Multiethnic London English – a Glossary

“The post-racial, non-rhotic, inner city,

Th-fronting, cross cultural,

dipthong shifting, multi-ethnic,

L-vocalisation, K-backing fusion of language”

As a linguist and lexicographer who once worked as a designer, I have long nursed the idea that an iconic reference work, especially one which celebrates and explores creative, exotic and subversive forms of language, could – should – also function as a work of art.

In 2013 I had the privilege of helping Chris Nott in the preparation of his graduation project at the Royal College of Art. Chris designed a glossary of, and a guide to MLEMultiethnic London English – that functions as document and documentation as well as being a unique art object.

Chris, now working as a design specialist in the studios of Brody Associates, has given permission for this artefact to be shared for the first time. It consists of a glossary and a separate guidebook (which highlights the words from the glossary too)

Please do consult it, dip into it, read it from virtual cover to virtual cover, or, better still, print it on to high-quality paper and savour its tactility. Place it on a lectern under a strong light. Use it to teach your students, to inform your friends.*

The contents of this reference work, which includes contributions from other lexicographers and linguists, are still topical, relevant, revelatory three years on. The visual elements and format remain unique.

The samples of language and the commentaries presented in the book move our thinking beyond ‘slang’, beyond older notions of race and class, to consider the post-ethnic realities of a UK subject to what theorists now call Superdiversity, in which, especially but not only for younger speakers, complex questions of identity are bound up intimately with language, style and symbolism.

For me what is also essential in treating slang, dialect or jargon is to go out into the streets, the clubs, school playgrounds and workplaces and record the actual words of their users, words which might never otherwise appear in popular or academic publications.

MLE, Multiethnic London English, now sometimes referred to as Urban British English or Interethnic Vernacular was the designation given to a developing social dialect, featuring a slang vocabulary and new patterns of pronunciation and accent, that came to notice at the end of the 1990s and has since influenced the speech of younger speakers in particular beyond London itself.

Here is Chris Nott’s work. First the Glossary


In a few days Chris’s 300-page Guidebook to MLE will be made available too




*But please don’t try to monetise it. It is Chris Nott’s copyrighted work.


It’s already the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and memories of this year’s summertime festivals are fast fading…

An Autumn days view

You can nevertheless re-live those hedonistic outdoor excesses by browsing my Festival Dictionary, produced for Lucozade two summers ago and still offering a snapshot of the latest slang, catchphrases, keywords and catcalls to accompany the traffic jams, the endless toilet queues, the muddied tents and the eventual collective euphoria…

The Lucozade Yes Moment Festival Dictionary is free and obtainable here…





By kind permission of Natalie King, here’s her blog post for Oxford University Press on the sort of youth language to be encountered in the streets of London today. I can vouch for the authenticity of all the expressions she mentions, but it’s notable that this account bears out my own investigations: these examples of ‘youth-speak‘ or Multiethnic London English have all been used by teens and younger adults for at least five years, some for more than a decade. Slang is not as ephemeral as many people think…

Urban London slang: an introduction for hipsters


Anyone wanting to learn more, or to teach about slang and youth language might be interested in the following. I’ll update this material soon, to include reference to the concepts of enregisterment and stylisation, and will also put an updated bibliography on these pages shortly…




Tony Thorne


Sub-varieties of language developed by young people may be celebrated (by the media) or stigmatised (by educators and prescriptivists). This extract looks at the forms, functions and social implications of so-called youth slang(s).



While slang was formerly associated with the underworld, and later the armed forces and institutions such as universities or the English public schools, teenagers and young adults are currently thought to be the most prolific linguistic innovators and users of slang in English.

In the USA Teresa Labov (1982), Eckert (1989) and Eble (1996) have studied the use of slang by street gangs, high-school and college students respectively, describing its role in defining member categories in the microsocial order and in ethnic demarcations, and its centrality in dynamic social interactions. Younger slang users are evidently aware of and interested in their own linguistic practices as evidenced by Urban Dictionary, a collaborative user-generated online compilation of over a million items (Damaso and Cotter 2007).

