The ‘M’ in ‘MLE’ – Youth Slang’s Origins

Much of the vocabulary of MLE, the speech variety known as Multiethnic or Multicultural London English, derives (not always straightforwardly) from Caribbean or Black British usages, or from London’s white ‘working class’, often dubbed ‘Cockney,’ argot. There are, however, a number of slang expressions, used in the school playground and on the street by younger speakers, which come from elsewhere in the UK’s language matrix, even from archaic or foreign sources. Here are some examples…

 

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Feen (n)

Means: a male person

Usage: “Who’s the feen over by the gate?”

The proper names for Yoofspeak, so linguists tell us, are MLE (multi-ethnic or multicultural London English) or UBE (urban British English, with ‘vernacular’ sometimes substituted for English), but not all playground language emanates from the larger cities and ethnic or ‘cultural’ doesn’t only mean Afrocarribean or Asian.

One term that’s widely used around the UK is rarely if ever heard in the Smoke, but belongs to a 300 year-old tradition. Feen, also spelled fein, has been borrowed from the slang of Travellers, the argot formerly used by Tinkers and known as Shelta, itself deriving mainly from Irish Gaelic. In Irish feen simply means “man” but in slang it sometimes has the extra senses of “stranger” or “rogue”. Don’t confuse this with the verb “to feen” (sometimes “feem”), a modern import from US street-talk, which is an alteration of ‘fiend’ and means craving for, or obsessing over, as in “I’m feenin’ for some weed” or “he’s feenin’ over that new girl.”

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Hollage (n)

 Means: something hilarious

 Usage: “Have you seen Charlotte’s latest outfit? Très hollage!”

 Posher teens have their own version of yoofspeak, their own mix of would-be street slang, babytalk and invented expressions, typically in the form of girly yells of approval (by both sexes) and squeals of delight (ditto).

When the denizens of the middle-class playground are trading witticisms a favourite trick is to insert touches of French – the odd real word (“quelle disaster”, “beaucoup trouble”) and Franglais pronunciations. “Rummage” (sex), and “bummage” (enthusiasm) have been frenchified, but current favourite is “hollage”, meaning huge amusement or hugely amusing, pronounced to rhyme with English “college” or like French “collage”, or, some young purists insist, as three-syllable “holla-age”.

It looks as if the little sophisticates have adapted “holla”, (the hip-hop version of “holler”, meaning to yell), one of cool Yoof’s iconic expressions from the noughties, and slightly misunderstood it in the process, since it originally described phoning, praising or seducing rather than braying with laughter. In the US the very similar-looking “holla-age” has indeed been used to describe “the appropriate way to acknowledge or compliment a female.”

Stupid Emoji Stickers

Dinlo (n)

Means: an idiot

Usage: “You can tell Callum anything and he’ll believe it, he’s a right dinlo.”

Some linguists are claiming that far from dying out, regional dialects – and that includes local slang terms – are being helped by messaging, chatting and tweeting on social media sites, as well as old-fashioned word of mouth – to spread further across the UK. A probable example of this is yet another term for a complete dope, or dupe, (in practice nearly always male) which originated in Romany (and not in Cantonese as claimed on Urban Dictionary) as dinilo and has long been in use from the New Forest, via Portsmouth’s ‘Pompey – slang’ to East Anglia. Dinlo(w) is the usual form, although “dinler”, “dindler” and “dingle” have also been recorded. Yoof elsewhere have now added these to their already rich lexicon of insults, sometimes abbreviating to “dinny” or just “din”.

 

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Trek (v,n)

Means: (to go on) a long and tedious journey

Usage: “Man we been trekkin’ for hours!” “From her endz to ours is a trek.”

Researchers into Yoofspeak will know that in nearly every batch of new expressions offered up as the latest teen lingo, there are one or two which are not really slang at all. This is because most of the younger generation are not familiar with them and don’t realise that they are standard English: also, to be fair, because they sound and look exotic, possibly subversive to the uninitiated. “Trek”, used more or less in its original sense is a popular feature of playground complaints – the moaners probably don’t know much Afrikaans (from which we got the word), and even Star Trek the Prequel is a distant memory. More recently the word, or the variant “treks!” can be an exclamation, declaring that something, not necessarily a journey, is too tiring or boring to bother with or to finish, but one post on Urban Dictionary defines it much more specifically – and perhaps just slightly more positively – as a “4-10-mile” walk undertaken to counteract the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Examples of the same phenomenon are “luka” or “lookah”, used by some London kids to mean money, which seems like Multiethnic dialect but is really the picturesque old phrase ‘filthy lucre’ after a makeover. (Oddly, in the US, the Slavonic boy’s name Luka seems to have been conflated with the colloquial “looker” to denote an attractive male.) “Burly”, which one user explained as a blend of “beautiful” and “gnarly”, expresses admiration for a tough-looking male, and “reek” as in “Ben’s room really reeks” is also considered a really cool novelty. (Incidentally and tangentially, adult informants tell me that for them “reek” mainly registers these days as the name of a character in TV fantasy Game of Thrones, or as a mistyping of ‘wreak.’)

