Jim Pettiward explains the origin, meaning and use of the word 'bruv' and some of its colloquial synonyms. Click below to listen:
Bruv. B-R-U-V. 'What's up bruv?' 'What's happenin' bruv?' You may have heard the word and wondered what it means or where it comes from. 'Bruv' – it's a shortened version of brother. Note the spelling B-R-U-V. Often, in informal writing such as song lyrics and text messages, the spelling of words is shortened. In this case, U-V replaces O-T-H. This reflects a certain kind of pronunciation, especially common in London, where people say V or F instead of TH. In 2008 for example, Dizzee Rascal, a London rapper, released a single called 'Dance wiv me' (W-I-V).
The word is widely used to address another male –usually someone that the speaker shares a common bond with, friends or people they know, often people of a similar age to themselves. Using the word 'brother' in this way is certainly not a new phenomenon, so its current popularity is no real surprise. It was widely used in the 1970s and 80s in Black American speech to refer to another black man and to create a common bond among the black community, which still faced discrimination. When Marvin Gaye sang 'What's Happenin' Brother?' he wasn't referring to his brother but to his fellow man.
'Bruv' is probably the most common term, but there are others which have a similar function and express a similar bond – Bro (B-R-O), blud (B-L-U-D) and cuz (C-U-Z) are just some. Again, notice the spelling changes in 'blud' and 'cuz'.
It's now common to find the word 'bruv' in lots of different contexts – not long ago I saw the headline 'Killers of my hero bruv are cowards' in a popular tabloid newspaper. The reality show Big Brother is also routinely referred to as 'Big Bruv' in many newspapers and magazines.
Bruv is an informal usage. You won't find it in more formal spoken or written English, and many people would see it as 'bad English'. But, language is constantly evolving, and in schools and colleges, you'll find young people from all sorts of backgrounds using some of the slang words we've seen in this series.
About Jim Pettiward
Jim Pettiward has a BA (hons) in French and Spanish, CTEFLA and Trinity TESOL Diploma. He has taught EFL, EAP, ESP and Business English in Ecuador, Venezuela, Hungary and the UK. He has also worked as an ICT trainer for the British Council and the University of the Arts, London. He is currently teaching English for Academic Purposes in the Department of Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education at London Metropolitan University.