Urban London slang: an introduction for hipsters
In 1969 Ralph McTell sang ‘let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London…’
Well, reader, permit me to do the same.
We’re going on a linguistic journey to urban London. You can leave your Lonely Planet guide to the city behind. And you can forget the name of the latest gourmet pop-up to win the accolades of Time Out and Trip Advisor too.
We’re going off piste. Beyond the tourist epicentre of central London. Beyond the regal splendour of Buckingham Palace, the proud stature of Big Ben, the decadent consumerism of Oxford Street.
Far, far away.
To the not-yet-gentrified parts of London. To those areas uninhabited by hordes of bespectacled and bearded 20-somethings, trousers seductively rolled up to flaunt their bare ankles – MacBook in one hand, deconstructed flat white in the other.
To a place where there are no artisanal burgers.
Welcome to urban London. It exists in pockets both North and South of the river, and both East and West of the city. But for the sake of specificity, let’s take a trip to South London in particular. . .
Picture yourself on a South London high street.
No. Not Clapham, or Wimbledon, or even Brixton. Think further out. Think pound shops, not Patisserie Valerie. Meat shops and greengrocers that double as mobile phone repair stores. All day breakfast cafes and multiple purveyors of fried chicken.
That’s the high street you’re on.
As you stroll along, you overhear a passer-by say that they’re ‘in ends’ (in their local area). They’re off to ‘link’ (meet up / hang out with) someone, before heading back to their ‘yard’ (home).
Shortly after this, you walk past a group of teens ‘chirpsing’ (flirting) with each other. One of the boys thinks one of the girls is ‘buff’, or ‘choong’ (good-looking). Meanwhile, the girls seem unanimously impressed by the most ‘hench’, or ‘tonk’ (muscular) boy in the crowd. Unnoticed, one girl watches another girl in the group, internally musing that she’d like to ‘lips’ (kiss) her, and maybe even make her ‘wifey’ (her girlfriend)… She quickly snaps out of it, and stops staring for fear of making it too ‘bait’ (obvious).
Up ahead, you see a small patch of green space set back from the main road. Several kids are kicking a football around there. One of them easily out-skills another, flicking the ball into the air with his heel. He is praised for his ‘tekkers’ (technical ability), and marks his achievement with a celebratory dance. The embarrassed, out-skilled kid tells him to ‘allow it’ (stop it), and stop being so ‘extra’ (over the top).
Next, a girl in her 20s strides past you. She’s on the phone, and clearly agitated. She lets the person on the other end know that she is ‘vex’ (angry) and suffixes a rather long rant with ‘reh teh teh’ (a phrase meaning ‘etc’). You turn to watch her as she moves out of earshot, and accidentally bump into a man carrying a box of second-hand books. One falls on the floor. You apologize, bending down to pick up and return the book. He murmurs ‘safe’ (thanks, good, cool) before moving on.
For a moment, you stop walking and pause to take in your surroundings. A few paces up the road from you lies a stretch of hairdressers and barbershops. A happy customer emerges from one of the hair salons to meet her friends. They loudly proclaim her hair ‘is looking criss’ (looking fresh, sharp). She thanks them, complaining of how ‘dread’ (dreadful, dire) her hair looked prior to getting it done, and they all start ‘creasing’ (laughing).
Next to them, a young man leans into one of the barbershops and shouts for directions to the nearest train station. Content with the answer, he says ‘skeen’ (I see), and quickly paces along the road.
As you continue on your way, several children on scooters whizz past. You overhear one of them boast that he got ‘bare’ (a lot of) money for his birthday – as well as a fresh pair of ‘kicks’ (trainers). ‘Nah fam’ (no my friend), says one of the bi-wheeled crew, ‘you’re gassed’ (your ego is inflated, you think too much of yourself). They descend into laughter…
Soon, you begin to approach the end of the high street. The slew of shops gives way to houses. The traffic dissipates and softens. The murmur of human activity dies down. You turn back to look over the small stretch of South London that you have just traversed. And you ponder that this London – unpolished, full of life and culture, linguistically in flux – may never make it into your Lonely Planet guide.