Slang: The Language of University

In a world where slang once lasted for a decade or more, I could be forgiven for thinking I would still be “down with the kids” in terms of language (only old people say “down with the kids”, but I already knew that one). Whether it’s down to the proliferation of social media, the unlimited access we are now granted to the lives of trend-setters, or something else, modern slang seems to move at roughly the pace of a German train on crack. I think I’ve avoided any major embarrassments so far, but I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve discovered here. I should also mention that this only applies to the particular people I have met or overheard, and I’m sure is not ubiquitous across all people and places.


Sick has, even in my life-time, fluctuated between meaning bad or good. On one of my first nights in Nottingham something ambiguous was described to me as being sick, and I thought I’d grab the bull by the horns and ask outright where we stood. “Sorry to have to ask”, I said, feeling every minute of my age, “but does sick mean good or bad at the moment?”

“Both”, was the perplexing answer I received. Context is key with this one, if you don’t infer the desired meaning, you’re not cool enough to understand (but no one says cool).


Stuff is a blanket word now used to mean any kind of illicit substance. Not a particularly complicated codeword, but at least it removes the need for learning any slang for particular drugs.


No one uses the word ecstasy any more. People refer to pills, or MDMA, but calling it ecstasy solicits roughly the same reaction as talking about reefer or spliffs.


During a conversation with a course mate I revealed that when I was an undergraduate I didn’t have a smartphone. “What do you mean by a smartphone?” she replied, with an unintentional wryness. Evidently, under a certain age people see no distinction between what I call a smartphone and what they simply call a phone. My subsequent description of a phone with a small black and white screen and rubber numerical keypad garnered shock and awe (I like to think).


A statement made in jest with a malevolent theme may now be described as being savage. Banter is still used ironically to describe such outbursts, but overuse will wear thin. I have also heard someone use the suffix, “J.K.” to soften the blow of a particularly savage remark, referring to the text (also now WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter et. al.) acronym for just kidding.

It may be that as a social media pariah before this course I had fallen further behind than most, but a brief interrogation of my peers would suggest I am not alone in this. It’s possible I’ll need to revisit this post before the year is out for further updates.

Things I’ve learned this week…

  • How Snapchat works
  • How to dropbox an assignment



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