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The Middle Classes Have Seized Control of Our Slang

And it's destroying the English language.

by Clive Martin
23 August 2012, 4:30pm

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So the Oxford English Dictionary has published its annual list of words that will be entering the canon and – surprise, surprise – some people are up in arms about it. And usually I'd be like, "Fuck those guys, because they have the same argument every year, and that makes them unfathomably boring." But not this year. Because this year is the year that the middle classes seized control of our slang.

If the fact that I just started consecutive sentences with the words "and", "but" and "because" wasn't enough evidence for you, I'm all for the continued impurification of the English language. It's only really slang and technological advances that keep it going forward these days. I mean, when was the last time a group of Oxbridge academics sat down and decided to create a new word for us all to use? When was the last time a British writer coined a term that has entered public parlance? Believe me, I've tried, but you can't just make up words like "pantsfinger" or "overfejudice" and expect people to use them these days (unless you're on ITV2, which we'll come to).

The reason academics and writers slag off the OED's new words list every year is because they're envious of the working classes' control of English. Obviously it's annoying when you hear Made In Chelsea-type guys calling each other "mate" and talking about how there's going to be "bare peeps" at Raffles tonight, but in a way, it's actually a small victory for the people who steal their bikes and buy their second-hand clothes on eBay.

Humility, decency and an inherent distrust of coloured trousers would probably be more constructive gifts to give the privileged, but like I said, slang is a small victory. A Trojan horse lying in the mouths of the powerful, waiting for them to call each other out for "telling porkies" or describe a plan to meet up at a polo match as "sweet, man, sweet".

I like that flow of new slang up the affluence ladder, or at least prefer it to the alternative. I really don't want to sound like a white guilt-riddled UCL professor desperately trying to seem relevant on Newsnight, but if there's a better word to come out of the English language than "shower" and its affiliates in the last ten years, I haven't heard it.

For those who dun know, "shower", or "showering", or "showerface", or "showerfacing" came around in the mid-00s to mean what most boring people would just call "angry". No idea who started it, but it comes from the scowling, screwed-up face people make while in the shower. The same goes for "screwface", which is the face that you pull when getting your end away.

Again, at the risk of sounding like a secondary teacher trying to conduct an "urban" version of Much Ado About Nothing in their class, that's fucking brilliant. It's innovative, accurate, catchy, funny, clever. But now, we've been left with "ridic". Which really fucking sucks.

You see, most of the recent additions to the Oxford Dictionary are dreadful, middle-class creations; the kind of terms that lazy Guardian writers push around on Twitter. These are the terms that all the stupidest people you went to school with will be using in six months time in Facebook statuses about their kids. These are the terms that have absolutely no longevity.

Slang needs to grow naturally; it can't be created for the express purpose of mass adoption. Whoever it was that first came up with "shower" (or "hectic", if we're going a few years back) wasn't trying to get Prince Harry to use it at a youth centre. They were thinking of an amusingly accurate way to describe some local lunatic with a grudge.

Another fantastic example is the semi-mythical etymology of the word "nang", which is basically (or maybe more accurately, "was") the ghetto version of the resolutely suburban "fit", which eventually found itself upon the tongues of Hampstead Garden Suburb bedroom thugs struggling to describe their love for their new Air Force Ones. A friend of mine who grew up in Hackney tells me that the term derives from the surname of a Hackney-based teenage babe (believe me, I've tried and failed to find her on Facebook) who so beguiled the local youts that they began to use her South Asian family name to describe anything remotely pleasing to the eye. From trainers, to mopeds, to other girls, one Stoke Newington surname entered the public vernacular.

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But what has the Oxford English Dictionary been forced to induct this year? Well, we've got "tweeps". A term that is used by Twitterati cunts and literally nobody else.

There's a great bit in Peep Show where they suggest that the middle-class don't really have slang apart from "pants", "builder's tea" and "having a 'mare". I wish this still rang true, because it'd mean that we hadn't been inundated by a slew of deliberate, media-sanctioned shitty terms for shitty things. Things like "vajazzle".

Despite their accents and idiocy, the cast of TOWIE are just as middle-class as any Comment Is Free writer who'll use one of their ghostwritten phrases in an article. It's slang by committee, a word I'm pretty certain didn't exist until a team of English Lit grads slumming it in the ITV2 writing office decided they needed something which Mail Online could do a feature on the next day.

The phrase "peng" never really sounded right coming out of my mouth. But you know what? I'm going to start talking in obscure, impenetrable patois from now on. I'm going to kiss my teeth, address my boss as "B" in phone calls and try to rhyme anything that can be rhymed (struggling with something for MacBook Pro).

I know this will make me an incredibly embarrassing person to be around. So why would I do it? Because I don't want to be the kind of rasclart who uses "genius" as an adjective.

Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive