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A 101 on British Street Slang

It is a phenomenon not everyone is equally familiar with in terms of understanding and, or even, speaking it: slang. The OED defines the word as a “language of a highly colloquial type, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense” (slang, n.3). Slang is spoken all over the world, also in the capital city of the United Kingdom: London. Due to its cosmopolitan nature, the city has become a melting pot of people coming from all around the world who have “caused a cultural and linguistic meltdown” (Ravish London, 2008). As a consequence, a new accent emerged in the streets of London: London slang.

In different areas of London, the youth of today are well known for speaking London slang. One might question why speaking this type of language has become so popular and if it carries certain functions. First and foremost, use of slang is a great way for youths to express their social identity and to show to which group they belong (Pedersen 5). Also, in the ever-evolving music industry, music artists such as Taylor Swift and Drake, use slang to show to which music genre they belong, whether it is country music or hip-hop (Pedersen 5). Furthermore, in the film- and television industry, many actors and actresses also use slang to which the youth are exposed (Pedersen 5). Since music artists, actors and actresses are people with a voice; the youth are very likely to imitate their language and take it to the streets of London (Pedersen 5).

Every language has its own set of conventions in spelling, grammar and vocabulary due to a process called ‘codification’ in linguistics. Unofficially, London slang has it own set of rules as well. During the London riots in 2011, Dr. Sarah Jawad, a linguist with great interest in London slang, noticed something remarkable on the BBC. It struck her that the national news channel “had to provide a translation service for the news coverage of the rioting youths. English was being translated underneath, to English” (Jawad). As she wandered on the streets of London and confronted the youth, Jawad became fond of London slang. Consequently, she codified the slang with some rules. According to Jawad, the use of grammar is forbidden because “it will probably get you beaten up”. Correcting the grammar of the London youth is also not appreciated. At free will, one may pluralise or singularise words. For example, the word ‘butterz’ becomes plural due to the additional ‘z’ at the end of the word, which in slang means “someone who is aesthetically challenged” (Jawad). In addition, words can take opposite meanings: ‘sik’ (notice the spelling, without a ‘c’), for example, is used to refer to something “very good” (Jawad). There are also words that take complete different meanings that one ‘just’ needs to know. For instance, in London slang, “to shank”, uncomfortably means to “to stab” someone (Jawad). Even words that were used as sounds are used as verbs in London slang: “to cotch” means “to hang out, or to chill out” (Jawad). In cultural sense, one should not take ‘your mama’ jokes as a direct offence as this is a way of expressing their humour mutually in general sense. On the matter of spelling, London slang usually omits vowels in text as ‘thy mght thnk thts awsm’. One should also be aware that many words in London slang have meanings that are not understood directly when heard or read at first sight. If you are curious and want to find out the meaning of ‘dizzy’ (or other words) in London slang, the Urban Dictionary on the Internet is your best friend, bruv.

Due to the growing popularity of London slang, schools have to take desperate measures to stop the use of this slang by pupils. In 2013, The Guardian posted an article on the ban of slang words at the Harris Academy Upper Norwood in South London. Words and phrases such as ‘coz’, ‘bare’, ‘init’ and ‘we woz’ have been banned by the school because “the school wants students to develop the soft skills they will need to compete for jobs and university places and the skills they need to express themselves confidently and appropriately for a variety of audiences” (Fishwick). Some may experience London slang as a degrading form of English that ruins the language; others may experience this slang as an innovation of English that gives the language a complete new dimension. Whether you find it sik or whack, London slang is becoming more popular nowadays. If you ever find yourself lost on the streets of London at 4 a.m. and run into mandem, it might come in handy to pull out your best London slang. Because no one likes a beat up, init?

by Rasheed Asraf



Works Cited


“English. Do You Speak It? No.” Ravish London, 2016. Web. 7 April 2016.

Fishwick, Carmen. “London school bans pupils from using 'innit', 'like', and 'bare'” The Guardian, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

Jawad, Sarah. “Word on the Street: Decoding London Lingo in 10 Ways” The Platform, 30 Oct. 2011. Web. 7 April 2016.

Pedersen, Tim. “A Study of the Slang used in Football Factory and Little Britain” The Use of Slang in British English. (2007): 41- 60. Print. "slang, n.3." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 8 April 2016.