the-2020-pandemic-lingo)

GANGS, SLANGS – AND DRILL

An update on the unusual role of an ‘expert linguist witness’

UK gang members | Gang member, Gang crime, Gang culture

Elsewhere on this site I have written about the ‘street slang‘ used by gang members and other young people in the UK, a variety of language also featuring in the lyrics of Drill and other rap music genres. In October 2020 I was invited by the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics to talk about my role in translating and commenting on this language in the context of criminal investigations and trials.

My contribution to this event, with those of other specialists, together with some answers to follow-up questions from the virtual audience can be accessed here…

https://www2.aston.ac.uk/lss/research/lss-research/forensic-linguistics/research-seminars/new-urban-varieties

Trapped in the Gangs Matrix | Amnesty International UK

The prosecution of actual or supposed gang members, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds and are victims themselves of coercion, trafficking, even modern slavery, is hugely controversial, as are attempts by some law enforcers to criminalise Drill music, its performers and its enthusiasts and the language that it uses.*

Rap lyrics appear to be poetic or literary texts, and may be fictional, but many professional rappers and their amateur imitators routinely mix creative fiction conventions, metaphors and imagery with real-life facts, introducing real names and references to real places, incidents and actions for ‘authenticity’ and effect. They also frequently borrow or steal images, words and whole sequences from other rappers, and impersonate actors in the real world such as killers or drug dealers who they have learned about from media reports or by word of mouth on the street.

Even more confusingly, many young rap enthusiasts nowadays use the language of rap and its lyrical conventions when they are communicating in quite different contexts. I have encountered many examples of messages between friends, entries in journals or prison notebooks, editing an online persona for chatting in forums, etc. that use words, phrases and references familiar from lyrics as used in audio/video music performances.

There are now academics and activists seeking to question official attitudes to the policing of youth crime and to question the validity of presenting rap or rap-related lyrics as evidence of wrongdoing.* There are also currently many agencies, charities and other stakeholders working with young victims, young perpetrators and their families and friends in order to analyse, publicise and seek solutions for the social stresses that foster gang culture. For my small part, I’m concerned, though, that these efforts, even the well organised periodic campaigns by police to control and reduce ‘knife crime,’ are still piecemeal and only partially coordinated across the country.

Trapped in the Gangs Matrix | Amnesty International UK

In November I talked on the same subject at Warwick University‘s Applied Linguistics Seminar…

May be an image of 1 person and hair

One month on, and a small sign that mainstream media may be paying a little more attention to gang realities…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/newsbeat-55302854?__twitter_impression=true

*In May 2021 many of these issues were summarised in a post by Keir Monteith QC…

https://www.gardencourtchambers.co.uk/news/rap-and-the-states-double-whammy-lack-of-expert-challenge-to-racist-stereotyping

Finally, Krept and Konan’s 2019 commentary on the driller’s culture and attempts to ban drill lyrics. Essential reading/listening for anyone struggling to untangle the unresolved complexities of the issue…

https://beelyrics.net/music/12136-krept-konan/4628167-ban-drill-lyrics.html

WE CAN BE HEROES

Medieval Female Scribe - Archaeology Magazine

In 1821 the poet Shelley claimed that poets were – are – ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’ I would not for a moment dispute that, but would add others to the list of unsung heroes, essential to our cultural wellbeing but toiling in obscurity and anonymity. Lexicographers, despite Dr Johnson‘s dismissal of us as ‘harmless drudges’, translators, interpreters, editors all deserve the gratitude of everyone who reads, perhaps even deserve a metaphorical moment in the sun.

I was given another chance to venture into the late summer sunshine by translation specialist and editor Isabella Massardo who asked me about life as a drudge and about other topical issues...

I was also interviewed by Marie Billon, UK correspondent for RTL and RFI, about the latest British ‘portmanteau’ acronyms and jargon, now attempting to describe the co-occurrence of the pandemic and the final stages of the Brexit process (my contribution, partly in rusty French, is at 14 minutes in)…

https://www.rfi.fr/fr/podcasts/20200916-covid-19-comment-%C3%A9viter-la-deuxi%C3%A8me-vague

There are other hitherto little-known or unknown linguists – teachers, students, language enthusiasts among them – who also deserve our attention. One such, Sameer Merali, interviewed another such – Zobia, a real life user of youth slang – and me for his SLANGuage podcast series…

Mind your language: Here's how you can stop being basic and learn Gen Z  slang for a lit experience - art and culture - Hindustan Times

In October I took part in a debate on current language issues, hosted by Cumberland House. The discussion ranged across the language of ethnicity, diversity and inclusion, the language of youth and the notion of ‘political correctness’ and the policing of comedy and creativity…

https://www.cumberlandlodge.ac.uk/read-watch-listen/dialogue-debate-mind-your-language?fbclid=IwAR2A0_WH6AU3SVNvUjDqqhwZYs2ytYnUVvZ-vSG7yuwK6sLqLGRhg9Q6HFA

To return to the poor lexicographer’s standing, or lack of it, an eminent practitioner of the craft, Jeremy Butterfield, sent this resonant quote on the subject…

“Dictionary-making, while it obviously demands high scholarly qualifications, is commonly regarded as the graveyard of academic careers, and it is precisely those who have what it takes to whom we would be most loath to commend such an undertaking.” – Prof. W. Atkinson (1902-1992), Glasgow University 1961

