Gallivanting around in my frock: granny slang
When was the last time you heard someone being called a git, a moo or a ‘mare?
You may have to cast your mind back. And I’d wager, you’ll remember that these gentle insults were uttered by someone from an older generation.
They form part of a language phenomenon that receives criminally scant attention or kudos: granny slang. It’s time we spoke about it. Because if we don’t, it risks becoming an extinct argot. And that, as you’ll discover, would be truly criminal.
Granny slang is the colloquial parlance of the elderly. Its nickname is, itself, slang, which is perhaps why it has taken on a superfluous gendered personification. It’s not necessarily effeminate; granddads are just as likely to use granny slang; it denotes age, not gender. Admittedly, ‘granny and granddad slang’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
If you’ve ‘courted’ instead of dated, worn a ‘frock’ instead of a dress, or indulged in ‘tomfoolery’ and ‘malarkey’ instead of mischief and mucking around, congratulations, you’re practically fluent in granny slang. You might’ve had a ‘mooch’, instead of a peruse, and ‘pottered’ instead of chilled. If you’ve Netflix-and-chilled and described it as ‘slap and tickle’, you’ve been speaking granny slang to your beau. Sexy.
If you’ll find any excuse to euphemise the fact you’ve had a massive argument: instead, you’ve had ‘argy-bargy’ or a ‘hullabaloo’ and got yourself in a right ‘two and eight’ (cockney rhyming slang for ‘state’), then you’re using granny slang to sugar-coat. You might be arguing because you’ve caught a ‘rapscallion’ indulging in ‘jiggery-pokery’ (a villain being deceitful) – this is granny slang code in all its camp and quirky glory. Isn’t it marvellous?
You might want to call that villain a ‘sod’ or a ‘bugger’ (biblical references to sodom and gomorrah), or a git. Or a ‘moo’, if the villain is a woman. Granny slang swearing sounds softer on the ears than today’s harsh lexicon of invective and expletives. Some terms have even moved away from pejorative to become affectionate in tone – a ‘little bugger’ or ‘sod’ – sound an innocent million miles away from the ‘forbidden’ sexual practices buggery and sodomy have come to be known for.
The lexicon of almost-archaic colloquialisms spoken by the elderly generation are linguistic gems. They evoke a gentler, less shouty age where euphemisms were used to spare blushes rather than spin damning truths into palatable lies, as euphemisms mainly do today. To keep this endangered argot alive, repeated and defiant use will encase its innate campness in the museum glass it deserves.
Perhaps one reason for granny slang’s publicity problem is its perceived oxymoronic nature; slang is often considered the primary diction of the yoof, not the aged. Pensioner-patois therefore gets overlooked. Neologisms come up and replace outdated ones. As Picasso said, every act of creation is first an act of destruction.
Slang isn’t solely owned by the youth, of course. But grannies were young and creative once. Indeed, some words that started life as slang later became part of the pedestrian parlance of everyday vernacular. Trendy; rip-off; laid-back; lose it; trash (as a verb); smoothie; paranoid; kooky; sleazy; biker; booze; dosh: all these common words were once considered youth slang before crossing over into the mainstream. When that happens, the youth quickly lose interest. Their cool code has matured into the lexicon of the quotidian, instantly negating both its coolness and its codedness.
Some slang terms our grannies used never made it into the mainstream – colloquial or otherwise. Completely archaic slang terms include “nause” (an unpleasant person); “crackle” (money); “crackling” (attractive female); “erdie”, “erber”, “nerk” and “erk” – all meaning a foolish, unfashionable person.
With potential for much cross-generational hilarity, certain granny slang terms are used by young people to mean something entirely different. So granny slang ‘batty’ (slightly crazy) and ‘booty’ (loot, plunder) both mean your backside if you’re under 35.
Slang gets a bad rep; often regarded as puerile, dramatic or lazy, it can actually be the polar opposite: polite, euphemistic, inventive. Instead of being spiteful or annoying, it can be affectionate and affable. But to view it this way, you must overlook vociferous youth slang and properly inspect the quieter slang of our linguistic forebears.
This endangered argot reflects the fears, anxieties, faults, quirks, wit and humour of an entire generation. So while the Oxford Dictionaries are ready-in-waiting to document our changing attitudes to language, granny slang or no, it’s up to the rest of us to rescue it – or there’ll be serious argy bargy.