A DRILL DICTIONARY

By their keywords shall thee know them?

Image result for drill music

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

Image result for London knife crime headlines

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

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

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

Since beginning this project I have managed to engage with some members of this subculture and find out more about their values and the way they encode them. In the meantime I have begun to assemble a lexicon of the most significant key terms they use, in a slang which mixes US hiphop argot and Caribbean expressions transposed to or reinvented in London (harking back to the Yardie gang culture of the 1980s). So far just a glossary, my list is far from complete, so please help me add more items if you can, or correct my mistakes. Here is this work in progress as it stands, now updated for July 2020, followed by some relevant links…

125 – scooter

Active dependable associate

involved in gang activities

Ahk, Akhibrother, friend (from Arabic)

Ammcannabis (abbreviation of Amnesia, a potent strain)

Back outdraw (a weapon)

Baggedcaught by the police

Baggingstabbing in the lower body

Bally, Balibalaclava

Bandoabandoned property

Bandscoloured elastic bands tying batches of cash

Bangerhit, successful song

Bapthe sound of  a shot or gunfire

 – to fire (a gun)

Barslyrics

Beefdispute, feud

Bellsbullets

Birded off, birded up  –  imprisoned

Bitzone’s neighbourhood

drugs weighing more than 7 grams

Blamshoot

Blowleave, escape

‘take off’, achieve career success

Bluntcannabis cigarette

Bonesdead

Booj, bujheroin

Bookie, bukisuspicious

Bora, borerknife

Boxprison

Bozzleader

excellent

Breeze offleave town, disappear

Bruck, brukbroken (down), broke

Bruckshotsawn-off shotgun

Buj – obnoxious person

Bunlight up (a cannabis cigarette)

 – shoot, eliminate

Burnergun

Burstshoot

Cabby – cigarette containing cannabis and cocaine or cannabis and crack mix

Cakecrack or cocaine

Canprison

Car, cahbecause

CBOcriminal behaviour order

Cheffed (up)stabbed, killed

Chetemachete

Chingknife

to stab

Chingingchilling and hanging out

stabbing

Civilian non-gang-member, non-combatant

Codes‘postcode areas’, zones where gangs dominate

Cornammunition

Crashraid, invade

shoot

Crashing cornshooting your gun

Crocannabis

Cunchout-of-town locations where drugs can be sold

Cuttinleaving, running away

mixing or adulterating illicit drugs

Dashthrow

run (away)

Dasheenrunning away, fleeing

Diligentadmirable, brave, cool

dependable associate

Ding dongdispute, brawl

also dinger, dinga, dingcheap car

Dippedstabbed

Dipperknife

Donrespected person

Dottie, Dotty, Dotzshotgun

Doughnutidiot

Drawn outinvolved in gang culture, under pressure from street crime

lured, rendered vulnerable

Drenchedstabbed

Drillershooter, gang member

Drillingattacking, aggressing, invading

Dumpyshotgun

Dunkill(ed), punish(ed)

Duppykill, dead

Elizabethmoney

Endzone’s neighbourhood

4-doorsaloon car

Fedspolice

Fielddanger-zone, combat area

Fishinglooking for victims

Flakecocaine

Flashedstopped, pulled over e.g by police

Fooddrugs

Fryshoot (at)

Gassedexcited

g-checkaggressively check someone’s gang credentials

Gemweak person

Get the dropacquire necessary information

Glidedrive into enemy territory

GM(fellow) gang member

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

Gotattacked, robbed

Grubbyauthentic, tough (neighbourhood)

Guvprison officer

Gwopmoney

Hand tingpistol

Hittergunman

Iron  – gun

Jakespolice

Jump outundercover police on patrol

emerge from a vehicle

Juicedconfident, energised

bloodstained

Khalablack person

Khalas!  – ‘that’s enough’, stop!

