Urban Dictionary: The English Words of Young People

Growing up in London has made me realise that the correct English language is a bit of a myth. The only person I remember ever speaking the correct English language in my entire life was my Secondary School Head Teacher. To be fair she was about 70 something year old, it would have been very weird if she came out and greeted us with “Yo students!”

In the olden days, around the time of Henry VIII and Queen Victoria, I’m sure people didn’t greet each other with “What’s popping?” (Meaning, “Hello, how are you?”). You were more likely to hear greetings such as “How do you do?”
Being a young adult myself, I have heard many different ways of saying one phrase, sentence or word which all mean the same thing.

Wa Gwan
What’s Up

Good Bye
See you later
I’m out of here
I’m bouncing
How are you?
What’s good?
How’s it going?
What up?
Thank you

As you can see, the English language has been ‘urbanised’ by young people nowadays and surprisingly, as they get older, they tend to stick with the same words. 5o’clock rush hour on the London Underground, you get the random 30-35 year olds with their expensive looking suits and briefcases, speaking with their work colleague and coming out with sentences such as:

“Work was long today, can’t wait to bounce home” meaning “Work was long today, can’t wait to get home”


“Can’t wait for the weekend, I’m going to get wasted” meaning “Can’t wait for the weekend, I’m going to get drunk”

As generations go by, the correct English language will start to fade away. Although children are taught the right English vocabulary and grammar in school, once you leave school, it’s a whole new English language you hear, learn and speak. Eventually, we are going to need language translations to help us understand one another! But as they say English is a funny language and for decades this language has evolved and the next generation could bring a new chapter to this interesting story.

Author Bio: Nancy Carranza, 24 year old university graduate with an artistic background. She works in retail and for Translation Services 24 ltd.

A Beginner’s Guide to Cockney Rhyming Slang

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

What is Cockney rhyming slang?

If you’ve ever been to London and witnessed people speaking a strange kind of English that you didn’t understand, you were probably hearing Cockney rhyming slang. CRS replaces one word with a pair of words that rhyme with it. For example, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’ in Cockney rhyming slang, so you might hear someone saying:

Where’s my trouble and strife?

What he means is, ‘Where’s my wife?’ And to make matters worse, sometimes only one word from the pair is used, so somebody might just say:

Where’s my trouble?

Quite a long way from the original sentence, isn’t it?

Where does Cockney rhyming slang come from?

Cockney rhyming slang, which is spoken by Cockneys, originated in the mid-nineteenth century in the East End of London. A Cockney is someone who was born within earshot of Bow Bells (the bells of a particular church in East London), but now it really just means any Londoner with a specific kind of accent.

No one knows how or why Cockney rhyming slang developed. Some say it was spoken by criminals to confuse the police, while others think it was used by market traders to talk to each other without their customers knowing what they were saying. Whatever the case, it probably also served a double purpose of maintaining a sense of community.

One of the interesting things about Cockney rhyming slang is how it changes over the years to reflect popular culture. In the 1980s, ‘flares’ (a type of trouser that gets wider at the bottom) were referred to as ‘Lionel Blairs’ after the famous actor. Nowadays, they’re known as ‘Tony Blairs’ after the ex-Prime Minister:

Anyone seen my Tony Blairs?

Another example is that ‘Scooby Doo’ suddenly started to mean ‘clue’ with the arrival of the mystery-solving cartoon dog on TV:

I haven’t got a Scooby!

Films and music

If you’re a fan of British films and music, chances are you’ve come across Cockney rhyming slang at some point before. In the film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Barfly Jack makes heavy use of it when telling a story about someone being set on fire. Amusingly, the scene has been subtitled in ‘normal’ English, with additional flashbacks to help the viewer understand. And to be honest these extra measures are completely necessary to know what’s going on – even for a native speaker!

In the 1960s, the influential British rock band The Kinks recorded a song called ‘Harry Rag’, which refers to the Cockney rhyming slang term for cigarette, ‘Harry Wragg’, or fag:

I’ll do anything just to get a Harry Wragg

Further examples

I’ll finish with some other popular examples of Cockney rhyming slang for you. Can you guess what these mean? (Answers are at the bottom of the page.)

Ouch! He hit me in the north and south!

That man’s got huge plates of meat

I don’t like it when you tell porkies (porky pies)

Let’s have a butcher’s (butcher’s hook)

I’ll call him on the dog and bone

I’m just going up the apples and pears

It’s all gone Pete Tong

Hi me old china! (china plate)

Matt Lindley is an English teacher and blogger living in East London. He blogs for HotelClub, a website where you can find great deals on London hotels and more.

Answers: mouth, feet, lies, look, phone, stairs, wrong, mate

English words for weddings

This weekend, I was at a friend’s wedding and as I was looking around, I started thinking of some of the English words we use at weddings. Here is a short text about the wedding. All the interesting words related to weddings are in black. Can you guess what they mean? The answers are at the bottom.

