Camspeak: the Orwellian language of the Cantab

It’s an elaborate conspiracy to keep you here and never let you leave

When I first arrived in Cambridge, I feel that I could be forgiven for thinking that not everyone here was speaking English.

That’s not some thinly veiled remark towards internationals who, truth be told, speak better English that the majority of us native-born speakers. I am instead referring to the linguistic phenomenon commonly referred to as Camspeak.

You’ve all heard it, you all speak it. Hell, I even got a little dictionary of it in my fresher’s introduction pack. I have to admit, I assumed it was a joke. “Surely nobody really talks like that” I thought to myself. I could not have been more wrong.

I shouldn’t need to be doing MML to understand you people

After discovering that this was indeed legit, I then vowed to never be the sort of person who used Cam-isms. I resolved to stay true to my roots, and not be taken in by this new form of slang. Needless to say, this resolution did not last long. Now I happily sprinkle my conversations with these turns of phrase. “I’m just off down the plodge” one friend will cry, “Oh wait up, I need to head there too and check my pidge” I’ll blithely reply.  A far cry from my previous disavowal.

Camspeak is so strange, and nigh on impenetrable to the casual non-cantab. Subject abbreviations are hurled at freshers, who don’t even themselves know their own subject nicknames yet. I was with a Natsci the first time someone asked him if he was one, and I thought he was going to smack the other guy for the assumed insinuation of his fascist affiliation: and who could blame him? Alongside this are words that sound like they’re from the 1950’s on crack: Bop’s and swaps sound so twee I feel like the need to drink a milkshake and go to a sock-hop.

No language games on the grass please.

Other aspects of Cambridge slang are also stuck resolutely in the past: such as the names of nightclubs. Cindies and Life have not been referred to as such for 20 years, except for by Cambridge students. No wonder townies hate us. As a mere fresher, I am learning new slang every day. Someone offered me a “vodlem” the other day. I thought it was an STD, but it turns out it was just a mixer of vodka and lemonade. Why? That doesn’t even need to be shortened. And let’s not even get started on the names for other collages. Emma, Fitz, Caius, Catz: why is nothing called by its proper name? I was on the phone to my nana the other day, and I referred to Trinity Hall as Tit Hall. TO MY NANA. This needs to stop. I need to stop: before it’s too late.

@ the ignominiously-named Tit Hall

Dear fellow student, you may be wondering what is the point of this misleading code? Some say it’s to keep the “plebs” out, another manifestation of Cambridge elitism. However, I theorise that the reason for Camspeak is far more insidious. Quite simply, if you talk like this outside of the bubble, you’re probably gonna have your head smashed in. When you go home and try and talk to your friends and family, you’ll suddenly find that there’s a language barrier that wasn’t there before. Slowly isolated from normal society, the only place left that will accept people like you is within the bubble.

And in reality, where else could you go? Camspeak, like all aspects of the unit, is designed as a Venus fly trap. They lure you in with the promise of prestige and academia, and then they spoil you. With bedders and upper hall, there is no longer a need to cook or clean for yourself. Moreover, what kind of job are you going to get in the big, scary, post-university world? No-one cares about your “transferable skills”. You’ve done a Classics degree, but you can’t even use Excel anymore, who wants to hire someone like that? So here you are. With no other alternatives, you shelter in the comforting familiarity of college life.

As I write this I’m on my way home for the weekend, and I am desperately trying to summon the ability to speak normal English again. Here’s hoping I don’t get glassed.