Ketchupblood

Kick down doors, kick in doors, kick doorraid a domestic location

Kwef – violence

Kweff, Queffkill with gun or knife, harm, attack

Kwengcut, stabbed

Lackingcaught unawares, without backup

Layersprotective clothing

Leggin (it) – escaping, running away

Lenggun

Let ripfire a bullet or discharge a firearm

Linkcontact, source for drugs

make contact with, meet, collect

Lurkstalk a victim, prowl around

Machinegun

Mac(k)automatic firearm, Mac -9 or Mac-10 small machine gun

Mainsclose companions

streets, neighbourhood

Mashgun

Maticgun

Matrixedplaced on the London Met police gang database

Mazza, Mazzaleenmadness, crazy situation

Mentsmental, crazy

Moistdisgusting, pathetic

cowardly, weak, afraid

Moplarge gun

Nankknife, stab

Needcannabis

No facemasked, with identity concealed

OJ‘on job’, productive and successful in street activities

On paperson parole or probation

On roadoutdoors, active in the streets/neighbourhood(s), eg engaged in selling drugs

On tagfitted with an electronic surveillance device

On voltsintent on or engaged in violence

Ootersshooters

Oppsenemies

Opp-blockenemy territory

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

Oxrazor, blade

Pagan, paigonuntrustworthy person, enemy

Paper, papesmoney, cash

Patchterritory

Pattyslow-witted, ‘clueless’ or deluded person

(white) female

Pavestreets

Pebs, pebblespellets or deals of heroin, crack or steroids

Pedmoped

Penprison

Pepperspray with shotgun pellets or bullets, shoot

Plug –  a contact for drugs

Plugginghiding drugs in rectum

Poke stab

Poleshotgun, gun

Popopolice

Posted uphanging around, positioned to sell drugs

Preeto check out, assess (a person)

Properexcellent, admirable

Psmoney

Push, pushabicycle

Put in a spliff killed

Rack – quantity of money, £1000

Rambolarge knife or machete

Rams, Ramsayknife

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

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

Riding dirtygoing out armed and/or in possession of drugs

Roadstreet-smart, active in street culture

Rustyantique firearm

Score kill or injure an enemy

Scoreboard, scorecardlist of enemies killed, injured or defeated

Scramgun

Scrumattractive female, sex

Shankknife

Sh, shh‘don’t mention this’, censored item

Shavedinsulted, humiliated, punished

stabbed

Shotbuyer of drugs

Shotting  – dealing drugs

Shoutsgreetings, acclaim

Skate, skeetrun away

Skengknifegun, weapon

Skududurapid gunfire

Slammerprison

Slewruin, defeat

Slidingdriving into enemy territory

Smokekill

disappear

conflict, violence, hostility

Snitchinformer

Soak  – stab

Spinnerrevolver

Spinnerspetite females

Spittingrapping

Splash, splash up, splash downstab

Squirtspray acid (over someone)

Stackslarge quantities of money

Stainrob

 – robbery victim

Stepping on toestrespassing on or attacking enemy territory

Stickgun

Stickydangerous

Stonesbullets, pellets of crack

Strallygun

Strapgun

Striparea where drugs are traded

Swimmingstabbed

Swingwield (a knife), stab

Swordknife

Tapped  – tired

Tec, tek, tekkyhandgun, Tec-9 semi-automatic pistol

Ten toesrun away, escape, invade, on foot

Throwing up signsmaking gang-related gestures with fingers

Tinggirl

gun

Trapneighbourhood, ‘ghetto’, area where drugs are sold, temporary location for dealing drugs

Trappinghanging out, selling drugs or waiting for buyers to contact

Trey, trepistol

Tum-tumgun

Tweedcannabis

24sall day

Wapgun

Warheadcigarette containing a drug

Wassstupid person

Westonhandgun

Whipcar

– break down (a drug) into smaller parts

Wooshshoot

Worksybusy, diligent

Yatgirl

Yaycrack

personal style, skill

Yuteyoung person or young people on the street

Zombie zombie knife

Zootcannabis cigarette

I’m keen to add more authentic terms and for my list to be corrected or commented on by those in the know. I’m very grateful indeed to all those who have already contributed, in particular Josh Jolly,  Creative Director for PressPlay Media, Farhaz Jensen and Nelson Bayomy and to the many students and Drill and Grime aficionados who have donated language.

