Saturday, September 16, 2006

Shoot the Puppy

In a great article from The Daily Telegraph over the summer, William Leith takes a detailed look at the language of IT workers and office staff, or what he calls New Office. To help him he uses Tony Thorne's new guide, Shoot the Puppy which gives definitions for the weird and bizarre language of the office (e.g. "having a salmon day" means to have worked hard, swimming upstream all day, only to be shafted at the end if it all).

So shooting the puppy is all about ultra-macho decision-making, several steps beyond 'grasping the nettle’ or ‘biting the bullet’. In a corporate climate,where downsizing has become capsizing (‘capping’ staff numbers until there’s no one left to steer the ship) and rightsizing has given way to downclosing, the idea is often invoked negatively: ‘I’m not going to be the one to shoot the puppy; we’d better hire in a consultant to recommend the restructuring.’

As funny and interesting as some of the slang or jargon is in its own right, two things about the article are particularly helpful for English Language students . Firstly it looks at specific linguistic processes that create the words (blending , affixation, metaphor etc.) and secondly it links the new words to the context that created them and how the new words reflect the attitudes and culture of a given time. So, Leith and Thorne pick out a whole range of new expressions that seem to suggest many people involved in these types of jobs are deeply fed up with their bosses, dismissive of their clients' intelligence and working in an industry that they feel doesn't value them. In other words, the jargon and the metaphors behind the new words reflect an attitude.

In one class last week we tried to update a slang dictionary from Live magazine (linked to this article) which many people felt was now a little out of date. Words and phrases such as "bullet bullet bullet" (uttered when a boy dances in a way that might be perceived as "gay"), "written off" (used to refer to someone who's been knocked out or beaten up) and "boomy" (used as an adjective to express approval of a girl's appearance) came up as new versions of slightly older expressions such as "merked" (injured/beaten up) and "tick" or "choong" (attractive). Maybe "bullet bullet bullet" is an updated version of the old homophobic "boom bye bye" refrain from an old dancehall track.

Again, while it's interesting to see the speed at which language changes and how quickly slang terms are discarded and new ones adopted, it's the pattern of meanings that point to deeper links between language and society. Many slang terms relate to the physical appearance of women, attitudes towards different lifestyles and violence - sometimes a mixture of the three.

So, if business slang and jargon is all to do with feeling miserable in a world that doesn't value you, is life for urban youths all about chirpsing chicks, abusing gay people and beating up rivals from different endz (or something like that, anyway)? I suspect that's not the whole picture, so please discuss...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 - Language Change

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