The features ascribed by Halliday in 1978 to anti-languages apply to modern slangs. These are lexical innovation – producing neologisms or reworkings to fill lexical gaps in the language; relexicalisation, or finding novel terms to replace existing ones, and overlexicalisation or hypersynonymy, the coining of a large number of terms for the same or similar concept. Examples are the many nicknames for their weapons of choice used by criminal gangs and the multiple synonyms –‘carnaged’, wazzed’, ‘hamstered’, trolleyed’, etc. – for ‘intoxicated by drink or drugs’ traded by adolescents and young adults.

Slang can be approached by focusing firstly on its social or sociolinguistic functions, then on its lexico-semantic features, that is the ways in which it manipulates language in terms of structure and meaning.



There is a consensus as to the principal functions of slang in socialising processes and social interactions. The ability to understand and deploy slang is an important symbolic element in the construction and negotiation of individual and group identities, enabling bonding, affiliation and expressions of solidarity and engagement. It performs the important function for an in-group of providing a criterion for inclusion of members and exclusion of outsiders. It is at the same time a means (primarily but not only for younger speakers) of signalling ‘coolness’ and indulging in playfulness. The slang vocabulary may be part of a self-referential system of signs, a semiotic repertoire of self-presentation or stylization which can also include dress and accessorizing, body-decoration, gesture, physical stance, etc. It therefore functions not only as a lexicon or linguistic resource but on an ideological level of affect, belief, etc.



From a lexico–semantic perspective slang is of interest in the way it both imaginatively invents and reworks according to the semantic possibilities of a language, and forms expressions according to its morphological potential. Slang employs the standard processes of word-formation in English, among the most common being compounding (‘pie-hole’ for mouth), blending, (‘chill (out)’ and ‘relax’ become ‘chillax’); affixation (‘über-nerd’ which is also a rare instance of borrowing, combining with an earlier slang term), change of part of speech or functional shift (‘weirding’, behaving erratically); clipping (‘za’ for pizza, ‘bab’ for kebab), abbreviation and acronymy (‘FOFFOF’ for ‘fair of figure, foul of face’). For further examples see Sornig (1981) and Eble (1996). Slang makes use of more unusual devices such as re-spelling (‘phat’ for fat in the sense of excellent); punning (‘babia majora’ for an attractive female, ‘married alive’ meaning trapped in a relationship), the insertion of a word or element between syllables or tmesis, sometimes called infixing, as in ‘fanfreakingtastic! It employs phonology-based manipulations such as rhyme and reduplication (‘drink-link’, a cash dispenser), and assonance or onomatopoeia (‘clumping’, attacking with fists or feet).

Arbitrary coinages –completely unprecedented inventions – are extremely rare and difficult to substantiate: even the most unusual- looking expressions are usually derived from some linguistic precedent: ‘bazeracked’ and ‘bosfotick’, UK student synonyms for drunk or exhausted, for instance, employ phonosemy or sound symbolism and imitate other multisyllabics denoting destroyed, damaged or confounded. Some words of unknown origin become popular –‘gak’ for cocaine is one such; others like ‘mahoodally’, a term used by some London students to mean ugly, remain in limited circulation.

Slang makes extensive use of metaphorical manipulation, playing on and with meaning and associations in the mind. Sornig (1981) lists the processes involved, drawing examples from German and other languages. Eble (1996) uses US campus slang to show how a range of rhetorical figures is mobilised in the same way as in poetry or literature. These include metaphor (‘beast’ can denote an aggressive law enforcer, male seducer or unattractive female); metonymy (‘anorak’, later ‘cagoule’, the supposedly typical garment standing for the earnest, unfashionable wearer), synecdoche (‘wheels’ for a car); fanciful comparison (‘as dumb as a box of hair’, i.e very stupid); amelioration and pejoration whereby words acquire a more positive (‘chronic’ now denotes wonderful) or negative (neutral ‘random’ comes to mean bad) sense, generalisation and specialisation in which terms extend or narrow down their meanings so that ‘dude’ denotes merely a person while ‘the man’ refers to an agent of oppression; indirect reference whereby ‘her indoors’ denotes one’s wife and ‘the chilled article’ a cold beer. Peculiar to slang is ironic reversal whereby ‘wicked’, ‘sick’ and ‘brutal’ become terms of approbation.



