KNIFE CRIME AND GANG SLANG

 

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How could an obscure, elderly linguist have anything relevant to contribute to the debate now – belatedly – taking place on knife crime in the UK? It is many many years since I hung out, ineffectually feigning menace, with a gang of suburban mods (in the days when ‘bovver boots’ were the only dangerous item of subcultural paraphernalia), many years since I taught in an inner city London school and watched as younger teens gradually became disaffected and detached from family life and adult society. Much later I investigated and wrote about the successive waves of tribal youth culture – hippies, neo-teddy boys, punks, new romantics, rave aficionados, hiphop enthusiasts and the rest – who occupied the space reserved for ‘folk devil’ in the periodic ‘moral panics’ that the grownup public, with the help of the media, has always indulged in.

I was always interested in the outward signs and symbols, the accessories and the poses that these groups used to design and to project their identities, simultaneously signalling their belonging and their rejection of outsiders. I was more than anything interested in the special language that they used, generally characterised as ‘slang’, to communicate with one another and to baffle and dismay their perceived enemies – parents, teachers, the forces of social conformity in general.

 

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It’s only by deciphering and understanding this sort of language – or rather these languages – that we can hope to enter the world of peer-groups, in-groups and gangs, to come to make sense of their rituals and obsessions, their thoughts and feelings. I have collected 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 such as business jargon, fashion and lifestyle buzzwords and the ‘weasel words’ of politicians.

 

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I wrote last year about the distressing, frightening language used by members of street gangs who identify with the Drill music genre, and on this site you can find my updated dictionary of the terms they and their followers and imitators use, terms which many other quite innocent and uninvolved young people will be familiar with, but which are alien and incomprehensible to most adults. There are links to news articles accompanying the Drill Dictionary, and other articles on youth slang and so-called MLE on this site too.

https://language-and-innovation.com/2018/04/19/a-drill-dictionary/

The phenomenon of Drill, to a lesser extent of Grime music and the gangs who use their style of rap and hiphop songwriting and recording, is so closely linked to the knife crime ‘epidemic’ that is being discussed as I write, that the connection can’t be downplayed or ignored. Today’s gangs, with their territorial disputes, drug-based economies and hypermasculine culture of bragging and ‘dissing’ differ from earlier incarnations in that they declare their allegiances and flaunt their activities semi-publicly online, using messaging, social media platforms and video recording.

 

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I’m not of course suggesting that all the disturbing messages being exchanged by the gangs are accurate or sincere, or that the knifings and shootings they boast about have all really taken place. But I would propose very forcefully that anybody who is trying to analyse or engage with their behaviour must analyse and engage with what they themselves are saying and the language they use.

My own take on this is not just that of an interested outsider. For 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 teenagers). 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 appalled at what they witness day-to-day. They may become familiar with the exotic, distressing 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, to stand in court and testify on their or their clients’ behalf.

 

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There are now a number of experts on the ‘multiethnolects’, the new urban speech patterns prevalent among younger speakers that mix elements of native and minority languages. Professor Paul Kerswill and Professor Jenny Cheshire were the first to name the phenomenon as MLE – multicultural London English – and have written extensively on it. There are also expert forensic linguists, such as Professor Tim Grant of Aston University, who employ linguistic methods in the analysis of criminal language, enabling them for instance to identify authorship and authenticity of anonymous messages and online communications by paedophiles and others. My own claim to expertise is that I am one of very few who focuses on up-to-date slang and on items of criminal vocabulary (the deliberately secret languages known as ‘cryptolects’), rather than the scientific analysis of longer sequences of speech or text.

In looking at recordings of gang member’s conversations, for example, it’s crucial to know that a burner is a handgun; dotty means shotgun, Rambo, ramsey, 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 mindset with its obsession with respect, its reverence for violence and indifference to suffering seems to apply everywhere.

 

 

Among the voices raised in the latest debate, Akala’s stands out as representing real experience of, and sympathy for the victims and perpetrators. I only feel that he underestimates the levels of violence tolerated and celebrated, the extent of the ill-gotten wealth and the technical sophistication of the gangs of today. Rappers routinely claim that their lyrics are a fictional reflection of an imagined street life, a poetic evocation of rage and intensity rather than a call to arms, but the words written by young knife-carriers that I have had to translate are exactly the same words used by the rappers. In some cases the rapper is the perpetrator – the killer himself. The young people living in the postcodes most affected by knife crime are of course dealing with the new reality every day, as explained here.

 

 

Beyond the gangs young people are speaking and writing and broadcasting about the pressures and oppressions of urban lifestyles. A good example is the short film on the inner city life, Drawn Out.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OEuq5szR7I

 

Knife crime is intimately bound up with gang slang and vice versa. To try to understand the killings and the woundings and their perpetrators and victims without understanding what they themselves are saying makes tackling the hugely complex problem much more difficult.

