Slagipedia - Exploring the 'Materiality' of Language
‘I am convinced that we need other kinds of narratives, narratives that populate our worlds and imagination in a different way’ (Stengers, 2011: 371).
The website Slagipedia documented an investigation into the materiality of language through the evolution of one particular word in British English – slag. Language is a material that we use everyday but don’t see, with the socio-cultural connotations of words often changing considerably over time. Research showed that although recent popular culture assigned slag as a derogatory term for promiscuous woman, it had once been applied to both men and women in very different contexts. Past definitions included ‘one who looks at the free attractions but avoids paying the shows’ in 1880, and in 1958, ‘a man, never less than 35, who has often been in trouble with the police’ (Partridge, 1984: 1082-1083).
This project explored the practice of word play as a material act, a process of understanding our conventional relationship to language differently. Methods included collaborating with an opera singer to write short songs about slag, re-write the lyrics to the aria ‘Quando m’en vo’ by Puccini, and replace the voice of one of the two (male) characters in an exchange from the TV show ‘Gavin & Stacy’. Applying in this way a type of ‘performative reframing’ (Butler, 1997), we played with aspects such as sonority of voice and syntactic structure to propose alternative uses and contexts for slag.
Butler, J. (1997) ‘Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative’, Routledge: New York & London.
Partridge, E. (1984) ‘A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English’, 8th edn. Edited by Beale, P. Routledge & Kegan Paul: London, Melbourne and Henley.
Stengers, I. (2011) ‘Wondering About Materialism’, in Bryant, L., Srnicek, B. & Harman, G. (eds.) ‘Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism’, RePress: Melbourne.
The 2002 Pot Noodles 'Slag of all Snacks' advertising campaign was banned by the Independent Television Commission, who ruled that the word “was so offensive to women it could not be used on TV, even after the watershed".
A 'Viz' Magazine (1989-2015) front cover featuring comic strip characters 'The Fat Slags'.