 

(These terms were first recorded in my Youthspeak column in the TES)

 

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The N-word Yet Again

On July 10 Samir Dathi tweeted: ‘Anne Marie Morris suspended for using N-word. Good. But why is someone who called black people ‘picaninnies’ our foreign secretary?’

Morris, the Conservative MP for Newton Abbot’s use of the phrase ‘nigger in the woodpile‘ provoked widespread condemnation and resulted in her suspension and an abject public apology, but the UK public and media have a very short memory. It was far from an isolated instance of this crass archaism being invoked by British politicians, as this website records:

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/search/?q=%22in+the+woodpile%22&o=o

The expression originated in the USA (Mr Slang, Jonathon Green has a first citation as the name of a popular song from the 1840s) where it was usually associated with an image of a runaway slave in concealment, but it is in the UK where it has enjoyed a lengthy and unfortunate afterlife.

I can testify that the phrase was used by middle-class speakers in conversation in the UK the 1950s and 1960s. It was possible to use the n-word (not the whole phrase) in Britain up to the end of the 1950s without having a conscious racist intention. The WW2 flying ace Guy Gibson, for instance, named his beloved pet dog ‘Nigger’ and I can remember myself using the word in a public swimming pool in suburban London in about 1959 to point out a black child playing nearby (a rare thing in our lower middle-class neighbourhood). Even then my father rebuked me very sternly, saying ‘we don’t say that and you mustn’t use the word!

Yasmeen Serhan reported on the MP’s gaffe for American readers in The Atlantic:

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/anne-marie-morris-suspended/533220/

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Attempts were made, by Tory supporters and some linguists, to excuse the MP on the grounds that she is 60 years old and so for her generation the words in question carry little or less force. Professor Geoff Pullum of Edinburgh University was among those who also suggested that when the n-word is in combination with other words as part of a stock phrase, it might not carry the same negative charge (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=33594). I’m told, for example, that in the parlance of small-boat sailors in the UK the phrase ‘boat-nigger’ is used to denote the most junior member of the crew. Other commentators opined that inadvertent racism is nonetheless racism, but where quibbles about slurs and taboos are concerned, I think the acid test is actually to debate them in real-life environments. I have discussed the n-word and similar controversies with a range of young people and with older members of BAME communities* and they are simply not acceptable. Quite apart from clumsiness and insensitivity on the part of somebody in public life, it’s arguable, too, that Morrison used the expression wrongly: it doesn’t mean an unanticipated or an unappreciated future eventuality, but a hidden snag. The nuances – the semantic components and assumptions embedded in the phrase are interesting and challenging to unpick – the connotations of such usages may also mutate over time. Potential confusions are illustrated by the several interpretations or misunderstandings posted on Urban Dictionary:
On a very personal note, it occurred to me that finding an escaped slave today, perhaps in the woodshed behind a prosperous suburban or rural home, is entirely possible in a Britain where traffickers and slavemasters prey on migrants, refugees and the poor and desperate. Oh and, on the subject of the Foreign Secretary, a satirical Twitter poll resulted in this:
  Whether B[oris] Johnson should also be expelled for calling black people ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’: Yes: 95% No: 5%’)
AT, also on Twitter, reminded me of this case, for comparison:
It’s not only in English that such words have conflicted and conflicting resonances. Jonathon Green again: ‘Do you know nègre, which is the equivalent of ‘intern’ or maybe ‘gofer’? Also means a ghost-writer. Still used, I am told, without the slightest hesitation and nary a blush. The usual nègre, if the irony even needs noting, is of course white.’ And here (in French) is someone I know personally causing a furore in 2015:
In August 2017 this – provocatively titled but heartfelt and authentic – opinion piece was published by Steven Dunn:
…then in September this, also a personal take, on, inter alia, Kanye West and Piers Morgan, from Jessica Morgan:
…in October, from University of Calgary linguist Darin Flynn in The Conversation:
…yet more on racial slurs, from Indiana Professor Michael Adams:
 …and Geoffrey Pullum on British English deprecations:
*https://tonythornesite.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/the-b-word/

SOUNDS, SENSITIVITIES – and CELLAR DOORS

Another extract from a work in progress, or, if that project comes to nothing, a fragment from a series of jottings (see elsewhere on this blog for others): either way, I keep returning to my fascination with the symbolic, psychological, psychic effects of  the sounds of words…

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The traditional view of words and names is that, apart from those words that directly imitate natural noises, there is only an arbitrary link between sound and meaning. But a few psychologists and neuroscientists have claimed to find evidence that phonemes (the human speech sounds that constitute words) have an inherent, non-arbitrary emotional quality*. Their data suggests that the effect on feelings of certain phoneme combinations (nonsense examples they worked with included bupaba, which was received positively and dugada which was negatively perceived) depends on a specific acoustic feature which can be measured, namely, the dynamic shifts within the phonemes’ frequency.

At Laurentian University in Canada researchers examined the links between proper names and hearer’s emotions: The ten most popular boys’ and girls’ names for most years of the 20th century were studied in terms of the emotional associations of their sounds and their pronounceability. A set of historical and socioeconomic variables, namely, war, depression, the advent of the birth control pill, inflation, and year seemed to correspond with the scores that members of the public gave for name length, emotionality, and pronounceability.