As a footnote, I have had a lot of very interesting and constructive feedback (suggestions, criticisms, donations of new terms) arising from this article and from my broadcast on the same subject on Voice of Islam radio. I also discussed all the issues involved with Rob Booth, Social Affairs Correspondent of the Guardian, who has published several insightful articles on innercity stress and street crime. His piece is here…

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/29/ching-wap-ox-slang-interpreters-decipher-texts-for-court-evidence

**Please do contact me if you can supply examples of street slang for my databases. Contact me too if you need to interpret street talk or criminal slang yourself, or if you would like me to contribute to projects in this area.**

Finally, as proof that Akala is right and that press stories on gangs are nothing new, this from 1958…

‘POOR TOM’S A-COLD’

 English below freezing

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Writer Melissa Harrison was intrigued when I posted on Twitter last night that ‘It’s pretty nipply out there.’ I was referring in facetious fashion to this January’s latest cold front – ‘cold snap’ has described a cold spell or sudden sharp frost since the 1740s – but the more literal nipply has been substituted by wags for the colloquial nippy (used in this sense since the 19th century) only since the 1990s.

We are bombarded at this time of the year by journalese hyperbole –  the threat of thundersnow, the imminent arrival of The Beast from the East, the Siberian blast or even Snowmageddon, but the need for Brits to try and keep abreast of their capricious and wayward climate changes, coupled with our love of flippancy and understatement has thrown up a number of quaint and folksy expressions treating the notion of ‘bloody freezing’, some of which risk leaving foreigners at a loss.

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‘It’s a bit taters out there, I can tell you.’ Can still be heard, as I related in my Dictionary of Slang, in the ‘respectable jocular speech’ of older people, though it’s a shortening of the archaic Cockney rhyming slang ‘taters in the mould’ as rhyme for cold, originally describing a dish of potatoes, probably basted with dripping, in preparation for roasting. From a similar age-group and given the notoriously bad insulation of British buildings, you might still hear ‘There’s a terrible George Raft in here!’, the rhyme for draught borrowing the name of the Hollywood actor of the 1940s, famous for his stylish tough-guy roles on and off screen.

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More modern colloquialisms for ‘cold’ are arctic and Baltic, the latter sounding like a slightly rude double entendre. Common in Scotland, it might just reference the cold weather systems that sweep towards the UK from that region, but since the 1990s has been heard on US campuses too, and in Northern Irish slang where it means both freezing and fashionably ‘cool’ or ‘chilled.’ More obscure is brick as adjective for chilly, cold, freezing, heard in American English, where the better known cold as a witch’s tit and colder than a well-digger’s ass originated.

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On being met by a blast of freezing air the expression, or exclamation, brass monkeys is entirely appropriate. Baffled hearers will likely be told that this is a shortening of the vulgar expression ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’ and, if their informer is better informed, that the brass monkeys in question were the racks of cannonballs stored on the decks of warships. This is, though, almost certainly a false, folk etymology. A more likely source is that novelty brass monkeys were sold in sets of three as desk or mantelpiece decorations from Victorian times. Each monkey’s hands were clasped to hide a part of the body and in some cases one was covering his – or her – genital area.

Another very British way of understating the intense, unbearable cold is ‘it’s rather parky isn’t it.’ The word has been used, particularly in middle-class speech since before the First World War, but its origin remains obscure. It might be a dialect pronunciation of ‘perky’ in the sense of sharp and fresh, or from the word ‘park’ as used by gamekeepers to mean ‘(the cold) outdoors’. Nowadays in lighthearted family conversation it’s sometimes elaborated to parquet-flooring or Parkinson – the name of a well-known elderly TV presenter. The more emphatic perishing used to be rendered by Peregrine Worsthorne, the name of a journalist cruelly nicknamed ‘Perishing Worthless’ by Private Eye magazine. @the TuesdayMan on Twitter tells us that it’s Perez de Cuellar in his household.

 

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Out in the frozen fields, away from the southern conurbations, another old dialect term still flourishes. Nesh can mean cold, or weak and susceptible to cold (hence also cowardly or contemptible) and still crops up in northern conversations. In Old English it was hnesce, weak or infirm and may derive ultimately from a Proto-IndoEuropean word for scrape or scratch. In the Potteries district  in Staffordshire they still use starvin’ to mean feeling cold, and my friend and colleague Jonathon Green reminds me that the English Dialect Dictionary also lists as synonyms for chilly airish, chillery, chilpy, coldrife, cuthrie, dead, lash, oorie, rear, snelly and urly.

If you’re familiar with any other slang, dialect or humorous, colourful terms for this season’s weather, please let me know. You will be gratefully credited.

A DRILL DICTIONARY

By their keywords shall thee know them?

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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.