The End of Summer in Locktown

FIRST REFLECTIONS ON CORONATIMES

7525CC9A-6E1E-4569-926F-CF9C6803D955_Tony Thorne

Ironically, the self-isolation I have been practising for the last seven months did not mean that I was without work. Periods of WFH alternated with forays into an empty city. Youth crime subsided at first but did not disappear during the pandemic: importantly for me the gathering and analysis of evidence and preparations for trials involving gang violence continued, and I continued to help defence teams and prosecutors to interpret the language used in messaging and Drill lyrics generated by suspects living in gang environments (as described in earlier posts on this site). In April I wrote an article for the Magistrates Association about the relationships between language, youth and crime*

During my time in quarantine I continued to record and comment on the language of the pandemic itself as well as the toxic terminology of populist politics and racism. At the beginning of September the team at Lexis Podcast gave me a fresh opportunity to talk about these topics (my comments are in the second half of the recording)…

I had time, too, to write a profile of the humble, enigmatic London outsider artist, known only as Albert, for Raw Vision magazine…

https://rawvision.com/articles/ideal-homes-imaginary-elevations

Image

* THE WORD ON THE STREET

‘Bad language’ and why you should really try to keep up

Studies have shown that the language of the court can be intimidating and perplexing for some of those who pass through it. We naturally hope that all of those involved in legal proceedings have sufficient command of a language in common to conduct their business successfully. There are times, however, when language barriers become apparent and it becomes necessary to interpret, to translate – foreign tongues used by other nationalities of course – but also new and unfamiliar language originating in our own communities.

Language is something that we tend to take for granted; it’s a facility that every human possesses and uses constantly. In the workplace we have to depend on a shared understanding of language, whether formal, legalistic or conversational. Professional linguists, however, see language differently and distinguish not only between informal, conversational speech and formal or technical language, but between a ‘dialect’ – the language of a region, a ‘sociolect’ – the language of a particular group such as a specific profession, ethnic group, age-group or social class, and even an ‘idiolect’, the words, phrases and turns of speech favoured by a single individual.

The closer we look at the language people are using, the more potential there is for misunderstanding. There is the problem of keeping abreast of rapid changes – of learning new terms, making sense of popular entertainment catchphrases and reality TV references, for example (‘Love Island’ springs to mind). Perhaps the problem is most acute when it’s the language of another generation. Parents, teachers, police officers, too, struggle to make sense of the latest playground slang, gamers’ terminology and the bizarre expressions uttered by music fans, fashionistas and YouTube stars. Abbreviations used in texting and on social media  – YOLO, FOMO, SMH (‘you only live once’, ‘fear of missing out’, ‘shaking my head’) can also be baffling for older observers – not surprisingly because this sort of language is not designed to be understood by outsiders. Insiders use slang as a badge of identity to show that they belong to a particular group, equally it is used to exclude the people they don’t want to associate with; the old, the boring, the unfashionable and the unglamorous. Many users of slang, though, are surprisingly sensitive to what linguists call ‘appropriacy’ – matching their choice of language to the social situation – and wouldn’t employ a highly informal style in a formal setting such as a court. Problems arise when evidence involves language recorded in very different contexts.

If you struggle to understand the teenagers and young people around you when they call their schoolfriend a ‘durkboi’ or a ‘wasteman’ (both mean useless male) and try to cadge some ‘p’s’, ‘gwop’ or ‘Lizzies’ (all slang for money), you are not alone. There is a shared slang vocabulary that has established itself throughout the UK, often replacing colourful older usages (such as rhyming slang: ‘once a week’, a synonym of ‘beak’ or magistrate has disappeared) or local dialect. Popular words include ‘piff’, ‘peng’, ‘dench’, ‘gully’, all used to express admiration, ‘bare’ meaning many (as in ‘bare feds’ or ‘bare jakes‘, lots of police), ‘bait’ meaning obvious, ‘bruv’ and ‘fam’ denoting one’s friends or group. ‘Chirpsin’, ‘linkin’ and ‘lipsin’ refer to flirting, dating and kissing respectively.

New terms are being coined all the time because novelty is what gives the words their edgy, progressive quality, but, contrary to what many people assume, slang doesn’t fall out of use for years, it just moves from an older to a younger cohort; as it’s abandoned by the most self-consciously ‘cool’ it is picked up by the latecomers. A few parents and some teachers have managed to learn some of these terms, but trying to use them will inevitably provoke ridicule. In a 2017 survey only 4% of parents were able to successfully translate messaging slang, while 65% tried but repeatedly failed or misunderstood.

Slang, whether used covertly or out in the open, is a feature of all societies and languages and of all age-groups, too. It’s well established that those engaged in criminal activity, lawlessness or antisocial behaviour develop their own secret languages in order to communicate privately and to prevent outsiders from understanding these communications. Teenagers and young adults likewise develop their own slangs and restricted terminologies and often include vocabulary coined by gang members and criminals because it seems glamorous and daring. In the US and the UK highly informal youth-based dialects have arisen and the terminology in question is also used in music lyrics and on social media. The language of US rap and hip-hop music and UK–based varieties such as Grime or Drill music mixes AfricanCaribbean influences, especially Jamaican ‘patois’, with local colloquial speech and will be familiar to many young people, even those who are not engaged in antisocial or criminal activity. This kind of language is very rarely picked up by mainstream media, is not normally recorded in standard dictionaries and is difficult for linguists to collect. I do so by monitoring online messaging and online discussions among slang enthusiasts or slang users, examining music lyrics and, most importantly, by interviewing slang users themselves (as slang is still more a spoken than written variety) and asking them to give or send me examples of language used by them and their peers. Slang is not deficient language; it performs its functions efficiently in conveying meaning. However, because it is an underground, alternative code it is not subject to rules and authorities. This can often result in the same slang term having multiple meanings (hood, for example can refer to a criminal ‘hoodlum’ or to the neighbourhood in which they operate) and in meanings varying to some extent between one group of users and another. It also means that (because they are based on speech and not on written sources) the spellings of slang terms may vary and may be used inconsistently.

