Mind your language

The bare-brained youth of south London

26 October 2013

9:00 AM

26 October 2013

9:00 AM

Bare? Extra? What does it all mean?’ asked my husband, sounding like George Smiley in the middle of a particularly puzzling tangle of disinformation.

My husband had just been reading about the Harris Academy in Upper Norwood (south London), which has banned its pupils (or students as they all seem to have become) from using a list of words including coz, ain’t, like, innit, yeah (at the end of a sentence) and basically (at the beginning). Those, he could agree, were annoying in the wrong context, but he couldn’t see why bare and extra should be singled out.


As Veronica was able to explain to her father, bare is a popular term for ‘very’ or ‘a lot of’, and extra is used to mean ‘excessive, uncalled-for’, thus: ‘SSE gave Cameron bare grief but the behaviour of British Gas was extra.’

An interesting point about innit is that it serves a different syntactical function from isn’t it. So an ungagged student of Harris Academy might have said: ‘That Justin Bieber sings like a girl, innit.’ In that way, the word acts as a prosodic marker (like a radio operator’s use of over), just as extra does when used exclamatorily at the end of a sentence. It was surely this repetitive use of yeah at the end of sentences that drove Harris Academy to ban it, just as basically becomes tiresome as a way of indicating the start of a locution. For the streetwise pupil, basically is the equivalent of the infuriating so in the speech of academics and others who should know better.

There has been some more or less confected outrage at the Harris Academy banned list, as if it infringed pupils’ freedom of speech. Of course the school has no chance of wiping out the use of these words in their pupils’ argot among themselves. But the youngsters should be able to switch between registers of speech, as we all do, according to circumstances. A standard English, within broad enough limits, is needed in the world of work. It would be a betrayal of the schoolchildren to let them always use a vocabulary that is incomprehensible to future employers and displays a lexical store that is, like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, bare.

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  • MDH64

    Word.

  • ian crawford

    Good luck to the school with banning “like”. Kids could v well argue that it’s, like, pretty mainstream now…

    • Eddie

      Innit though!
      But what bout the teachers like, coz like dey gotta be well jelly an vexed coz dey say dem same fing innit?

  • William Haworth

    ‘School requires students to exercise self-control’ shock. What were they thinking?

  • Shorne

    Tag indicating release on Home Detention Curfew = Peckham Rolex

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    How about banning kids from school? Sorted.

  • Toby Esterházy

    Has “Jackthesmilingblack” of the “Japan Alps” been voting down all the recent comments? What’s his game?

  • manonthebus

    Fascinating stuff. Do they know they may look forward to a job-free life?

  • Christopher Bowring

    “init” is quite interesting. It’s short for “isn’t it” of course, but many people object because the phrase needs to be conjugated as “isn’t it”, “aren’t you” or the slightly illterate “aren’t I”. The strange thing though is that in French, Spanish and German (others languages?) no conjugation is performed. So we have, respectively, “n’est-ce pas”, “no es vero” and “nicht wahr” which never change. Strange innit?

  • Kids are small goats.
    Haitch – ban it – things are pretty bad when you hear a Lt-Col pronounce it.
    Chewing gum fizzy drinks and pop music should also be banned.

  • Oliver

    Has anyone called this racist yet?

  • Daniel Wallin

    Middle class kids say “like” mid sentence almost constantly. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed it guys!

  • zakisbak

    It would be a betrayal of the schoolchildren to let them always use a vocabulary that is incomprehensible –
    It doesn’t hinder the hoardes of semi literate foreigners who can barely speak English yet seem to find no problem getting retail jobs.
    There are “communities” that have lived here for decades and their English is barely comprehensible.

  • Oliver

    I would say much of the inequality currently blamed on hidden/systemic racism is far more likely to be people discriminating against a culture of aggression, ultra machismo and illiteracy than anything to do with skin colour.

    If I were an employer -regardless of your skin colour- I would not employ you if you spoke broken English and presented yourself as someone who embraces criminal counter culture.

    If I were a police officer -regardless of your skin colour- I would be more likely to stop you if you dressed like a member of an American street gang and spoke broken English.

    If I were a teacher I would be far less likely to give good grades to a student who lacked the ability to use the English language properly.

    Despite affecting non white people more, none of this is racism. I say this as a white skinned school drop out with a criminal past who struggles to find decent employment.

    It’s our behavior and choices which create most of our disadvantages.

    There is nothing wrong with slang but if one lacks the ability to switch into the Queen’s English and drop the ‘don’t feck with me attitude’ life is going to be incredibly difficult regardless of your ethnicity.

  • Guest

    The Spectator’s comment black hole strikes again

  • James Kibirige

    I understand banning it from the classroom, but the corridors I am not so sure.

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