My mother always had a keen ear for slang and lazy pronunciation when I was growing up. Because my siblings and I were working class and attended an absolutely dreadful school in the North-east in the 1960s and 1970s, my parents made sure we were as educated as we possibly could be in manners.
My father, a proud northerner, has always taken umbrage at what he calls ‘Cockney’ (in reality just phrases popular among Londoners such as ‘at the end of the day’, ‘basically’ and ‘strike a light’.) Over the past decade, however, the Cockney of my generation has been replaced with the street slang known as ‘Jafaican’, a form of patois picked up by black yout’ in London and eventually by kids from pretty much all ethnic and social backgrounds in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Like all such trends, Jafaican has been picked up by the middle-class, middle-aged and well-educated as well as teenagers. Indeed, it has been suggested by experts in linguistics and dialect that Jafaican will have completely replaced Cockney by 2030, and there have been attempts to argue that the appropriation of such slang by posh folk reflects both a lack of confidence in British cultural values and a crush on ghetto authenticity. Remember David Starkey, for example, causing a kerfuffle for claiming that white working-class people are ‘becoming black’?
The yout’ appear to be selective as to when they use street slang. My neighbour, a black teenager with aspiring, well–spoken parents, gives it large with the, ‘Hey blad, you looking buff in dem low batties’ (My friend, those trousers that are hanging impossibly down below your backside held up by who-knows-what and showing your under-crackers look really nice on you), and ‘Check dis’ da Feds are in I’s yard’ (Listen to me my friends, the police are in my house) when outside hangin’ with his homies, but at home sounds as middle-class as you like. And I have never seen a police car outside his home.
I was chillin’ in me yard recently with a nice glass of wine when a young man came to the door to sell me some tea towels. ‘Dees nang good [brilliant quality] sistah,’ he said to me with no shame (I don’t mean the slang — anyone who has bought such produce from the cold-callers will know that they absorb so little that if I committed a murder and tried to mop up the blood with one, no DNA would be found on it). I told him politely and in good English to sling his hook and he shouted over his shoulder, ‘Deep rude. Dat was deep.’
Anyway, you get the picture. I am pretty fluent these days in Jafaican and often translate for my dad during visits. When he buys his newspaper or puts a bet on and gets a ‘Safe man. Thanks blad’ (Thank you my blood brother) the old man sometimes even attempts a high five.
And it’s still not as annoying as Amerifaican. The British have been stealing words from the US for well over 200 years. They say tomay’oh and we say tomato but nonetheless we say ‘movies’ as often as ‘film’ and say that telephone numbers are ‘busy’ rather than ‘engaged’. Such bastardisations are nothing compared to the horror of recent imports, however, such as ‘Can I get?’ to mean ‘May I have?’ The most recent time I challenged someone on this phrase, by stating loudly in a queue that ‘The barista will “get” your spoilt child’s babyccino, not you!’ resulted in a lifetime ban from Crouch End Starbucks. I don’t care. The coffee’s awful.
Just like Jafaican, Amerifaican has been popularised by young urban Brits and passed on to the older middle classes, mainly these days via Twitter. So ‘that’s my bad’ (That is my fault) is used to apologise for anything from gunning down an innocent passer-by to ordering Chardonnay instead of Chablis (the latter being a greater crime in my book). While Jafaican was often accompanied by the kissing of teeth and flicking of fingers, Ali G-style, Amerifaican requires a curious expression, rising intonation in the right place and lots of ‘likes’. For example, ‘It was, like, my bad that I gotten to forget to order the takeout. But I said I would touch base with her at the, like, candy store [Londis].’
Amerifaicans, I am calling you out (telling you off in a pompous and entitled manner) for saying ‘I’m good’ when what you mean is ‘I’m well’. Then there is ‘two-time’ and ‘three-time’ instead of double or triple, and one of my biggest irritants, using 24/7 rather than ‘24 hours, seven days a week’ or simply ‘all day, every day’. The growing habit of using 100 per cent plus (I guarantee 150 per cent…!) is Amerifaican, and it annoys the hell outta me. Since when did a hair fringe become ‘bangs’? I heard this in a hair salon in Cork for heaven’s sake, uttered by a middle-aged Irish woman. Is nowhere exempt?