That slang is in any way inherently deficient cannot be demonstrated according to linguistic principles. Slang usage is not necessarily ‘impoverished’, though in many in-groups a small number of items may dominate (quasi-kinship terms, greetings and farewells, terms of approbation, insults, chants) and be repeated constantly. Halliday and others have used the term pathological (more often applied to impaired language or speakers) when referring to unorthodox varieties; Sornig calls slang a ‘substandard’ language, and Andersson and Trudgill perpetuate a questionable if common hierarchical discrimination in observing that slang is ‘language use below the level of neutral language usage’ (italics mine). Many linguists are nowadays wary of hierarchies of language or of generalising based on the notions of ‘standard’ or ‘nonstandard’ varieties, and sociolinguists are finding the negotiating of roles, relationships, status and power through language, at least by young speakers, to be far more subtle and fluid than previously suggested.

Slang users may be virtuosos of style-switching and crossing (mixing different ethnic varieties), and may be acutely aware of appropriacy – fitting style to context, or may simply use the occasional expression to liven up conversation (many young people of course use little or no slang and Bucholtz (1999) has shown how deliberate avoidance of ‘cool’ slang can itself be an act of identity). They may also question mainly middle-aged researchers’ theorising of their behaviour in terms of prestige, power and class, when these are not necessarily realistic constructs for them, and prefer to invoke notions of a shared, dynamic alternative culture with a special claim to ‘authenticity’.

Transience is often thought to be a defining characteristic of slang, and there is a rapid replacement rate in certain semantic fields and functional categories, but complete obsolescence generally takes a minimum of several years and some terms remain in the language, still in highly informal usage, for many years (‘punk’, which was used in the 17th century and which now means to dupe or humiliate, is one such), or are recycled, as in the case of the 1960s and 70s terms of approbation, ‘fab’ and ‘wicked’. Some cryptic slangs, such as those of drug-users, and slang used by those afraid of obsolescence – the fashion and music industries for example – have a very high turnover of vogue terms, but others – those of taxi-drivers and street-market traders for instance – may retain some core elements for a long time. In secondary or generalised slang, too, terms may persist, ‘shrink’ meaning a psychiatrist and ‘dosh’, for money being examples.



In a multilingual setting, such as a metropolitan secondary school, where standard forms are not the norm and many different first languages are represented, a shifting variegated slang may be the most convenient, accessible (and indeed, locally prestigious) shared style of discourse. Slang is an important component of what linguists such as Cheshire and Kerswill (2004) have identified as an emerging social dialect based on ‘youth’, known as Multicultural London English or ‘multiethnic youth vernacular’. There are suggestions that this variety may impact significantly upon the mainstream. In future what might be viewed as part of a developmental phase in socialisation may have to be reconsidered: the abandoning of the language of adolescence that accompanies full entry into the adult social order may no longer take place to the same extent. Slang’s users are no longer confined to subordinate cultures and, in that it is not nowadays excluded from general conversation or media discourse, slang, at least secondary slang, is no longer a stigmatised variety, yet as part of its function it must retain or at least mimic ‘outsider’ status.





  • extracted from K. Malmkjaer, ed. Routledge Linguistics Encyclopedia 3, (2010), London: Routledge




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This is a sort of aide-memoire that I use with secondary and undergraduate students and teachers as a starting point in talking about youth language, stating the obvious by way of question-and-answer:

  1. Which recent social and economic developments in British society have affected the attitudes and behaviour of young people?

