Glader Slang in “The Maze Runner”

**This post contains spoilers for The Maze Runner**

maze runner cover

The Maze Runner is being adapted to film. It will be interesting to see how the slang is handled on-screen.

When I read James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, there was pretty much only one element that I actually liked; the Glader slang.  (Things I didn’t like included the tediously slow (and ultimately unsatisfactory) reveal of answers, the near-complete lack of character development, the inconsistency of the main character’s attitudes towards other characters (like “go away Chuck you’re so annoying!”-”Chuck you’re my new and only friend!”-”gah Chuck stop talking you’re so annoying!”), the way Thomas pats himself on the back for feeling the most basic empathy for his fellow human beings (“…he realized he was worried about the girl. Concerned for her welfare. As if he knew her.”  Like you couldn’t be “concerned” for somebody who’s been in a coma for days? And then this part: “Thomas, concerned for Alby despite his recent ill-tempered ways…”, oh how big of you to be “concerned” when you find a person lying unconscious with a bloody gash on their head, “despite” the fact they’ve been moody or rude in the last 24 hours), the insistence to tell instead of show, things being brought up only to be dropped completely and forgotten later on (like the flag Thomas sees when he first enters the Glade but can’t make out it’s pattern because there’s no wind, and it’s never mentioned again, or the dog named Bark that follows him around for his tour of Slop duty but then is never mentioned again, not even when they’re holing up to fight against invading Grievers, which, wouldn’t a dog bark it’s head off and/or charge beasts attacking its masters?), the fact that when the situation is explained it still makes little to no sense, and the lack of female characters–especially when it’s revealed that the kids sent to the Glade were chosen because they “have above-average intelligence,” and I’m supposed to be okay with this representation of the smartest kids, humanity’s last hope, being all male?!  What a bunch of klunk!)

But back to the topic at hand–when Thomas arrives in the Glade, his memories freshly wiped, he quickly learns that the residents of his new ‘home’ sprinkle their speech with their own unique slang, which he must learn in order to fit in.  This is, of course one of the purposes of slang or jargon or “shibboleths”; to identify members of a social group, or to confer insider status to those “cool enough” to know the terminology and be able to use it correctly.  If you don’t know the terminology at all, you’re a total outsider.  If you know the terms but stumble finding acceptable contexts to use them in, you’re pretty clearly linguistically marked to those in the know as someone trying to fit in.  Someone new.  Someone who maybe hasn’t really earned their place in the group or carved out an identity yet.  Someone like Thomas.  The linguistic markers of social status might be even more important in a setting like the Glade, where there is very little to go on otherwise.  For survival purposes, everyone is forced to share labor, food, and sleeping areas, nobody has access to ‘cool’ clothes or accessories, nobody can remember if they had famous parents or tournament trophies or straight As or a girlfriend before the Glade.  Everyone has to start over finding a new social footing by navigating the new slang terms.

The real reason for the Glader slang, of course, is so that the characters can curse in a manner that won’t be objectionable for a young audience to read.  So it’s kind of disappointing, because the Glade-specific language conventions could have been more complex and interesting, and designed by the author in a way to give more insight to the community, but we’ll just have to be content with what we’ve got.

I suppose  that Grievers, Creators, Greenie, Sloppers, Runners, Keepers, Builders, Bricknicks, Baggers, Track-hoes, Slicers, and  Med-jacks all count as Glader slang, but they’re pretty self-explanatory (if largely unnecessary), so I’m just going to focus on defining by examples “shank”, “klunk”, “shuck”, and “good that.”  Thomas hesitantly uses the latter phrase during an exchange with his assigned buddy, where he also explicitly references the fact that he’s unfamiliar with the terminology.  (I’m labeling this excerpt and all others to be included in this post,as well as including page numbers which are from the version with ISBN 978-0-375-89377-3).

(1) “You’ll learn a lot in the next couple of days, start getting used to things. Good that?”

“Um, yeah, good that, I guess.  Where’d all these weird words and phrases come from, anyway?” It seemed like they’d taken some other language and melded it with his own.

Chuck flopped back down with a heavy flump.  “I don’t know–I’ve only been here a month, remember?” -p. 34

Thomas’ observation isn’t very linguistically astute–come on, dude, it’s a handful of terms, not a melding of two phonetic, syntactic, morphological etc. systems, or “languages”.  Acquiring Glader slang is a simple matter of observing the examples provided throughout the book.