We set off for the wedding slightly late and on the way to the church, we spotted a horse and carriage. The bride and bridesmaids were in it on their way to the church, too. We overtook them and managed to get to the church on time.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the ushers and shown to our seats in the church. After a few minutes, the music started playing and the bride walked down the aisle to meet the groom at the altar.

It was a short service. The choir sang some hymns and the vicar said a prayer before the bride and groom made their wedding vows. After exchanging rings, they made their way to the back of the church to fill out all the legal paperwork needed to register their marriage.

The couple left the church in the horse and carriage and went to a nearby golf club where the wedding reception was held. At the reception, there was a huge meal and a lot to drink. The best man made a speech and shared some funny stories from the stag night, then the groom thanked all the guests for coming.

After the meal, the couple had their first dance and the party got started. Everyone had a great time and I had fun catching up with some old school friends I hadn’t seen for a long time.

  • horse and carriage – a vehicle pulled by horses
  • bride – woman getting married
  • groom – man getting married
  • bridesmaids – female wedding assistants
  • ushers – male wedding assistants
  • aisle – the central passage of a church
  • altar – the area where the priest stands
  • vicar – a priest in a Church of England church
  • hymn – religious song
  • wedding vows – promises of love and loyalty
  • wedding reception – party after a wedding
  • best man – the best friend of the man getting married
  • stag night – a party a man has before getting married (if it is for women, we call it a ‘hen night’)
  • catch up – share news about your life with a friend

Today’s image is by Roger Kirby.

English traffic expressions from my trip to Jakarta

While I was in Jakarta last week, I thought of some interesting vocabulary I would like to share related to my trip. Try and guess what the words and expressions in black mean then check your answers at the end of the article.

Jakarta is an interesting city. Many people find it intimidating at first but once you get to know it, the local food and culture is really exciting. The thing Jakarta is most famous for with the locals, though, is the traffic.

One of the first words you will hear on your arrival in Jakarta will be macet. This means ‘congested’. It can take a long time to get from the airport to the city centre so it’s a good idea to bring a book to read in the taxi.

When we went to Jakarta last week, we took the shuttle bus from the airport to the city centre. It went via the toll road so the trip didn’t take too long. The bus pulled up right outside the office we needed to visit, so we got off and walked straight in.

When we left the office, we got a taxi back to the hotel. The traffic was gridlocked so the driver took a short cut. He went down some side roads and got us back to the hotel quickly.

Our hotel was in the city centre so we were able to walk for most of the rest of the vacation and didn’t need to get stuck in any more traffic. Jakarta is a hot place to be a pedestrian at mid-day but walking in the morning or afternoon is quite comfortable.

It took us quite a while to get back to the airport because we had to go around the one-way system and there was a small traffic jam waiting to get onto the toll road. We got there in the end, though, and caught our plane back to Bali.

  • a toll road – a road you must pay to use
  • to pull up – when a vehicle stops
  • gridlocked – an area of extremely congested traffic
  • a short cut – an alternative (usually faster) route to a destination
  • a side road/street – a small, minor road
  • a pedestrian – someone who walks
  • a one-way system – a series of streets that you can only travel down in one direction
  • a traffic jam – when a street is congested and the traffic is not moving

English words from my trip to the beach

I love spending time at the beach here in Bali. It’s a great place for swimming, running, or just relaxing and thinking. While I was at the beach this weekend, I made a note of some English vocabulary for talking about beaches. Read through the text below and try to guess what the word in black mean. The answers are at the bottom.

I had a great time at the beach yesterday. It was high tide so the water was deep enough for swimming. I don’t like swimming at low tide because the water is too shallow and I can feel the seaweed touching my arms and legs as I swim.

The beach I visit is very safe and there are no rip currents so I don’t need to worry about being sucked out to sea. It’s quiet, too. There are no poseurs trying to show off their beach bodies.

Some people like to sunbathe on sun loungers to try and get a sun tan. I am easily sunburnt so I prefer to go to the beach later in the day when the sun isn’t so strong.

I’m not a beach bum but I like to go to the beach whenever I have time.

  • high tide – when the sea reaches its highest level
  • low tide – when the sea is at its lowest level
  • seaweed – plants that grow under the sea
  • rip current – water moving away from the land that pulls things out to sea
  • poseur – someone who likes to show off and sometimes to pretend to have qualities he does not really have
  • beach body – an attractive body that looks good in beach clothes
  • sunbathe – exposing your skin to the sun in order to make it go darker
  • sun lounger – a reclining chair for sunbathing
  • sun tan – skin which is darker than usual because of exposure to the sun
  • sunburnt – when your skin goes red after spending too long in the sun
  • beach bum – someone who spends most of his time on the beach (often used to say the person is lazy)

Do you like going to the beach?

English travel vocabulary from my trip to Malaysia

While I was travelling to Malaysia last week, I started thinking about the specific English vocabulary used for travelling by plane. Here’s a little story containing some useful travel vocabulary. See if you can guess what the words in black mean, then check your answers at the bottom.

