Tuesday 2 November 2010

The Gangs of Turl Street

Yesterday's Evening Standard had an article on "The Secret World of Gang Slang". It was full of the usual nonsense about the poetry of the street and asserted the spread of such slang was because "black street culture is still seen by white middle-class kids as the epitome of cool".

However, it then gave a list of 31 slang words. The list included Butters and Tekkers, meaning ugly and technique respectively. One doesn't need to be a wild linguistic speculator to realise that butters is a shortening of butt ugly, technique to tekkers works on the same system; and this system is neither street, nor jafaican, nor linked umbilically to the rule of the knife. It comes from late nineteenth century Oxford.

The Oxford -Er was identified by a linguist called Partridge in 1937. You take a word, shorten it, and add -er to the end. The Oxford -Er is the reason that we have rugger and soccer, which I have already written about here, the word having been invented by a degenerate poet.

The Oxford -Er was then made famous by Evelyn Waugh and by P.G. Wodehouse. The knife-wielding thugs of Hackney are belated arrivals at the linguistic party. They probably got the idea from Test Match Special, listening to Blowers and Aggers and sharpening their shanks.

If you want to know which way the language is heading, I should look to the lobby journalists of the House of Commons. Their names are all informally shortened to -ers, unless -ers doesn't fit, in which case they suffix -ington. So a name like Dawson, which can't be Oxfordised (Dawsers sounds odd) would become Dawsington.

The lobby is at the top of a vertiginous toboggan-run of downward social mobility, so I fear that it is only a matter of time before the first stabbington.

The Inky Fool pops to the shops


  1. Very nice, and you've linked to my favourite Wikipedia article too.

    I wonder if butters might also (or instead) be related to "butter face"?

  2. I was going to suggest that "butters" might be short for "butter face" as well. I had never heard the term until college ('02-'06) and have heard it used frequently since.