Shank

This term appears to be just a general term for “person”.  It’s derogatory, (the neutral term for “person” is Glader and just refers to the fact that’s where they all live), but can be endearing, such as in (3).  Perhaps most interestingly, Newt uses it in (9) to refer to the Creators, so it can apparently be used to refer to entities outside the Maze as well. (Go ahead and call each other shanks, Maze Runner fans!)  Also interesting to note is the exchange in (7), which highlights the fact that Thomas is still acquiring Glade-speak, both in his pause before and over-emphasis of the term “shank” and in Newt’s response of laughing and referring to him as a “Greenie”.  There’s also an example of “shank” in (15), under the section for “shuck”.

(2) “It’s a long story, shank,” -p. 8

…………………………………………………………..

(3) “Chuck’ll be a good fit for ya,” Newt said. “Wee little fat shank, but nice sap when all’s said and done. Stay here, I’ll be back.”

-p. 11

…………………………………………………………..

(4) “Beetle blade,” the boy said, pointing to the top of the tree. “Won’t hurt ya unless you’re stupid enough to touch one of them.”  He paused. “Shank.”  He didn’t sound comfortable saying the last word, as if he hadn’t quite grasped the slang of the Glade. -p. 13

…………………………………………………………..

(5) “This shank probably klunked his pants when he heard old Benny baby scream like a girl.  Need a new diaper, shuck-face?” -p. 17

…………………………………………………………..

(6) Thomas shook his head.  “Don’t be sorry.  The…shank deserved it, and I don’t even know what a shank is.  That was awesome.” He felt much better. -p. 33

…………………………………………………………..

(7) “Well, it’s kind of stupid to send me to a place where nothing makes sense and not answer my questions.” Thomas paused, surprised at himself. “Shank,” he added, throwing all the sarcasm he could into the syllable.

Newt broke out into a laugh, but quickly cut it off. “I like you, Greenie.  Now shut it and let me show ya something.” -p. 37

…………………………………………………………..

(8) Thomas looked at Newt sharply, hurt by the rebuke. “You think I do things to impress you shanks?  Please.  All I care about is getting out of here.” -p. 260

…………………………………………………………..

(9) Newt shook his head back and forth, staring at the ground.  Then he looked up, took in the other Keepers.  “The Creators–those shanks did this to us, not Tommy and Teresa.  The Creators.  And they’ll be sorry.” -p.309

Klunk

Chuck provides a clear definition and an etymology for this term in (12).  The usage in (10) is weird, (he’s a poo? Not “piece of klunk/poo”? Maybe klunk is a count noun, even though poo is a mass noun?), and I think the construction is kind of forced because the author wanted to overwhelm Thomas (and readers) with as much slang as possible when the Box door opens.  Also, note in (13) another explicit reference to Thomas’ acquisition of Glader slang.

(10) “I told ya, shuck-face,” a shrill voice responded. “He’s a klunk, so he’ll be a Slopper–no doubt about it.”  The kid giggled like he’d just said the funniest thing in history. -p. 6

…………………………………………………………..

(11) “Whacker, if we told you everything, you’d die on the spot, right after you klunked your pants.  Baggers’d drag you off, and you ain’t no good to us then, are ya?” -p. 10

…………………………………………………………..

(12) “We live here, this is it. Better than living in a pile of klunk.”  He squinted, maybe anticipating Thomas’s question. “Klunk‘s another word for poo.  Poo makes a klunk sound when it falls in our pee pots.” -p. 15

…………………………………………………………..

(13) The second hour was spent actually working with the farm animals–feeding, cleaning, fixing a fence, scraping up klunk.  Klunk.  Thomas found himself using the Glader terms more and more. -p.78

Shuck

I think this was the most inconsistent of the Glader slang terms introduced in the book; it most often appears as the insult “shuck-face” (in examples (5) and (10) above as well as several below,) or the expletive “shuck it,” but in examples (23) and (24) it used as an adverb and verb participle, respectively.  It seems obvious what real-world English expletive it’s substituting for, which is why it’s so weird that on page 334 Minho uses “freaking”, another PG derivative of the same real-world expletive, where presumably “shucking” would have been acceptable, especially judging by the example in (23).  Minho’s utterance that Alby “freaking sacrificed himself for us–” is the only instance of “freaking” in the entire book, and seems out of place.

The construction in (14) is another unusual example like the one in (10), and it also appears in the same scene of Thomas’ entry to the Glade.  I don’t know why it doesn’t just say “shucking neck” instead of bare “shuck”, but there aren’t any examples (that I noticed) of “shucking” as an adverb.

