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tried to update a slang dictionary from Live magazine (linked to this article) which many people felt was now a little out of date.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


Evelyn O said...

I think only sum parts of slang are highlighted, and they are mainly the bad parts because der are alot of words to decribe feeling happy or decribing sumfing dat is really gud. I do agree that der r alot of words which decribe females 'assets' but der is also an increase in using those words for boys i.e 'dat boy had BACK-OFF!' meanin the boy had a noticeable bum so it is the same both ways. Violent words are used bt it doesnt mean to say dat people who use it are violent, it cn be a way of expressing ourselves i.e ‘I merked dat chicken’- merked literally means to murder but because I used in da context of devouring the chicken, its not used in a violent way. Or the way we congratulate or bigup sumone we usually say ‘brappppp or Bang bang’ which cums from the sound of guns, so as you can see we need to look at the bigger picture and see that slang is not all bout ‘biggin up ur endz’ or ‘chirpin chicks’ but a way to keep the youth culture alive and ‘keep everyone on der toes’.

Evelyn from A2 C-Block

Andrea F. said...

I do agree that slang associated with youth culture is about violence and physical appearance but it’s not mainly about that. Young people do use other words to describe their feelings, even if they use the violent words to describe them for example as Evelyn mentioned the word “merked” (meaning murder) could be used in the context of, “I merked the toilet last night” meaning that the person had diahorrea. Slang words to do with appearances can be used to describe things like food, clothes etc for example the word “buff” can be used in a sentence like “Them hot wings I had last night was buff” meaning that the hot wings the person had was tasty. Within the youth culture the more slang you speak the better you look and the more you look “ghetto”. To wrap everything up slang isn’t about “Chirpsing chicks” and “banging up people” but it’s a way of expressing ourselves and keeping in with the crowd. If your not in touch with your youth side and a friend of a friend greets you with “what’s up bruv?” and you answer “I’m not your brother we’re not even related” your going to look really stupid so slang is also a way of being able to communicate with other youths in a way we both understand.

Dan said...

Some charming images to digest there. Firstly as a veggie, the idea of "merking a chicken", is pretty grim and then secondly as a dad who has had to change some pretty bad nappies this weekend, "merking a toilet" is rather gut-churning too. But thanks for these contributions, Evelyn and Andrea.

Only another 15 to come in before Wednesday!

falisha aka fee fee said...

slang isn't just violent and abusive words its a culture. teenagers as a generation have their own culture and way of life. my view is that people, particularly in the older generations, get "the rong end of the stick" about the use of slang its merely a means of communication of younger generations such as ourselves. the use of words that may portray violence and females in particular do have their positive sides. "choong" is a positive description of a gurl, as opposed to sumfin like "beautiful" which rele is exercising the mouth muscles. the slang used is violent to a certain extent but it isnt ONLY like that, there are hiden meanings and messages and is a YC - youth code , youngster code. slang is just its own language between teenagers, just like french in france or georgie in north slang is da peeps language ya c it.

Shelly B said...

Derogatory terms that are used to describe females in particular is one of the main reasons why males are loosing RESPECT for females and vice versa. For example, gash! In the dictionary gash is the term for:
1. A long, deep wound or cut; slash.
2. Slang (vulgar). a. the vagina.
b. Disparaging and Offensive, a woman considered as a sex object.

When boys go around saying I got ‘bare gash’, or deres ‘bare gash’ do they really know what there saying? When you actually think about it’s not nice to think of girls in that way. And it does not have the same effect when you call a boy a ‘dick’ or a ‘dickhead’. Somehow, terms used to describe females always seem more sexist and is seen to dehumanise them.
Or is it one of those sayings like 'nigger' which is going through the process of semantic reclamation. (where nigger previously carried negative connotations- back in slavery days but was reclaimed by black people and turned into something positive)

Personally I don’t think that it is necessary to use slang in every sentence and i think that it becomes a problem wen ppl start using slang in their essays (except Mr claytons ones), coursework, exam and in serious cases because we become so used to using it that it feels natural. You need a balance.

