I was eavesdropping on the bus the other day, listening in on the two boys sitting behind me. They were about 9 or 10 and were engaged in a vigorous session of trash-talking. As they did it, their whole personae changed and swelled. They started talking louder, trying out different patterns of speech and language. Some of the other people on the bus looked surprised, even a little horrified, and you could see how intimidating they would find these two boys in just a few years, when they become teenagers.
At the same time, they were still very much in trash-talk training and it was a kind of play that they slipped into, largely unaware I think of the reactions they were getting from those around them. I took notes in a little pad on my lap, trying not to giggle and spoil their posturing. The transcript, as best as I could take it, follows:
“Your Mum’s UGLY! And your Dad? Ugly!”
“Why you so scared of girls? Why you so stupid?”
“Why you so UGLY? Your teeth are yellow, yel-low, like carmel-lo.”
“Your Dad’s a VIRGIN.”
“What? That don’t even make sense! How could my Dad be a virgin? You so stupid.”
“No, it’s because you’re UNNATURAL. That’s how.”
“Yeah? How many bedrooms are there in your house? There are three bedrooms in my house. Three. How many in yours?”
“Ha! I’ve got three. And even my last house? That had three. The, um, minimum bedrooms in all of my houses has been three. How you feel now? Poor?”
“You’re still ugly.”
“You’re still poor! I bet even your Dad gets free milk.”
Then there was a long and silent pause, before one turned to the other and asked:
“So… did you see what happened on Eastenders last night?”
Then they were off, arguing just as vociferously – though far more fluently – about the characters on the soap and whether they deserved what seemed to be coming to them.