At a more human level UK national treasure Stephen Fry tells us his favourite word is ‘moist’. He’s being arch and gently provocative as usual, but says that he just likes the sound of it. I have said that I find the sound of the word ‘mellifluous’ pleasant, but friends have told me they hear in it prissiness and fussiness. My own fondness for ‘buoyancy’, too has been a cause of bemusement for some.

Whether we are talking about ‘pure’ sounds that imitate the noises of nature like ‘plop’,  ‘buzz’ and ‘hum’ or the clusters of phonemes that form single words, or the longer more varied sequences of conversational noise, these acoustic disturbances are not just conveyors of information but can act as triggers provoking an emotional response in the hearer. How they do this depends on the associations they have for us and these may be intensely personal, may be social and cultural and may in many cases depend entirely on which language we are hearing and thinking in.

Hearing the slang word ‘chillax’ for the first time (it has now become fairly well-known, even embarrassingly part of the linguistic repertoire of a former PM) would probably have a different effect on a teenager, who might have recognised the blending of ‘chill out’ and ‘relax’ from a grandparent more likely to hear ‘chilly’ and ‘axe.’

The fact that our reaction to the sound of words is culturally conditioned and not simply ‘natural’ can be proved by asking people to listen to and comment on words that they aren’t familiar with; invented words or terms from an unknown language. The words sranje, mierda, hovno and mist don’t seem to upset English speakers who are exposed to them for the first time. They are all synonyms of English sh**t in not too distant languages: Slovene, Spanish, Czech and Danish respectively. An old friend from France used to complain that her word for dog, chien, sounded nothing like any of the animals of that species, whereas the English word, she thought, suited exactly.

When we move from words to longer examples of intonation, rhythm and pitch, it can be a mixture of supposed familiarity – we recognise the same sounds from a different context such as baby-talk or comic exaggeration – and unfamiliarity – we don’t know what it means –that leads us to find the sound of the Dutch language funny for example.

Where other accents – the regional British variants among them – are concerned, studies have found that people react positively or negatively first according to how closely the accent resembles their own and secondly to its associations, usually which prominent figures (typically actors, newsreaders, footballers) employ it and in which contexts it has been encountered (so a Northern Irish accent, once evoking the language of the Troubles is now, like the Scottish Connery lilt, linked to actors who charm and don’t threaten.)

Asked in 2008 to nominate his favourite word, then mayoral candidate and Tory MP Boris Johnson selected ‘carminative’, teasing both in its obscurity and in that the word formed from these four sonorous syllables denotes a cure for flatulence. Three quite different, and differently resonant, syllables were chosen by French artist Loris Gréaud as the title of his solo exhibition at London’s ICA, part of a large-scale experimental multi-media project dealing in the interplay between rumour and fact, in hidden meanings and in transitions and interruptions. It’s no coincidence that the London installation and the project itself go by the name of CELLAR DOOR. The coming together – not for the first time – of these two unremarkable English words is part of a curious sequence of borrowings and allusions, a sort of underground tradition or urban legend that Gréaud is just the latest to tap into.

It was J R R Tolkien in 1955 who first suggested that ‘cellar door’ was one of the most beautiful, if not the most affecting combination of sounds in the English language. He described the phrase on two occasions as being intrinsically inspiring, and since then a series of writers have used Tolkien’s cue to fabricate a quite spurious history of references to cellar door, according to which an American opinion poll, the author H.L.Mencken and various Chinese and Japanese visitors have all, apparently independently, pronounced it the most beautiful sound in English. The cult movie Donnie Darko popularised the idea for a pop culture audience, asserting that of all the endless combination of words in all of history, this was the most beautiful. The film script attributed the claim to ‘a famous linguist’, but the director Richard Kelly in subsequent interviews namechecked, quite wrongly, Edgar Allan Poe.

We can’t be sure of the personal and cultural associations, conscious or unconscious, that led Tolkien to favour this particular collection of phonemes, apart from ‘the door of the cellar’ there are no sound-alikes in English other than, and of course this might be significant, celadon, a colour which is apparently a sort of pale willowy green (and is named, curiously, after the shepherd hero of a 17th century French romance) and celandine, the French-sounding name of two different species of flower. It seems to be a prerequisite that cellar door is pronounced in a donnish British RP accent rather than in a provincial burr or North American twang; although for me, and perhaps for Tolkien, too, a Welsh lilt might help reinforce its quasi-mythic pretensions.

Celador isn’t Welsh but is a real word in Spanish: pronounced with initial ‘th’ in Castilian Spanish, with ‘ts’ in the Americas historically it means ‘guardian of the bedchamber’, nowadays more prosaically it denotes a hospital orderly, a classroom supervisor or sometimes a prison guard. Spanish and Latin American friends tell me that for them the sound of the word is as humdrum as its modern meaning: it has no special resonance for them.

Although one explanation of the origins of language, known as the bow-wow theory, holds that all words started out as imitations of sounds found in nature, it’s clear that by now, apart from the obviously onomatopoeic like splash and plash and smash, sound and sense have become quite disconnected. The word voted the most beautiful in a British Council survey in 2004 was ‘mother’, for most of us redolent of tenderness, but downbeat and abrupt in terms of its component sounds. Conversely and perversely James Joyce had earlier proposed ‘cuspidor’, a nice noise, but a nasty receptacle.