(14) “Look at the Greenbean,” a scratchy voice said; Thomas couldn’t see who it came from. “Gonna break his shuck neck checkin’ out the new digs.” -p. 5

…………………………………………………………..

(15) “Shuck it,” Alby said, rubbing his eyes. “Ain’t no way to start these conversations, you get me?  We don’t kill shanks like you here, I promise.  Just try and avoid being killed, survive, whatever.” -p. 9

…………………………………………………………..

(16) “Pipe it, shuck-face,” Alby grunted, pulling Newt down to sit next to him. -p. 9

…………………………………………………………..

(17) “Shuck it,” he said. “Can’t the bloody Med-jacks handle that boy for ten minutes without needin’ my help?” -p. 12

…………………………………………………………..

(18) “The Changing!” Gally shouted from below. “Look forward to it, shuck-face!” -p. 19

…………………………………………………………..

(19) “I’m gonna kill you, shuck-face!” Gally yelled, but Chuck was already off the box and running toward the open Glade. -p. 31

…………………………………………………………..

(20) Newt let out a long sigh. “Shuck it. But that’s not really what has me buggin’.” p. 107

…………………………………………………………..

(21) “You don’t understand, shuck-face!  You don’t know anything, and you’re just making it worse by trying to have hope!  We’re dead, you hear me? Dead!” -p.117

…………………………………………………………..

(22) Thomas rolled his eyes.  “She’s not my girlfriend, shuck-face.”

“Wow,” Chuck said. “You’re already using Alby’s dirty words.” -p.281

…………………………………………………………..

(23) “She’s right, Chuck–you saved us, man! I told you we needed you!” Thomas scrambled to his feet and joined the other two in a group hug, almost delirious.  “Chuck’s a shucking hero!” -p. 347

…………………………………………………………..

(24) The sense of normalcy was almost overwhelming.  Too good to be true.  Minho said it best on entering their new world: “I’ve been shucked and gone to heaven.” -p. 368

Good that

See also example (1) from above.  This was my favorite, because it’s clearly a new construction whose correct use is crucial in ingratiating oneself with the Glade hierarchy, but it’s not actually new words.  It signals agreement or consent.  I never saw it used as a blanket positive, like somebody eating one of Frypan’s meals and declaring it “good that!”, which would have been fun, but then we’re not really given much non-plot-centric dialogue.

(25) Thomas fumed, wanted to punch somebody.  But he simply said, “Yeah.”

“Good that,” Alby said. -p. 10

…………………………………………………………..

(26) “If I can convince those shanks–and that’s a big if–the best time to go would be at night.  We can hope that a lot of the Grievers might be out and about in the Maze–not in that Hole of theirs.”

“Good that.”  Thomas agreed with him–he just hoped Newt could convince the Keepers. -p.317

Miscellaneous

I wasn’t paying much attention to instances of “slinthead” while I read, so I don’t know if I am missing some, but it appears to be an insult.  As for “slim”, I don’t remember seeing it anywhere except as an order to Thomas from Alby when he first arrives in the Glade (27).

(27) “Just slim yourself nice and calm.” -p. 6

…………………………………………………………..

(28) “And stay away from me, you little slinthead.” -p. 19

…………………………………………………………..

(29) “Ain’t you got a job, slinthead?” Alby asked. “Lots of sloppin’ to do?” -p.41

I am curious to know whether the slang persists in the sequel, The Kill Order, since by the end of The Maze Runner the main characters have escaped the maze and are in a different setting surrounded by strangers.  It would be my guess that Glader slang would become even more important in this situation, as a way for the boys to self-identify as a cohesive group when their circumstances no longer reflect it so obviously.  On the other hand, some of the boys might drop the slang or pick up/invent new slang as a way to reject having the identity of test-subject Glader forced upon them, or as a way to try to gain access to a new social group, if they decide they identify with their “rescuers”, or with WICKED.  Either way, though, I don’t think I’m actually curious enough to read the second book.

