Do you speak Blinglish?
Two new dictionaries help you understand the strange language your kids talk
Sunday 30 October 2005
And waiting, ready to collect it and mount it in their albums, will be a small, dedicated band of people of a certain age. They are lexicographers, and next month they will create the biggest stir in slang since the first Anglo-Saxon came ashore and let loose the first oath: the publication of not one, but two major dictionaries of words from the street. And the message from both books is that our slang is changing faster than it has ever done.
First up, on 17 November, is Jonathon Green's Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, a major new edition that contains no fewer than 12,500 new entries. Five days later comes The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang, the first new edition of this classic for 20 years. Edited by Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor, it has taken five years to compile and contains more than 65,000 entries, "uncounted thousands" of which are new, says Mr Victor.
Slang these days increasingly means youth street talk, and in central London yesterday, the new slang was on a lot of lips. From Emma Spencer of Stoke Newington: grep (unpleasant) and munter (ugly); from Ruth Horrell from Hammersmith, hench, meaning someone in good physical shape; and tonight Phebian Ashama, 17, and Tobi Olarinre, 19, from Peckham will be going to a friend's shubs (party) at a brap (really good) club, where hopefully it will be bare-live (really cool). To all of which Mr Green could add from his book: boot-ho (a female one dislikes personally but finds sexually attractive), breeded up (pregnant), go bitchcakes (be angry), mozzarella (money), and showbiz sherbet (cocaine).
The authors of both books are clear about the major sources of the new youth slang: urban black America (mixed with a little West Indian), hip-hop, Grime (a London form of hip-hop), rappers such as Eminem and Goldie Lookin Chain, and even, according to Mr Victor, the comic paper Viz. They are also impressed at the speed new slang is created: "It changes a lot faster and is much more visible than it used to be," says Mr Green.
This rate of change, according to Professor David Crystal of Reading University, author of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, is because: "First, English is increasingly global. Nearly a third of the world's population speaks [it], so there are new varieties of English growing up all over the place. Once we just had British and American English. Then Australian English. Now there are about 70 'new Englishes': Pakistani English, Singaporean English, Ghanaian English ... And each develops its own vocabulary. You might get a large group of immigrants in Brick Lane all speaking their own language and their own form of English. And that language might be ignored, but it might also be considered cool. These slangs, especially Caribbean slang, are being picked up.
"The second reason is the internet." In the 1960s, says Green, "slang took 20 or 30 years to cross the Atlantic. These days it's not quite 20 or 30 minutes, but it's not much longer."
This is all very bad news for grown-ups - as part of the point of youth slang is to exclude parents, teachers and police. Professor Crystal says: "As soon as it gets picked up by adults, they drop it; that's what happens. And that is why it is so ephemeral."
Even the kids are sometimes bewildered. "It seems like everybody's doing it at my school," says 14-year-old Lizzie, from Lewisham. "Most of them grew up in posh middle-class families but their accents sound as if they're from Brooklyn or somewhere. It's a bit like that story about The Emperor's New Clothes. Everybody's scared to ask what it means because they'd get laughed at, but I bet if anyone did ask they wouldn't even know."
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