The notion, though, that the sounds of a word might evoke certain feelings in the hearer, quite independently of its literal meaning, is a commonsense one, and linguists know the phenomenon variously as phonaesthetics, psychoacoustics or sound symbolism. But these emotional or aesthetic effects are not consistent and vary quite unpredictably across cultures and even among speakers who share a common language. ‘Mist’ which seems pleasant on the ear, means ‘crap’ in other Northern European languages. Stephen Fry may like the word ‘moist’, but it ranks high in lists of people’s unfavourites (‘phlegm’ and ‘panties’ even higher) and a teenager told me the other day that it’s now the most horribly offensive thing you can say in London street slang.

Playing of course on its literal sense, but helped by its new status as a linguistic talisman ‘cellar door’ has been used as the name of a host of wine merchants, wine bars and wine magazines and of a slasher movie, too.  A café in Guernsey, a London cabaret venue, a Jazz band, an Indie band, a metal band, a literary magazine have all adopted the title: spelled as in Spanish it’s the name of a well-known TV production company: a novel printing typeface, Kellermeister, turns out to be inspired by it, and dozens of Internet blogs contrive to work the phrase in somewhere in their mashups.

Why is it that there seems to be this need for a mantra, a magic set of sounds that can be constantly reinvoked? Is it those phonemes: that front vowel, sibilant and lateral, along with the allusion to something always hidden just beyond our field of vision that combine to give cellar door its unique charm? Whatever lies behind it (pun intended), and however impressive Gréaud’s work actually is, I’m afraid that I’m quite immune to the two words in question: for me ‘seller’ only evokes the housing crisis at the time of writing, and door rhymes with ‘sore’, and ‘poor’ – and most tellingly of all – with ‘bore’.

 

* I have not yet had time to digest this very interesting paper from July 2017, but here is the link…

https://peerj.com/articles/3466/

 

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BUY-TO-LEAVE

Another recent buzzword highlights the impacts of commercial innovation upon urban infrastructure and on the lifestyles of both rich and poor in the metropolis…

 

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In 2015 I wrote about the fact that estate agents, journalists and grassroot activists were using the phrase lights-out London to describe the phenomenon whereby parts of the UK capital, especially those super-prime districts in the centre, have been deserted by ‘real’ people and are in the hands of absentee landlords (the government’s term is non-resident landlord, NRL) or absentee owners. There were then around 700,000 empty properties across the UK: in London 75% of buyers of new-builds are foreign, many of whom practise not just the buy-to-let tactics favoured by a generation of small domestic investors, but buy-to-leave. Wealthy non-doms are keeping around 20% of accommodation unused (units referred to colloquially as empties or more formally as vacant assets) in the knowledge that their investment will simply grow in value; other properties are unoccupied for most of the year, meaning that local economies in these areas are suffering a triple whammy. Spiralling house prices prompt private individuals to sell up and move out, at the same time the cost of office space is driving businesses further and further from these prime locations: once thriving shops and restaurants find themselves half-empty.

25% of investors coming from Gulf states to buy property in London planned purely to gain from rising prices without living there, according to the Guardian in 2016, who also reported that a quarter of all those who planned to buy a property in London were targeting capital gains rather than looking for somewhere to live or to let out. Even those buying second or third homes for their own families did not reveal how often or for how long the properties would be occupied.

The Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 has refocused attention on the issues arising from absentee landlordism and official laxity – or possibly official collusion: many of Kensington and Chelsea Borough’s councillors are themselves landlords and active in the ambivalent regeneration projects which are supposed to provide both public and private housing, but which many see as vehicles for gentrification and, when housing poorer tenants, guilty of poor safety standards. 72 of the Conservative MPs who voted against a parliamentary motion to make homes ‘fit for human habitation’ were landlords; one was the newly appointed Police and Fire Minister, Nick Hurd.

Regulators haven’t been completely inert: the Bank of England’s Prudential Committee intends to crack down from September 2017 on portfolio landlords – those with four or more mortgaged buy-to-let properties – subjecting their businesses to stress tests to ensure that they have income streams and business plans in place.

Global, and local turbulence goes on, however. The company – a consortium of Malaysian investors – redeveloping the huge and iconic Battersea Power Station site on London’s riverside (‘the Everest of real estate’) promised in 2011 to include 636 affordable homes among its final range of ultra high-end housing units. In Summer 2017 it reduced this number to 386, saying the original commitment was based on lower construction costs and a seemingly unstoppable boom in newbuilds which since the Brexit vote has calmed considerably. At the Greenwich Peninsula site on the other side of London Hong Kong-based Knight Dragon have reduced the number of affordable homes from 35 to 21 percent.

 

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At the beginning of August 2017 The Labour Party condemned as ‘simply unacceptable’ the revelation, stemming from the accidental disclosure of council data following the Grenfell Tower fire, that 1652 properties were unoccupied in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.  A Guardian report drew on the same information to publish the names of owners of vacant properties, among them oligarchs, foreign royalty and business speculators. This prompted the Liberal Democrats to demand increased surcharges on long-term empty homes, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan to promise to tackle the issue before the end of the year.