I have been collecting the slangs of adults and of younger speakers operating in all sorts of contexts, publishing a succession of dictionaries and articles over the years and teaching and broadcasting about these and other ‘nonstandard’ and controversial areas of language. As a linguist I became fascinated by a kind of language that, although exotic, anti-social, irreverent and frequently offensive is technically as complex and as creative as poetry or literature. It’s only by deciphering and understanding this sort of language – or rather these languages – that we can hope to enter the world of teenage cliques, young-adult in-groups and gangs, to come to make sense of their rituals and obsessions, their thoughts and feelings.

For more than a decade, and increasingly over the last five years I have been helping the police forces who are trying to control street crime and the lawyers who are defending those accused (nearly all of them still in their teens or early twenties). My task as a language analyst and an expert witness is to translate and comment on the slang terminology found on confiscated mobile phones, obtained by surveillance and electronic intercepts, or used in the course of live interviews. I’ve found that the officers in question and the legal representatives are dedicated, unprejudiced, painstaking and privately distressed by what they witness day-to-day. They may become familiar with the exotic, shocking language they are exposed to, but they require an expert objectively to interpret and assess the written or recorded evidence they work with, if necessary, too, an expert who can stand in court and testify on their or their clients’ behalf.

In looking at recordings of gang member’s conversations, for example, it’s crucial to know that a ‘burner’ or a ‘mash’ is a handgun; ‘dotty’ means shotgun, ‘Rambo’, ‘ramsay’, ‘cutter’, ‘shank’ or ‘nank’ is knife. When looking at jottings in a teenager’s notebook or listening to a hardcore Drill track recorded by a gang associate it’s essential to identify ‘trap’ as a term for selling drugs or the location where it takes place, ‘plug’ as a drug source, ‘dip’ as stab, ‘op’ as enemy, ‘duppy’ as kill, ‘dasheen’ as run away. The same words, catchphrases and slogans are shared across London and into other UK centres: the same gang culture with its obsession with status and respect, its territorial feuding and its violent tendencies seems to apply everywhere.

Nobody expects the average adult, even if an educated, articulate professional to be fluent either in the language of innocent teenagers or the criminal codes used by gang members. Where, then, can a legal professional or law enforcer go in order to get help with slang and street language? Standard published dictionaries do not offer much assistance, even dictionaries specialising in slang do not usually manage to keep up to date and to define and explain the latest terms. Magazine features purporting to explain what millennials and Generation Z are saying are invariably frivolous and inaccurate. One valuable resource is the online Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) a collection of language posted on the internet by real people. Its entries are up to date and usually authentic, but more than half of the expressions on the site originate in the USA and some of the posts are private jokes or local nicknames. There is a small dictionary of the language of rappers and gangsters on my own website (https://language-and-innovation.com/2018/04/19/a-drill-dictionary/), and I can answer general slang enquiries at The King’s College Archive if contacted at tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk.

#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral – 2

The second part of my Lockdown Lexicon, Covidictionary, Glossary of Coronacoinages

COVID-19 Updates - Alpha-1 Foundation

In trying to make sense of our new circumstances, under lockdown, in social isolation or distancing, we must come to terms with an array of new language, some of it unfamiliar and difficult to process, some pre-existing but deployed in new ways. Many of us, though, are empowering ourselves by inventing and exchanging our own expressions, some of which have already escaped the confines of the family or the virtual work group.

I listed in my last post some of the scientific and technical terms which have moved into everyday usage. Those can seem intimidating – for good reasons – but most have been readily understood.

This time I’m looking at the language that homeworkers and locked-down friends, families and individuals, in some cases journalists too, in English-speaking areas have coined to fill the gaps in the official narratives and to find ways of expressing concepts that simply didn’t apply a few weeks ago. This includes nicknames, jargon, slang, abbreviations, puns and recent catchphrases and clichés.

I have tried to categorise the terms: again, some have become familiar by now while others may remain mysterious to many. For the moment this is a work in progress – an ongoing project to track the language of the crisis and to operate a linguistic ‘rapid response’ in gathering data.

Although it is a first draft, I thought it important to publish the list now (you can find more on many of these expressions, which won’t appear in standard dictionaries for some time, simply by Googling) and to appeal for anyone reading it to send me new terms, either to this website or to Twitter @tonythorne007. As the list grows I will thank and credit as many contributors as I can.

These are the new expressions, in no particular order, but divided roughly according to theme or topic (there are some terms – isocosm, meaning the contracted reality we are now living in – is one, which could fit under several headings)…

Coronavirus: Supermarkets plan to cut services to stay open during ...

  1. Describing the new realities

Anthropause – the hiatus in human activities occasioned by the pandemic, seen in terms of its effects on nature, wildlife, etc.