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

https://genius.com/15983458

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

And from the mouths of the Drillers themselves:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As does this short film:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View at Medium.com

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

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

Here is an update on the subject from the Guardian:

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

In July 2019, from the Telegraph;

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/07/11/youtube-will-keep-drill-rap-videos-platform-despite-links-gang/

And in August Irena Barker reports in the Guardian on a scheme using drill with a positive spin:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/21/knife-crime-drill-music-tackle-gang-culture-young-people

More from Ciaran Thapar, also in the Guardian, on rappers OFB:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/sep/06/uk-drill-rappers-ofb-no-one-helps-us-round-here-music-is-the-only-way?CMP=share_btn_tw

In October 2019 the slang words themselves were highlighted in the sentencing of a rapper:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7594837/Drill-rapper-banned-using-drug-related-slang-words-performing.html

 

SLANG, ‘PATOIS’ AND – ONCE AGAIN – THE CASE OF ‘MLE’

 

Image result for multiethnic London youth

 

To coincide with this year’s Notting Hill Carnival I was interviewed by Sanjana Varghese and her excellent article in the New Statesman is here: 

http://www.newstatesman.com/2017/08/big-mle-origins-londons-21st-century-slang

Developing further some of the ideas in Sanjana’s article, and based on our exchanges, here are some more thoughts on the subject of multiethnic language, in a ‘question-and-answer’ format:

 

1.  What exactly is ‘MLE’?

 

The term MLE, coined in connection with Paul Kerswill and Jenny Cheshire’s research on dialect in 2004, describes a ‘social dialect’, ‘sociolect’ or informal spoken style of UK English used initially by ‘younger’ speakers and first identified in and first associated with London. This way of speaking is characterised by a vocabulary reflecting a high degree of ‘black’ (Caribbean English, terms possibly coined by afrocaribbean speakers in the UK, to a lesser extent US black ‘street’ language and hip hop terminology) influences and by intonation patterns and certain pronunciations which differ markedly from standard UK English and differ also from ‘traditional white working class’ accents although they retain some features such as glottal stops and ‘f’ instead of ‘th’. In lay terms, MLE appears to have a ‘lilting’, more regular intonation, resembling Caribbean and also South Asian speech, with some noticeable ‘cockney’ elements too. Its structure and syntax (‘grammar’) may display ‘deviations’ from traditionally ‘correct’ taught forms and the prestige dialects of ‘standard’ English and RP (received pronunciation). In terms of vocabulary, samples I have collected can contain up to 80% of Caribbean (so-called ‘patois’, but this is a slightly contentious term; it can be used dismissively by whites, though is happily employed by Jamaicans themselves) or other BAME lexis such as Somali, South Asian and in some isolated cases a few Turkish and Polish terms.

 

The designation MLE is well-known and widely used but, especially since this kind of speech (it is still largely a spoken variety of language, though increasingly appearing in writing in music lyrics and TV scripts and online forums and messaging) is no longer restricted to London and the core vocabulary in particular has spread to speakers all across the UK, some linguists prefer to call it Urban British English (UBE) or Urban Vernacular(s) or refer to it as a ‘multiethnolect’. It is now understood that mixed varieties of the same type have appeared in other European centres, and those in Germany (influenced by Turkish), France (influenced by North African and Arabic language)  and Scandinavia (Turkish, Arabic, Somali) in particular are the subject of research. These forms of language tend to include a high level of what can also be termed ‘slang’, ie very informal and deliberately opaque codes generated by peer groups, gangs and ‘microniches’ such as gamers, skaters, cosplayers.