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

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

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

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

125 – scooter

Active dependable associate

Akhibrother, friend

Ammcannabis

Back outdraw (a weapon)

Baggedcaught

Bally, Balibalaclava

Bandoabandoned property

Bangerhit, successful song

Barslyrics

Beefdispute, feud

Bellsbullets

Bitzone’s neighbourhood

Blowleave, escape

Booj, bujheroin

Bookie, bukisuspicious

Bora, borerknife

Boxprison

Bozzleader

excellent

Breeze offleave town, disappear

Bruck, brukbroken (down), broke

Bruckshotsawn-off shotgun

Burnergun

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

Canprison

Cheffed (up)stabbed, killed

Chetemachete

Chingknife

to stab

Chingingchilling and hanging out

Codes‘postcode areas’, zones where gangs dominate

Cornammunition

Crashraid, invade

Crashing cornshooting your gun

Crocannabis

Cunchout-of-town locations where drugs can be sold

Cuttinleaving, running away

Dashthrow

run (away)

Dasheenrunning away, fleeing

Diligentadmirable, brave, cool

dependable associate

Ding dongdispute, brawl

cheap car

Dippedstabbed

Dipperknife

Donrespected person

Dottieshotgun

Dunkill(ed), punish(ed)

Drawn outinvolved in gang culture, under pressure from street crime

Drillershooter, gang member

Drillingattacking, aggressing, invading

Dumpyshotgun

Duppykill, dead

Endzone’s neighbourhood

4-doorsaloon car

Fedspolice

Fielddanger-zone, combat area

Fishinglooking for victims

Flashedstopped, pulled over e.g by police

Fooddrugs

Fryshoot (at)

Gassedexcited

Gemweak person

Glidedrive into enemy territory

GM(fellow) gang member

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

Gotattacked, robbed

Grubbyauthentic, tough (neighbourhood)

Gwopmoney

Hand tingpistol

Hittergunman

Iron  – gun

Khalablack person

Ketchupblood

Kwef – violence

Kwengcut, stabbed

Layersprotective clothing

Legginescaping, running away

Lenggun

Linkcontact, source for drugs

Lurkstalk a victim, prowl around

Machinegun

Mac(k)automatic firearm

Mashgun

Maticgun

Matrixedplaced on the London Met police gang database

Mazzamadness, crazy situation

Moistdisgusting, pathetic

Moplarge gun

Nankknife, stab

Needcannabis

No facemasked, with identity concealed

Ootersshooters

Oppsenemies

Opp-blockenemy territory

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

Oxrazor, blade

Pagan, paigonuntrustworthy person, enemy

Patchterritory

Pavestreets

Pebs, pebblespellets of heroin, crack or steroids

Pedmoped

Penprison

Plug –  a contact for drugs

Preeto check out, assess (a person)

Properexcellent, admirable

Psmoney

Rack – quantity of money, £1000

Rambolarge knife or machete

Rams, Ramsayknife

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

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

Score kill or injure an enemy

Scoreboard, scorecardlist of enemies killed, injured or defeated

Scramgun

Scrumattractive female, sex

Shankknife

Shoutsgreetings, acclaim

Skate, skeetrun away

Skengknifegun, weapon

Slewruin, defeat

Slidingdriving into enemy territory

Smokekill

disappear

Snitchinformer

Spinnerrevolver

Spinnerspetite females

Spittingrapping

Splash, splash up, splash downstab

Squirtspray acid (over someone)

Stepping on toestrespassing on or attacking enemy territory

Stickgun

Stickydangerous

Stonesbullets, pellets of crack

Strallygun

Strapgun

Swimmingstabbed

Swordknife

Techandgun

Ten toesrun away, escape

Trapneighbourhood, ‘ghetto’, area where drugs are sold

Trappinghanging out, selling drugs

Treypistol

Tum-tumgun

Tweedcannabis

24sall day

Wapgun

Wassstupid person

Wooshshoot

Worksybusy, diligent

Yatgirl

Yaycrack

personal style, skill

Yuteyoung person or young people on the street

There are some terms for which I don’t yet have a perfect definition:  doughnut or pepper, for example. These expressions have multiple meanings in street slang, but I’m not sure which one is prevalent in Drill culture. Khala can be an Arabic or Asian pejorative term for a black person, but Khalas! means ‘that’s enough!’ I’m not sure whether both are in use and by whom. Please advise me if you can.

You can find a dictionary of multi-ethnic London slang and other examples of so called MLE (Multicultural London English) 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/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View story at Medium.com

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

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

Here is the latest on the subject from the Guardian:

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

 

POSH?!

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In November 2002 the Sun newspaper reported that footballer’s wife ‘Posh Spice’ Victoria Beckham had launched a legal bid to stop second division football club Peterborough United from registering its nickname Posh as a trademark. The former Spice Girl claimed the word had become synonymous with her. ‘Sun readers, the paper affirmed, ‘back the club, which has used the name for eighty years.’ This little word epitomises both the English obsession with status distinctions and the jokey tone in which such a contentious subject is often addressed.

