Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Slang, Dirty Words, and the UK

Due to my dear friend T, who lived in England for a couple of years at the turn of the century, I was exposed to a great deal of pop UK culture during a short period of time and loved it. Embarrassingly so. Oh and candy. Lots of British candy. Two words: Malteasers = Yum.

There are lots of UK stories which I'll eventually tell but one of the things I love is British slang. Now that I'm addicted to re-runs of the Ricky Gervais podcast, the UK version of The Office, and the show Extras, I get to hear the slang again and it's so much fun.

Mind you I can't get away with actually saying many of these words and phrases because they don't sound right with an American accent. But I can think them. And thanks to Ted Duckworth's "Dictionary of Slang," now I have the spellings.

My current favorite word is: Whinge. (pronounced like "hinge" with a "w" in front)

The American word is "whine," as in "to complain."

Whining has an onomatopoetic quality to it which is nice but the hard "g" followed by a silent "g" at the end makes "whingin'" a lot of fun to say. Try it now: whingin', whingin', whingin'.

The other great UK word is the ultimate ugly word in American English: the "c-word." Yes, it's four letters long. The one that the Vagina Monologues attempts to nullify. Yes, that one.

Here one simply doesn't say it. Too much trouble. In the UK its power is similar to the "f-word" in American. You wouldn’t say it around your mom or in polite company but it has a much more broad appeal over there.

The thing I learned from our British cousins is that you can conjugate the c-word. A character in a Denise Mina novel described having a "cunting headache," which I thought was a clever way of expressing the severity of the pain. Oh and the character happened to be female, so it's not a misogynistic word. It's just really really bad. It's the worst word. So it has some power behind it.

But, and I have a very Frank Zappa attitude about this, it's just a word. It can't actually hurt anyone.

Certainly words can hurt feelings but it's not the words themselves which cause the problem, it's how the words were delivered or whatever emotional baggage we carry with us in conjunction with the words. You can do some serious damage with totally innocuous words. I once got into trouble for calling someone a "grilled cheese sandwich." I blame Sam Kinison.

Racist language is an exception. Michael Richards was out of his cunting mind when he called those folks the n-word.

But some folks will get upset about the strangest and most benign words. I think I've mentioned before that one of my brothers has a problem with the word "tasty." It just makes him cringe.

Pasta, a co-worker, has a brother who has a great deal of difficulty with the word "ointment." Granted, he is the same person who refuses to eat the part of a sandwich which he has been holding while eating the rest of it, calling those bits the "sandwich handles" which he will leave on his plate, so clearly inpatient therapy would be recommended in his case.

I'd always recommend that one chooses their words carefully but I'll add this: don't be afraid to take a chance. Provided you have a decent grasp on what it actually means, throw some odd slang into your vocabulary. Not necessarily the naughty words but just a fun new word. It feels good.

And for those who don't like slang in any form:

a) you're probably not a big fan of this blog anyway, and

b) quit your whingin', you twat!


Anonymous said...

i recently incorporated the british slang term "skint" into my vocab. it still works, even with a yank accent. it means poor or lacking possessions.

i keep whingin' cos i'm skint!

Lindsey said...

whingin is said frequently in our house, but then again my stepdad is from Australia and says that word, which is where I first heard the word....I am also fond of "chucking a wobbly"...meaning to throw a fit/tempertantrum

smussyolay said...

made up/stolen slang from friends:

there's slep, which is short for sleep or slept. 'i slep and slep and slep.'

i made up this one: kenny. as in poor. "i can't go, i'm too kenny."

choach: to puke. "the dog choached up all of his chow."

GTG: good to go.

psy, chi, lib -- the psychiatrist, the chiropractor, the library.

man. i should write a smussy and friends dictionary.

on another note, there is a book called 'cunt' by inga muscio. it talks about that word and its origins and how women can reclaim it. i don't agree with all of it, but i do agree with a lot of it and it's interesting reading.

Anonymous said...

I probably use 'slag' more than I should. Noun. A prostitute or promiscuous woman. Also occasionally heard with reference to such men. Derog.
Verb To put down, verbally. Meaning the same as 'slag off'. (I don't think I've ever used it as a verb)
That's probably one of those words where I not being in possesion of a Y chromosome can speak it freely.
The only other british slang I use would be snog, twat, and wanker. I've got a friend from Australia who got me 'pished' a few times but honestly I can't pull that one off :)

Anonymous said...

And don't forget that 'fanny' is an entirely different body part over there than over here. My friend took her hubby home and he yelled at her on the street to hurry up or he was going to swat her on the fanny. Passerby were shocked but she didn't correct him, so he kept saying it!
I say 'bloody' a lot, mostly because people here don't get what it means and don't care.