I dont think slang is just a youth thing, my parents still use slang terms like blues (late night party, finishes in the morning), Sticksman/woman - not a gunman - term used for a pick pocketer who used to dress in a certain way and 'grabbolicious' - greedy person aong with words and sayings they used to used in the Caribbean.

Slang changes with generations, and it is something that we cannot change, its interesting and it allows ppl in general to express their feelings, they way they feel comfortable doing.

xxxwhitneyxxx said...

Slang is a way of expressing yourself between a group of friends. Using this makes your group feel like they have their own sense of identity, rather than being compared to others-(like east and south london have their own words-nang, peng,buck, choong,e.c.t)As the media is becoming more and more aware of "youth slang" ,they are destroying the image of it by depicting it in a way that it makes it sound/look stupid, overexaggerating the whole thing by using too much slang in one sentence.This is one of the main reasons why slang is always changing,as it is getting "rinsed out" by people that do not belong to the particular “slang community“,(although sometimes it can get semantically reclaimed) . Personally,i do not think slang is bad,but certain negative words can be used out of its context. as Andrea had previously said you use the word merked/murkeld to explain how bad your excretion was when u last went to the toilet,which adds to the effect of how bad it really was(lol). Youths reasons for slang is not to make up new words for an original meaning like a thesaurus does but ,its because it makes an individual feel good when a group of you can understand things that an adult,or someone out of the community/group cannot understand .This makes you feel like you have a bit of prestige in your society.I think slang is ok to use but i do think that the way the media has portrayed it-(ie Ali G) has made it look silly.Moreover in the media,slang is always made to look like its only linked to Chavs,”gangsters”(or should I say dem boys that tink their gangsters) or towards Violence,although i think there is more to it than that!!.Giving it this look,makes it seem like its used for only negative things although i do not think they see the true meaning of why youths use slang-which is basically to connect with their friends simpler(cut down of words),and to gain their own sense of identity as a group. xx

xxxwhitneyxxx said...

n tru say u already get derogatory n violent terms with r without slang about race,gender,e.ct xx

raya aka shayshay said...

The highlighted extracts of slang reported in newspapers such as the telegraph or the guardian fail to recognise that slang in a way create bonds between the people using it. The “slang” emphasised upon in newspapers purposely attempts to reflect slang, as being inferior to Standard English, what newspaper journalists fail to realise is that the “youths” have in fact created a new form of communication, which actually reveals the creativity behind some of their minds.
There is a recognisable pattern that all slang based articles are written by those authors/journalists, who really have no idea of how to apply slang in a meaningful context which is why it seems to become “baffling” to them. Take for instance the word “bling” previously a term used predominately by so-called “youths”, which has now become a word made acceptable by the media for all to use, what in fact the media has done is made way for the use of newer terms e.g. “ice” which carry the same semantics as bling originally did, before it was abandoned by teenagers.
A lot of people during the preliminary stages of slang probably thought that it was just another phase teenagers go through but this is one thing that remains, isn’t the saying ‘If you can’t beat them join them’, which is exactly what the media has attempted to do. And in order for those in the older generations who can not quiet fully understand the linguistics behind slang, many adults have attempted to create dictionaries made up entirely of slang, create slang based websites and even to go as far as to attempt to recreate their own slang in order for it to fit in with their work environment (e.g. shoot the puppy article, the daily telegraph) people inventing terms alike “Knife-and-fork it” to deal with a problem or system bit by bit) or “a Bernie”(£1000) what they just don’t realise it that “dem dere tings” just aint going down and it certainly isn’t going to catch on.
Personally I believe that the whole creation of ‘new day informal communication’ a.k.a (also known as – for those who don’t know) slang has helped divert the medias attention away from the “overly dry” (boring) “same old” (everyday) stories and creates articles we might actually consider looking at.