Coronaverse (Guardian) – the now prevailing socio-economic order

Quarantimes – a hashtag or label for the prevailing circumstances under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic

#Coronatimes – a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter: the period we are presently living through

BCV, B.C – (the period) before corona(virus)

Common invisible enemy (NATO) – virus as a sinister threat to the collectivity

Coronapocalypse – the effects of coronavirus framed as catastrophe

Radical uncertainty – doubts and uncertainty around decision-making in an unknowable future (title of a work by John Kay and Mervyn King)

Viral anxiety (New Statesman) – fear and uncertainty, sometimes excessive, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and its ramifications

Disinformation pandemic – the spread of fake news and false theories

Infodemic – the accelerated spread of disinformation

The coronopticon (Economist) – the notion of a national or global system of surveillance and control

Biosurveillance – monitoring the occurrence of contagion in a population

Security hygiene – methods intended to counter online scams, frauds and misuse of AI

Digital vigilance – raising awareness of and guarding against cybercrime and fraudulent claims

#coronanoia – paranoia induced by conditions obtaining in the pandemic

Caremongering (Canada and India) – organised acts of kindness and propagation of good news by volunteers

Armchair virologist – an unqualified self-styled expert on viral spread dispensing explanations and/or advice

Coronasplaining – purporting to explain aspects of the coronavirus-induced crisis, particularly to those who understand it better than the explainer

Coronaspiracy theories – conspiracy theories circulating as a result of the spread of COVID-19

Pancession – a pandemic-associated widespread economic recession

Disaster capitalism – profiting, profiteering and exploitation in conditions of local and global crisis

Disaster altruism – acts of benevolence in response to local and global crisis

#lockdowners – individuals coping with life in conditions of isolation

Wobble room – a safe physical space designated for the use of those experiencing psychological distress

Corona warriors (India) – frontline professionals, also known as covid-19 warriors, working to control the pandemic

Covexit – an exit strategy permitting relaxing of confinement and economic recovery following coronavirus-related restrictions

Second wave – a resurgence in the number of cases of infection following the relaxation of initial containment procedures

Corona crunch – the dramatic impact of the pandemic on e.g university income, investment returns

Post-normal science – instances where crucial socioeconomic decisions must be made despite uncertainty as to the relevant scientific facts

Contagion chivalry (New York Times) – an act or acts of selflessness during confinement

Coronacoaster – successive feelings of elation and despair experienced under conditions of confinement

#coronaclickbait – marketing messages or invitations to read information playing on COVID-19 fears

Loxit – the process of exiting from lockdown impositions

Loxino – lockdown exit in name only: an only apparent or partial transition

Circuit-breakers – halting an exit from lockdown by closing re-opened venues or ceasing re-started activities

#unlockdown – the process of relaxing or ending social and physical restrictions, or the period following their ending; equivalent to, or translation of the French déconfinement

Coronaphobia (Daily Mail) – fear experienced by the public at the prospect of having to return to work, send children back to school, use public transport, etc.

Bubble – a social group, a small number of family members and/or friends or teachers and students permitted to interact while wider social constraints continue, also a geographical zone within which travel and trade is permitted

Coronawashing – corporations or individuals taking advantage of the pandemic to promote their altruism, philanthropy and achievements

Cleanliness theatre/er – conspicuously thorough cleaning of hotels, restaurants, etc., intended to reassure customers: if in hospitals and public places it is known as hygiene theatre/er

Vaccine nationalism – competing to discover and produce an antivirus vaccine (benefitting from prestige thus acquired) and potentially then restricting availability to one’s own citizens

Air bridge – a travel corridor between two or more states allowing passage without quarantine. In July 2020, amid confusion, official messaging began to substitute the phrase ‘international travel corridors’

Scarring – long term negative effects resulting from initial harm suffered during social and/or economic upheaval

Security theater (American) – measures that make individuals feel safer without necessarily actually protecting them: public temperature measuring and airport security procedures are examples

Lockstalgia (Times) – the notion that we may look back fondly upon the period of confinement

Clandestine barbers – hairdressers operating illicitly before being allowed to reopen after lockdown

Decompression – the release of inhibitions and surge in misbehaviour expected following the opening of UK pubs and restaurants on 4 July 2020

Safecation – a holiday in a destination thought to be safe while the pandemic continues elsewhere

Wet pubs (Irish) – pubs selling only drinks and not food, so the last to be allowed to open after lockdown

#casedemic – the suggestion that governments are misleadingly using case numbers rather than more meaningful indices in order to implement unnecessary restrictions in what is actually a waning pandemic

Tech-celeration – during 2020 the pandemic accelerated the adoption of many technological behaviours, from video-conferencing and online shopping to remote working and distance learning

Parklet – an extension of a city pavement to provide additional outdoor seating or leisure space when social distancing is enforced and indoor spaces are subject to restrictions

Risk normalisation – a relaxing of vigilance and compliance with regulations by a public now becoming used to pandemic conditions, observed in November 2020 in the UK

Vaccine hesitancy – a reluctance to take, or fear of the consequences of taking the coronavirus vaccine once available (e.g in the UK from December 2020)

Corona-compromised – (of an event) called off, postponed or abandoned due to the ongoing threat of the virus

Twindemic – a posited scenario in which an epidemic, such as COVID, is accompanied by an outbreak of a second infectious disease, such as human or non-human influenza

Pandemicide – gross negligence or deliberate strategy leading to widespread loss of life during the pandemic, a charge levelled at Donald Trump in a September 2020 publication

Coronasomnia (Washington Post) – sleeplessness as a result of anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic

Coronaversary – the anniversary, in mid-March 2021, of the first tangible reactions to, and realisation of the impact of COVID-19 infections

Vaccine bounce (New Statesman) – the upswing in approval ratings for the UK government following public perceptions of a successful vaccination programme

Re-entry syndrome – the stresses accompanying adjusting to emergence from lockdown

Scariant – a virus mutation or variant which is promoted as being alarming without adequate evidence

Jab-fest – a frantic launch of a large-scale vaccination programme as in India in April 2021

Surge-jabbing – an intensification of a vaccination programme to deal with a highly contagious new variant, as in the UK in May 20121

Variant of concern – a new and more dangerous virus strain

Exit wave – a resurgence in COVID infections predicted to follow an ending of restrictions, of the kind planned for July 19 2021 in the UK 

Immunity debt – the phenomenon whereby cases of other infectious diseases, such as norovirus, increase more than usual once protective measures against COVID are removed.

