Here’s Why Slang Should Not Be Verboten

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Schools across the country, mostly in urban areas including London, have being prohibiting students from using slang such as ‘peng’, ‘calm’ and ‘fam.’  Immediately, I remembered my first day at my new secondary school in Sheffield where I was publicly complimented as ‘peng’. I had never heard of the word to the astonishment of my much cooler class; I guess the equivalent in my rural hometown was ‘salty’ which I believe trickled down from TOWIE to be used cringingly by ‘thirsty’ Year 8s. ‘Peng’ has a nice ring, almost onomatopoeic like the sound of a social media like affirming the individuals worth.

‘Peng’ originates from Jamaican Patois in black communities across the UK and it has proliferated into the mainstream in the past two years. ‘Peng’ most likely has increased in usage due to Grime’s increasing influence, and with ‘fam’, it epitomises UK Black culture’s current dominance. Headteachers’ egregious attempts to silence slang ranging from ‘innit’ to ‘beef’, is part of the systematic attack on race and class.

If the Normans never lent us their words, we would be calling the dictionary a wordbook. The English language is so complex on account of waves of invaders adding to its lexicon. It is presumptuous and egotistical of teachers and academics alike to think that our language is suddenly now fixed. Students using slang words shows an appreciation of other cultures: schools should recognise that, as a multicultural society, some children will refer to things differently.

We need to stress to school boards that differences are okay. Restricting language is just one of many incursions by the educational system which has been asinine with uniforms, despotic with haircuts and exorbitant with exclusions. Academies are the main culprit of these with their cookie cutter policies designed with the argument that it will improve employability. Banning slang so we all speak in received pronunciation is akin to telling children that polished shoes and crisp collars are what gives you the advantage, rather than the networking or small class sizes that academies will never be able to provide. It is a lazy school policy that will discourage pupils from speaking: it won’t progress their careers or necessarily enrich their vocabulary.  

Words can be like fads: a buzzword that seeps into public consciousness to the point of overuse can be accepted into the dictionary, where it becomes a window into the culture of the time. Students should, however, be equipped with more words. The real scandal is how one in five English pupils cannot read well by the age of eleven. Furthermore, sixteen per cent of adults, equating to 5.8 million, have low levels of literacy. Instead of posturing on a few words, teachers should focus on promoting reading which includes fantastic words like ‘verklempt’, ‘lollygag’ and, hopefully soon, the beautiful ‘peng’. 

Seamus O’Hanlon

Image: Flickr.