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meaning: intoxicated by drink or drugs
The few linguists who have studied slang have identified something which they call either ‘overlexicalisation’ or ‘hypersynonymy’. This is when a social sub-group invents far more terms for something than seems strictly necessary. Examples would be the many nicknames that US gang members give to their weapons of choice (gatz, cronz, chrome, iron, etc. for a handgun) or the dozens of words applied by teenagers to outsiders or misfits. The fairly obvious explanation is that these expressions don’t just describe something, but have a greater symbolic importance for the group in question: they help define its members’ common identity and reinforce their fellow-feeling.
Among UK students in further and higher education, by far the biggest category of recorded slang terms concerns drunkenness or the effects of drugs. This might suggest that ‘getting high’ is their favourite communal activity, and there is plenty of evidence that it is, but what the mass of adjectives really proves is that this is a number one topic of conversation, a key rite of passage for all genders and most if not all ethnicities. Hammered (probably the most widespread recent designation: it occurs in the US and Australasia, too), wreckaged and battered all reflect the common metaphorical link between inebriation and damage, destruction or punishment, as do larruped and lashed; lathered, swilled and sloshed use the notion of dribbling and spilling. Long-established pissed may be updated to wizzed or, more often, wazzed, or infantilised into widdled.
In many cases the literal meaning is irrelevant or non-existent, if the word has the right number of syllables and a family resemblance, either in appearance or sound, thus hamstered, hoovered, wombled or wankered, lagged, langed, langered, mulled, munted and willied, A widespread favourite, mullered, looks as if it is related to ‘mulled (wine)’, but a plausible derivation is from the heavy Muller guns once used by the German army against the British.
A number of these terms can refer both to immediate effects (‘drunk’) or after-effects (‘exhausted’, ‘drained’, ‘hung-over’): a female university student of my acquaintance – a young woman whom an older generation might have described as well brought-up – announced one morning that the previous night she had been ‘totally cunted’, blithely using an otherwise taboo term, (twatted is a milder version), here stripped of all its sexual connotations.
More traditional-sounding expressions still prevail among students outside the Southeast, among them bevvying, or (out) on the heavy-bevvy, for drinking: getting newkied may be inspired by nuclear attack, or more probably by ingestion of Newcastle Brown (Ale). In the US racked, hootered, faced (a ‘disguised’ version of shit-faced), and polluted are heard on campus. In Australia off one’s face is well established, while the mysterious locked is Irish
‘He got bare bollers, man, innit!’ The cry goes up and fellow pupils turn jealously on their suddenly wealthy friend. For many young people money, though an occasional necessity, may be tantalisingly unattainable, something exotic; one of the most ambivalent of adult inventions.
Fashionable nicknames for money among younger teenagers in Britain include bollers, probably a playful changing of ‘dollars’, and boyz. Slightly older students refer to pound coins as beer-tokens and cash dispensers as drink-links. A borrowing, according to users, from older siblings in the OTC (Officer Training Corps), is shrapnel for small change, which is also known by teenagers as snash. Terms in use among Black British street gangs for denominations are, surprisingly, not very exotic at all: papes is paper money in general, a brown is a ten–pound note, a blue is a fiver.
More interesting are the derivations of some words that younger speakers claim for their own generation, but which are really much older. Wonga or womba are well-established Britishisms and used by all age groups, but few are aware that they derive from an old Roma word for ‘coal’. When interviewed, teenagers often take for granted that such words are recent and have been coined by their contemporaries ‘somewhere else in the country’; either that, or they guess at an exotic origin ‘in Africa, maybe, or in an old, lost language’. One of the commonest slang terms for money among teenage schoolchildren in the South of England is another example of a misunderstood exoticism. When users are asked to write it down it appears as luka or lookah, which does have an African or South Asian appearance, but is of course one half of that hoary and often facetious cliché ‘filthy lucre’, presumably overhead one day in an adult conversation and transmitted across the network of peer-groups and playgrounds. Lucre in fact was adopted by English in the 14th century from the Latin lucrum, meaning ‘gain’.
In the US younger speakers may refer to plenty of cash as bokoo (French beaucoup) duckets, many guessing that the second word may be something to do with ducks. It is actually another venerable coinage (sorry), ‘ducats’ being the gold or silver currency used in Renaissance Italy and the Low Countries and mentioned in Shakespeare. Other more predictable synonyms from North America are billies (for banknotes or bills), fundage, and in Canada, rocks (if you are well-off you are rocked-up).
Probably the highest-profile and most resonant examples of youth slang are the succession of synonyms for ‘great’ or ‘excellent’ that have come in and out of fashion since the 1950s. Called ‘vogue terms of approbation’ by linguists, these range from smashing back in the 1950s through fab and gear, those emblematic Scouser terms forever associated with Merseybeat and the Beatles, via groovy, farout and too much, the hippies’ favourites (which I have to admit I sometimes blurt out even today, to the derision of younger listeners).
The end of the 1970s brought ace and brill, occasionally elaborated by younger speakers into ace-to-base and brillo-pads, as well as wicked (sometimes subsequently shortened to wick), the UK’s response to North America’s bad(qv) and its near-contemporary rad.