Breakthrough infections – cases in which individuals become infected despite having been vaccinated

Fauxvid – symptoms of malaise mistaken for COVID 

The Rona | Know Your Meme

  1. Nicknames

Rona, Lady Rona, Miss Rona, roni, rone – the coronavirus personified/familiarised

The rona – the coronavirus

The pandy – the global pandemic, (by Autumn 2020 sometimes in the form panny-D)

The pando (Australian) – the coronavirus pandemic

nCoV – the coronavirus in technical designation or shorthand

Boomer remover – the coronavirus viewed as a phenomenon resulting in the decimation of the babyboomer demographic

Nightingales – first used as a nickname for those singing or performing morale-boosting music from balconies, in gardens, later abandoned when the Nightingale emergency hospitals were opened (or rather, announced but not opened) across the UK

Long-haulers  – recovered victims of the virus who suffer long-term after-effects

Locky D – lockdown familiarised

Rat-lickers – those refusing to wear a mask (from the idea that potential victims of the bubonic plague licked rats to ward off infection)

Vaccine-hunters (CNN) – desperate individuals who, rather than wait for invitation to be vaccinated, stalk a pharmacy, hospital or other vaccination site in the hope of obtaining a leftover dose

Innoculati – the fortunate individuals who have already been vaccinated

Halfcinated – having received the first of two vaccine doses

  1. Slang

Miley Cyrus (UK rhyming slang) – coronavirus

Covidiot – a person behaving irresponsibly in conditions of containment

Morona – a person behaving stupidly because of or during the coronavirus outbreak

Coronalusional – suffering from disordered thinking as a result of or during the COVID-19 crisis

Sanny (Australian) – hand sanitiser

Iso (Australian) – (self-) isolation

Isobar (Australian) – a home bar stocked, displayed and/or depleted in confinement

Isodesk (Australian) – a workplace improvised or used in confinement

Coronacation – cessation of study or work due to the pandemic, viewed as a holiday

Corona break – a period of confinement envisaged as a short holiday

Drivecation – a holiday, typically in a motorhome, in one’s own driveway

Hamsterkaufing – stockpiling and/or hoarding (adapted from German)

Coronaspeck – extra girth resulting from overeating in confinement

The COVID 19(lbs) (American) – extra body weight accrued during quarantine

Quaz (Australian) – to quarantine (oneself)

Doomscrolling/doomsurfing – obsessively accessing upsetting news online

Coroanacuts – haircuts carried out at home, especially when less than successful

De-roning – attempting to remove traces of coronavirus by cleaning/disinfecting items that have recently entered the home

Zumped –‘dumped’ by a partner via videolink or otherwise online

Ronavation – renovation or refurbishment during lockdown, an Instragram hashtag

Coronacranky – short-tempered as a result of enduring lockdown

Flu bro (American) – a male coronavirus denier, from their assertion ‘It’s just the flu, bro.’

Quarandating (Canadian) – using cellular dating apps to meet people and go on virtual dates through platforms such as FaceTime

Zoombie – someone incapacitated by too much screen time, or a malicious disruptor of a videoconference

Quarantanning – sun bathing or using tanning equipment during confinement

Quaran-stream – binge-watch TV series, movies while enduring lockdown

Smizing – smiling with the eyes, as when wearing a facemask (a term coined by US celebrity Tyra Banks in 2009)

Spendemic – a dramatic increase in online shopping by those confined during the coronavirus crisis

Coronasshole – first applied in March 2020 to US panic buyers, then in June to US citizens refusing to wear masks. In July the synonym #maskhole began to trend on social media

Spreadneck (American) – an ignorant and/or stubborn anti-vaxxer

Maskulinity – a macho refusal to wear a face covering

Furlough Merlot – a red wine assuaging the anxiety of lockdown and WFH

Lockdown locks – long and /or unruly hair following months without cutting or styling

Blursday – an undifferentiated day or date due to uncertainty after long confinement and isolation

Airgasm – the intense pleasurable feeling experienced when able to remove a mask and breathe freely again

Vaxinista – someone who flaunts the fact that they have been vaccinated as if a fashion statement

Vaccine sommelier – a person delaying vaccination until they can choose their preferred brand of vaccine

Pinged – advised by the NHS phone app to self-isolate

Pandemic pants (Australian) – track-suit bottoms worn while locked down or WFH

Nerd immunity – the notion, based on studies reported in February 2021, that those wearing glasses are less susceptible to COVID infection

How to shift your conference online in light of the coronavirus ...

  1. Homeworking and teleconferencing

WFH, wfh – working from home

Productivity ninja – a stress-free, purposeful and high-achieving worker (title of work by Graham Allcott)

Covidpreneurs (Irish Times) – individuals or businesses succeeding in thriving and innovating  in a pandemic environment

Zoombombing – hijacking and/or interrupting videoconferencing on the Zoom platform

Slackers – remote workers using the Slack groupworking application(s)

Virtual backgrounding** – adjusting one’s visible décor for videoconferencing

Videofurbishing** – enhancing one’s décor prior to videoconferencing

Zoom room – part of one’s home kept clean and inviting for use as videocalling background

Quarantini – a martini mixed and consumed in conditions of confinement

Locktail hour – a time allotted to consumption of cocktails while isolating

Upperwear – clothing selected for display above the waist only

Telecommutercore (Guardian) – casual clothing selected for use when videoconferencing and/or home-based working

Infits – outfits worn in conditions of confinement

Quaransheen** – a shiny nose and/or forehead visible while engaged in videoconferencing

