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Feelin' groovy

Gavin Allen | 22:05 UK time, Wednesday, 11 October 2006

My arse. Just don't go there. A reasonable if unnecessary request under normal circumstances you might think. But this morning we did go there, throwing caution - and perhaps wisdom - to the wind for a brief discussion on slang: from my arse and innit to sucks and yo. Incautious because Today listeners love a bare-knuckle word fight. And sure enough the e-mails soon came raining in: helpfully, if forcefully, defining what is and is not slang and whether it is or is not a good thing.

todaylogo.jpgIt certainly seemed a good thing to the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. He told us yesterday - albeit indirectly - to "get a life". On the same programme Salman Rushdie had backed Jack Straw with an emphatic "veils suck". In the wake of "Yo Blair!" what is it, we mused, with these influential people of power, resorting to such slang and rejecting the Queen's English?

So we put this to Sir Clement Freud, former MP, gameshow guest, professional eater and - we handily explained - an expert on these matters. But then, who isn't? We all speak, after all, and bandy slang terms around constantly. What's to be expert about? Or, as listener David Haines pointed out, "What is slang anyway if not metaphor and simile in action? Words like 'phlegmatic', 'spectacular', 'glamorous', 'nice' were all effectively slang at one time. The uses and meanings of words change over time. Get over it!"

Would that we could. But those e-mails keep pummelling in. Most lambast us as hypocrites for querying slang, and then indulging in it ourselves elsewhere in the programme - dumbing down, ditching a concept, Brits, unmarried mums.

And slowly it dawned on me. As ever, I realised, the nation should be thankful for John Humphrys. Whereas his role once was to be the unwitting spark for World War - no Today radio signal and the nukes are launched, went the myth - now his far more daunting but still unwitting lot in life is to sound the death knell of a slang term. Because if it crawls unremarked into John's script, then it can't truly be slang any more - or at least not baffling slang, and what's the point of slang unless it baffles John, Clement, Salman & co?

And so, at 8.14am today, "bangs for your buck" was - lest there be any lingering doubt - officially no longer a slang term. John used it without sarcasm in a question. Likewise, little over half an hour later he wondered "what's your problem with that?" to a guest. Chalk it up - another slang term turned and gone over to the other side. And don't let John's doubt confuse you. "Some people say 'wicked' meaning yes," he marvelled, before wondering: "or maybe that's out of date now."

Wonder no more John. Clearly 'wicked' must be toast, and well-burnt, if you even THINK it's acceptable slang. And so, as ever, I urge roving listeners to tune to the Today programme and to listen and learn from our arbiter of the acceptable. As far as slang's concerned, you heard it here last.

Incidentally, but inevitably, I was tempted to write this entire piece in slang. How witty and cleverly self-parodying that would have been, I figured. But then a reckless listener did just that, addressing "the Today Massive" and liberally employing terms such as "Big up", "groovy", "daddy'o" and "respec". With such a lead to guide me, I instantly decided not to go there. Again.


  • 1.
  • At 01:07 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Lee wrote:

Surely it's ok for John Bolton to use such terms. He is, after all, American....

I can't really see the point of this post, though can perfectly understand why Bolton himself thought that Humphreys should 'get a life'. Is there any issue where Humphreys doesn't go on about Iraq?

  • 2.
  • At 06:37 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

These days slang seems to include “strong language” or the language that used to be called “the foul and disgusting language used by morons who have no respect for other people”.
The consequence is that many otherwise good programs are not fit to be shown in the living room.

  • 3.
  • At 07:02 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • R.K. wrote:

Congrats, Gavin, for a wonderful write-up in pure slang! You are at your very best and here is wishing you many more outings in SLANGS.

I never miss your Editors' Blog for simple reason, the contents are of very high standard with compelling views on current affairs. BBC only can deliver and no other !

  • 4.
  • At 08:27 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Jon Hoyle wrote:

Groovy Gav

wtf? seriously, LOL!

I M plsed your RtikL turnD out not 2 b bout yor arse. dat wud not hav Bin groovy. howeveR i fear U mA b confusing d latter 4 yor elbow.

Hell iz mor lIklE 2 frEz Ovr or @ lEst brAk loose b4 d 2Day gitz wit d progrm.

imho, I c%d barely contemplate Lyf f Radio 4 insists on kEpn it real & stRtz doin it 4 d kids.

pls kEp d Humphster on d progrm not wit d progrm.