Although they are invented in order to replace outdated forms, and rely for their power on novelty, these expressions, if they catch on at all, actually stay around for some time, migrating from the cutting-edge of linguistic innovation to outlying regions as provincial or younger speakers discover and cherish them. Thus it is that ultra-fashionable words from the late 1980s and early 1990s like mint, fit, or top, are all of them still to be heard somewhere in the UK. In the 1990s skaters introduced, and still favour, sick as an all-purpose positive, to the intended bafflement of the older generation, and brutal has been used in the same way, first by the mods of the mid-1960s and again by schoolchildren since around 2000.
Probably the most significant of these badges of approval, acceptance or admiration in recent years has been a word which is also important as the first term of South Asian origin to make a real impact across the entire British youthscape. Nang, which began to be heard in areas of East London at the turn of the 20th century, is thought to be from a Bengali word for a naked woman. Peppering the conversation of Bangladeshi youth in districts like Hackney and Tower Hamlets, the word was quickly picked up by other ethnic groups as the preferred replacement for safe, buff or rated. It is often heard in the forms bare nang where bare, from Afrocaribbean usage, is slang for ‘totally’, and more recently nangin’, probably by analogy with other words for ‘exciting’ like bangin’ and kickin’.
Knowing and using nang was for some time a badge of allegiance for youth from London, specifically from the particular multiethnic mix in inner-East London, but since about 2004 its use has spread across the UK with the growing dominance of that variety of yoofspeak, even in areas where no Black or Asian speakers are in evidence. The proof of this importance is that some young commentators in web-based discussions use the designation nang-slang (like blinglish before it) to refer to their entire code, or what linguists more portentously call the ‘new multiethnic youth vernacular’.
bacon band n British
A bulging midriff as displayed, for instance, between abbreviated top and low-cut trousers/skirt. A synonym for the Australian and North American, now global, muffin top recorded in 2006
bait adj British
obvious, self-evident, annoyingly familiar. A term in vogue among teenagers since around 2000.
builder’s bum n British
a visible buttock cleft above trousers, as often revealed by builders, decorators, etc. bending over in public places.
bum vb British
1a. to sodomize
1b. to have sex with
A childish usage, popularized by the wigga comic Ali G and still in vogue in 2006.
‘The postman’s been bummin’ your mum!’
2. to practise enthusiastically, enjoy. This usage, fashionable among adolescents in 2006 is probably inspired by the earlier sexual senses of the word.
‘She really bums that band.’
3. to cadge
‘Can I bum a biff [cigarette]?’
bummage n British
The word, derived from the verb bum2, was in vogue among adolescents in 2006.
clappin adj British
1a. worn out, exhausted
1b. outdated, unfashionable
A vogue term in both senses among UK adolescents since around 2000. It is probably based on the older clapped out, itself originally with the sense of raddled with venereal disease (the clap).
crump n British
sex, a sex act. In use among UK teenagers since 2000, the word might derive from the slang sense of crumpet, imitate the sound of pounding, or be an arbitrary invention.
deep adj British
1. unpleasant, inferior
2. impressive, attractive
In both senses the word has been fashionable among black adolescents and their imitators since 2000. The usage may have originated in from the jargon of DJs and hip-hop aficionados, or from the codes of street gangs, or both.
flossed-up, flossied-up adj American
dressed ostentatiously, presenting an extravagant or elegant appearance. The term has been widespread since 2000. Floss here is from dental-floss(underwear) a slang term for thongs, when these were thought novel and pretentious.
fudge n British
a very stupid person indeed. Users comment that these letters are likely to represent their GCSE grades, too.
disappointing, inferior. This non-homophobic –but definitely pejorative - use of the term has been in vogue among teenagers in the USA since the 1980s and in the UK since 2000. It caused controversy when used in 2006 by British radio DJ Chris Moyles.
excellent, impressive. An expression used on campus in the USA since around 2000 and since around 2004 by British teenagers, invariably as a term of admiration or approval. Grime was a musical genre which appeared in 2004.
an intrusive person and/or irritating presence. In 2006 helicopter parent was in vogue with the slightly different sense of one who hovers constantly, prompting offspring and scrutinising teachers.
the helicopters n British
a bout of dizziness and/or nausea, especially as a result of drugs or alcohol in excess.
immense adj excellent, admirable. A widespread term of appreciation among younger speakers all over the Anglosphere, it was recorded in Black American usage in the mid 1990s, but, as with other superlatives, its borrowings may have happened separately.
prang adj British
scared. Some users say the word is an alteration of ‘paranoid’, originating in Black British gang usage. The form prong was recorded in West London schools in 2006.
swag adj British
frightening, thrilling, ‘edgy’. This extension of the earlier pejorative sense was in vogue in 2006 among teenagers.
uggers adj British
unattractive, hideous. A pre-teen abbreviation also used, perhaps facetiously, by older speakers.
ugly pills, ugly stick n
an imagined source of repellent physical characteristics, manners or behaviour. The words usually form part of a sardonic speculation that the person in question has been ‘taking ugly pills’ or has been ‘hit with the ugly stick’. An alternative suggestion is that the person has ‘fallen out of the ugly tree’.
a spendthrift, vacuous, glamorous young female. The term is formed from the initials of ‘wives and girlfriends’ and was inspired by the behaviour of the England football team’s partners during the 2006 World Cup. A media invention, the word subsequently passed into colloquial speech.
a lecherous adult male, ‘dirty old man’, paedophile. A playground term, this may be a new coinage or a variant form of the older Northamerican weenie-wagger or weenie-waggler, meaning an exhibitionist or flasher.