Arriving in London, or other parts of Britain, you may well believe you really have arrived in a foreign country. That’s because of the language. Nowadays, the English that you hear on the street is not what mum or your teachers taught you.
Referred to as 21st Century London Slang, Jafaican, or Londonese, a new form of English has burst from the back streets of London to become the prevalent vernacular of British youth. Multicultural London English, its official term, is a ‘social dialect’ and has been long in the making. For more on its potential to change English for ever, see this article.
You may be aware of terms such as ‘innit’, ‘fam’ or ‘bruv’, often heard in music, films and TV. This is all part of modern London slang. They mean respectively: ‘isn’t it’/yes, I agree and understand; family/friends; and, brother/close friend.
So, you can greet your bro with the word, “wagwan?” which is just like saying “ça va?” or “wie gehts?” in French and German, meaning, “how’s it going?’ (In text speak, that translates as “wag1”). And, when referring to yourself, you just have to remember to use the term ‘man’ for the pronoun I. Hence, “man’s cool.” And, just to make sure everybody understands, you can tag on to the end of your sentence, “ya get me?” (in text speak it becomes ygm).
In his book “What Ya Chattin ‘Bout? A Guide to Multicultural London English, Jafaican & Grime/Street Slang”, Oliver Lynch has written a fascinating account on the subject with a comprehensive ‘kinda a dictionary’. What follows has been adapted from his “Top Ten London Slang Words Anyone Can Use”. As he says, here are some of the slang terms that middle-class white people can use without looking too much like idiots.
1: Is It?
Used to acknowledge something or to express disbelief or incredulity; used at the end of a sentence. Pronounced more as ‘izzziiiiit’ or as a throwaway ‘izzit’, you’ll hear this used a lot by dem yoot (the youth). Example:
“Ah man, they’re playing Christmas adverts everywhere already. I can’t stand that shit.”
Use ‘Long’ for anything tedious, annoying, irritating or long. Example:
“Urgh, I hate job hunting it’s so long.” Or,
“It doesn’t matter what you talk about, it’s always all about her. She’s so long”.
It can also be used as an exclamation. Example:
“Tube delays again man”
Lots of or many, or very. You’ll hear this one all over London and now even non-street people are starting to use it. Example:
“Man, I’m so hungover, I had bare cocktails and shots last night.”
For something that is good looking or nice, you use the term ‘peng’. Things and food can be ‘peng’, and if you say someone is ‘peng’ it implies they are pretty fit. Example:
“Dat girl iz peng !!!”
Solid, normally in terms of a guy who has been working out. Allegedly a derivative of Tonka truck. Example:
“Bruv, you looking tonk man, you been workin’ out?”
6: Oh My Gosh/Oh My Days
Much like OMG but not quite as gushy as American, therefore slightly cooler. Example:
“Oh my gosh… This tunes a banger.”
“Oh my days” is used to indicate surprise, usually exclaimed with the same intonation as (in order to mock) the far more prim “goodness gracious”.
Short for banter, this one is already heavily used by non-London/non-street peeps (people). Implies having a chat but can also be used to imply a jokey term, if someone is worried that you’re taking the mickey. Example:
“What you sayin’?”
“Don’t worry, it’s just bants.”
8: Boss (man)
Used in place of ‘mate’, normally to people providing a service. If you don’t want to refer to a bus driver, shop owner, guy in the street or beggar as mate or bro, boss works. Example:
“Boss man, what time is the train to Croydon?”
“Leaves in 5 minutes.”
9: Wasteman/Side man
Usually used to describe a loser. That guy who is lazy, slack, stupid or just a waste of space. Used directly to someone’s face it’s a good insult. Example:
“I have a joint every day for breakfast man, it opens your mind yeah”.
“You’re a wasteman”.
However, a ‘side man’ is used for someone who is hapless, useless or impotent. Less like someone stupid; more like someone who isn’t very proactive or doesn’t stand up for themselves. Example:
“You gotta stand up for yourself, don’t be a side man, innit!”
You ‘throw shade’ to insult someone. Example:
“He asked her nicely, but she totally threw shade.”
It can also be used to ignore someone. Example:
“Oh my days, did you just shade me cuz?”
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and all the evidence is that MLE is here to stay. So as not to feel like we are visiting a foreign country every time we go down the high street, we’d better start learning some slang, innit? Ya get me?