Fictional characters in the novel Diary of a Nobody, published in 1892 and the musical Lady Madcap, playing in London in 1904, sported the name Posh, and in a 1918 Punch cartoon a young swell is seen explaining that it is ‘slang for swish’. The first use of the word in the Times newspaper was in a crime report from May 1923, headlined ‘The Taxicab Murder’. ‘A walking stick was left at the scene of the crime, which the murderer left behind after shooting the driver, which belonged to his friend Eddie Vivian. He said…that he went out with Eddie’s stick because he wanted to be ‘posh’.’ In 1935 in the same paper the use of the word, which still appeared between quotation marks, was excused as ‘inevitably the idiom of the younger generation creeps in’.

The popular derivation, from the initial letters of ‘Port Out, Starboard Home’ allegedly affixed to the cabin doors of first-class passengers on P&O Orient Line steamships, is certainly false, as demonstrated by, among others, word-buff Michael Quinion in his 2005 book which took the phrase as its title. Posh seems to have been used in low-life slang for some time before it was first recorded in a dictionary of 1889 with the principal meaning ‘money’ and the subsidiary sense of ‘dandy’. It may be the same word, in the form ‘push’, meaning ‘swanky, showy’, that featured in Edwardian upper-class student slang (‘quite the most push thing at Cambridge’ was P.G Wodehouse’s description of a fancy waistcoat, from 1903). The ultimate origin, then, is obscure: in the Romany language which was a rich source of pre-20th century argot, posh could mean ‘half’, often referring to half a shilling/crown/sovereign, etc. so may have come to denote money in general, then the trappings of wealth.

In 1966 Michael Aspel was carpeted by the BBC for selling records of elocution lessons featuring his voice and that of  Jean Metcalfe (whose obituary in 2000 noted her ‘deep, cultivated voice’, the ads for which implied, the corporation said, that broadcasting required a posh voice. Like class-consciousness itself, and like the assertively upper-class accents it often described, the word posh seemed to fall out of fashion after the end of the 1960s,  only to reassert itself at the new millennium. At the end of the ‘noughties’, it took on a renewed importance with David Cameron’s accession to the leadership of the Tory party and fellow Old Etonian Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s election as London mayor. As a literal synonym of privileged/wealthy/upmarket it is usefully inoffensive. Very frequently, however, it is used ironically, as in references to ‘posh nosh’ (typically very expensive sausages), and what online gossip site Popbitch dubs the ‘too-posh-to-push brigade’ – pampered mothers who opt for caesareans at private hospitals rather than natural births.

Reviewing Joanna Lumley mocking her own accent in a 2005 TV commercial, the Independent on Sunday commented, ‘In the 1960s, After Eights, Harvey’s Sherry and Cockburn’s Port were sold to Mrs Bucket’s everywhere on class – the idea that posh people bought them…if you want to do posh now it has to be spoofy and retro.’

In pop culture contexts posh has proved to be handy as an antonym of chav, especially in the numerous test-yourself quizzes in tabloids and online claiming to assess the underclass/toff-factor. From around 2000, ‘posho’ in UK campus slang has denoted a fellow-student perceived as from a wealthy or privileged background, while the litigious Victoria Beckham should note that in the same circles ‘Posh ‘n Becks’ is rhyming slang for sex.

Where accents are concerned the tide has seemed to flow in only one direction: in 2013 another broadcaster, the Radio 4 announcer Charlotte Green, accepted voluntary redundancy, declaring ‘received pronunciation, or accent-less accent [sic], is on the wane. The BBC’s days of employing people who sound like me are more or less over.’ She had once been voted the most attractive female voice on radio, that voice described as ‘a marvel, something to make one feel safe and secure, like being tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle.’ These days Cameron and Johnson play down their patrician tones to some extent, but fellow OE Jacob Rees Mogg incorporates a mannered, punctilious accent into his repertoire of self-presentation, adding to what the Sun terms ‘his ultra-posh exterior’ (the p-word is routinely applied to him by all sections of the media) and signalling to some the resurgence of a fogeyism that is either picturesque or (‘Please-Flog’ was one of the least offensive nicknames suggested in a Twitter poll) unsettlingly sinister.

 

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

 

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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

REAL TALK – ‘SLANG’

 

 

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Of the TV series that have featured Urban Slang (or so-called MLE, ‘Multiethnic London English’) for me none surpassed, in authenticity, ingenuity and hilarity, the sitcom PhoneShop*, broadcast on Channel 4 between 2010 and 2013. Writer and producer of the series, Phil Bowker tells me  ‘Like you, slang’s something that has fascinated me since I was a kid growing up in Liverpool.’  It’s a great privilege to be able to print here, with Phil’s blessing, the script of this sequence intended for his follow-up satire on multicultural Britain for BBC2 The Javone Prince Show**, but never broadcast. Phil explains, ‘I wanted to spoof the kind of BBC London style of hack news reporting but instead of the usual fayre of drugs and knives, I wanted to make it about slang.’ Relish now for the first time this exposé of …Real Talk ‘Slang’…

 

EXT. URBAN STREET

Andrew Milligan (Jason Barnett) is on a walk and talk.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Why is my man Parrin’ me?” “Dat Gyal is pengalicious” “Watcha me come and lick off a ya headtop”            Words and phrases that you wouldn’t particularly want to hear coming out of your child’s mouth. But this is an everyday reality for thousands of parents across the Country as unscrupulous dealers are targeting our children at the very place where they’re most vulnerable: The school gate.

We cut to a School sign and then back down to Andrew as he crouches down outside the entrance. The floor is littered with discarded pieces of paper the size of christmas cracker jokes. There are lots of ‘capsules’ around too. He reads a couple of them – sickened at what he sees.

ANDREW

Pagan, Sideman, Sket…. (earnestly) Lovely isn’t it?

CUT TO:

INT.KITCHEN.

A mum (Debra Baker) Is interviewed in her spotless kitchen.

 

CONTINUED:

MUM

My 10 year old comes home, he calls his little brother a beg, calls me a slosher and tells me he’s goin his drum to blaze…’ What can I do about that? I ain’t got a clue what he’s talkin about….

 

Andrew Walk and Talk.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

We’ve all seen them plying their vile trade in pubs and car parks the length and breadth of the Country. The So called slang hawkers. You yourself may have even enjoyed using some casual slang at a dinner party. I’m ashamed to say, I have. I had bare laughs. But where does this slang come from? Who’s selling it, and what is the real cost? To find out, I took to the streets.

 

EXT.STREET. NIGHT

 

CUT TO:

 

 

Shot from a first floor window, we see Andrew making a call from a phonebox.

 

DEALER

(Voice Disguised) What you after?

ANDREW MILLIGAN

I’m looking for a, uh maybe a five pound deal?

 

 

DEALER

Fuck off. (Bleeped) You couldn’t even get a noun for that, you mug.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

What would, say £20 or £25 buy me?

DEALER

A small bag of verbs. Proper, good verbs, I don’t fuck (bleeped) around.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Sounds good my man, but how can I guarantee the quality of your slang?

DEALER

You heard of swag?

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Yes, Swag. I think I’ve heard Louis Walsh say it.

DEALER

That’s one of mine.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

 

Wow.

Wide shot of Andrew waiting by the telephone box.

ANDREW (V.O)

In less than five minutes one of the dealer’s word soldiers rode by on a stolen mountain bike.

We see a kid riding past on a bike throwing at book at him. Andrew bends down to pick it up (It’s a dictionary) He opens it up to reveal a hollowed out centre with a small baggy in it.     He furtively looks around and then opens the bag, looking at the tiny pieces of paper with words written on them.

 

ANDREW MILLIGAN

(slightly out of breath) The dealer wasn’t lying. There is a potency to this slang that I haven’t seen before. I have to admit, it’s quite thrilling.

 

INT. A STUDY

Talking head of Professor EB Black.

PROFESSOR

This is a massive problem we are sleepwalking into. Slang has been around for ever, but it was always kept at an acceptable level. It was fine for criminals, the working classes and immigrants but what we’re seeing now is a huge middle class uptake – it’s extremely frightening and this government needs to do something about it very quickly.                                I’m reluctant to use the word, but what we’re facing, is an epidemic.

Andrew swings round to camera.

ANDREW MILLIGAN

But what the chickenclart can be done?

 

CUT TO:

 

Hard cut to archive. Police raid on property. Shot of battering ram hitting door.

POLICE

Police!! Put the pens down! Drop the Quills! I repeat, Drop the Quills…

 

We cut to people coming out with their hands on their heads. They are all wearing glasses or visors. They look disorientated.

 

GANG LEADER

I’ll be back out on the streets in half an hour. You fucking rats.

He looks at the camera.

Penelope, get the bail money! It’s in the study underneath Eric Partridge’s Usage and Abusage….

ANDREW MILLIGAN (V.O.)

This slangmaster is facing a long “sentence” in a “pen” of his own making. But there is a way out. If not fi him, fi someone else.

CUT TO:

 

Talking head of reformed slang dealer Christian Gibbs.

CHRISTIAN GIBBS

I was always interested in language. The etymology, the syntax. Other kids would be out kicking a ball against a wall. I’d be indoors with me head in a thesaurus.

Andrew Milligan nods.

I started mucking around with slang. Making my own words up. Giving them away to mates in school. And then I realised. There was money to be made – and it went from there.

Andrew swings around to camera.

 

ANDREW MILLIGAN

Christian became so successful, within a year of selling his slang words illegally, he managed to buy his parents a new house, and was engaged to a Countdown semi-finalist. But things quickly went wrong.

CHRISTIAN GIBBS

I got greedy. I started mixing with the wrong people. I got too big too quick. At one point, I was running three or four terraced houses full of young academics twenty-four hours a day. I was effectively controlling most of the slang that was being sold in London. And then it all caught up with me.

 

EXT OF URBAN BASKETBALL COURT.

Christian is helping some young people to ‘lay up’

ANDREW MILLIGAN

After a spell at her majesty’s pleasure, Christian dedicated his life to helping the very people who once did his bidding in his urban slang factories.

