Archive for the ‘Slang’ Category

Urban dictionaries

Posted on April 30th, 2011by Michelle
In Culture, English, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

An interesting piece in the Guardian looks at urban dictionaries (well, mainly at the Urban Dictionary). Whilst well-known print dictionaries like the OED can take years to update, urban dictionaries are on the web and can be updated as and when new words and phrases appear.

But, as the article suggests, there are issues with this:

“..slang expert Green’s problem with Urban Dictionary isn’t that it contains offensive words. “It’s amateur hour. They set themselves up as an authority and I don’t believe they are. There aren’t 2,000 new slang words a day – they don’t exist. It undermines the whole point of a dictionary. If you want to have something called The Book Of Amusing Words That Young People Come Up With, then fine, let’s have that. I’ll stick with [Viz comic's] Roger’s Profanisaurus.”

Over 3,500 volunteers edit submissions to Urban Dictionary – but there are masses of them. According to the article, “in the past 30 days 67,000 people wrote 76,000 new definitions”. As Jonathon Green points out, there can’t be that many new words created constantly.

One thing urban dictionaries do better than traditional dictionaries though, is to publish slang words and definitions, and keep them up to date. When the new OED is published (around 2037), many of the slang words we use today will likely have fallen out of favour. In the meantime, we can use Google or the Urban Dictionary to satisfy our curiosity.

Emma Thompson attacks ‘sloppy’ language

Posted on September 28th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Slang, Words | 2 Comments »

The actress Emma Thompson has attacked the use of sloppy language in an interview with the Radio Times.

From the BBC:

She said: “We have to reinvest, I think, in the idea of articulacy as a form of personal human freedom and power.”

Ms Thompson added that on a visit to her old school she told pupils not to use slang words such as “likes” and “innit”.

“I told them, ‘Just don’t do it. Because it makes you sound stupid and you’re not stupid.”‘

Whilst this may sound harsh, Ms Thompson went on to say:

“There is the necessity to have two languages – one that you use with your mates and the other that you need in any official capacity.”

This is something I think we can all agree on. The ability to recognise the correct vocabulary to use in different situations is learnt through experience. And it’s noticeable when learning a new language also – in Spanish for example there are different greetings depending on the time of day (buenos dias, buenas tardes, buenas noches) and the person you are talking to.

These “two languages” are part of the reason why it’s difficult to become fully fluent in a language – you can learn the “official” language and yet until you hear and see how it is used by people in different contexts, you can’t really get the true feeling of a language.

What do you think of Emma Thompson’s views on sloppy language?

New Oxford Dictionary of English entries

Posted on August 23rd, 2010by Michelle
In English, Events, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

The third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English has announced new entries, including the word “vuvuzela”.

Released on August 19th, the dictionary contains 2,000 new words and 200 new phrases, including “on the naughty step”. “Vuvuzela” made an impact during the recent World Cup – it is a horn instrument blown by football fans – because of the controversy surrounding the noise it makes.

Oxford University Press uses a constantly updated “word bank” to ensure the dictionary is up to date – the first edition published in 1998 included “alcopop” and “eye candy” while the second edition additions included “Ruby Murrary” (rhyming slang for a curry) and “chav”. Other entries for this edition include “microblogging” – the posting of short entries on a blog and “staycation” – a holiday in your own country.
Climate change and the financial crisis also impacted on the dictionary – with the introduction of “toxic debt” and “carbon capture”.

The aim of the dictionary is to reflect current trends in the usage of English words. What words would you add?

(Source: BBC News)

Weird words quiz

Posted on August 17th, 2010by Michelle
In dialects, English, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

How well do you know the English language? That’s the question asked by this quiz in The Guardian today.

The ‘weird words’ quiz tests your knowledge of English slang, dialect and old usage. For each definition, you have to choose the correct word. How many can you get right? (I got a miserable three out of ten). Test your knowledge here.

The First English Dictionary of Slang

Posted on August 14th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford have announced they are publishing the first dictionary of slang, which has been out of print for 300 years.

Originally entitled A New Dictionary of Terms, Ancient and Modern, of the Canting Crew, its aim was to educate the polite London classes in ‘canting’ – the language of thieves and ruffians – should they be unlucky enough to wander into the ‘wrong’ parts of town.

With over 4,000 entries, the dictionary contains many words which are now part of everyday parlance, such as ‘Chitchat’ and ‘Eyesore’ as well as a great many which have become obsolete, such as the delightful ‘Dandyprat’ and ‘Fizzle’. Remarkably, this landmark of English from 1699 was compiled and published anonymously, by an author who has left us only his initials – ‘B.E. Gent [gentleman]’. (Source: University of Oxford)

Sample entries include Bundletail, “a short Fat or squat Lass”; Dandyprat, “a little puny Fellow”; and the more familiar Urchin – “a little sorry Fellow; also a Hedgehog”.

A Dickens of a job*

Posted on June 18th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Slang, Translation | Leave a Comment »

Dickens has been translated into street slang, by the author who re-wrote Shakepeare’s plays in text-speak.

