One of the things I’ve been researching during the Breathe Residency is Mancunian slang and temperaments. (Mancunian means of Manchester, for you Yanks). Manchester is known as a rainy post-industrial city, but I’ve found its emphasis on cultural life and development to be very forward-looking. It’s sort of like an English Detriot or Oakland–perpetually stuck between an unrecoverable past and a difficult-to-realize future, but with glimpses of hope all around.
The first thing I noticed about Manchester is the accent–broad, flat vowels, and the way words like “early” (“arr-lah”) feel flipped around to me. The next thing I noticed is the colorful slang.
I did some drawings that attempted to quantify the Mancunian temperment by taxonomizing the slang words that I heard by chance. In other words, I noticed that there were more slang words to describe displeasure, than there were to describe pleasure.
Above, an initial early version of the project. For the benefit of my fellow Americans, here’s a run-down:
Stroppy and mardy are both unpleasant characteristics, sort of irritable, uncommunicative, whiny. Many Brits are surprised that Americans don’t use the word stroppy. Maybe in an Anne of Green Gables book, but not in Oakland.
Naff means not good. Janky might be a good American corollary.
Scally means chav, a young Briton who’s adopted American hip-hop style, generally regarded as tacky, trashy, low-life. They are usually described as wearing trackie bottoms (track suit pants), flat caps (baseball hats), trainers (sneakers) and Burberry hats, though I haven’t seen any Burberry hats in Manchester. There are connotations of class, Northerner-ness (city mouse v. country mouse?), and probably racial ones, too, but I don’t know enough about it.
Grotty means dingy. It’s also used like the American slang adjective, ghetto.
Another word I heard was wanky, which is just a short way of saying like a wanker.
I only heard a few slang words that were positive:
Chuffed means enthusiastic, e.g., “I’m not too chuffed about it myself.”
As in America, Wicked means cool, e.g., “Hey, I’ve got an open studio coming up.” [Hands over a postcard.] “Wicked.” I’ve only heard it once or twice, which I attribute to a reluctance to express unbridled enthusiasm.
Sorted means sorted out, e.g., “Have you got it sorted?” or “Did you eat?” “Yeah, we went to Pizza Hut. Sorted.”
One more phrase is necessary to round out this list.
All right is the typically lukewarm, understated Mancunian way of expressing approval or appreciation. It can mean anything from OK to great. E.g., a Mancunian could enjoy an event, and describe it as “all right.”
This is in contrast with the American usage, which expresses neutrality or can even be a euphemism for bring underwhelmed, e.g., “How was ‘Marley and Me’?” “It was all right.” “Hm, didn’t really do it for you, huh?”
The Manc temperment is partly explained by the Northern identity. In England, a North-South divide signifies cultural differences as well as disparate levels of prosperity and health indicators.
For those interested in learning more about the north of England, I’d recommend these starting points:
Time Shift – Series 8 – The North-South Divide, an interesting hour-long BBC documentary.
Zeitgeist, a Salford University-produced arts and entertainment TV program. Watch past episodes online.