 

You can find more examples of the official jargon used in the field of development and regeneration here (I was particularly struck by one of the listed entries: 

Community Cohesion

There is currently no universally accepted definition of this.’)

http://www.jargon-buster-directory.com/development-regeneration-jargon.php

 

…and the latest from Battersea here, courtesy the Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/07/22/inside-battersea-power-station-everest-real-estate-test-case/

 

 

NEURODIVERSITY – and NEUROLEADERSHIP

The jargon and new terminology I collected for my Bizwords column used to highlight exciting trends in marketing and management, often featuring versions of the ‘hero-boss’ or ‘digital leader’. Many more recent buzzwords relate to complex issues affecting social, cultural as well as commercial stakeholders. Here are examples of both tendencies in one short article…

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In the last few years society has, thankfully, come to focus increasingly on the needs of those individuals categorised as neurodiverse. This umbrella term, dating from the 1990s, refers to differences in neurocognitive functioning among humans and encompasses conditions such as dyscalculia, dyspraxia and dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), bipolarity and types of autism, including Asperger’s syndrome, extending to take in epileptics, anxiety sufferers and savants. ‘Neurodiversity’ describes both the spectrum of conditions and a philosophical stance (the neurodiversity paradigm) which claims that the ‘normal’ neurocognitive functioning of the neurotypical (NT) is a social, not a scientific construct and that the issues around the so-called neurodivergent, especially the inequalities they may be subject to, should be approached in the same way as gender, ethnicity or cultural issues. The noun has thus become the label for activist movements working for social justice for ND minorities.

The business world, having first adopted inclusion and anti-discrimination strategies to cater for the neurodiverse, has come more recently to appreciate the special benefits of employing individuals whose unusual attributes can help to enhance and transform an organisation. As Charlotte Rogers wrote in Marketing Week in May 2017, ‘From leading new innovations and helping marketers achieve true diversity of thought, to enriching the wider company culture, having a neurodiverse workforce makes strong business sense.’ Harvard Business Review in the same month referred to neurodiversity as ‘a competitive advantage.’

Those working with ND colleagues often make simplistic assumptions, both negative (‘if you are dyslexic you won’t be able to handle complex language’) and positive (‘if you have autism you will probably be highly numerate’) which need to be questioned. ND employees may – or may not – have developed insights, tactics, skills and forms of resilience that are novel, exciting and useful: those on the autistic spectrum can for example be capable of focused attention to detail beyond a ‘normal’ capacity, be hyperarticulate or possess enhanced memory or spatial awareness. Equally they may exhibit behaviour that seems eccentric, they can sometimes struggle to empathise and need ‘buddy’ programmes and mentoring to enable them to integrate socially within a conventional organisational culture.

A related n-word, neuroleadership, marking a ‘top-down’ rather than ‘bottom-up’ tendency in transformative management, began trending nearly a decade ago. At the time it was defined somewhat crudely as ‘managing the mental wellbeing of fellow-workers.’ In a business environment where toxic organisations are said to foster emotional contagion, therapists and counsellors began selling mental fitness programmes, brain-based coaching and highlighting the senior manager’s responsibility to promote mind-based performance. Self-styled futurists began in the early noughties to posit a post-informational neurosociety, and drawing on developments in neuroscience and psychology, the first world NeuroLeadership conference, organised by US thought leaders David Rock (who coined the term) and Al Ringleb, was held in 2007. Participants in this still-fashionable sector (they have claimed ‘the birth of a new business discipline’) refer to the neural challenges facing decision-makers, priorities such as moral cognition, cultural intelligence, and emotional regulation, and are fond of psychobabble like ‘foiling amygdala hijack’ (the amygdala being the brain’s anxiety switch) and ‘reclaiming the fire after the burnout’. Critics also point to the danger that these approaches cross the boundaries between the professional and the private spheres and lend themselves to quasi-scientific quackery.

In debates on neurodiversity and in the marketing of neuroleadership, language plays a crucial role. Not only in defining and encoding new ideas and new practices but in embedding or uncovering, through discourse, the hidden prejudices and the complex power relationships that exist in organisations and in the wider society. ND activists want to ensure that variations in the human genome and resulting differences in the nervous systems of individuals are no longer spoken of as ‘pathological’, no longer defined simply (as they still are) as ‘disorders’. Colloquial expressions like ‘differently wired’ can come to have special resonance, and ‘politically correct’ formulations such as ‘differently abled’ become essential to a more nuanced awareness of the subject.

Autistic UK has more information on neurodiversity, including notes on terminology and definitions:

https://autisticuk.org/neurodiversity/

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A term whose time has come?

I wrote about the intriguing notion of the Anglosphere in 2006. In a pre-election, perhaps pre-Brexit phase in the UK’s collective experience, the term surfaces again as the title of a British Academy conference.

Here are my jottings from eleven years ago…

ANGLOSPHERE

When writing about language, there’s a word I constantly invoke – it’s a useful shorthand version of the cumbersome “areas where English is the dominant language”. But this expression (apparently first used in writing by science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson in 1995) may turn out to be the defining term of the 21st century’s global order. The word is Anglosphere, denoting not just a group of English-speaking nations, but a sphere – or set of interconnected spheres – of influence (Sinosphere and Hispanosphere have been employed subsequently and similarly).