In the last three decades the UK has seen, according to some commentators, a spectacular breakdown in social cohesion, with high divorce rate/single-parenting/alcohol and drug use/teenage pregnancies/obesity, etc. Especially significant for young people is the absence of authority figures and traditional social constraints. This also contributes to youth crime and gang culture (where the gang may function as a substitute family). Economic turbulence and the peculiarities of the UK property market mean that teenagers may not be able to afford to leave home and may suffer unemployment, but attitudes among teenagers and school-leavers in some cases appear to reflect an indifference to work and lack of aspiration coupled with a sense of entitlement and ‘adult’ desire to consume...

  1. Why do young people invent and use slang?

Slang functions for transgressive in-groups such as street gangs as a secret code which allows them to describe and celebrate their illicit activities and keep them from the attention of authority figures. Young people who may not be transgressing may imitate this ‘deviant’ usage as they see it as glamorous, but in any case slang also serves more innocently as a way for young people to establish a ‘cool’ identity, confirm allegiances within peer-groups and micro-niches and claim ownership of a set of symbols (not only vocabulary but appearance, etc.) that gives them social capital and glamour while they may lack real economic power…

  1. Are text messaging and slang use by young people really affecting their ability to communicate in more formal situations?

‘Experts’ disagree: some government advisors and employers declare and assume that use of unorthodox language is associated with limited vocabulary, lack of communication skills and negative attitudes. Some academic linguists – and this writer – point out that abbreviated codes associated with electronic media are nothing new and that slang usage can be creative rather than destructive. Some research indicates that those who text or use social networking sites actually tend to have improved or possess higher literacy rates. ‘Appropriacy’ – knowing how to fit your style of language to context – may be a problem for some, but many young people are adept at ‘code-switching’ – moving between different language varieties according to who they are communicating with and why. BUT while slang cannot be disapproved of technically – it functions like poetry and literature – we must recognise that for many adults it provokes strong emotional reactions and is associated with serious crime and social breakdown…

  1. What social factors in the UK have contributed to the appearance of a so-called ‘MLE’ (multiethnic London English) or ‘Urban British English’?

Afrocaribbean, and to a lesser extent East and South Asian music and popular culture have high status among youth. In inner city schools across the UK British English is not the mother tongue for many students, while the shared code outside the classroom is for some a multiethnic youth slang rather than local or standard forms of English. Some linguists claim that an emerging generalised dialect spreading from London and developed by young people is displacing previous localised dialects and traditional slang and may impact on mainstream English in the future, possibly in terms of vocabulary, but more probably in terms of accent and intonation. Mixed urban dialects are not only a feature of the UK but have evolved in other European countries where elements of Arabic, Turkish and other ‘minority’ languages have affected colloquial usage and phonology.


Image result for annoying young people


                                                  How are British Youth described? 


Over the last few years I have been collecting articles in the UK press (from tabloids, broadsheets and online sources) which seek to characterise young people. The following, in no particular order, except perhaps for the sake of ironic contrast, are the salient characteristics which emerge from an informal analysis of these articles’ claims:


  • Narcissistic with an unfounded sense of entitlement
  • Experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression
  • Identifying with celebrity culture
  • Prone to ‘drug abuse, alcohol-fuelled pregnancy or law-breaking,’
  • Clean-living, ambitious and competitive
  • ‘…growing up without boundaries, thinking they can do as they please… No adult will intervene to stop them.’ (David Cameron in 2009: the discourse of ‘broken Britain’)
  • More socially liberal and accepting than previous generations on issues such as gay marriage and euthanasia
  • More politically right-wing than parents or grandparents at the same age
  • Digitally literate and globally empowered
  • Suffering from literacy problems and economic disempowerment
  • Speaking a different language


UrBEn-ID is an ethnographic linguistic research project being carried out at Manchester Metropolitan University, funded by The Leverhulme Trust. UrBEn stands for Urban British English, reflecting the project’s aim to investigate ways in which young people in an urban environment use language in the construction, negotiation and performance of their identities.

Some of their recent findings can be accessed here:


Three years on, and those labels; Babyboomer, Generation X, Millennial and Gen Z are still contentious, still contested. This from Marketing Week in April 2019:

Are terms like ‘millennial’ actually useful?