I am an early bird so it was easy for me to get up at 3:30am for my trip to Malaysia. My brother-in-law came to pick me up at 4am and gave me a lift to the airport.

When I got to the airport, I went straight to the check-in counter and collected my boarding pass. I didn’t have any check-in luggage, because I like to travel light. I had one small piece of carry-on luggage containing all the things I needed for the next three days.

I walked straight through the departure area, past the duty-free shops, to the gate, where I waited until my plane was boarding. When they opened the gate, I boarded the plane and took my seat next to the window. I prefer window seats because I like to see the view. Aisle seats are nice for longer flights, though, because it it easier to get up and walk about.

The flight was comfortable but there was a little turbulence halfway through and I almost spilt my tea. We arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport five minutes early.

After getting off the plane, I went through immigration, walked past the baggage carousel and through the ‘nothing to declare‘ lane in customs. Then I got on a shuttle bus to the city centre, ready to start my vacation

  • early bird – someone who wakes up early in the morning
  • give someone a lift – take someone somewhere in your car
  • check-in counter – where hand over your ticket and passport and are given the pass that will allow you onto the plane
  • boarding pass – the piece of paper given to you at the check-in counter which you need to show to be allowed on the plane
  • check-in luggage – bags that travel in the separate storage compartment in a plane
  • carry-on luggage – bags you take into the cabin of the plane with you
  • travel light – to travel with little luggage
  • duty-free shops – where you can buy things without needing to pay tax
  • gate – entrance to the walkway to the plane
  • boarding – when people get on the plane
  • window seat – seat next to the window
  • aisle seat – seat next to the central passage of the plane
  • turbulence – when the plane shakes around in the sky
  • immigration – where your travel documents are checked and you are given permission to enter the country
  • baggage carousel – the moving belt from which people collect their luggage
  • customs – check you are not bringing anything illegal into a country or that you are trying to hide something you should be paying tax on
  • Items to declare – where you go if you are carrying something you need to tell the customs officials about
  • Nothing to declare – where you go if you do not need to inform the customs officials about anything you are carrying.
  • shuttle bus – a bus that only stops at two places

Where did you go on your last vacation? How was your flight?

5 reasons why you should practise English with your kids

The industry based around teaching kids English is huge. Millions of dollars a year are made by schools and publishing companies. There are so many reasons why it’s important for kids to learn English and if you have learnt English as your second language already, you will probably know all of them.

While it’s great fun for kids to go to an English school and meet lots of new friends, it can be expensive. If you can’t afford to send your kid to an English language school or can’t find an English class that fits in with your child’s schedule, why not practise with him or her yourself?

There are lots of ways in which learning and practising English together will benefit you and your child:

1. A comfortable environment in which to learn – Many kids find it difficult to speak English in real life because they associate it too much with being at school. Learning at home using objects and examples from around your house is a great way to help your child remember what he learns and put English into a real-life context.

2. Parent-child bonding – If you have a busy lifestyle, it can be hard to find time to spend with your kids. Sometimes, after a hard day at work, it can be tempting just to sit down and watch TV together. Kids don’t need you there to help them watch TV, though. Making the effort to do something of value with your child in your free time is a great way to make sure the time you spend with them is something you both find rewarding. Learning a new skill, be it a language, musical instrument or sport with your child is an experience you will both remember for ever.

3. It will improve your English, too – Teaching or explaining something is a great way to make sure you actually know it in detail. Even teaching your child a few simple phrases in English will help you remember them and enable you to discover more about the learning process.

4. Motivation and encouragement – Kids hate it when parents tell them to do their homework. However, if you take an active interest in what your child is learning and try to help, it shows that you really care. When kids can see that learning is fun and not a chore, they’ll start doing their homework without you needing to ask.

5. It’s fun – One of the best things about teaching kids is that there are so many interesting things you can do with them to make learning fun. Kids are naturally curious and if you can capture their imagination, they really enjoy learning languages. That fun is contagious. Even if you are in a terrible mood, spending 10 minutes with some kids having fun will cheer you up again.

NOTE: There are so many great activities you can do to practise English with your kids that I have decided to make a separate site entirely dedicated to it. It will take me a couple of months to get it all set up but I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

Today’s image is by Aline Dassel.

Slice of the action

italian_pizzaAs regular readers of this blog will already know, I love tasting different kinds of food from all over the world. That’s why this article on the BBC News website caught my eye. The most delicious pizza I’ve ever had was in Italy so hopefully this trademark will help them make sure the pizza there continues to be as tasty as ever.

The key expression in this article is ‘a slice of the action‘ which means to be involved in a project or event.

The other interesting word I spotted was ‘vetted’ If something is ‘vetted‘ it is checked or examined to make sure it meets a certain set of requirements.

The most famous kind of food where I live is probably babi guling. It’s a whole pig roasted over an open fire. Babi guling is delicious but very fattening. Actually I had some for lunch today so maybe I should go for a run this afternoon!

What’s the most famous kind of food from your city?

Today’s photo is by Ilker.