 

CUT TO:

 

We see the trad shot of guys having fun. High 5ing etc

CUT TO:

 

Andrew Walk and Talk down an alley.

 

 

ANDREW MILLIGAN (cont’d)

Tragically, a few hours after that lay up we learnt that Christian’s past had finally caught up with him and he was ambushed by a gang of rival wordsmiths in a back alley Scrabble game.

 

 

He arrives at the taped off crime scene. There’s an abandoned Scrabble board and associated paraphernalia. He crouches down

ANDREW MILLIGAN (cont’d)

The last words he spelt out on the Scrabble board was a fitting testament to his memory: YOLO/ Gubati/Gggdedjs/

Andrew gets up and continues his Walk and Talk.

ANDREW MILLIGAN (cont’d)

So the next time you’re at a dinner party or even a simple kitchen supper and somebody decides it might be ‘fun’ to pass the ‘slang’ around, remember the real cost and just say no.

 

 

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/phoneshop

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b063hcgz

 

 

 

The ‘M’ in ‘MLE’ – Youth Slang’s Origins

Much of the vocabulary of MLE, the speech variety known as Multiethnic or Multicultural London English, derives (not always straightforwardly) from Caribbean or Black British usages, or from London’s white ‘working class’, often dubbed ‘Cockney,’ argot. There are, however, a number of slang expressions, used in the school playground and on the street by younger speakers, which come from elsewhere in the UK’s language matrix, even from archaic or foreign sources. Here are some examples…

 

Image result for Multi Ethnic youth

 

Feen (n)

Means: a male person

Usage: “Who’s the feen over by the gate?”

The proper names for Yoofspeak, so linguists tell us, are MLE (multi-ethnic or multicultural London English) or UBE (urban British English, with ‘vernacular’ sometimes substituted for English), but not all playground language emanates from the larger cities and ethnic or ‘cultural’ doesn’t only mean Afrocarribean or Asian.

One term that’s widely used around the UK is rarely if ever heard in the Smoke, but belongs to a 300 year-old tradition. Feen, also spelled fein, has been borrowed from the slang of Travellers, the argot formerly used by Tinkers and known as Shelta, itself deriving mainly from Irish Gaelic. In Irish feen simply means “man” but in slang it sometimes has the extra senses of “stranger” or “rogue”. Don’t confuse this with the verb “to feen” (sometimes “feem”), a modern import from US street-talk, which is an alteration of ‘fiend’ and means craving for, or obsessing over, as in “I’m feenin’ for some weed” or “he’s feenin’ over that new girl.”

 Image result for laughter

 

Hollage (n)

 Means: something hilarious

 Usage: “Have you seen Charlotte’s latest outfit? Très hollage!”

 Posher teens have their own version of yoofspeak, their own mix of would-be street slang, babytalk and invented expressions, typically in the form of girly yells of approval (by both sexes) and squeals of delight (ditto).

When the denizens of the middle-class playground are trading witticisms a favourite trick is to insert touches of French – the odd real word (“quelle disaster”, “beaucoup trouble”) and Franglais pronunciations. “Rummage” (sex), and “bummage” (enthusiasm) have been frenchified, but current favourite is “hollage”, meaning huge amusement or hugely amusing, pronounced to rhyme with English “college” or like French “collage”, or, some young purists insist, as three-syllable “holla-age”.

It looks as if the little sophisticates have adapted “holla”, (the hip-hop version of “holler”, meaning to yell), one of cool Yoof’s iconic expressions from the noughties, and slightly misunderstood it in the process, since it originally described phoning, praising or seducing rather than braying with laughter. In the US the very similar-looking “holla-age” has indeed been used to describe “the appropriate way to acknowledge or compliment a female.”

Stupid Emoji Stickers

Dinlo (n)

Means: an idiot

Usage: “You can tell Callum anything and he’ll believe it, he’s a right dinlo.”

Some linguists are claiming that far from dying out, regional dialects – and that includes local slang terms – are being helped by messaging, chatting and tweeting on social media sites, as well as old-fashioned word of mouth – to spread further across the UK. A probable example of this is yet another term for a complete dope, or dupe, (in practice nearly always male) which originated in Romany (and not in Cantonese as claimed on Urban Dictionary) as dinilo and has long been in use from the New Forest, via Portsmouth’s ‘Pompey – slang’ to East Anglia. Dinlo(w) is the usual form, although “dinler”, “dindler” and “dingle” have also been recorded. Yoof elsewhere have now added these to their already rich lexicon of insults, sometimes abbreviating to “dinny” or just “din”.

 

Image result for exhausted teens

 

Trek (v,n)

Means: (to go on) a long and tedious journey

Usage: “Man we been trekkin’ for hours!” “From her endz to ours is a trek.”