Here City University student Jasmin Ojalainen writes about the UK’s urban slang…


As the melting pot heats up, multiculturalism isn’t only shaping the way we live but the way we speak. Jasmin Ojalainen investigates the /twæŋ/of London street /slæŋ/

Image result for street slang

”Yo, what’s good?” asks a young man in a greeting. While the more conventional ”I’m good thanks, how are you?” may be the natural response for most, it is not often heard amongst the London youth today. Particularly not with Andy Djaba, a 19 year-old chemical engineering student at Imperial College. ”I use quite a lot of slang, but not anything that someone that’s not from London wouldn’t be able to follow,” he says.


London slang and its varieties are constantly changing with diverse cultural nuances. Tony Thorne, language and innovation consultant at King’s College London, notes that the speech pattern amongst London youth has shaped over the years. “In the past London slang displayed certain distinct features – the obvious one of referring to places in the city and of course rhyming which is particularly associated with a London origin even if it is now used elsewhere,” he explains. “Today the slang associated with London youth is not actually confined to London and it is difficult to determine which specific parts of its vocabulary originated there.”


He refers to Multicultural London English, generally known as MLE, which features new words borrowed from outside the UK – exactly the variety of slang that Andy, of West African origin, is talking about. MLE is often linked to recently emerged multicultural hybrid “Jafaican,” or fake Jamaican, with West African and Asian undertones. Jafaican surfaced to the popular culture most notably through Ali G, a parody of a white man adopting slang as a stylistic preference in order to appear more “street.” Although Jafaican is a London creation, the modern youth slang is an urban vernacular saturated with a mixture of ethnic imprints. “The predominantly ’white working-class native Londoner’ slang of the past has been replaced to a large extent by a multiethnic set of codes retaining some local features, such as glottal-stopping or the criminal lexicon, but strongly influenced by external, especially Caribbean varieties,” explains Thorne.


Talking to Andy, these features are present. “Londoners drop the t’s,” he says, referring to glottal-stopping. “There’s little phrases that Londoners will say at the end, ‘d’you know what I mean?’, ‘you get me?’ and ‘innit?’” he says – again, characteristic of the Jafaican dialect. “It’s a nice way to round up a sentence.”


Thorne notes that whereas slang used to be condemned and resisted, it is now publicly recorded and celebrated as new words surface all the time. “There is an obvious need for linguistic renewal and innovation to keep pace with technological and social change and reflecting new influences such as immigration by outside linguistic groups,” he explains. “Within exclusive minority communities, such as street gang members, music genre aficionados and fashionistas, there is also a desire for novelty, originality and authenticity.”


The hip hop culture in particular has popularised modern slang, and Andy says that many words amongst the young today originate from the popular culture and contemporary phenomena, such as rap lyrics, videos and TV programmes – even people themselves. “I started saying ‘roll safe’ quite a lot because of the documentary. It just means you’re leaving somewhere,” Andy says referring to Hood Documentary, a series of documentary episodes released by a South London actor Kayode Ewumi last October. “Also ‘suck your mum’, but that’s like an insult – you hear rappers say it now, so you hear people say it a lot more now,” he adds. These lyrics have most recently been heard in a WickedSkengman, a release by London rapper Stormzy late last year. Andy explains that some of this slang develops in context through repetitive use, often in a group of friends. “Once people hear it, people start saying it, and eventually you understand what it means,” he says.


Because slang is a subversion that sits alongside what is considered correct use of language, a debate around its use in formal contexts persists. In 2013, the Harris Academy in South London’s Upper Norwood introduced a ban on slang to improve standards of English amongst students. Simon Heffer, author of Strictly English, is not against slang but he believes that it doesn’t belong to professional environments.  ”Educated people avoid slang in formal settings, such as a job interview, so someone who does not know to do this will be assumed to be uneducated,” he says. Heffer suggests that the use of slang can point to underlying social inequalities in certain situations. “Slang is often used by those who don’t have a lot of power in society, so it serves those people best. This is most striking in London, with its persistent class system.”


