Boffins and love-rats: the language of tabloids

by Kate Woodford
Miracle tot cheats death as 12ft wall collapses

If you read this headline in a British tabloid newspaper, would you have any idea what it meant? If you are British and have grown up with tabloid newspapers, you will, of course, immediately understand that somewhere in Britain, a young child (a ‘tot’) recently managed not to die (‘cheated death’) when a high wall fell on or near them. You would understand from the phrase ‘miracle tot’ that the small child was extremely lucky indeed.

If, however, you are a learner of English, you might struggle to understand headlines such as these, as the words and expressions that are used in them are rarely heard or seen in normal English. With this in mind, we thought we would take a look at some of those ‘tabloid English’ words and phrases and see how they are used.

Let us start with ‘boffin’, then, tabloid-speak for ‘very clever person’, usually one employed by a university. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the words ‘Oxford’ and Cambridge’ often come before it): World’s thinnest keyboard created by Cambridge Boffins. ‘Medic’ is how a doctor is often referred to in such publications: Medics rushed to the scene but were too late. Police officers are often called ‘cops’, even though the word ‘cop’ is rarely heard in contemporary British English: Undercover cops arrest 15 students on drugs charges. ‘Stunner’, meanwhile, means ‘very attractive woman’: Aussie (=from Australia) stunner, Elle, shares her beauty secrets. And since no list of tabloid names for people would be complete without it, let us add ‘love rat’ for a man (always a man!) who has cheated on his wife or partner: ‘Melissa’ star granted divorce from love rat Walker.

Tabloids are fond of two-word descriptions for people too, especially in headlines. A baby who has survived a severe illness or accident is a ‘miracle baby’: Miracle baby survives plane crash. ‘Innocent bystanders’ frequently feature in such writing: Innocent bystanders caught up in conflict. A mother whose child has died or who is dying herself is a ‘tragic mum’: Tragic mum’s plea after baby’s death. A phrase not seen so much now but which used to be a tabloid cliché is ‘gymslip mum’, meaning a mother who is herself a child. (In the past, a ‘gymslip’ was a dress worn as a part of a school uniform.): Second baby for gymslip mum.

Moving away from people, a ‘romp’ or ‘sex romp’ refers to an occasion of sexual activity: Soap star caught in outdoor romp with married man. A ‘love nest’, meanwhile, is a house or apartment where two people who are having an affair go to have a sex romp.

There, now you know your boffin from your tot and your romp from your love nest, happy tabloid reading!

5 thoughts on “Boffins and love-rats: the language of tabloids

  1. Pingback: Boffins and love-rats: the language of tabloids | marielalauria

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