Researchers into Yoofspeak will know that in nearly every batch of new expressions offered up as the latest teen lingo, there are one or two which are not really slang at all. This is because most of the younger generation are not familiar with them and don’t realise that they are standard English: also, to be fair, because they sound and look exotic, possibly subversive to the uninitiated. “Trek”, used more or less in its original sense is a popular feature of playground complaints – the moaners probably don’t know much Afrikaans (from which we got the word), and even Star Trek the Prequel is a distant memory. More recently the word, or the variant “treks!” can be an exclamation, declaring that something, not necessarily a journey, is too tiring or boring to bother with or to finish, but one post on Urban Dictionary defines it much more specifically – and perhaps just slightly more positively – as a “4-10-mile” walk undertaken to counteract the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Examples of the same phenomenon are “luka” or “lookah”, used by some London kids to mean money, which seems like Multiethnic dialect but is really the picturesque old phrase ‘filthy lucre’ after a makeover. (Oddly, in the US, the Slavonic boy’s name Luka seems to have been conflated with the colloquial “looker” to denote an attractive male.) “Burly”, which one user explained as a blend of “beautiful” and “gnarly”, expresses admiration for a tough-looking male, and “reek” as in “Ben’s room really reeks” is also considered a really cool novelty. (Incidentally and tangentially, adult informants tell me that for them “reek” mainly registers these days as the name of a character in TV fantasy Game of Thrones, or as a mistyping of ‘wreak.’)

 

(These terms were first recorded in my Youthspeak column in the TES)

 

UK YOUTH SLANG NOW

I have a fairly extensive archive of new language, including contemporary slang, from which glossaries, dictionaries and articles are spun off. When I interview young people to ask them about the language they use, to collect examples, or to animate discussions, I use extracts from the archive, but in the form of a simplified glossary. The glossary consists only of terms with their definitions, with all other ‘lexicographical paraphernalia’ – parts of speech, etymologies, regional labels, notes on usage, etc. – removed.  This material is not intended for publication, except by me, (or if commercially in return for payment) but is often used by researchers, authors, teachers and students to stimulate discussion and to help with fieldwork and projects. Here, by way of illustration, is a selection from the letter B

 

Image result for slang graffiti

 

B

B – (male) friend

Badmanz – important and/or tough male

Bae – sweetheart, girlfriend or boyfriend

Bag – much, many

Bagga­manz – a lot (of people)

Bag someone out – to criticise, harass

Bait – obvious, intrusive

Ban­gin’ – attractive, exciting

Bangout – failure

Bang-out – successful, skilful

Bants, bantz – banter

Bare – much, many

Bars – (part of) a song

Bashment – party

Basic – unoriginal, conforming to current fashions

Basic B, basic bitch – pretentious but conformist female

Bats – combat trousers

Bay­den – solvent, rich

Beast – excellent, impressive, admirable, cool

Beaut – expression of admiration or approval

Beef – dis­agree­ment, angry altercation

– to aggress

Begfriend – sycophant

Beggin’ – talking nonsense

Beige – boring, tedious

Bell-end, bell – foolish and/or annoying person (usually male)

Ben­nin’ – overcome by laughter.

Bestie – best friend

Betty – girl

BFF – ‘best friend forever’

Big – excellent

Big­gin’ up – com­pli­ment­ing, celebrating

Billies, bills – money, banknotes

Bin off – to throw away, reject, dump (a suitor for instance)

Bitz – area, neighbourhood

Blates – excessive, outrageous

– expression of delight or approval

Blaz­in’ (up) – smoking

Blad – ‘mate’, friend

Bleh – expression of dismissal, disapproval, indifference

Blem – cigarette

Blemboss – someone who smokes to show off

Bless (up) – expression of approval or farewell

Blick – dark

Blonks – big person, usually male

Blud – close friend

Boggin’ – stinking

Bollerz – money

Bonk – to exhaust oneself, tire

Boog – bad, inferior

Booky – suspicious, doubtful, inferior

Boom-ting – party, exciting event

Booty – posterior

– sexy female(s)

Bounce – to depart, flounce off.

Bovvered – unconcerned, indifferent

Boyed – humiliated

Boyment – humiliation

Boyz – money

Braap, blaap – a greeting or expression of approval or agreement.

Brass – bad

Bred­der – someone who copies someone

Bredgie – friend

Bredren, bledren – friends

Breeze – nonsense, rubbish

Brev – male friend, mate

Bro – male friend

Bruck, brok – in bad condition, ugly

Bruv – brother, male friend

Buck – to give

Buff – physically attractive

Bullet – greeting or expression of approval or agreement

Bully van – police vehicle

Bummage – enjoyment

Bump – to trick, defraud, steal from

Bunnin’ – smoking

Bupzin’ – treating or looking after (someone)

–  taking advantage (of someone)

Burned – bested, humiliated

Burner – gun

Buss (out) – to perform (dance moves)

Busted – ugly, unattractive

Bust (off) – to perform (dance moves)

– to recite (lyrics)

But(t) – friend

Butterz – ugly, unattractive

 

Image result for slang graffiti

 

I would be very grateful indeed for any additions to my lists. Donations and/or comments will be very welcome and contributors will be acknowledged. If you would like to use the glossary, please contact me. 