Dan said...

But then again, slang's always been around and it's not just young people who use it. As that Jonathan Green quote goes that we used in class "If there's always been a standard, inevitably there has always been slang".

Maybe some young people feel like they are the only ones who should be using it, and that older (dare I say neekier) people shouldn't be trying to dress up their words in the clothing of young people's language, but I'm not sure that's fair...

x-delphine-x said...

As Mr. Clayton pointed out about Jonathan Green saying that “If there’s always been a standard, inevitably there has always been slang”, this is true, not only in language but in all society. Where there are rules, there will be people to break them. It is true that there are slang terms that encourage sexist and other discriminatory attitudes but then again, those have always been around, words that have been in the dictionary for yeaars and years have gone through a system of pejoration (the process by which a word develops negative meanings over time) where they now have negative connotations, and that’s nothing to do with slang but to do with our society’s attitudes. Truth is, there will always be negative words which put women, gay people and ethnic minorities down, but is slang to blame..? I don’t think so, it’s all about our social attitudes and slang is just a form of communication between a group of people, whether that be within business or the whole youth generation, an opinion is an opinion and people will voice those using slang or not, so where someone wants to be negative to someone else, they will be, with or without the use of slang.

xXxM.a.I.d.I.Z.z.L.exXx said...


pixie! said...

to be honest, i really cnt keep up with all this slang myself, even tho im living round ppl ho use it all the time. like my mate said the other day...."oh my dayyyyz it is chappinnn in ere!!" and im like :/ "chappin?" and shes like, "cold leanne, means cold" so im like..."seeeeeeen" tis mad i tell you!! but yeah, i dnt think that slang terms reflect our attitude in society, i think it just shows how creative you can be with language, and that young ppl use it in order to identify themselves from other cultures, and express themselves in a way where all they can do is use the goings on in the society they live in in order to express how they feel, thus using all this slang!!

Leanne A2 Eng Lang B Block

Angelica Mclarty said...

i feel slang is a way of maintaining the youth culture. The slang used identifies you as a youth. it's a process that all of us go through while we are growing up. Using it establishes a culture of today and how young youths use a variation of the english language. However we don't speak slang 24/7 as that would be point less we use it in particular places which makes it unique. it would be pointless to dat and we are more educated than dat, we have other vocab to describe how were are feeling as andrea stated before.

There is alot of slang words to describe females in a deterogatory manner but it has been going on for years. it goes back to society being patriachal and because of this there are less offensive terms for men.

The slang today that youths use isn't based on what people think it a way of keeping in with wats going on in their society today.

Rebecca said...

The matter of the fact is that black people are not generally conditioned to speak standard english, english being a second language to most black youth’s parents today. Consequently in terms of speech, black people as a group will have been classed as inferior and made to feel this way by standard english speakers since lacking standard english was linked to lacking intelligence and authority. Rather than conform to what was expected in order to be perceived as 'somebody' in society, i believe slang has developed out of rebellion, e.g. rather than accepting and integrating into white culture, they held onto to their own culture and invented or developed linguistics which suited them - they created a class of their own so to speak. This involved rejecting that which was perceived as the correct way of speaking. This may be why when you listen to people use slang, you are also drawn to the phonology as the tone of their voice tends to differ considerably to people who use RP. For example, a number of people who use slang, most especially those who use it excessively adopt quite an aggressive tone to their voice.

Dan said...

That sounds pretty convincing in many ways and it links in to slang throughout time. Slang has almost always been perceived as inferior, aggressive or criminal in its content, right back from "cutpurse" and cockney backslang times, so there's not much difference between that and what might be loosely termed Black slang these days.

Having said that, isn't there a trend in many African families to develop Standard English as the model to aspire to? Maybe then, the rebellion towards slang (especially that of Caribbean or African- American speakers) and away from the standard might be seen as a rebellion away from family traditions too?