According to US businessman and technologist James C Bennett, it “implies far more than merely the sum of all persons who employ English as a first or second language. To be part of the Anglosphere requires adherence to the fundamental customs and values that form the core of English-speaking cultures.”

Primary among these are individualism, openness and the honouring of contracts. Just doing business in English doesn’t qualify you. You have to have internalised the hidden system of behaviours and assumptions that Anglos implicitly embrace, thereby gaining membership in what Bennett calls a network civilisation or network commonwealth. Other fashionable buzzwords associated with the phenomenon are collectivity, commonality and commensurability.

At the rarefied level of international politics, Anglosphere can mean a geopolitical conversation for insiders only. In terms of innovation in technology, law and commerce, it encourages pathfinder cultures to cooperate seamlessly. To some anti-globalisers and multiculturalists this smacks of ethnocentrism, cultural imperialism and linguicism (language-based racism), or at the very least a shared superiority complex on the part of largely rightwing commentators. Part of the potency of the idea is certainly that it offers Brits, and Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, too, the prospect of world domination, alongside the US, and despite the looming presence of China and India. Others protest that this is all simply stating the obvious – that English speakers communicate easily with one another. But perhaps they are missing the essential point: the real potential of the Anglosphere lies not just in instantaneous information-sharing but in the millions of informal, often unnoticed relationships and collaborations that amount to a much more unified power-bloc than any artificially created entity – the EU springs to mind.

 

And here are details of the conference in question…

http://www.britac.ac.uk/events/anglosphere-and-its-others-english-speaking-peoples-changing-world-order

 

A SINGLE CURRENCY? – the status of English post-Juncker and post-Europe

 

 

President of the European Commission, Eurocrat par excellence and Brexiteers’ bugbear, Jean-Claude Juncker raised a laugh in Florence a couple of weeks ago with his public provocation, opining that post-Brexit the English language would lose its status as the EU’s de facto lingua franca. IMVHO he’s probably wrong: even in his native Luxembourg (first language Luxembourgish, a Mosel-Franconian dialect of German) one fifth of the population currently claim to use English for everyday communication and three quarters say they speak it fluently.

In the wider EU 46m Germans and 23m French citizens are estimated to have a good command of English, 38% of the remaining nationalities, too. Only 12% over-all claim fluency in French and 11% in German. In Brussels and Strasbourg,  the cities where EU business is primarily carried out, English is, in the Eurocrats’ jargon a relay language, an intermediate code used in meetings, in corridors and in cafes by those for whom it is a second or third language. This is especially the case for those coming from the more recent member states who are generally reluctant to embark on learning French or German when English is already familiar from school, university and from exposure to popular culture.

In fact, the language actually used beyond the formal speeches and official documents is an odd sort of English-based hybrid sometimes known as Euro-speak, laced with ‘continental’ usages (alien to native speaker English but common to other European tongues) whereby terms like subsidiarity, conditionality and conventionality are exchanged and standard English words shift in meaning so that control comes to mean check, assist means attend, execute means carry out, actual replaces current and resume can mean both re-start and sum up. Perhaps in time it is this dialect which will come to dominate in practice while the official languages remain as they are today. Well-meaning attempts to introduce an alternative common language have so far come to nothing. A petition calling for the artificial language Esperanto to be added to the official list has received only 12, 383 signatures to date – in an EU population of around 450m.

In the Guardian this week Tess Reidy has been considering the fate of English post-Brexit and pace Juncker, with the help of experts and some contributions by me. Her article is here…

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/may/24/which-language-would-ease-our-way-in-the-post-brexit-world

The EU is well aware of the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of its own communication practices, as evidenced by its recognition of the jargon issue…

http://termcoord.eu/2014/06/eurojargon/

Here from the European Court of Auditors is a very useful guide to EU misuses of the English language…

https://wordstodeeds.com/2017/06/02/guide-to-misuse-of-english/

Here are some further thoughts from Marko Modiano of Gävle University, published in September 2017…

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/weng.12264/full

 

 

And, in November 2017, a challenging, if possibly slightly tongue-in-cheek suggestion from Italy…

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/25/eu-should-force-uk-give-us-english-language-brexit-former-italian/

Finally, for any readers who are actively engaging with EU and other terminology (as translators, interpreters or proofreaders for example), here’s a useful list of online resources…

http://albionlanguages.com/best-online-terminology-resources/

UK YOUTH SLANG NOW

I have a fairly extensive archive of new language, including contemporary slang, from which glossaries, dictionaries and articles are spun off. When I interview young people to ask them about the language they use, to collect examples, or to animate discussions, I use extracts from the archive, but in the form of a simplified glossary. The glossary consists only of terms with their definitions, with all other ‘lexicographical paraphernalia’ – parts of speech, etymologies, regional labels, notes on usage, etc. – removed.  This material is not intended for publication, except by me, (or if commercially in return for payment) but is often used by researchers, authors, teachers and students to stimulate discussion and to help with fieldwork and projects. Here, by way of illustration, is a selection from the letter B

 

Image result for slang graffiti

 

