No Need to Swallow Every Dickie Bird; A New Guide Makes a Meal of Old and Modern Slang

Article excerpt


Well kiss my chuddies. A tidy bloke has completed the first research into slang and its links with what we stuff down our cakeholes.

Grub, nosh or tuck is thought to be responsible for about 10pc of the 90,000 slang words and phrases in common use in Britain.

Lexicographer Jonathon Green has written a guide on the untold language of food, showing that some slang is very old.

For instance, saving one's bacon apparently dates back to 1300 when the whole body was known as a bacon, but jam pies, or lamb's fries, meaning someone's eyes, are more recent.

The icing on the cake is a section on contemporary teen slang, much of which is influenced by music such as hip-hop.

Examples include bacon - again - which can mean police, cheeseball for someone unattractive, and cherry meaning an annoying individual.

"He irks my tater" means, "he irritates me"; "open the lunchbox" is to break wind, and "veg out" for a lapse into inactivity.

Calling someone 'duck' dates back to the 1500s and appears in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but 'chick' and 'chicken' have only been around as terms of endearment since the 1850s.

The guide also details regional phrases, many of which are little known outside.

For example, in the North-East of England, bait can mean food taken to work, hasty pudding is porridge, and ket is another word for sweet or something nice.

Mr Green said slang has its roots in making comparisons or subverting the meaning of innocent words.

"This report celebrates the untold story of the language of food from Shakespeare's day to the latest rap songs."

Compared with the sheer volume of slang in regular use, Green's report merely scratches the surface of a subject that infuriates purists and delights most linguists without over-egging the pudding.

Lunchbox of course has another popular meaning, perhaps best alluded to within a family newspaper by referring the reader to Linford Christie.

It's an example of how much slang originates from a few areas, such as sex and the gay, drugs and music scenes, that are dominated by younger generations.

In contrast, the elderly seem disinclined to create new words.

Wales has its own contributions. Everyone knows that tidy means good or satisfactory, while to rag is to tease or annoy someone. Daps is a particular Welsh slang word for plimsolls or trainers. To mither, meaning to fuss and bother, is also used in North-West England and the Midlands.

It's also a noun for a complaining or persistently bothering person.

Wales is a rich mine of slang, particularly with the advantage of its two languages. The subject was explored by John Talk Tidy and More Talk Tidy, both published by D Brown of Bridgend and both now out of print.

Coppish, for instance, is heard in both languages - your coppish is down means your flies are undone. It comes from the English codpiece, which indicates that it must be a good few centuries old.

The Welsh language has given Wenglish some unique words. Feeling didoreth, meaning you can't get anything done, comes directly from the Welsh, as does danted for fed up, from wedi danto.

One of the classic Anglo-Welsh slang words, twp, has also crossed straight over from Welsh.

Slang can be parochial. Swansea jacks call each other mush and wus - the last word comes from the Welsh gwas, servant. But at the top of the Swansea Valley they say bun, and once you get to Clydach it's mun. Both come from bychan - boy.

Cardiff is influenced by Somerset, so it's but or butty, from buddy, in the capital.

Examples of contemporary South Wales slang were recorded by pupils of Ysgol Glan Taf four years ago, and remain a fair summary of modern youth-talk. …