If you find ya’self in my ends, South London, you’ll hear dem yoot chattin bare slang. London slang is always changing and the modern chat ya hear in manors across the city ain’t like that cockney chat. Yeah you still hear tings like ‘blimey guv’ and ‘lets go get pissed mate’. But cockney rhyming slang? Allow it bruv.
The modern slang is the result of the multicultural mash up that is London. Ya got cultures all mixing and chatting from the schoolyard to the ends; Jamaican, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Pakistani, Colombian all adding a bit of they own patois.
Bare words are of Jamaican origin – yard for house, rude boy or rude gal and ‘seen’, used when you agree or understand. Places like Brixton and Peckham have a long history of Jamaican and Caribbean immigrants which is why these places spawn so much of the chat you hear, seen?
There is still older London slang like saying ‘innit’ (isn’t it?) at the end of everything and if you got no cash you’re ‘skint’. If you mock someone you’re ‘taking the piss’, which is a British thing not just London.
Most slang is based on tings like trying to link gyaldem (or mandem if you a gyal), avoiding po-po or chattin bout ya new garms. So if you wanna say to your famalam that you like that peng gal, you gonna say ‘that gal is bufff fam, I’m gonna try and link that’. But they might say ‘allow it bredren, that gals a sket… Bare mandem been there already innit’.
Body image is important, obvs, so when hitting the gym you’ll hear man sayin they’re looking hench. Rapper Lethal Bizzle also says ‘dench’ which has kinda caught on, but if man (or gal) is buff you say hench. And if you rockin’ new Air Max your bredren might say, ‘Cuz, those creps is fresh’.
If ya hanging at the yard hitting a zoot with your bredren you might find some wasteman trying to bun it. Or if babylon rollin’ down the ends you might have to dash your zoot otherwise you get pulled and man don’t wanna end up getting lock up.
All across London you’ll hear ‘Oh my days’ used by just about everyone under 30. You’ll also hear that something is ‘bless’ if it’s good or lucky, or a ‘touch’ is the same thing but more used by white people.
Modern UK rap, or Grime, has bought a lot of the slang to the yoot outside the boroughs. You don’t have to be from Brixton, Peckham, Bow or Tottenham to be dropping slang no more. London is still where most fresh new terms come from though.
Spittin bars is what rappers do and there are bare phrases that relate to music, some of which are obvious. Bangin’ has applied to big bass and beats for time, but can also mean good. If ya heard tune bare times then it’s rinsed. Some tunes don’t get tired – check out Skeng by The Bug, Where do u know me from by Stormzy or pretty much anything by Wiley or Newham Generals.
Music is usually how words get spread though and American rap has had a big influence on the London slang you hear today. American terms like 5-0 or feds for police or homies for friends get dropped, standard.
You’ll also find that the London slang comes up in films and TV shows – often a reflection of the streets rather than a direct influence on them. Check Kidulthood or Top Boy for the serious side. Or Phone Shop for bare jokes.
The ting with slang is that it is always changing. You can find lists (and here) online of current London slang but guaranteed, they’ll be out of date or missing entries sooner than you can say ‘raaaasssclarrrt’.
For me personally, I find this kind of thing fascinating. The way the language has adapted to it’s surroundings and the way it does leak into every day conversation, beyond the areas that spawned it. Typically urban, black teenagers start using it and before you know it white kids are saying that something is ‘long’ because it’s boring or saying that a girl or guy is ‘buff’.
London slang is, for me, a glimpse into what is happening to the English language generally. You have local versions of English and slang spoken in places as disparate as South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, the Indian subcontinent, Caribbean and West Africa. And the language itself becomes something new over time in each of these places – which may or may not remain mutually intelligble.
Think I’ve missed the point? Or my street slang based article seem way too unintelligible?? Well, get involved in the comments below if you got stuff to say innit. Sweet geez…