Saturday, June 23, 2007

I posted this distillation of a BBC lexicon of zeitgeist speech on the Patteran Pages a year or so ago. By now it's probably as cutting edge as Virgil's famous account of hip speak along the Via Appia.

What’s book, what’s buzzing, what’s boom-boom..?

When I was at school around about the time they drew up Magna Carta, we wore shirts in blue & black stripes with upturned collars under black v-neck sweaters over black trousers with 15” bottoms & chisel- or pointed-toe shoes. Under the dripping trees, fags on & transistor radio playing, we called each other ‘dad’ or ‘man’. Good stuff was ‘cool’ or ‘guvnor’; bad stuff was ‘square’.

And that was about it. Illicit cider in thermos flasks or cooking sherry in shampoo bottles, Players No. 6 tucked into a t-shirt sleeve, nodding moodily along with Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran & cheeking the teacher constituted the apogee of anti-social behaviour. Youth subculture was as deep as a coat of paint. Scratch it & the butcher, baker or barrister beneath would shine through.

Here, within the largely uncharted waters of the 21st century, there flourishes an archipelago of subcultural groupings, each animated by their own modi vivendi, each as fiercely exclusive as Balkan nation states.

Hoody culture – that which glossy new Tory leader David Cameron is so anxious to enfold in his pragmatic embrace – has managed, thus far, to resist corporate takeover. However, The Guardian – whose radar is ever sensitive to the slightest bleep of zeitgeist – has compiled a glossary of contemporary youth-speak. Now that the camera has flashed & the souls of the natives have been captured forever, street culture will duck the scrutiny of the media, the hoods will disappear & the language will remake & remodel. So get it here & now while it’s still fresh…


ah nam - tell on, rat on.


bait - obvious, as in "that's so bait".
(Nimesh Bhudia, Wembley, London)

bare - a lot of, very. In the case of a man or woman described as bare butters, see below.

beast - an adjective to describe something that's really cool.
(Suggested by reader Richard Beadnall, North Yorkshire) Beasting = bullying] [

book - cool. The first option given in predictive text when trying to type ‘c-o-o-l’.

boom boom - a slogan of approval in inner-city London. There was much debate during the election campaign about whether Tony Blair was booed or boomed at the Lilian Bayliss Technology School in London. [Surely a term of African American origin from jazz]

buff - sexy, fit. [It has been suggested to me that this term is used more frequently by the female to express approval of the male, where ‘fit’ might be used more frequently by the male commenting on the female]

bum - to enjoy something: "he bums that game so much". And there are levels of bummage - to really like something is to "bum it blue", but "he bummed it black" means he used to like it but has since gone off it.

butters - ugly (pronounced without sounding the t's).

buzzing - cool.


chirps - chat up: "We chirps some buff gals last night."

chung - extremely sexy. If someone is described as "chung", that's a serious step up from ‘buff’.

clappin' - out of date or worn out, usually to describe attire or accessories, as in "Man, my tracksuit is clappin'. Gotta get down JJB Sport and buy a new one." Also means tired out.
(Suggested by reader Denney, Reading) [‘Clapped out’ is a respectable term describing something functional that has broken down. The term originates from the 18th century in description of prostitutes consumed by venereal disease]

cotch down - to hang out, relax, chill out or sleep. Possibly derived, via patois, from the French "se coucher", meaning to lie down. See also kotch. [I have come across what I believe is an American verb to ‘skootch’, which means to wriggle or shuffle into a comfortable position]

crump - a multi-purpose term which can be an insult, an exclamation and a rather explicit sex act. It generally means bad, but can also mean good, depending on the context: "That ain't good, man, it's crump", or "That's one crump message you left there".


dash - to dash is to pass something to somebody - but it can be "pass" in the broadest possible sense, including to throw violently with the intention of causing hurt or damage.

dred - dreadful, terrible, bad, cruel. [Surely a well-known Jamaican adjective from Rastafarian culture]

dry - dull, boring, stupid, unfunny. A bad joke might be described as "dry".


feds - police. Taken from the US word for the FBI.

flat roofin' - to be overworked and stressed, as in, "I was flat roofin for my GCSEs". Probably comes from flat out.
(Suggested by reader Michael, London)

fo sho - "urban" version of yes, for sure, certainly. Clearly a steal from Afro-American vocabulary, with a strong suggestion of Southern inflection]

from ends - one who is "from the streets" and so knows what's going on.

fudge - a very, very stupid person indeed, presumably from the common slang verb ‘to fudge’, or mess up.


grimy - good, or may describe a practical joke or amusing - and probably unsavoury - act. [The term is used as a noun to define a version of urban dance music]


hangin - ugly, most likely with an unattractive body and bad dress sense to boot.

heavy - cool, interesting.
(Suggested by reader Yahya Raje) [Surely merely a version of the original meaning of the old hippy adjective]

howling - ugly.


jack - to steal or take, as in "car-jacking".