B

B – (male) friend

Badmanz – important and/or tough male

Bae – sweetheart, girlfriend or boyfriend

Bag – much, many

Bagga­manz – a lot (of people)

Bag someone out – to criticise, harass

Bait – obvious, intrusive

Ban­gin’ – attractive, exciting

Bangout – failure

Bang-out – successful, skilful

Bants, bantz – banter

Bare – much, many

Bars – (part of) a song

Bashment – party

Basic – unoriginal, conforming to current fashions

Basic B, basic bitch – pretentious but conformist female

Bats – combat trousers

Bay­den – solvent, rich

Beast – excellent, impressive, admirable, cool

Beaut – expression of admiration or approval

Beef – dis­agree­ment, angry altercation

– to aggress

Begfriend – sycophant

Beggin’ – talking nonsense

Beige – boring, tedious

Bell-end, bell – foolish and/or annoying person (usually male)

Ben­nin’ – overcome by laughter.

Bestie – best friend

Betty – girl

BFF – ‘best friend forever’

Big – excellent

Big­gin’ up – com­pli­ment­ing, celebrating

Billies, bills – money, banknotes

Bin off – to throw away, reject, dump (a suitor for instance)

Bitz – area, neighbourhood

Blates – excessive, outrageous

– expression of delight or approval

Blaz­in’ (up) – smoking

Blad – ‘mate’, friend

Bleh – expression of dismissal, disapproval, indifference

Blem – cigarette

Blemboss – someone who smokes to show off

Bless (up) – expression of approval or farewell

Blick – dark

Blonks – big person, usually male

Blud – close friend

Boggin’ – stinking

Bollerz – money

Bonk – to exhaust oneself, tire

Boog – bad, inferior

Booky – suspicious, doubtful, inferior

Boom-ting – party, exciting event

Booty – posterior

– sexy female(s)

Bounce – to depart, flounce off.

Bovvered – unconcerned, indifferent

Boyed – humiliated

Boyment – humiliation

Boyz – money

Braap, blaap – a greeting or expression of approval or agreement.

Brass – bad

Bred­der – someone who copies someone

Bredgie – friend

Bredren, bledren – friends

Breeze – nonsense, rubbish

Brev – male friend, mate

Bro – male friend

Bruck, brok – in bad condition, ugly

Bruv – brother, male friend

Buck – to give

Buff – physically attractive

Bullet – greeting or expression of approval or agreement

Bully van – police vehicle

Bummage – enjoyment

Bump – to trick, defraud, steal from

Bunnin’ – smoking

Bupzin’ – treating or looking after (someone)

–  taking advantage (of someone)

Burned – bested, humiliated

Burner – gun

Buss (out) – to perform (dance moves)

Busted – ugly, unattractive

Bust (off) – to perform (dance moves)

– to recite (lyrics)

But(t) – friend

Butterz – ugly, unattractive

 

Image result for slang graffiti

 

I would be very grateful indeed for any additions to my lists. Donations and/or comments will be very welcome and contributors will be acknowledged. If you would like to use the glossary, please contact me. 

BUZZWORDS AND BIZWORDS – 3

Keep abreast of ideas and innovation in the commercial, corporate and digital spheres by tracking the language generated by professionals. Here is another batch of – depending on your stance – picturesque neologisms, amusing buzz-terms, sinister obscurantist jargon… 

 

CREATIVE DIRECT MARKETING

 

 spouse ignoring the divorce petition

 

The marketing profession, obsessed as it is with sophisticated digital strategies, has woken up to an uncomfortable truth: significant groups of potential consumers are either hard to target via electronic channels or temperamentally resistant to its tactics. Older children still in the family home (aka fledglings), students living in flat-shares, young couples who have only just moved in together and empty-nest pensioners all represent life-stages and demographics who are susceptible to a radical new way of promoting brand engagement. Creative Direct Marketing or CDM is the fancy label for a strategy more simply defined as putting envelopes through letterboxes. For younger digital natives an old-fashioned letter is an intriguing novelty while a door drop is the best way to reach groups of students who may not show up on official registers, young partners on tight budgets who welcome offer leaflets, coupons and vouchers and nostalgic empty-nesters, for whom the postal service remains the most familiar and trustworthy way to receive information.

 

PRICE ANCHORING

 

Image result for anchor emoji

 

Sometimes the oldest tricks are the most effective, like the psychological technique familiar to salespeople, but to very few consumers, known as anchoring. The anchor effect (sometimes also known as focalism) works by introducing a striking piece of information (a financial opportunity for instance) or powerful memory (of a previous desire for something or a sense of satisfaction with ownership for example). This then dominates the subject’s subconscious thinking, pushing aside all the other factors that should influence their decision-making, while they are exposed to a real-life opportunity. At its simplest you present potential customers with a much-too-high figure – a spectacularly overpriced car or TV set for instance – then offer them the opportunity to buy at a lower price which may still be more than they could normally afford. ‘Setting the anchor’ (skilled practitioners can gauge its success by checking the purchaser’s body-language) exploits a so-called cognitive bias: humans tend to rely much too much on the first piece of information, or induced state of mind accessed when making subsequent decisions.*

 

INDUSTRY AGNOSTIC

 

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

 