Zoomlift** – the cosmetic surgery supposedly required as soon as obligatory online interaction ends

Coronaviva – an oral examination or thesis defence taken online during lockdown

Quaranteams – groups forming and performing – music or competing in quizzes for example – together virtually during lockdown

Quaranqueens – a woman excelling during lockdown, particularly one excessively cleaning and tidying

Quarantrolls – individuals sending malicious online messages in conditions of and/or referring to quarantine

Quarantunes – music produced and/or performed under lockdown

Quaranzine – a magazine produced under lockdown

Coronalit – literature produced during/inspired by the pandemic

Corona-fi – fiction or science-fiction produced during/inspired by the pandemic

Zoom mullet – a hairstyle developed in lockdown which is ‘camera-ready’ (presentable to a webcam) at front and sides and dishevelled at the rear

#isobaking – home-baking in confinement and/or exchanging recipes: a hashtag on TikTok and Instagram

Zoomitzvah (Jewish Chronicle) – a bar mitzvah celebrated via video app in confinement

Homeference – a virtual conference that participants can attend remotely

Zoomed out – exhausted and/or disoriented after spending too much time in videoconferences

Zoom fatigue – a draining of energy resulting from the unusual stresses involved in interactions in virtual meetings

The wipe-away – the high-visibility handwaving that indicates the person is leaving a virtual meeting

Toxic productivity – the unfair expectation that professionals, creatives and others should be able to stay productive, even achieve more during adverse situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic

Uberise – to emulate Uber in moving to a system whereby employees decide which hours of the day they will plug in under the work from home model during the pandemic

The elephant in the Zoom – an unmentioned presence or unacknowledged issue in an online meeting, or an elephant themed background or video

Desk disco – defined by  translator and copywriter Ian Winick as ‘taking a few minutes out to boogie on down at your desk’

Hate-wear (New York Times) – clothing items, usually unfashionable, possibly also uncomfortable, worn in confinement for their utility rather than their style

Sadwear (Esquire) – ‘clothes that make us feel better when we’re sad, specifically born out of the existential ennui of lockdown’

Apocalypse beard (Guardian) – uncontrolled facial hair that can double as a face-warmer

Hybrid working – a combination of working remotely and on-site

WFA – working from anywhere. ‘It also used to be called telecommuting – that’s an example of how language changes over time, says Tracey Fritcher, principal strategist of employee experience at ServiceNow.’ Their useful glossary, published by the Guardian, is here****

  1. Demographics

Coronials – The generation born after December 2020 as a result of the enforced quarantining of their parents due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Gen(eration) C – in 2018 designated young ‘connected consumers’, now may refer to young people coming of age since the onset of the coronavirus crisis

Quaranteens – the generation who will become teenagers in 2033 -4

Coronavirus Pandemic: 7 Social Distancing-Friendly Activities To ...

  1. Security measures

Elbump – an elbow contact in place of handshaking or other physical greeting

Coronadodge – swerving to avoid passers-by to comply with distance restrictions

Couple-spreading – couples permitted under regulations to walk together taking up excessive space in public places

Covid waltz – manoeuvring to avoid close contact with passers-by while distance restrictions are in place

Loopholing (South African) – exploiting imprecisions or allowances in distancing restrictions in order to travel

Overreaching – enforcing crisis-related regulations too zealously

Yob-dobbing – reporting someone’s antisocial behaviour to authorities

Ronadobbing (Australian) – informing on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Coronasnitching ** – informing on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Covidobbing** – informing on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Coronagrass** – a person who informs on those contravening crisis-related restrictions

Curtain-twitching – peering at and/or spying on neighbours

Corona-shaming (New York Times) – publicly criticising those, particularly celebrities, who have infringed public health regulations

Masklessness – wearing no face-covering, in US often as a gesture of defiance and/or disbelief in standard pandemic narratives and official advice

Whack-a-mole – a piecemeal response to a major problem, such as ad hoc local lockdowns in the context of a second wave of infection

Cohorting  – imposed grouping of health care workers and others, for example teachers and students working together or prisoners and guards, who are potentially susceptible to viral infection

Covid marshals – officials sent to public locations to enforce new UK social distancing rules from September 2020

Lockdown light  – used in Germany and elsewhere in October 2020 to describe a set of restrictions on movement and behaviour that falls short of a full lockdown

Tier 4 – an upgrading of the UK’s three-tier pandemic management system of graduated local lockdowns to a national lockdown, envisaged from November 2020

Mockdown – a term trending in November 2020 and again in January 2021 indicating a lockdown that is insufficiently enforced and/or widely disregarded

Coronavirus UK latest from Downing Street as death toll passes ...

  1. Inappropriate terms

The China virus

Tsunami

Epicenter (NY)

Herd (UK Government)

Cull (Telegraph)

Supersurge

Plague

Coronacoma (New York Times)

War metaphors – see https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2020/03/17/metaphors-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/

Body count

Take it on the chin (Boris Johnson)

Take one for the team (Stanley Johnson)

Operation last gasp (Boris Johnson)

Brave fighter

The great leveller

Following the science (UK Government) ***

Green shoots (UK Government advisor)

Blitz spirit

Over interpreting

Lockdown Stasi (Daily Mail)

Perfect storm

Wet market

#Scamdemic, #shamdemic, #Plannedemic, #Coronascam – hashtags used by US conspiracy theorists attempting to discredit orthodox narratives of the pandemic

Invisible mugger (Boris Johnson)

Good British common sense (Boris Johnson)

PPE equipment

Hiding at home

#SecondCummings

World-beating track-and-trace operation (Boris Johnson)

Muzzle

Mutant algorithm (Boris Johnson)

Moonshot (UK Government)

The last chance saloon

Panicdemic (Peter Hitchens)

…not take the foot off the neck of the beast (Boris Johnson)

V-day

Ahead of the curve (Priti Patel)

Plague Island

Let the bodies pile high in their thousands (Boris Johnson, allegedly)

The Indian variant

Freedom Day

Big Bang 

Demob happy (Boris Johnson)

Learn to live with the virus

The Johnson variant

Pingdemic 

Cower (Sajid Javid)

  1. Emoji

https://emojipedia.org/coronavirus/

‘You know how Gen Z are using ‘cornteen’ as a playful misspelling of ‘quarantine’? This is now reflected in the emoji spelling 🌽 Ear Of Corn Emojiteen.’