jokes - funny or enjoyable, as in, "That party was jokes".
(Suggested by reader Anishka Wil, Edgware)

jook - to stab or to steal.
(Suggested by reader Caroline Jones, Godalming) [In early jazz terminology to ‘jook’ meant to fuck. Is this in some way an extension, retaining the penetrative sense?]


kotch - sit and chill out. See also cotch.


laoy dat - forget that.
(Suggested by reader Masum Ullah, Birmingham)

long - someone who won't put out, also meaning a lot of effort: "He wanted to have sex with me, but I told him I'm long."

lush - good-looking, sexy. [This sense – an abbreviation of ‘luscious’ - has been around for many years]


mint - cool. Self-explanatory, surely.

munter - ugly. An alternate to minger, which has passed into the mainstream since its first recorded use in 1995.


nang - London term for cool, excellent, brilliant. When something is very good, it's "proper nang".

nim nim nim - blah blah blah; yadda yadda yadda. What's said when someone is talking rubbish.
(Suggested by reader Ian, Bristol) [An interesting example of contemporary onomatopoeia]


off the hook - cool, appealing, fresh, exceeding one's expectations. A phrase much over-used by Maxwell in Big Brother to express appreciation for his surroundings, for an attractive member of the opposite sex...

owned - to be made a fool of, to be beaten by. Can also be spelled "pwned", to denote a common spelling error in online gaming slang.
(Suggested by reader Jason Truman, Leamington Spa)


rago - whatever, OK.

random - odd, irregular, crazy, out there. Not used when something is genuinely random, but as an adjective by those who like to think they live a life less ordinary and have a wacky sense of humour. An example from Urban Dictionary reads thus:
Teen 1: "Cheese! hahahaha"
Teen 2: "Wow! That's sooooo random!"
Also used by players of the online game Counter-Strike to describe someone whose performance is inconsistent.

rents - parents.
(Suggested by reader Eric, London)

rinsed - overused, used up, all gone. "That song was rinsed, I don't like it anymore."
(Suggested by reader Angharad, Brixton)

roll with - hang out with.


safa - coolest of the cool, superlative version of safe (see below).

safe - cool, good, sweet. [Now outside the ‘underground’ & into common usage]

shabby - cool, smart, "da bomb". As in, "That's a well shabby suit."

sick - interesting, cool, never seen before. The more sick something is, the better. This usage originated with skaters and snowboarders.

sik - see sick.

skeen - I see. Also seen.
(Suggested by reader Alex Harris, Nottingham)

slap up - to beat up. Hence the happy slapping craze in which feral youths attack passers-by and film it on their mobiles.

standard - goes without saying.

swag - extreme, scary. A word which once denoted ill-gotten gains and then freebies - particularly branded merchandise - it can also be used as an adjective for something frightening.

switch - to turn on someone.


tell over/told over - to rat on someone.


unass - to relinquish or surrender control of an object or person; to leave.
(Suggested by reader Spoon, Leamington Spa)


vexed - irritated, angry. An old word, it has gained new currency, as demonstrated by Science in Big Brother to express his annoyance with some triviality or other.


wagwaan - what's up? what's going on? Originates from Jamaican patois.
(Suggested by reader Abtin, Berkhamsted)

wicked - cool. Yes, 30-somethings who remember it from their own school days, it has made a comeback. Can also mean very, thus something can be described as "wicked cool". [Long outside the ‘underground’ & in common usage]


yard - house, garden, where one lives and hangs out. Once again, a steal from early jazz slang]

your mum - a comeback to a question or insult. An implied affront to one's mother, which may be taken as an ineffectual insult or may result in grievous bodily harm.


Frankly, my dear, ... said...

Starting from the end and working back (the same way I read magazines):

your mum - a comeback to a question or insult. An implied affront to one's mother, which may be taken as an ineffectual insult or may result in grievous bodily harm.

Obviously taken from black American "yo' mama", which in turn is taken from Hispanic tu madre. The latter is entirely an insult, being a shortening of chinga tu madre 'fuck your mother'. To refer to someone's mother without being insulting (and/or risking taking a switchblade between the third and fourth ribs), one has to say su señora madre.

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

yard - house, garden, where one lives and hangs out. Once again, a steal from early jazz slang]

This hardly qualifies as slang. It is just dialect borrowing and metonymy. 'Yard' is, of course, what Americans call what the British refer to as a 'garden'. Yard and garden are a doublet (words of different form that were originally the same word), the different forms resulting from their different pathways to modern English. 'Yard' is the native English word (OE geard) while 'garden' has come from Old Norman French gardin which was borrowed from Frankish *gardo.

The extension of "yard" to "home", "territory", or "a place to hang out" is simple metonymy, much like the extension of "turf" to the same meanings.

Karen M said...

Hmmm... I had a different reaction to yard; it reminded me of a prison and its yard.

Wicked cool must have an interesting history. Stateside, in New England, esp. in Maine, they use wicked to mean something good, or maybe very, e.g., "wicked good."

Thanks for the translations, Dick. I'm invariably way behind on such cultural distinctions.

Welcome to The Chocolate Interrobang!

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

Hmmm... I had a different reaction to yard; it reminded me of a prison and its yard.