Industry-agnostic, meaning associated with no particular branch of business, is term du jour for opportunistic investors who take advantage of perfect storms of economic and internal turbulence to put money into distressed assets; high-profile but vulnerable companies. These people talk about moving from value investing (i.e just- for-profit) to values investing (i.e still-for-profit, but focusing on projects with social aims), but crucially have no personal attachment to whatever branch of business they have selected. Adjectival industry agnostic or sector agnostic typically appears in marketing pitches (‘Industry Agnostic Practices for 360 Degree Business Consulting and Execution Facilitation’) or on the cvs of those – in IT, HR, finance – claiming universally applicable skills. Agnostic itself dates from 1869, then meaning unattached to any particular religious creed, formed from ‘a-‘, not and ‘gnostic’, believer in esoteric knowledge. In the last year or so, though, it has caught on right across the commercial spectrum in its new, broader sense. Cloud computing is said to be location-agnostic, applications are touted as platform agnostic, display agnostic, device agnostic. In just the last couple of days I have come across battery agnostic in the case of an electric car, not to mention vendor agnostic, storage agnostic and silicon agnostic.  A rarer recent synonym, BTW, for this sense of agnostic is atheist.

 

Send your exotic new terms to tony.thorne@kcl.ac.uk

All informants will be gratefully acknowledged in print – unless they prefer anonymity.

 

* Anchoring and other cognitive biases are described in this article from Mental Floss:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/68705/20-cognitive-biases-affect-your-decisions

 

IT’S GETTING DARKER

It’s officially Spring now and we are emerging from the gloom induced by short days and long nights (or, from another perspective, by disruption to circadian rhythms and melatonin levels). The darkness (adjective ‘dark’ is from Old English deorc, used also as a noun from the 13th century) clears – literally – but metaphorical darkness is pervasive…just  after posting the paragraphs below I became aware of dark money, defined by The Observer as ‘an undeclared donation from an impermissible foreign donor’ (see below) and Dark Justice, a group of anti-paedophile vigilantes who pose as children online…

 BBA-OpenMind-dark-data-ahmed-banafa

We have marvelled at the notion of the invisible dark matter said to permeate the universe and physicists have supplemented this with the concept of dark energy; not directly detectable either but necessary to explain expansion and the appearance of life in the multiverse.

On a slightly more mundane level there are in 2017 consultancies advertising their services in uncovering dark data (information collected during business operations but not actually used) and helping organisations to exploit it. The d-word has been trending for some time. The dark web (aka the deep web or darknets), we are nervously aware, is inaccessible by standard searches, a mysterious zone where illicit products and services are traded and illicit vices practised.

Most professionals have heard by now of dark pools, (the image is of hidden areas of liquidity) where off-market trading of stocks, also known in banking jargon as internalisation, takes place, where large blocks of shares can be bought and sold anonymously and prices are only made public after deals are privately concluded. But other kinds of opaque transaction, though quite legal, also threaten to distort markets, masking true levels of market scarcity or surplus and hiding real levels of indebtedness, thus creating information asymmetry between insiders and outsiders. A more recent buzz-term in the fields of finance and commodities is dark inventory (shadow inventory is sometimes used for real estate), describing assets placed off-balance-sheet. These may be equities, contracts, undeclared hoarding – of metals, for example – or other pre-sold commodities which may or may not actually exist (fictitious quotations of steel and nickel are ghost inventory) but which remain beyond public scrutiny. The same term can stretch to include toxic, debt-encumbered or otherwise sinister elements in a portfolio. Dark social, meanwhile- the term was coined in 2012 by former deputy editor of The Atlantic Alexis Madrigal – refers to information exchanged in the workplace by private individuals via channels such as instant messaging programs, messaging apps and email rather than on public platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This so-called outbound sharing alarms the corporate world for two main reasons: it sidesteps company restrictions on the timewasting or subversive use of social media at work, and it so far isn’t possible to track, analyse or turn into marketing opportunities.

Far more disturbing is the notion of a coming digital dark age (not to be confused with the techno music and futuristic/fantasy artworks dubbed dark digital) which some pundits have been predicting. This refers to the potential loss of huge quantities of culturally important data, particularly old manuscripts, memoirs, mementos and images preserved electronically, if technological advances make their storage-formats obsolete so that they are no longer recoverable.

Back in the everyday ‘Mr Slang’ Jonathon Green reminds me that from the 1990s dark has also featured in multiethnic youth vernacular in the UK. As with some other key slang terms it can have contrasting meanings, pejorative and appreciative, in this case signifying both ‘harsh’, ‘unfair’, ‘unpleasant’, and ‘impressive’, ‘edgy’.

 

 

*Latest updates: May 17, from George Monbiot, on ‘Dark Money’

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/17/dark-money-democracy-billionaires-funding

…and from The Conversation on August 24, ‘Dark DNA’

https://theconversation.com/introducing-dark-dna-the-phenomenon-that-could-change-how-we-think-about-evolution-82867?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1503571067

…and as the skies darken at the outset of Autumn, here’s The Conversation again, this time on ‘Dark Tourism’ 

https://theconversation.com/dark-tourism-can-be-voyeuristic-and-exploitative-or-if-handled-correctly-do-a-world-of-good-81504