Argot sits in the forbidden corners of speech, where ingenuity thrives, shrouded by a cloak of linguistic abandon
There are between 6,500 and 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. Include argots the characteristic language of a particular group and that number climbs ginormously.
Ginormous itself is argot, the portmanteau of gigantic and enormous to form a new blended term. Its also exaggeration: gigantic is no longer deemed huge enough, so we blend and expand.
Groups of people form their own private vocabularies because coded language is exclusive, exciting and defiant. Component of it is finding your community: the mystique of being in the in group carried over from school; the private gag you have to be in on to find funny. You find your tribe by mimicking the peculiarities of their enunciation. It generates a sense of belonging, expertise and solidarity.
But it can go beyond that. The coded nature of argot( from the French for slang) can be purposely subversive because that particular group rejects the status quo, which they find unsatisfactory, unacceptable or oppressive. It can also help conceal criminal activity or frowned-upon behaviour, inducing it a cryptolect a secretive language are applied to confuse and omit others and affirm the character of a marginalised subculture.
For all those reasons, argot is my favourite part of language: it sits in the forbidden corners, between the gaps, underneath the rigidity of all the rules of grammar. Its where ingenuity bubbles and thrives, shrouded by an enigmatic shawl of linguistic abandon.
Often, adopters of argot have common enemies to elude or hide from: traditional conservative society; the law; the police. Defying the authority and perceived dominance of the dominant forces in society is empowering and essential to avoid detecting. Its why drug dealer and users apply female personification in their trade to euphemise and disguise. So having a dinner party with Tina, Gina and Molly would be less civilised than it voices: youd be taking, respectively, crystal meth, GHB and MDNA. Similarly, the patois used in hip-hop was originally used to defy the same foes, the argot defined by clever puns, rapid rhyming couplets, blink-and-you-miss-it wordplay and dont-give-a-toss attitude set to an insistent beat.
Youth slang is one of the most consistently refreshing of argots. The yoof want to feel cool, exclusive, quirky and not speak in the same manner as their rents, which is why theyll say things like Nek minnit I had mahoosive FOMO a combination of Jamaican patois hybrid, portmanteau, acronym and drama.
As fresh as argot can feel, it can also become redundant, incumbent or mainstream. Cockney rhyming jargon, for example, is a casualty of sweeping gentrification. Some of it has become mainstream we all know what apples and pears means. But it retains its linguistic creativity: ones Aris entails arse; an abbreviation of Aristotle, which rhymes with bottle-and-glass. Genius.
Here are some argots peculiar to their groups.
Nellyarda, zhoosh the riah, titivate, schlumph your Vera down, and palare that omee for the bevvies because Ive nanti dinarli .
( Translation: Listen, style your hair, attain yourself look pretty, drink up your gin, and talk to that human to get a drinking because Im skint .)
Polari was pugnacious, camp, and racy. The cant was whispered by gay men in big cities in 1960 s Britain( when homosexuality was illegal ). In todays more equal periods, its linguistically archaic. But theres a move from speech devotees like myself to preserve and promote Polari as a kind of linguistic artifact so the battles and resilience of those who spoke it are recollected and respected. The Polari app is fantabulosa, devoting etymologies and explanations of the full Polari lexicon as far as records exist.
Polaris weapon was camp turning on its head the idea that camp was effete and submissive, instead transforming it into something powerful and defiant. It did this by imprinting a flamboyant panache and strange panache use a complete mish-mash of words borrowed from cockney rhyming slang, backslang( when a word is pronounced backwards such as riah and emag ), Yiddish, Italian, theatre slang and naval jargon. You might have fell a Polari word into a sentence to surreptitiously depict the attractive human you were talking to that youre homosexual, or exam if he was. Or to avoid disapproval even arrest. Or simply to bitch, and get away with it.
Polari was popularised by the 1960 s BBC radio series Round the Horne, featuring two camp Polari-speakers, Julian and Sandy. Once it gained popularity, the cat was out of the suitcase. 1967 insured the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain, stimulating Polari redundant.
Gym-goers speak in a common language, but those who attend CrossFit take it to another level. They dont attend a gym; its a box. Acronyms abound Wod( workout of the working day) is the best known, but others include Amrap( as many reps as possible) and ATG( ass to grass ). The Wod is often given a female name. Founder Greg Glassman explains: Anything that left you flat on your back, looking at the sky asking what just happened to me? deserved a females name. Charming.
Like many argots, the unique vernacular improves CrossFits mystique and sense of being a special, exclusive community. It gets people like me used to describe it in places like this. Clever marketing, really.
Talking of clever marketing, when a corporate noun replaces the neutral noun, or a corporate word becomes a verb, the corporate genuinely has won an Orwellian victory. It means we say Kindle instead of e-reader, iPhone instead of smartphone and Play-Doh, Sellotape, Pritt Stick and Tippex instead of their generic alternatives. Hoovering, tweeting and googling show how those companies predominate their markets.
Office talk doing a Swot analysis and Smart objectives by objective of play is the kind of acronym-heavy argot that organisations develop their own version of, to build a sense of belonging, perceived expertise and perceived verbal shortcuts. Please. Just say the whole thing. Acronyms are annoying.
If youre French, Id argue that youre automatically cool. Surely, as Ive written before, the French have the coolest idiom. But if youre very cool in France, you use Verlan a French cant which is like animal Latin, but cooler. It was initially used by young person, drug dealers and criminals as a secret language. Unlike pig Latin, many Verlan words have travelled into mainstream French. To speak in this coded inverted tongue, you must separate the word into syllables, reverse them, then piece it back together. Verlan itself is verlan for lenvers ( backwards ). Another example is chbran , which is the Verlan of branch ( cool ).
It may be dead, but there are many benefits to learning Latin it deepens your understanding of English and other languages, and gives interesting insights into etymologies and the like. But it could be considered a cryptolect: a secretive exclusive language, designed to omit, in this case, oiks. Its mainly used to distinguish an expensive education from a country one. After all, its as arcane and defunct as Polari. It means private school kids can know that in vino veritas because their schools were acting in loco parentis .
Its especially true if you call your university your alma mater . Ugh.
Sensationalist and over abbreviated language is journalese. If you interview an everyday eyewitness without a party trick to speak of and call them talent; if you speak of peg or hooks metaphorically; or if you discuss news currency then youre chatting in journalese.
Gary Nunn is a regular contributor to Mind your speech. Twitter @garynunn1
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