Prison yard, schoolyard, Harvard Yard, Scotland Yard — basically a yard is an enclosure (as is a garden). The words just grow in different directions. Another doublet is 'garth'. A twofer is 'orchard' which was ortgeard in Old English with the Latin cognate hortus (through the Vulgar Latin *orto) joined with OE geard 'yard'.

Jeff W said...

Thanks for that comment, FDM. As French obviously descends from Latin, I had not really thought of the impact of Frankish on old French, which given the name of the country and the language, might be taken as the height of cluelessness on my part.

Your comment about doublets prompted me to look around a bit and I found this interesting bit of etymology:

"Old English myrige or mirige meant 'pleasant, delightful, or agreeable' , but the word derived from an Old Teutonic word *murgjo meaning 'short'. The Indo-European root is mreghu-, which also meant 'short' and from which we get a multitude of other words, some through Greek, some through Latin, some through French: embrace, bracelet, abbreviate, breviary, brief, abridge, brassiere, and pretzel. The Greek word brakhion is a comparative meaning 'shorter'; it also meant 'the upper arm', which is shorter than the forearm, and that's how we get the arm-related words (a pretzel is in the shape of folded arms). Germanic cognates for merry and the related word mirth are practically nonexistent."

(Perhaps ancient hat for you, FMD.) Do those words count as an examples of doubletting (sounds almost phlebotomical, really), that is, words coming from the same word through different routes or do doublets have to retain some arguably related meaning (e.g., yard/garden meaning enclosure)?

Jeff W said...

That word mint is sweet!

Scooch is defined here and discussed a little here (where it's confused a bit with skosh). Sheesh!

John Cowan said...

It's not entirely clear whether orchard is in fact hortus 'garden' + yard, or if it is plain English wortyard and originally referred to an herb garden.

See my posting on gentil for more doublets and multiplets. English is rich with them.

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

Do those words count as an examples of doubletting (sounds almost phlebotomical, really), that is, words coming from the same word through different routes or do doublets have to retain some arguably related meaning (e.g., yard/garden meaning enclosure)?

As far as I know, the only requirement is that the words come from the same source. One can be native and the other foreign (yard/garden, ward/guard, back/bacon, wain/wagon, etc.); both can be borrowed (chief/chef [and later and from a different source, capo], chair/chaise, etc.); or both can be native (staff/stave, through/thorough, tithe/tenth, elder/older, etc.).

Meaning does not have to be preserved, although the relationship will usually be clear when the words are backtracked, but part of speech should. Thus 'cathedral' and 'chair' form a doublet (both being seats), as do 'sky' and 'shoe' (both being coverings; 'shield' is also related). Sometimes there is a semantic transfer that breaks the chain such as the one you mentioned from "short" to "upper arm". Hence 'bracelet' has nothing to do with being short, but is associated with the arm. But in general the words should have once been the same word, not merely based on the same root. For this the wider term "cognate" is used.

There should also be consistency in the morphology. Thus 'ten' and 'tenth' do not form a doublet, one merely being a derivative of the other, whereas 'tithe' and tenth are a doublet each representing a different pathway from OE téoþa to the modern language.

There are also levels of relatedness involved in determining the concept of "same word". Within the same language, this is not usually a problem but the further back one goes the more difficult it can become. For example, English 'ten' and Latin 'decem' are ultimately descended from the same PIE form. Does that make 'dime' (< Fr. dîme < disme < Lat. decimus) a doublet of 'tithe'? Opinions will vary.

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

It's not entirely clear whether orchard is in fact hortus 'garden' + yard, or if it is plain English wortyard and originally referred to an herb garden.

Yes, that is a distinct possibility. In that case wort-yard would be a construction similar to vine-yard. But there are formal problems with this interpretation, particularly the large number of spellings of 'orchard' with initial h- in the 16th and 17th centuries, which tend to indicate an identification with Latin hortus.

Another possibility is that the word was originally wort-yard and then was later reinterpreted as (h)ort-yard. Such reinterpretation is not uncommon. Consider for example the word 'outrage'. Most modern speakers would tell you that this word is composed of 'out' + 'rage', when in fact it is related to neither. 'Outrage' is from the French outrage "excess" (< oultrage < outre, which ultimately comes from the Latin ultrā "beyond", plus the nominal suffix -age). Those who cavil at using 'task' as a verb do not hesitate for a moment about using 'outrage' as a verb in a meaning ("to anger") that the noun doesn't even have (or didn't originally have). The "rage" in 'outrage' is entirely manufactured by reanalysis.

Jeff W said...

Thanks, FDM, I greatly appreciate, as always, your detailed explanation. (I didn't want to refer to those words as "doublets" if they weren't.) And, thanks, John, I liked your blog entry on doublets.

William Timberman said...

My, haven't our cousins been busy. Thanks, D.J., great fun.

My favorite doublet:

Reiter/Ritter = horseman/knight

The first is the High German word. The second is the Low German/Dutch cognate, transformed into knight in High German because of the admiration in Germany for the Burgundian knights, who were thought to be paragons of chivalry.