Have you ever been mid-conversation with someone and they casually drop a word and you have zero idea what they’re talking about? I don’t mean they’ve used a long word and you don’t have a spare dictionary to hand. I mean when someone says to you ‘What you saying blud?’ and you stand there silent. You wasn’t actually saying anything so what do they mean? When did ‘blud’ become an acceptable form of communication? I must have been hiding away in my small Kentish town to see the local youths knocking their knuckles together and saying ‘what is up’. And what is ‘blud’? I like to think it means a friend of some sort but then again, I’m not from London or where there is a …’hood’.
The issue is that I thought I could come to London and talk to people in the same way I had fifty miles back in the South East. I thought I could discuss the weather in the usual way that usual people did. I thought I’d understand every word that was said to me (I was proud to be on my English-based course at university). Yet, London is so diverse that it seems to have a completely different version of English than I’ve ever been taught. I don’t mean Cockney slang or anything that could make slight sense with some research but an actual different language.
I knew people my age in London before moving here so I had a few words translated already. I knew that ‘G’ means ‘gangster’, ‘jamming’ means ‘chilling’ and ‘yard’ means ‘house’. (Could I sound more like a pensioner right now?).
Yet when I was taken to a house party in Queen’s Park, I was greeted with words that weren’t in my mental dictionary. Here’s how the conversation went:
Man: “What you saying?”
Man: “What you saying doe?”
Me: “Sorry, I didn’t say anything.”
The man looked at me as though I’d turned down his sexual advances and slapped him across the face. He stood all hurt and confused with his slit eyebrow raised. Slit eyebrows are clearly a razor malfunction and I’d certainly word a very strong letter to Wilkinson Sword for the error.
I smiled broadly, hoping to cover up the pit of awkwardness that we’d found ourselves in. The silence sat in the air and it gave me an opportunity to think of some wonderfully Kentish things to discuss with him but he turned away shaking his head. The rudeness of some people astounds me.
Later that evening, my friend (or ‘blud’ if I may) introduced me to some people from his university; I thought this was my opportunity to engage in full flow intellectual conversation and sweep all the confusion aside. We could talk in actual English and have a conversation where I felt socially experienced. Introductions over, the conversation was verging into that unknown territory again.
“So what you on?”
The man was waiting for me to answer. His face was full of hope; all bright eyes and smiles. My options were minimal so I opted for the weakest excuse imaginable; I pretended the music was too loud. I didn’t even know what the music was meant to be, it was talking of riding women and bicycles and the genital area.
I looked to the others in the group and nodded along; pretending to be involved in their conversation of some club or band or whatever called Vybz Kartel but the man persisted.
“What you on b?”
This was the moment. Oh no. What on earth does ‘b’ mean? It could stand for so many different words and I was panicking. I thought back over all the phrases I’d had translated before but ‘b’ was never there. B?! I decided he didn’t mean to say it. How embarrassing for him. I kindly smiled and moved away; best not to make him feel bad.
When we left the party after I’d surprisingly spent a long time alone in the kitchen trying to work out what exactly a ‘weave’ was, my friend asked what had happened. I explained the story and said I’d let it go because it would be too embarrassing to correct him. He stopped mid-step and bowed his head. Was this the moment that he would say I was the kindest girl he’d ever met? Bless me, not to draw attention to such a mistake. No. This was the moment that he threw his head back and let out the loudest laugh I’d ever heard. It wasn’t a normal gentle laugh that someone would give after an anecdote or story; it was a huge howling laugh that seemed to echo down the street.
After much translation, nodding, questioning and research, I now know that I’d possibly been the most mortifying person since Tulisa’s boob slap on penis sex tape. ‘B’ wasn’t a random letter that he’d said without realising. It wasn’t a random letter of the alphabet that he thought he’d add to the question for effect. It actually means ‘babe’ or ‘baby’ or something.
These are the sort of socially awkward situations I’ve found myself in since submersing myself in London life. Luckily, I now have a ‘down with it’ boyfriend who helps me translate when someone shouts over a word that may as well be in Spanish or German to me. He seems to find it perfectly okay to switch between languages; he speaks to me in proper English and his friends in the ‘blud/fam/man’ language. I seem to know a little more about it and if I’m ever in doubt, I’m quick to ask around for what I call a ‘London translation’. As for ‘what you on’ and ‘what you saying’, I’ve had it explained to me for the past three years and I still don’t get it. I’m not saying anything and I’m not on anything so clearly the whole concept is wrong. Why can’t we all just stick to the good Queen’s English and have a jolly old time?