 

2. How has it managed to pervade British youth culture?

 

In the 60s and 70s Caribbean English was only encountered in subcultures and popular culture via Calypso and Ska and Reggae music. Younger black speakers tended to be ‘ghettoised’ and tended to reinforce their own exclusivity by not mixing much with other subcultures – even the mods and skinheads who admired their music, so there was little spreading of black language. This began to change with the Two-Tone movement of the early 1980s, while in school playgrounds, on the street and in clubs, black speech began to gain social – at least subcultural – prestige, with young black males seen as the most resistant to the dominant culture. By the 1990s this tendency had combined with the rise of breakdancing, rap and its associated style displays (headgear, footwear, ‘bling’, etc.) USA to make it an overriding fashionable ‘wave’ carrying with it its own terminology. At street level in London I recorded white working class schoolkids in the 1990s using more and more ‘Jafaican’ (horrible pejorative term though it is) – crossing and codeswitching with what teachers called ‘creole’, ‘recreolised lexis’ or ‘patois’ in their conversations. By the later 1990s Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Ali G was satirising this speech and the poses and style affectations that went with it. In the 2000s the ascent of UK Grime music along with influences and buzzwords from US hip hop reinforced the same tendencies, while in subsequent years social media and showbiz played a part, though the essential language was still coming from the street, particularly in London from gang culture and spreading by word of mouth. Although the tabloid press and broadcast has picked up on the phenomena they have not contributed significantly to actually propagating MLE.

 

3. Why has MLE attracted so much attention when other kinds of dialect change are common?

 

MLE is associated with social unrest, crime and what in the 60s was called transgression and ‘deviancy’, therefore lends itself to sensationalising  (and mockery too) by the media and displays of staged disapproval by representatives of the status quo (see for instance statements – and prohibitions – by educationalists, politicians, conservative journalists). ‘MLE’ is also much more important and pervasive in bestowing subcultural capital than any other instances of dialect change (which tend to operate in the regional margins and away from the attention of metropolitans), so in its own milieux and nationally it has overwhelmed other – relatively minor – changes in the lexicon or in phonology. Other forms of language change which are significant are the abbreviated codes (YOLO, FOMO, smh, obvs, etc.) and US slang (‘slay’, ‘woke’, ‘lit’, ‘(on) fleek’) used by young people on social media, and the faux-fashionable journalese use of jargon (‘Brexit’, ‘yummy-mummy’, ‘silver surfers’, etc.)

 

4. Is MLE unique to London and to English?

 

As noted above the same language phenomena are being observed in all global urban environments, most similarly in other diverse European capitals. In the UK MLE-like language is being studied particularly in Manchester (see e.g the work of Dr Rob Drummond and the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies) and Birmingham, but even in rural villages many kids are now familiar with the core terms (‘bare’, ‘peng’, ‘allow it’, ‘hench’ etc). Sadly, too, many entirely innocent British teenagers are familiar with the latest slang names of knives, guns and drugs.

 

5. Why are the borrowings in MLE overwhelmingly from Jamaica?

 

The Ali G persona was satirising what were then derided on the street as ‘wannabes’ or ‘wiggas’ (white niggas), pretending to be black, therefore cool. Gautam Malkani’s novel ‘Londonstani’ drew upon hybridity to mock a white boy pretending to be a cool Asian – actually a much rarer occurrence. Although Bhangra and Bhangramuffin music were briefly popular, as were musicians such as Apache Indian,  Asian Dub Foundation and  Jazzy B, South Asian pop culture, music and language has not challenged the domination of Afrocaribbean influence on MLE, hasn’t really crossed over despite Malkani.

The South Asian and Chinese and Japanese communities, Turkish and Somali and Polish communities for example just don’t have the same subcultural glamour and image of resistance and transgression, and therefore linguistic prestige as those with links to the Caribbean. It’s also very important that Caribbean speech is a variety of English, not a ‘foreign’ language, therefore very accessible and closely related, albeit with a very different sound.

 

6. Can the growth of this kind of multiethnolect be attributed solely to immigration?

 

The emergence of this type of mixed code, with accompanying informal lexicon and novel pronunciations is also about the dwindling within the UK of traditional social, cultural and linguistic authorities, the conditions of superdiversity in which people live and a new assertion of ‘minority’ identities, new access to media and communication. There are no longer power-groups within society or cultural influencers who have the capability of stemming or proscribing language change or enforcing disapproval of informal, provocative behaviour. Even when particular schools ban the use of slang, they are only momentarily affecting a very small segment of society.