“Where people use slang because they are incapable of reverting to correct speech when necessary, that does suggest at least educational marginalisation,”Heffer says. To Andy, this is something he pays attention to – very much for that same reason. ”I don’t include any slang, or as little slang as possible, when talking to older people or lecturers, tutors, stuff like that,” he says. ”I pronounce my t’s when talking to them.” He agrees that the use of slang could suffer a sociocultural stigma in a professional environment. “If you drop a lot of slang in a formal setting, they’re not gonna understand what you’re talking about. Secondly, if you do it, I think they’ll think you’re just a bit dumb. That you don’t have a wide range to your vocabulary,” he says. “You have to try and be a bit more sophisticated with the way you speak.”


Thorne agrees that slang bears an inherent stereotype. ”High status on the street implies low status in the capitalist economy,” he says. “There is nothing inherently, linguistically deficient about slang and slang users are not necessarily incompetent in standard literacies, but slang is associated with marginal or transgressive groups and activities and is viewed by many as embodying a threat to mainstream values.”


There is a concern that discarding slang at schools would further alienate young people, and some academics have sought alternative methods to bridge the linguistic gap. A former London schoolteacher Tim Woods started the London Dictionary Project as an attempt to catalogue and understand the slang his pupils were using, which was made public in 2014. “There is a common narrative that says that it’s the slang itself which is the problem, which is ridiculous,” Woods says and suggests that the choice should be up to young people themselves. “People respond to incentives, so if you put someone in a great school where many graduates end up running the country, they’ll be happy to adapt to the requirements of the system,” he says.


While Woods thinks that slang itself isn’t harmful, he believes in encouraging young people to use proper grammar and vocabulary to improve their language skills.

“It’s like taking a class in a foreign language and not being allowed to speak your native tongue. It’s not the native tongue itself which is harmful, but there can be a benefit to learning the way that other groups speak,” he says. “Language is very powerful and that makes people nervous. Often what people are saying is symptomatic of things rather than causal – but people would often rather the symptoms, such as inequality or hate, would just go away.”


Why the use of slang should face such controversy comes down to its stamp of exclusivity. Jonathon Green, a lexicographer of slang, notes that the use of slang has been linked to the marginal of society throughout history. “Slang was, is and will remain the language of the street,” he says. “A bottom-up creation that is associated with the working or lower class, even the modern underclass. There is little upper class slang, and such individuals are far more likely to ape the usage their social inferiors.”


Criminal jargon associated with slang may make this even more so, and Andy notes that the use of slang points to deeply rooted issues even today. “You don’t hear white people say London slang as much as black people,” he says. “There’s a thing that people think that if you speak with a lot of slang that you’re talking black. It’s ridiculous – I can understand why people say it, but it’s a generalisation. And it makes you think that in saying that, you’re implying that black people aren’t educated or white people are more educated.”


Green agrees that the ties with slang are socioculturally bound, and says that because of Jafaican infused MLE “we all speak black American to one degree or another.” He suggests, however, that the stereotypes that come with the use of slang are now met with an element of humour. “Slang is not as taboo nor as looked-down upon as once was the case. Look at dictionary definitions: for many years slang was defined as ‘low’ or ‘criminal’. These days the dictionary focus is on its wit and playfulness,” he says.


Despite the historically negative connotation of slang, in today’s society it inevitably merges multicultural identities past the stereotypic notion. ”Slang is used to construct alternative affiliations and identities, some of which may be multiethnic or even considered post-ethnic,” Thorne notes. “There may be grounds for disapproval but they are social or subjective, not linguistic or objective. Some terms in standard English, such as mob, gay, and bus, originated in slang.” Green also agrees that slang is a powerful social instrument that above all forges collective identities. “It all depends where you stand. If you see yourself as an upholder of establishment values, then slang is symptomatic of the ‘dangerous classes‘,” he says. “If you are young, criminal or in some other way socially marginal, then slang can both reinforce you as part of a group, and exclude those who are placed outside that group.”