  • 5.
  • At 08:46 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Peter Smith wrote:

What a load of nonsense; this type of cinema (movie) and SMS (short message system -text abbreviation) "speak" is ruining the English language.
No wonder there are diminishing standards in literacy produced from our scholastic systems; the use of slang and SMS text abbreviation is reported from employers, where potential employees are using this form of slang to communicate, both at application and interview stages of the process.
Instead of adding items to the dictionary we should be adding to the school curriculum and teacher training processes.

  • 6.
  • At 09:21 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Brian wrote:

Nice work Gavin. Think you might have hit on something with Humphrys there - he should have a preservation order put on him. He's about the only part of the media which isn't obsessed with being hip. If only he hadn't gone so far in th e opposite direction and wasn't obsessed with being crusty.

  • 7.
  • At 09:27 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Tip wrote:

Good to see the Today programme talking about arse without succumbing to the temptation to go up its own. Seriously, though, when did the word 'arse' become an acceptable word for polite company? Is it a Jim Royale thing?

  • 8.
  • At 01:30 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

It is one thing for BBC to quote someone using colorful language because it is out of character for that person or his position and it was used for its "shock value" and quite another for BBC to use it in the process of reporting or commenting on the news. This is the network which is careful to always refer to the War on Terror as the "so called" War on Terror and just this morning, one of BBC's presenters referred to the genocide in Armenia and then immediately corrected himself by saying the "so called" genocide in Armenia. This seeming inconsistancy is easily explained when we remind ourselves that BBC strives to be politically correct in its own agenda to persuade its audience of its own political point of view. At times this means demeaning an individual or a concept by denegrating it with the modifier "so called" and at times if necessary, using "street language" to speak down to the audience's level at what may be the lowest common usage of the English language in the hope that they will better "identify" with what is being said. Bravo BBC, you have proven my point yet once again.

  • 9.
  • At 02:04 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Ally wrote:

Does Peter Smith realise that the English language he cherishes would not be what it is if it had not so readily accepted change, input from foreign languages and regional variations? Language is never the finished article, and each genesis of it will always have its adherents, unwilling to accept change. The wonderful thing about the English language is its willingness to embrace diversity, and its speakers' and writers' inventiveness. Shakespeare invented words. Peter Smith would have him not.

  • 10.
  • At 03:00 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Paul Pensom wrote:

Hello Gavin. Of far more concern to me are the lazy phrases and over(mis)used words constantly employed by interviewees on Today.

I'd love you to ban, just for one day, use of the words 'issues' , 'community', and 'sensible, grown-up debate', then see how the average politician gets on. You should put a special embargo on 'community'. The true meaning of that word has effectively been destroyed, with no obvious candidate for its replacement. Too often, phrase seems to be a poor substitute for thought — don't let them get away with it!

  • 11.
  • At 03:20 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Jenni wrote:

Peter Smith - according to this research by Coventry University children who use a lot of textisms also tend to do better in spelling and writing tests. Of course there are horror stories about children using textspeak in their exams but I would hope that most people, children or adults, are able to switch between modes of discourse according to what's appropriate for their situation. Personally I'm all for anything that encourages the creative and innovative use of language, whether it be slang, textspeak or anything else. As the article mentions, may words now considered to be "standard" started out as slang.

  • 12.
  • At 08:14 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Nigel Rees wrote:

For a language or anything else to change is only good if it improves. Such a change might be considered evolution. Change for change's sake or through a misguided, as opposed to productive, attempt to simplify matters is not an improvement. Some slang satisfies a need to express something briefly. When it merely uses an existing word or phrase to have a new or even opposite meaning to that that it had before, it just confuses.

  • 13.
  • At 10:23 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

Mark: I'm sure the BBC could prove any point you want, its a huge organsation.

  • 14.
  • At 11:03 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Karen wrote:

If historical novels, Shakespeare and the work of Ancient Monks are to be believed, language has never stood still but developed and progressed in much the same way as other aspects of life. Personally, I do prefer to see and hear English spoken and written the way I was taught BUT .... in this technological age of instant needs, it is only natural that unnecessary words and letters are being dropped from speech and prose in order to speed up the delivery. I guess today's youngsters will feel the same when their txt speak changes for something new one day

  • 15.
  • At 02:43 AM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

I don't know if the BBC could prove any point I want as you claim, my problem is that they are constantly proving every point I don't want. That bothers me.

  • 16.
  • At 10:07 PM on 14 Oct 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Are you happy with your programme being considered the epitome of "conventional"?

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