 

7. Should we be worried by this particular aspect of language change?

 

From a purely objective linguistic perspective, language change, variation and innovation is not worrying. It’s a natural process, indeed a fascinating process and worthy of study. For someone like me, a lexicographer collecting slang and new language, new forms and new usages, as in the very dynamic and complex MLE matrix, are illustrations of the established workings of the language – the technical potential of English to create novel forms and combinations, also managing the well-known functions of language – to judge, to categorise, to help bonding and reinforce identities; the stylistic performance of language in terms of rhetoric, irony, poetics, etc.

BUT anything that is seen as part of a culture of crime, violence, drug abuse, family breakdown, even if it is more a product than a cause, will worry many people. Any significant changes in language will disturb and destabilise many people for whom their grasp of and usage of language is a fundamental part of their identity (often seen as something essential and unchanging, even if it isn’t really). For these reasons it’s not enough for linguists (or any liberals, ‘progressives’, descriptivists, etc.) simply to dismiss the concerns of traditionalists and conservatives – and ordinary worried parents, teachers and others.  Given that you can’t legislate against such language, it’s important to study it, debate and discuss it and see it for what it is.

One possible reassurance is that MLE has been seen as a temporary, developmental, transitional practice, just as youth slang has been assumed to be something that young people grow out of once they enter the adult world of work, family and other responsibilities. I have written that the vocabulary of multiethnic slang is inherently unlikely to persist into adulthood, dealing as it does with adolescent concerns: dating, sex, experimentation, illicit practices and managing prestige and competition within teenage gangs for instance. My colleague at King’s College London, sociolinguist and discourse specialist Professor Ben Rampton has, however, shown in small-scale studies that some of the features of MLE, in particular the practice of ‘crossing’ or code-switching between languages in mid conversation, may not be confined to ‘youth’ and may not be discarded in that way*. For me, this possibility most obviously relates to its intonation and pronunciation which I think may well come to have a pervasive influence in many circles in the UK, possibly changing ‘mainstream’ English in years to come. This can already be seen not just in young white and Asian people consciously imitating the sound of Jamaican, but in a new rhythm and emphasis in everyday speech which is shared by a wide variety of young adults, so that if you hear but can’t see the speaker, it’s impossible to determine their ethnicity. This was nicely satirised by the TV comedy series PhoneShop but is now really the case in diverse communities like Croydon, the fictional setting for the show, and a few elements of which are showing up in reality TV abominations like Love Island.

For most linguists the yardsticks by which we judge language are not ‘correctness’ or association with prestige – ‘poshness’ in other words, but just two criteria: ‘intelligibility’ (is it mutually comprehensible?) and more importantly ‘appropriacy’ (is it the right kind of language to fit the social context?). If you apply the notion of appropriacy there’s nothing inherently bad about MLE, or slang, providing it is used in a suitable setting, such as a school playground, club, on the street, in private banter, and not in school essays, exams, job interviews, formal encounters, in front of your Gran, etc.

 

*Some sociolinguists think that focusing on ‘youth language’ itself is discriminatory and is creating false categories. I have been criticised myself, both by conservatives for celebrating ‘ghetto language’ and one or two linguists who accused me of labelling the young and their behaviour. All I can say is that young people I have interviewed have very often referred to multi-ethnic slang as ‘our language’, the language of ‘the youth’.

 

Image result for youth at Notting Hill carnival

 

Three years later, in 2020, I talked to Audrey Damier about MLE, slang and London youth.

Her article for The Londoner is here: 

DO YOU SPEAK MLE?

(NOT) Girls’ Talk

 

Gal-dem, also galsdem or gyalsdem, refers in London’s multiethnic street-talk to a group of females (mansdem is the male counterpart). It’s also the name of a magazine for women of colour. I talked to Faima Bakar about the street attitudes that mean that girls are criticised for using slang and profanity while boys use them with impunity. The topic relates both to MLE, the mixed urban dialect favoured by many young people, and Banter, a hot issue again in 2016. Both of these are treated elsewhere on this site, but here’s Faima’s article on boys and slang

 

http://www.gal-dem.com/girls-talk-street-tell-my-man-shut-up/