What Free Speech? School Bans Slang, Opens Can Of Worms



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Oh my god, I, like, actually can’t believe this is happening right now. This is, like, soooo unfair, I might actually die.

This sentence, plucked from my '90s teen vocabulary, is admittedly embarrassing. So much so, that I actually might die. And yet, I don't regret it. The majority of my teen years were littered with the words and phrases — whatever, major, no way — that all teens used to express themselves, as well as some more colloquial slang – kushtie, shanner, pure amazin' — that allowed me to truly connect with my peers. Experimenting with language at school was, and is, an important part of any students’ education. This is why I’m surprised, and slightly disappointed, to learn that Harris Academy, a London school, has banned certain words and phrases from being spoken in its corridors, classrooms and any other areas of the school considered "formal language zones."

Students cannot begin sentences with “basically,” end them with “yeah,” or use a whole list of slang words which include; “like,” “innit,” “coz,” and “bare.” The school have also stated that the list will be updated according to changes in the student's voabulary. Disgruntled students have taken to Twitter to express their unhappiness over the list but the school has no plans to lift the ban. Speaking to the Croydon Guardian , a spokesperson for the school explained, "We want them to develop the soft skills they will need to compete for jobs and university places…This particular initiative is just one of the many ways in which we are building the vocabulary of our students and giving them the skills they need to express themselves confidently and appropriately for a variety of audiences." Liam Reddington, a spokesman from the Plain English Campaign, “fully applauds” the school for taking a stance. He said: “Schools are responsible for preparing young people for adult life and they need to be able to speak properly.”

David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, also responded to the decision, asking the school to add "sup blud" to their list, via his Twitter account. For those of you not familiar with this phrase, Urban Dictionary defines it as, "a Jamaican swearword…used incorrectly in the U.K. as a term of endearment in the same way as Bredren…and is freely used by white and black youths to define friendship." This definition begs the question about race and social background. Do these ethnic and social factors play any part in the choosing of these banned slang words? It's hard to feel like that's not at play, on some level — which feels problematic, particularly since this ban touches speech in addition to the written word (where we do understand the need for proper grammar and less colloquial language).

But, what do you think? How would you have responded to it when you were in school? And, would you respond differently today?

PS, bonus points if you can tell us what "shanner" means. (Huffington Post)