Swots, boffins and anoraks: Words about people

Sunday, May 1, 2011

More additions to the glossary.  This time, our theme is words describing people.

anorak = Yes, technically an anorak is one of those wind/waterproof jackets, but that’s not what you’re here to find out, is it?  Colloquially, an anorak is that particular type of person who pursues an odd and useless hobby obsessively.  Generally poor in social situations, trainspotters are classic anoraks.  Perhaps used thusly: “Gerard has got a complete set of milk bottle lid liners featuring all the characters from ‘E.T. The Extraterrestrial’  He cornered me at Janet’s party last week to explain the difference between the early edition Drew Barrymore lid liner with a typo and the later, corrected version, printed with different ink.  It took me 45 minutes to escape.  Christ, he’s such an anorak!”

nutter = just what it sounds like.  In North America we’d say “nutcase” or “nut job”.

white van man = a rude, aggressive driver.  Derived from the fact that many tradesmen such as builders, plumbers and electricians drive small panel vans commonly painted white to make it easier to put the “Joe’s Plumbing” logo on the side.  Stereotypically a white van man is an overweight, chauvinist, wolf-whistling, rude-gesturing, speeding, obscenity-hurling tail-gater with builder’s butt (a.k.a plumber’s crack).

git = a mildly derogatory term for someone who’s useless, annoying or troublesome.  Can also be used among friends in mocking derision, as in: “Quit your moaning you’ve just won the lottery you lucky git.”

wanker = literally, one who masturbates.  More generally it’s a catch-all derogatory term for someone North Americans might describe as a jerk (note the similar etymology), bastard or asshole.

swot = pronounced “swat”, like what you would do to a mosquito.  Swot is a term for someone who does well in school and studies hard.  Often used contemptuously by someone who does not do well in school and does not study hard.  Sometimes used, with typical English false modesty, by people describing themselves: “Yeah, I got 23 A levels in school.  I was a right little swot.”

Geordie = Someone from the area of Newcastle upon Tyne, in the north east of England.  Also, a supporter of Newcastle United Football Club.  Geordies tend to have a brilliant accent which, when laid on thick, is basically indecipherable to outsiders.  Here it is demonstrated in its milder form by a claymation mouse.  How cute is that?

And here it is, laid on thick:

bloke = utterly commonplace term for a male person.  Used the same way, and with the same frequency that North Americans would use “guy”.

toe rag = a somewhat out-of-fashion word meaning either a worthless, dirty, disgusting person or a sly,  deceptive or slightly criminal type, or possibly both.  Online sources claim that toe rag has mostly passed out of use in favour of terms like tosser and wanker, but I did hear it in the wild from a native speaker not too long ago, and I just like it, so I include it here.

slag = a derogatory term for a promiscuous woman. “That Teresa has a revolving door to her bedroom.  She’s such a slag.”

toff = refers to an upper class person, usually male, and almost certainly educated at public school.  (Note: a public school is exactly the opposite of what it sounds like.  Not public at all, they are, in fact, very private and very expensive.)  A toff is born to the title, and is likely to have a passing acquaintance with polo (not just the shirts), Abercrombie & Fitch and at least one woman named Tabitha.  David Cameron (the current Prime Minister of the UK) is a toff, though he desperately tries to distance himself from that label to the extent that he first claimed he would wear a business suit (not tails) to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.  Media reports claimed this was because of a photo that surfaced years ago showing him in morning dress (tails) as a member of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, thus forever cementing his status as a toff. (from The Telegraph).

Cameron Johnson ToffsThe famous photo of the Bullingdon Club.  Cameron is pictured second from the left at the back. Also pictured is a young Boris Johnson, current Mayor of London, seated on the right. Johnson is also most certainly a toff.  (Poor man, how could he NOT be, when his full name is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson?)
geezer = A generic term for any male person, not just a very old one

boffin = Ah, the great British boffin.  It’s a term used to describe someone who is an expert in a scientific or technical field, often one that’s also somewhat arcane.  It shows up in newspaper articles when some new bit of technical wizardry is unveiled, as in “The boffins at Apple have developed the new iPed, a foot-controlled touchscreen device for use by the flip-flop crowd.”  I suppose it’s roughly equivalent to “nerd”, but used with more affection and even some respect, as if people have realized that boffins may wear pocket protectors, but they also built the space shuttle.  This doesn’t stop kids from using it as an insult directed at anyone showing a spark of intelligence.

punter = a generic, somewhat dismissive term for customer.  Punter once specifically meant someone who frequents race tracks and bets on horses (or bets on thing in general), and extended to mean a customer of a prostitute, but is now used more generically.  As in “We’re just giving the punters what they want.” 

tosser = Originally may have derived from “toss pot” which is apparently an old sailor’s term for someone who drinks a lot.  Now it’s used interchangeably with wanker, though it’s perhaps slightly less harsh.

Scouser = a person from Liverpool.  Also with a distinctive accent, The Beatles are probably the most famous Scousers of all time.

Jamie Carragher, a Scouser and footballer who plays for Liverpool, demonstrating a strong Scouse accent.  Thank you for the subtitles.

mate = friend.  Much, much, more commonly used than “friend”, mostly by men.

grass = not a term for marijuana.  Instead, a grass is a snitch – someone who tells on others, especially to the authorities.  Can also be used as a verb as in, “That little toe rag grassed on me to the headmaster!”

chav = also chavvy, pronounced with the hard CH like in “cheese”.  A chav is that particular type of aggressive teenager (or even their parents and grandparents), usually from a working class background, that wears a large, stiff-peaked baseball cap (often at a 90 degree angle), a track suit, and a bizarre amount of chunky, shiny jewelry.  Best known for engaging in anti-social behaviour, congregating on street corners, heavy drinking, drug-taking and general rowdiness.  Bizarrely, chavs have adopted the Burberry tartan as their tribal dress to such a degree that Burberry itself now only uses the distinctive tan, black and red pattern on inner linings and other low-key articles. (I declined to go out to capture a picture of chavs in their native habitat, because I am not stupid.)

slapper = another word for a woman who will sleep with anyone.  Any time.  Anywhere.

jobsworth = The kind of pedantic git you encounter in the workplace who adheres to rules with fanatical strictness, often against all reason.  Part “work to rule” and part jerk, a jobsworth is usually a low-ranking employee, technically untouchable (because they are, after all, just following procedure) and universally loathed.  A jobsworth will exercise what tiny authority he might legitimately have to the greatest extent possible.  The term derives from the oft-repeated phrase uttered by the common jobsworth: “I’m sorry I can’t let you do that, it’s more than my job’s worth.”  For fans of “The Office” (US version), Dwight Shrute is a classic jobsworth.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good. And now, an outsider's inside perspective on the Royal Wedding perhaps . . .

I am kind of hoping you take requests.

Steven G.

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