Modern English is well known (and sometimes criticised) for evolving as a result of the influence of many languages, rather than having pure origins. When it comes to slang in Durham, however, this merging of languages apparently didn’t go far enough. With people coming to the university from across the UK and abroad, a wide range of accents and geographically-specific vocabulary is suddenly all thrown into one pot. For those who have never travelled much, it is a scramble to keep tabs on where people are from based on their accents. For others, it is another excuse to fuel the North versus South battle, and the entertainment is all in pretending that people who did not grow up in the town next to you are speaking different dialects which are just impossible to understand. Over-exaggerated or not, though, from this mix, Durham like many other cities appears to have developed its own variation of slang. After a few years, months or weeks, these phrases become so natural that you seem to forget that there is a reason why people who have not spent time here are looking sceptical when you talk.
Simply put, what you just said, in the wider world, makes absolutely no sense. They’re confused – and so were we, at first. Thankfully, in my college, students received a handy little ‘What’s What’ of Durham vocabulary, before arriving in first year, without which I fear many conversations could have ended badly. With this quick summary, everyone managed to play it cool, as if they had been using the terms “ents” and “socs” for years. Unfortunately, if you just happen to stumble upon Durham for a visit, you may find that you are a little lost; this certainly is not a result of its small and easy-to navigate layout. Waterstones may be well equipped with dictionaries for all of the languages offered by the MLAC department but some days a pocket Durham-English translator wouldn’t go amiss.
Small disclaimer: regional-specific slang can come with more problems than you would imagine. It may be entertaining to realise that the non-Durham-dwellers you are happily chatting away to are staring at you in disgust because as you say “I can’t wait to get my stash” they immediately think of drugs when you are innocently picturing your new trackies. Nothing says cool like an acronym for a club that no-one recognises which simply leaves people staring awkwardly at your thighs as they read ‘ABC’ and say to their neighbour: “Does Durham have a spelling club?” However, the truth is, when you go home, people have no clue what you are talking about. Not only does the need to explain everything become a little tiresome but, when not given the opportunity, this can lead to some unfortunate preconceptions. Two people travelling to America recently were forced to come to terms with this fact after being extradited for posting on a social media page their intent to “destroy” America. Despite their best efforts to convince US authorities that, in Britain, this was a colloquial reference to partying, national security was not passed over for a case of linguistic misunderstanding.
Of course, with some students viewing undergraduate degrees as courses in drinking (perhaps with an elective or two in sport and socialising) many of the over-used catch-phrases are part of a universal (or at least uni-versal) drinking language. Yet, the stereotypical ‘Rah’ terms seem to have taken particular effect in Durham. The aftermath of a couple of Gap Yaar videos has people all over the city, some sarcastically and others worryingly not so, coming out with phrases like “I’ve got my lashmina on”. Meanwhile, the word “chunder” seems to have been adopted into everyday speech and comes in more variations than I ever thought possible: “chunder dragon” being the latest in a serious of sickening concoctions I’ve heard. Somehow, I have failed to grasp how throwing up is magical. “My bad.”
While staying within the Durham bubble, it’s easy to forget that these trends, seemingly so normal because they are so widespread here, might seem more than a little odd to an outsider, or even to us, if we stop and consider what we are actually saying. After all, what’s fashionable in one place or time often becomes highly questionable a few miles away or a few years later. Having come to Durham partly due to the strength of its English department, I cannot help but think I will be leaving having experienced a whole new side to the language: one that was definitely not covered in the prospectus.