Guy Fawkes' night: time to celebrate villains, slang, and three types of banger

Posted by on November 05, 2009

© Peter Axtell - Fotolia.comEnglish loves short, direct, expressive, onomatopoeic words, of Germanic origin, with multiple meanings – like bang, crash, smash and whoosh. They are a fertile source of slang, and a popular word can – confusingly – acquire different meanings. A topical example is banger and three of its meanings are given below:

Banger 1
Bonfire Night has come round again. On the fifth of November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught trying to blow up Parliament. Ever since then, his effigy has burned on bonfires across the land, as fireworks explode and rockets shoot skywards, commemorating the event.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot …

Here in my village, after dark, as the celebration approaches, intermittent bangs and random whooshes can be heard nightly as the local children practice, like an orchestra tuning up. This brings on nostalgia for my boyhood days, when a penny banger was well worth the pocket money, and a threepenny cannon with the power of a hand grenade was on sale to small children at the sweet shop. I can still smell the bonfire smoke, the reek of cordite, and the succulent waft of sausage and mash.

Banger 2
And so, a sausage is the second type of banger, presumably because it sizzles and, if left unattended, explodes with a bang.

Banger 3
But wasn’t there a newspaper headline last month about Bangers for cash? When the Government extended its scrappage scheme? No, HM Government has not yet been reduced to flogging fireworks or sausages, but is offering a £2,000 sweetener if you trade in your old car – the third type of banger. I’m a bit miffed to think of mine as a banger because the exhaust pipe is fine, rarely pops, and certainly never goes bang.

Multiple meanings make English a language rich in puns, humour, and word association. The psychoanalysts Jung and Freud tried to understand the connections of thoughts in their patients’ minds by word association. This was satirised in the brilliant Monty Python sketch Word Association Football.

Tabloid headline writers love short, slangy words. There was a good example last month, when an intriguing story appeared under the headlines Bangers for crash and Cash for crash. A man was jailed for deliberately crashing cars with disabled brake lights into other vehicles, and fraudulently claiming insurance. He was reported by staff in an office overlooking his favourite roundabout, who became suspicious when they saw him repeatedly contriving to crash there.

If this convicted felon were not already going to prison, he might prefer to sleep, or crash, in a hotel called Bangers and Crash, conveniently situated near Wimbledon stock car racing track for aficionados of the sport of crashing cars. Google came up with this hotel alongside a professional fireworks display organiser of the same name. Their website promises that the Turks and Caicos Fire Department will be informed of any event that is planned. So presumably they only set off fireworks in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Finishing off in Cockney rhyming slang, the crime reporter on the insurance scam might have written that The Old Inky (Smudge = Judge) sentenced the villain to be banged up in chokey, and to do porridge for causing a Sausage (and Mash = Smash) in his Jam Jar ( = Car) and for telling a Porky (Pie = Lie) to the Old Bill ( = Police).

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