In Spain and Italy the combination 👑🦠 is used, as ‘corona’ is their word for crown

  1. Recently trending terms

Unprecedented

Cataclysm(ic)

Hunker down

Ramp up

Mobilisation

Cabin fever

Stir-crazy

Dark days

Strange days/times

Uncertain times

The new normal

Exit strategy

Bounceback/bounce back

Behind the curve

Calamitous

Infinite present

Snap back

Game changer

Gaslighting

Easing

Hubris

Obfuscation

Evolving

Mandatory

The Before Time(s)

U-turns

Fatigue

Compliance

Trying times

AI could help with the next pandemic—but not with this one | MIT ...

*Quote: “When some idiot second guesses a specialist, e.g. when a cartoonist pronounces on epidemiology lessons: to stay in your lane you must know your lane”

**These are terms which have been proposed in online discussions but which may not yet have embedded themselves in the national conversation

  *** From forensic linguist Professor Tim Grant; “following the science” There’s no such thing as “the science”. Scientific conclusions are often subtle and slippery. This phrase is being used to avoid responsibility by those taking political decisions. It’s the job of scientists to question, to disagree, to propose alternative explanations, alternative conclusions, to bring to the fore additional evidence that hasn’t been noticed. It’s the job of politicians to weigh this mess of conflictual evidence and make decisions. This decision making is hard and requires taking responsibility. Using “following the science” as cover, is spin doctoring of the worst kind. It’s cowardly, distancing, its-not-my-fault playing politics with this appalling crisis. It’s a failure of political leadership.    

**** The very useful glossary of WFH and office-related terms published in the Guardian in July 2021https://www.theguardian.com/lets-workflow-it/2021/jul/12/free-range-worker-to-zoom-bombing-your-complete-guide-to-the-new-office-jargon

 

 

Global Outbreak Word Cloud Concept Stock Photo, Picture And ...

It was gratifying in mid-April to see my studies referenced – very informally – in two of the UK’s highest circulation newspapers

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8232123/Covid-19-pandemic-triggers-new-wave-coronaspeak-slang.html

And to talk – very informally again – on the subject on Canadian radio

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-april-22-2020-1.5540906/covidiots-quarantinis-linguist-explains-how-covid-19-has-infected-our-language-1.5540914

More recently Michael Skapinker discussed covid-related language innovation in the Financial Times

https://www.ft.com/content/b7a6b3f0-830b-11ea-b872-8db45d5f6714?fbclid=IwAR3GXQS1esBzN1EZxf2LVgjXAjoZzG4kbqyopdKQ5yj0tWEArzQsWMT89GA

Peter Bakker and his colleagues at the University of Aarhus, Denmark have kindly shared their (not entirely serious) compilation of COVID-related language novelties…

COVIDictionary. Your go-to dictionary in times of Coronavirus and COVID-19

And Alice Moldovan, with input from Howie Manns and me, highlights Anglo-Australian rhyming slang…

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-14/miley-cyrus-coronavirus-covid19-cockney-rhyming-slang/12324930

In July 2020 Dutch news site NU.nl featured coronacoinages, with contributions by Ton den Boon and me…

https://www.nu.nl/281763/video/quarantinderen-en-toogviroloog-hoe-corona-de-taal-verrijkte.html

In July 2020 the New Yorker published its own guide to coronaspeak. While the content is amusing, I will not be adding these terms to my glossary until I’m sure they are in circulation among users other than journalists…

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/07/20/lexicon-for-a-pandemic

Although it’s distasteful to someone of my puritan sensibilities, I should also include this link to the Economist‘s guide to pandemic dating jargon…

https://www.economist.com/1843/2020/07/15/pandating-coronavirus-and-the-language-of-love

In  August 2020 one of the first, if not the first, academic studies of COVID-related neologisms appeared, with a very useful multilingual bibliography:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/english-today/article/englishbased-coroneologisms/99D6DA8CF3E953D1C3BC4B9EE574EE9C

In October students at UCL London posted a very useful update on COVID-related nicknames and slang:

https://thetab.com/uk/london/2020/10/15/the-quaran-dictionary-all-the-best-and-worst-slang-from-the-pandemic-37521

 

DE-CODING SUPER SATURDAY’S BREXIT MOMENT

Today, we are told, is ‘Super Saturday’: not the last Saturday before Christmas, a bumper time for retailers, but an extraordinary weekend sitting of the UK parliament, only the third since the outbreak of World War 2 and this time to debate what one commentator has risked dubbing the ‘Brexit Moment’. Connoisseurs of new and exotic language can add to Super Saturday and Brexit Moment a pair of novel expressions trending in the same context: ‘greased piglet’ was the epithet bestowed by former PM David Cameron on his successor, explaining  that ‘the thing about the greased piglet is that he manages to slip through other people’s hands where mere mortals fail.’ The piglet himself appealed this morning for our ‘better angels’ to heal divisions (and do his bidding), a slightly puzzling evocation of Abraham Lincoln’s ringing words: ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’

Image result for greased piglet

To accompany this morning’s unfolding developments RTE Radio asked me to record a commentary on these and other language innovations for their Irish listeners, and this is what I said…

https://www.rte.ie/radio/radioplayer/html5/#/radio1/21639391

A slightly longer version of the script…

In struggling to keep abreast of the momentous events, the dramatic political developments generated recently by populism on both sides of the Atlantic, we have all of us  had to contend, too, with a rising tide of new language – exotic and unfamiliar new terms, old terms repurposed and weaponised, slang, jargon, catchphrases and slogans coming at us on a scale and at a speed not seen before in my lifetime.