The ‘translator’ Martin Baum, has modified 16 Dickens novels into stories nine or ten pages long, including changing the immortal line from Oliver Twist – “Please Sir, I want some more” – into “Oi mate, gimme some more”.

He said:

“There are many people who love and understand great literature but many more who don’t. My book is the bait to draw them in and get them interested in some wonderful stories.” ( Source: The Australian)

Hmm, seems like a gimmick to me. Perhaps I’m biased though, as I have an aversion to Dickens’ work!

* I’m not quite sure where this phrase comes from, but my mum uses it a lot. It seems to mean that the required outcome of a task will be hard to achieve – “I had a dickens of job trying to pull up those roots.” Anyone know the origin?

More South Africanisms

Posted on June 14th, 2010by Michelle
In Culture, Language acquisition, Slang | Leave a Comment »

England haven’t yet been kicked out of the World Cup (despite the shameful draw with the USA) so to celebrate, why not learn some more South African slang?

Last week I brought you such gems as ‘chips! Chips!’ – now it’s time for some more useful terms:

BLIKSEM (BLUK-SEM): If you’re in a pub and you accidentally spill a beer belonging to a man with a thick neck, he may say: “Do you want me to bliksem you?” Don’t respond. Just run. Run for your life. It’s the Afrikaans word for hit or strike or punch.

That could definitely come in handy.

DINGES (DING-US): An indeterminate, nondescript thing or term for an object whose name you’ve momentarily forgotten. Like this: “Please pass me my dinges there.” “What?” “My dinges. I want to blow it.” “You mean your vuvuzela?” “Yes, my vuvuzela.”

Dinges seems to me like the South African version of ‘thing’ or ‘thingy’ in English. As in: “Please pass me my thing there.” “What?” “My thingy. I want to blow it.” “You mean your vuvuzela?” “Yes, my vuvuzela.”

ROBOT: When you’re asking for directions and someone says: “Left at the third robot,” it is not because our streets are overrun with menacing cyborgs made by Japanese scientists. No. A robot is simply our word for traffic light.

(Source: Times Live)

World Cup Language

Posted on June 10th, 2010by Michelle
In Afrikaans, English, Hints and Tips, Slang | 2 Comments »

With the football World Cup starting tomorrow, it’s time to take a look at some South African slang.

The slang is taken from South Africa’s 11 different languages, which all have constitutionally guaranteed equal status. These languages reflect the diversity of the country, and are:


In addition a number of other languages are spoken including Khoi, Nama and San languages, sign language, and some indigenous creoles and pidgins.

Here are some examples of slang – I particularly like ‘chips! Chips!’:

Babbelas (bub-a-lars). Hangover – usually rather a bad one. From the isiZulu word for hangover isibhabhalazi. “Hello, hello. Great party last night. How’s your head? Are you a bit babbelas?”

Bra (brah) or bru. Nothing to do with underwear at all, but an informal term for “my friend” or “mate”, deriving from “brother”. ‘He’s my bra but that team he supports is rubbish.” Bru stems from the Afrikaans for brother, broer.

Chips! Chips!. Nothing you’ll find in the kebab shop around the corner but an expression of alarm or warning. “Chips! Chips! He’s off-side”

(Source: The Guardian)


Posted on May 5th, 2010by Michelle
In Slang, Technology, Words | Leave a Comment »

If you’ve ever made up your own word and wished people all over the world would start saying it, perhaps this article will be of use.

It tracks the rise of ‘yaka-wow’, a mis-transcription of “yuck and wow” by a writer for the Times, a British newspaper. Apparently, within a day the word had gone viral and now has 95,000 hits on Google. Originating in an interview with the neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield, yaka-wow has spawned a Twitter stream and Facebook page. Why do people love the word so much?

“The main reason we’ve all been saying yaka-wow is simply because it is a cool word. It should be used more. Try saying it yourself out loud, yaka-wow, yaka-wow. Doesn’t it just make you mouth happy,” posted Alice Bell, a science communication lecturer at Imperial College London. (Source: The Times)

Honestly, I’m wondering how come so many people read an interview with a neuroscientist in the first place?

Teenage speak

Posted on April 30th, 2010by Michelle
In English, Research, Slang, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Interesting article in the Telegraph with a sub-heading boldly stating that teenagers are creating “a secret language to stop adults knowing what they are up to”.

Reading the rest of the text, it’s hard to grasp what all the fuss is about – surely teenagers have been creating new slang to communicate for a very long time? The only new aspect is the use of social networking sites.

Lisa Whittaker, a postgraduate student at the University of Stirling, who studied teens aged 16-18 on Bebo in Scotland, said the slang had been created to keep their activities private, and cited the example of one young girl who was sacked after bosses found pictures of her drinking on the website.

“Young people often distort the languages they use by making the pages difficult for those unfamiliar with the distortions and colloquialisms.,” she said.

“The language used on Bebo seems to go beyond abbreviations that are commonly used in text messaging, such as removing all the vowels.

“This is not just bad spelling, which would suggest literacy issues, but a deliberate attempt to creatively misspell words.

I guess at least this research puts to rest fears that the internet and texting are producing bad spellers – they’re just being creative!