Tim Key: 'What is this word "props" - and what's it got to do with Vanessa?'



I am a huge fan of sports and, in particular, sports journalism. But I recently consumed some which included the following phrase about the Everton manager, Roberto Martinez: "Props are due to Martinez – he's brought a charisma and style to the team while still outpointing the ghost of David Moyes". A nice accolade for Martinez, that. But I admit I furrowed my brow when I read it. And I also reached for my online dictionary. "Props". That was the problem I had. Props.

I had heard the word before, and always waved it through. Phrases come and go and you're not always in a situation where you can look them up. But this time I was hungry to get to the bottom of it and I leafed through my iPhone, seeking answers. I'm on a 24-month contract, so my iPhone didn't waste my time telling me about the type of props you get in the theatre, or the ones you might use to prop up a washing line or a leaning tree. No, it took me straight to something called an Urban Dictionary, and solved the riddle there and then.

"Props: proper recognition. I give him props for sleeping with Vanessa."

I reread the article and felt much more on top of it. And good on Roberto. As a Londoner, I felt pleased that I had some more urban lingo in my armoury. And I write a column for a paper sold in cities, so that kind of stuff is gold dust. It actually made me want to go deeper into town and practise using it. I arranged to go for drinks in Soho with my new friends, Claire and Aiden, so I could have a go with it, and we settled on the Soho Theatre bar at 9pm.

As I was practising the phrase in front of my mirror, I did, however, feel troubled by the example the Urban Dictionary had given me. "I give him props for sleeping with Vanessa." I can't really imagine a context where I could see myself saying that. It started me thinking about all involved. The "him", the chap who's properly recognising the "him", and of course "Vanessa". Was the speaker impressed because Vanessa was so beautiful that the union looked unlikely on paper? Was he wowed because it was a famous Vanessa, a Mae or a Feltz, and all the cache that comes with that? Or was Vanessa maybe an animal, such as a panther or an ostrich, where again props would be begrudgingly due. I guess it's just an example, but it did trouble me.

I arrived at the Soho Theatre bar early and practised used "props" a couple of times with the bar staff there, as they nailed pouring my beer or gave me the correct change, and then I sat and waited for Claire and Aiden. They arrived looking great and I had to hold myself back from using it immediately about Aiden's coat. It was three-quarter length and had the whiff of the oceans about it. And Claire looked radiant as per. She'd just got a promotion, but again I held my tongue. I kind of wanted us to all be set before I threw it in casually.

We had a couple of Brooklyn Lagers and some cashews and talked using basic language for a bit. Then Aiden went to the bar and I seized my chance. I leaned right into Claire and sang it into her lughole. "I give you props for sleeping with Aiden." She nodded but seemed unsure. I went again a little louder. The same. I sat back down. After a time she asked me what I meant. Aiden returned with the beers and I tried it on him, but again, blank looks. I reverted to normal language. "I was just saying to Claire that I give her proper recognition for sleeping with you, Aiden."

They both nodded and drank their beer. They understood it now. But throwing it in seemed to have changed things. Slowed everything down a bit. I sipped my Brooklyn. I ruminated on the possibility that urban language is more trouble than it's worth.

Tim Key will be performing his show Single White Slut at the Duchess Theatre, London, 28 April-2 May, 7.30pm

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