Historically, London slang has seen the rise of many additional localisms and Thorne notes that even now, there are local dialects – although they largely overlap – within London youth slang ”so that slightly different terms are fashionable in different zones.”Andy, who was born and raised in North West London, notes that the geographical and social differences play a key role in what slang is used. ”Where you’re from and what school you went to definitely affects the way you speak,” he says. “I’ve got mates that are from south London and some of the stuff they say I don’t understand.”


The expanding tentacles of London slang and its diverse branches seem to have eclipsed the traditional Cockney over time. Green, however, thinks that the traditional East End dialect is not entirely gone. “Cockney is not brown bread*, but it is a very different creature from that which was first recorded in 1856,” he says and suggests that the old slang has become something of an iconic trademark.


“The last twenty years and more have seen a major change. It has become little more than another illustration on the tourist map of London. Like black cabs and red telephone kiosks – neither of which really exist – it is inextricable from traditional London. In fact it is yet another badge awarded the Z-list celebrity, along with tabloid scandals and appearances on reality TV shows,” Green says.


Even so, the rhyming slang has escaped the tongues of the younger generation. “I don’t understand Cockney slang,” Andy says straight away. “I think it is dying out – to be fair, I don’t live in the Cockney area, but I haven’t heard people my age talk any Cockney slang.” And he is not alone. A study published by the Museum of London in 2012 already showed that the East London dialect may be fading out as majority of the 2,000 participants failed to recognise traditional phrases associated with the rhyming slang.


In an article written for the Independent, however, Thorne points out that Cockney isn’t a shared dialect but a word game not meant to be understood immediately by everyone. So, no one actually talks in Cockney anymore, but Thorne notes that even when the rhyming part is left out, the heritage of the slang is still present in our everyday discourse. Many phrases have been simply trimmed from their originals, such as “taking the mick” that used to be known as “Mickey Bliss.”


Dynamics of slang from rapid change in meaning to widely recognised words that stick around for decades may be as complex as the sociolect itself, and what makes some slang effective is difficult to pinpoint. “It’s not possible to predict or to be sure in retrospect which slang terms persist or cross over into everyday usage and which don’t. This may occur if a term fills a lexical gap in the language – if it encodes something which previously lacked a name,” Thorne explains. ”Slang by definition carries a charge of novelty, exoticism, transgression and topicality which may account for its power,” he says and adds: ”It’s also untrue that all slang is short-lived: even the vogue terms of youth slang, such as ’solid’, ‘cool’, or ‘wicked’, tend to stay in use for several to many years, though they may migrate from the high status expert users to less fashionable speakers.”


Green notes that the initial secrecy of slang may have accounted for its fast-paced change. ”When a term became known outside the group, it was necessary to replace it. And while linguistic secrecy, if it even exists, is much shorter-lived today, that principle still obtains,” he says. And perhaps the magic of slang and why it works is its constant revision that accounts for some personal influence. The idea of a shared identity boosts the personal significance slang has on its user, and Woods suggests that it is indeed that kind of social power that makes slang so popular and effective.


“A few times when I was a student myself I gave someone a nickname and it stuck. Everyone would start calling this person by the new name, but only the people in our group knew where it had come from and what it was implying,” he says. “There was always a bit of a hidden meaning behind it. The person with the nickname felt like they were really part of the group too, but of course a nickname often only lasts a month or something.”


“I think slang is similar. If you can use the right words, if you know the words, you know you’re in the group and other people are reminded that you’re in the group,” Woods thinks. Andy says that to him, slang has exactly that function, sometimes to the point where it replaces actual names. “I don’t even call my brother by his name anymore, I just call him ‘bruv‘,” he says.


Thorne reminds that other historical slangs in London, such as Polari, which West End version was used in theatre whereas the East End equivalent was heard in the Docklands, both mainly by gays, worked as a stamp of identification. As a social means, slang fosters an exclusive sense of belonging and equality between the speaker and the listener. ”All peer-groups or communities of practice operating in clearly defined and restricted settings and valuing exclusivity are likely to generate their own sociolects – nonstandard varieties of language related to location, class, ethnicity and/or activity,” he says.


