Top 10 tips on how to decipher London lingo
The London riots had many, many unforgettable aspects to them, but one of the most striking was that the BBC had to provide a translation service for the news coverage of rioting youths. Yes, you read right. English was being translated underneath, to English. You see, anyone who grew up in small town suburbia, and was then was thrown into the hustle and bustle of London life for university thinking ‘It’s ok. I speak the language’ was sorely mistaken. You do not speak the language. In fact, you are an outsider, and everybody is going to know. One of the first things that I had said to me was ‘You’re not from London, are you? Your Facebook statuses always have really good grammar.’ And there it was. My appreciation for capital letters and semi-colons was ostracising me already.
As a self-confessed grammar Nazi, and lover of the English language, ‘London speak’ came as something of a revelation. Limited primarily to those areas outside of and surrounding central London, and keeping well away from the more affluent areas such as Chelsea (they have slang of their own), came a whole new dictionary of terms. For the past four years that I have been in London, Urban Dictionary has been amongst my best friends. It has been my confidante, my non-judgemental tutor, a constant fountain of information. From the day I was asked to ‘spud’ someone, and left staring blankly at their fist until they eventually decided to convert to a high five, I knew that this was going to be an uphill struggle. Between the lack of vowels in text speak and the lack of general WORDS in actual speak, this was going to be one confusing adjustment period.
It is therefore perhaps wise to put together a few rules. Some dos and don’ts, based on the personal experiences of a Surrey girl in London. All you poor, naïve, out of Londoners, especially those of you who hail from the Home Counties, take note. As should all you Londoners, left behind and lost in a world of your own doing. Save yourself the embarrassment and familiarise yourself with these top 10 common phrases, ground rules, and general London life lessons:
1) Abandon grammar. You don’t need grammar. It is not your friend, it is not conducive to sentence structure, and it does not help you in any way. In fact, it will probably get you beaten up.
2) Do not correct other people’s grammar. You may think you’re saving the soul of humanity, but those youths outside Kilburn station will not appreciate this. See previous comment about being beaten up.
3) Words can be pluralised or made singular at will. Take ‘butterz’ for instance. Here we have taken our favourite dairy product, pluralised it (with a ‘z’ no less), and given it an entirely new meaning. This charming word is now used to describe, amongst other unpleasant things, someone who is aesthetically challenged.
4) Work in opposites. ‘Bare’, rather than taking its original meaning of ‘unadorned’ or ‘devoid of’, actually means ‘a lot’. ‘Sik’ (best spelt without the ‘c’, for added effect) is actually a reference to something very good. This pseudo-reversal of meanings happens with several other words too. So you see, there is method behind all this madness.
5) Don’t be offended by ‘your mum’ jokes. They’re not referring to your actual mother. It’s ‘your mum.’ Think of it more as a universal mother who has committed numerous offensive acts, and so one is merely commenting on her life choices.
6) ‘Shank’ is a verb meaning ‘to stab.’ There is no associated explanation. You just need to know this in case someone says ‘I am going to shank you’ and you think they’re being friendly.
7) What were previously sounds can now become words. ‘Cotch’ may be mistaken for an impromptu sound, a police batton even, but no. No, it actually means to hang out, or to chill out. Again, it is a verb, and can be conjugated as normal.
8 ) Sometimes vowels aren’t needed. This is especially apparent in text speak. It mght b wrth lrning 2 ndrstnd ths.
9) There are miscellaneous words that you will not understand at first. Just go with it, until you can get home and check urban dictionary. Some examples are the ‘dizzy’ in ‘Are you dizzy, blud?’ and the ‘gassed’ in ‘Whoever said that was gassed.’
10) Most importantly, don’t ever ever judge. Some people may wRiTe Lyk Dis. Some people are unaware of the letter ‘t’ in any word, and some people speak horribly pretentious English. London is full of different types. Just be open to it all. After all, everyone here is your bruv/bredrin/blud.
There are words specific to the North of England too, but of those I know very little. The ‘rahs’ who hail from Chelsea and various affluent areas in the Home Counties like to use words like ‘chunder’ and ‘lash’, and the Scottish have substituted several English words with their own take on things. But London has made full use of the malleability of the English language. Bear in mind, however, that words are always changing. What was acceptable today might not be tomorrow. In these instances, I recommend a refresher course. The best place to learn is on the streets of North, East or South London.
And so, you are heretofore free to explore the ghettos of London. Just….try not to pronounce things too properly, you get me?
Image by Banksy
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