I have been collecting the language of Trumpism, of Brexit and of the new alignments in politics, society and the media. I’m doing this because, as a linguist and a dictionary-maker it’s my responsibility not only to record but to make sense of new language, not only looking at its simple definitions but at its deeper, sometimes hidden implications and the hidden agendas and real intentions of the people who are using it.

I’m compiling what I call a glossary of the toxic terminology of populism*, a list of over 400 words and expressions which is growing by the day. Just a few moments ago I added the phrase ‘mediaeval methods’, a euphemism for torture used yesterday by the UK government to describe what they intend to apply to get MPs to back their latest Brexit deal.

George Orwell long ago exposed the twisting of truth and the hypocrisies of political language, but he was living in a much much simpler world. The language I am working with – novel notions like the Backstop, new idioms like dog-whistle and dogpile, jargon like identitarian, pathocracy or factuality – is not straightforward and not neutral or innocent. These are expressions designed to describe a changing social landscape, but also often designed to baffle, to bamboozle and confuse, to manipulate us. This of course is not new – the language of advertising and of politics has been doing this for a long time, but the multichannels, platforms and outlets and the multimedia techniques employed are far more pervasive and sophisticated than ever before.

Americans refer to words as ‘skunked’ if their meanings have become distorted and they become toxified, so that elite, metropolitan and cosmopolitan, snowflake and melt become slurs; libertarian, which once meant progressive, now refers to the far right, politically correct and social justice warrior and virtue-signalling are insults. When Boris Johnson calls his predecessor a girly swot, accuses a critic of humbug, the cosy, dated words are uttered with barely concealed venom.

Image result for girly swot molesworth

In the UK we still prize a sense of humour and some terms do sound lighthearted: cakeism is wanting to have your cake and eat it  – this time used by the EU against the UK for once – when Jeremy Corbyn is described as a magic grandpa or the absolute boy, the comments are double-edged to say the least. The so-called centrist dad (I’m probably one myself) is not just an ageing moderate but a feeble, cowardly enabler of the far right; magic money tree and unicorn are definitely not meant to be funny, and gammon** describes a ruddy-faced apopleptic male, invariably a Brexit supporter, but the word is an expression of genuine hate by the left.

There are some ironic phrases I find funny despite their serious intent: one is ‘Airfix Patriotism’ – Airfix sold plastic kits in the 50s and 60s for making model warplanes, and dads and kids would buy them and stick them together  with glue, evoking the heroic actions of pilots in the second world war – the patriotic rantings of the right today have been seen as based not on any understanding of our history but on a caricatured, kitsch vision of a heroic past. In the same way Ladybird libertarians base their false memories of an idyllic England on the beautiful watercolour illustrations in the Ladybird childrens books and on comics and tea-towels rather than social realities.

The terms that irritate me, though, are the clichés, catchphrases and slogans endlessly repeated; take back control, get it done, the will of the people, Brexit means Brexit…

There are scientific, technical-sounding words being bandied about which actually describe frightening changes in power relations: ethnonationalism, nativism, pathocracy (the rule of sociopaths and psychopaths), sadopopulism (strongman rulers who end up victimising even their own supporters) and even homonationalism – the co-opting of LGBT issues to advance a racist ideology.

Donald Trump is famous for the crudity of his language, but the metaphors used in political discourse in the UK have also moved further and further into the realm of conflict, warfare, occupation and collaboration: first directed at our supposed enemies in the EU, traitor, betrayal, saboteur are now aimed at anyone at home – quitlings or quislings – rabble – who fails to toe the party line with enough enthusiasm. Academics in the US and UK are analysing the rhetoric and the metaphors but tend to discuss these things with each other I want to talk to the public, to make people more aware.

Of course new circumstances do demand new language and some expressions just fill what linguists call a ‘lexical gap’ in the language: both-sidesism, whataboutery, de-platforming, cancel culture all were coined to describe concepts that didn’t exist or weren’t so important in the past, the whole vocabulary of Brexit, including the word itself is unprecedented. It sometimes feels as if our whole reality is unprecedented, and we, whether we lean to the right or to the left, just wish it would stop, but it’s not over yet: inevitably there will be much more verbiage, rhetoric, toxic terminology, to come…

*https://language-and-innovation.com/2018/08/23/a-glossary-of-skunked-terms-brexitspeak-and-the-toxic-terminology-of-populism/

**https://language-and-innovation.com/2018/05/15/gammon-up-against-the-wall/

 

Image result for greased piglet

A FRESH START – the lingo of the local(e)

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.

Image result for King's College london students

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

Image result for student graffiti

The full list of phrases and downloadable study sets can be found at:

http://www.quizlet.com/en-gb/content/british-slang

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.

Image result for King's College london students

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

Image result for the young ones

Tony Thorne 

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.

Image result for King's College london students

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

Gazing…relaxing

Jawache, grab, snork…to kiss

Oof…a stunningly attractive female

Pants…disappointing or unlucky

Pukka, rated…excellent

Shtenkie…disgusting

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