Andy says that he uses slang especially with his friends, and confirms that “there’s an identity to it.” Additionally, he thinks that London slang itself has a widespread sense of tribalism amongst its speakers in the city. “It’s quite clear that Londoners speak in a different way to everyone else,” he says and shows that people take pride in the use of slang with a playful us-them mentality. “If I heard a non-Londoner saying a lot of London slang, I’d be like, what are you doing, just trying to copy how we speak.”


In the UK, London is naturally the cradle of all slang and according to Green, the capital’s strong slang base is “vastly outweighing any rival.” But even so, the countless possibilities unleashed by the digital world and multiculturalism, the original London slang – the language of the working class, underworld, traders, and gays – has since lost its primacy. Whereas cultures and multidimensional identities are constantly forged together, so is new slang.


Contemporary millennials and today’s youth ensure that slang keeps flourishing, which means it changes often – and perhaps the secrecy of modern slang is in the fact that it can be hard to keep up with. ’Styll’, perhaps the most peculiar of recent slang words, is something Andy finishes the occasional sentence with. It doesn’t really have a meaning, or it is one of a varying degree, and yet it somehow seems to encapsulate the youth slang with its growing popularity and slight absurdity.


“It doesn’t mean anything, you just say it. Like when you’re watching a football match, you go: ‘Oh yeah, that was a good match styll,” Andy says. “I picked it up on Twitter.” And that’s how slang seems to work. It forms in the mouths of the young, the contemporary and the influential, it spreads through peer groups and celebrities, and most importantly, it develops through life and conversation – and nowadays, even social media.


And while the era of global digitalisation has already had its footprint on youth slang, Andy says it’s difficult to remain self-aware with the overwhelming exposure of new slang and emerging influences. “It’s not that deep,” Andy sums it up with a phrase that has surfaced in his speech in regular intervals. ‘It’s not that deep’ or ‘the situation at hand does not require such desperate actions,’ as defined by Urban Dictionary – or perhaps in this context, a suggestion that Andy doesn’t want to overthink the possibly layered reasons behind the way he speaks. “You just pick these things up and it gets assimilated into how you talk,” he explains, and it seems perfectly plausible.


Slang and varying patterns in speech are contagious, at least to some. As a natural response to ever-evolving language, our primary means of communication and understanding our surroundings, we tend to pick up and imitate changes in style all the time. After all, it’s bare colloquialism. Innit?



allow (verb) – to forget about sth; to dismiss the topic of discussion

bait (adj) – obvious

bare (adv) – a lot of, very

big man ting (adv) – to be honest

bitz (n) – neighbourhood

bruv (n) – brother

com (adj) – cool

dinter (n) – male

deece (adj) – nice, decent

gassed (adj) – excited, full of oneself

gwop (n) – money

innit (excl) – isn’t it

long (adj) – boring

mandem (n) – a group of male friends

moist (adj) – soft

man’s (n) – I, I am

neek (ad) – nerd

peak (n) – bad luck

roadboy, roadman (n) – local; someone who knows the area well

roll safe (excl) – goodbye

skeen (adj) – understood

styll (adv) – though

wagwan (excl) – what’s up

wasteman (adj) – loser; someone who does nothing with their life

Adam and Eve (verb) – to believe
Barney Rubble (n) – trouble

Brahms and Liszt (adj) – pissed (drunk)
bees and honey (n) – money
brown bread (adj) – dead
butcher’s hook (n) – a look
China plate (n) – mate (friend)
dog and bone (n) – phone
half-inch (verb) – to pinch (steal)

Hank Marvin (adj) – starving

laugh ‘n a joke (n) – smoke

Mickey Bliss (verb) – to take the piss
pig’s ear (n) – beer

rabbit and pork (verb) – to talk

Todd Sloane (adj) – alone

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