IT’S GETTING DARKER

It’s officially Spring now and we are emerging from the gloom induced by short days and long nights (or, from another perspective, by disruption to circadian rhythms and melatonin levels). The darkness (adjective ‘dark’ is from Old English deorc, used also as a noun from the 13th century) clears – literally – but metaphorical darkness is pervasive…just  after posting the paragraphs below I became aware of dark money, defined by The Observer as ‘an undeclared donation from an impermissible foreign donor’ (see below) and Dark Justice, a group of anti-paedophile vigilantes who pose as children online…

 BBA-OpenMind-dark-data-ahmed-banafa

We have marvelled at the notion of the invisible dark matter said to permeate the universe and physicists have supplemented this with the concept of dark energy; not directly detectable either but necessary to explain expansion and the appearance of life in the multiverse.

On a slightly more mundane level there are in 2017 consultancies advertising their services in uncovering dark data (information collected during business operations but not actually used) and helping organisations to exploit it. The d-word has been trending for some time. The dark web (aka the deep web or darknets), we are nervously aware, is inaccessible by standard searches, a mysterious zone where illicit products and services are traded and illicit vices practised.

Most professionals have heard by now of dark pools, (the image is of hidden areas of liquidity) where off-market trading of stocks, also known in banking jargon as internalisation, takes place, where large blocks of shares can be bought and sold anonymously and prices are only made public after deals are privately concluded. But other kinds of opaque transaction, though quite legal, also threaten to distort markets, masking true levels of market scarcity or surplus and hiding real levels of indebtedness, thus creating information asymmetry between insiders and outsiders. A more recent buzz-term in the fields of finance and commodities is dark inventory (shadow inventory is sometimes used for real estate), describing assets placed off-balance-sheet. These may be equities, contracts, undeclared hoarding – of metals, for example – or other pre-sold commodities which may or may not actually exist (fictitious quotations of steel and nickel are ghost inventory) but which remain beyond public scrutiny. The same term can stretch to include toxic, debt-encumbered or otherwise sinister elements in a portfolio. Dark social, meanwhile- the term was coined in 2012 by former deputy editor of The Atlantic Alexis Madrigal – refers to information exchanged in the workplace by private individuals via channels such as instant messaging programs, messaging apps and email rather than on public platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This so-called outbound sharing alarms the corporate world for two main reasons: it sidesteps company restrictions on the timewasting or subversive use of social media at work, and it so far isn’t possible to track, analyse or turn into marketing opportunities.

Far more disturbing is the notion of a coming digital dark age (not to be confused with the techno music and futuristic/fantasy artworks dubbed dark digital) which some pundits have been predicting. This refers to the potential loss of huge quantities of culturally important data, particularly old manuscripts, memoirs, mementos and images preserved electronically, if technological advances make their storage-formats obsolete so that they are no longer recoverable.

In 2018 overheated enthusiasm for blockchains and bitcoins gave way to fears about the sustainability of cryptocurrencies and the ways in which they could be manipulated. At the same time financial data-reporting on a national scale can be deliberately subverted, or can be skewed by the sheer complexity of the processes involved. One result is the phenomenon of dark GDP: economic activity not captured by current estimations. This is said to amount to 10% of US GDP, and who knows how much in secretive, bot-infested Russia?

Back in the everyday ‘Mr Slang’ Jonathon Green reminds me that from the 1990s dark has also featured in multiethnic youth vernacular in the UK. As with some other key slang terms it can have contrasting meanings, pejorative and appreciative, in this case signifying both ‘harsh’, ‘unfair’, ‘unpleasant’, and ‘impressive’, ‘edgy’.

 

 

*Latest updates: May 17, from George Monbiot, on ‘Dark Money’

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/17/dark-money-democracy-billionaires-funding

…and from The Conversation on August 24, ‘Dark DNA’

https://theconversation.com/introducing-dark-dna-the-phenomenon-that-could-change-how-we-think-about-evolution-82867?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1503571067

…and as the skies darken at the outset of Autumn, here’s The Conversation again, this time on ‘Dark Tourism’ 

https://theconversation.com/dark-tourism-can-be-voyeuristic-and-exploitative-or-if-handled-correctly-do-a-world-of-good-81504

 

 

 

LANGUAGE LESSONS FROM THE COOL KIDS

Students and fellow participants at King’s College London’s Language and Popular Culture Laboratory wrote about a joint presentation that Iranian colleague Dr Negar Ardakani and I gave last year. The talk took a first look at comparative data on Persian and English youth slang collected in glossaries and lexicons from the two countries.

The article, shared by kind permission, is here:

https://kinguistics.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/language-lessons-from-the-cool-kids/

Negar and I hope to refine our material and publish a more complete version of our talk in due course. In the meantime, if anyone is interested, we can provide more details in very rough draft form if contacted directly.