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5 Comments

Filed under Books, language

5 responses to “Glader Slang in “The Maze Runner”

  1. If you read the whole trilogy you’d know there are plenty of female characters

  2. Josh the Glader

    Okay, you ignorant slinthead. You are missing so many facts that can actually patch up your shuck excuses.
    1) In the second book, you learn there is a second group of girls and they are EXTREMELY smart.
    2) The answers of all the questions Thomas have are revealed in Book 2, The Scorch Trials, which indeed have questions of their own, which are finally answered in Book 3, The Death Cure. Also, The Kill Order only revelas how everything had happened for WICKED to form, and to show readers how the World had turned to klunk.
    3) Thomas was obviously always under a lot of pressure. I mean, the shank had his memory swiped, except for little bits and pieces (Which, I’m sure, would be extremely annoying.), and he was in this new community with new people in which he didn’t fit in. Him going off on Chuck, his dearest friend, and the closest person he had in the Glade, isn’t surprising. You cannot honsetly say you never went off on your friends when you were younger. The way James Dashner wrote it MAY have been confusing to some readers, as you are most likely not used to this kind of writing.
    4) He was caring. Of course, someone might be WORRIED, but in the few sentences in that passage that James Dashner had written, he tried to put it out there the way the reader would act if he were in Thomas’ shoes. The others worried, but Thomas cared. There’s a difference. The others worried that the first girl going to the Glade would lead to bad things happening, but Thomas cared about how she actually felt, and physically was. After all, if you weren’t such an ignorant shuck-face, you might have realized that they were best friends even before the Glade. Even if you can’t remember, I am sure you can always KNOW when your best friend is your best friend, it’s what makes you best friends.
    5) I don’t think you know what it’s like trying to survive..with teenagers. You’re probably a full grown adult, already accustomed to how life works and how to go about a normal day on your own. These teenagers did not, on the other hand. Instead, they had to try to use what they had and build their OWN civilization. Surviving is stressful too, and when you have some shuck lunatic going around and snapping on everybody, you’re bound to get some dislikes, as you’re interrupting with THEIR daily routine of survival. It’s almost as if the entire government just shut down. Maybe only for a couple days. But it would most likely piss you off. Thomas, once again showing how caring he is, showed not only sympathy, but EMPATHY for Alby.
    6) The dog wasn’t a primary measure of the story. I mean, the book describes teens and kids being mauled by grievers, falling off of cliffs, living on their own, slowly realizing the death trap they were put into, trying to escape a hellhole. And you care about a shuck dog. That should be enough said, but if it isn’t, let me continue. The dog, which, though not said, was most likely left outside all the time, was most probably mauled to death by Grievers when the Glade had shut down. If not, Thomas and the others were to focused on getting themselves and human beings out of the Maze, that a dog was probably of not much importance.
    7) The flag, which is slightly mentioned again in the first book, was there from the start, most likely signifying the region they lived in. (Search the history of flags.)

    Good that?

    • First of all, I LOVE that you included so much Glader slang in your rant, and I love your obvious enthusiasm for this series, but I don’t think I’ll be changing my opinion. My criticisms are more about the writing style than the plot; I don’t argue that Thomas has a unique connection to Teresa, or that it’s realistic for Alby to have mood swings or for Thomas to have different attitudes towards the other Gladers at different times, but it’s the clumsy way it’s written that makes me cringe, the short sentences that just state “he cared for her”, telling instead of showing what’s happening or what Thomas is thinking or feeling. As for the flag and the dog, if those elements aren’t going to be mentioned later and don’t matter to the plot at all, it’s the kind of thing that probably should have been edited out entirely. And yes, I’m a “full-grown adult” but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand adolescent stress, (having lived through it myself and given that most of the books I read even now are considered Young Adult,) and anyway even adults would have to scramble to come up with a daily routine of survival if their memories were wiped and they were thrown into an unknown maze/prison.

      Anyway, since you’ve read the entire series, maybe you can help me out–does the group still use Glader slang in the sequels? Does the group of girls (which I am very glad to hear exists) have their own unique slang? Or do they pick up or create new slang terms once they’re out?
      Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog! I’m honestly glad you’re so passionate about these books, even though I couldn’t get into them.

      • Josh the Glader

        Alright,
        First of all, the Gladers have been in the Maze for two years. The second book is FAR more detailed, which adds so many more factors into two weeks of time. They all use Glader slang- unfortunate to mention- until the end of their lives. They don’t use it as often since they experience different parts of the world where it isn’t only them, however, they still do use every slang term amongst each other.
        The girls, being in a parallel situation do have their own slang. But instead of, say, Shanks, they say, oddly enough, “Sticks”. They have other slang terms that were mentioned in the book, however I can’t recall every single one. But yes, they do have their own slang, and apparently completed the Trials far more successful than the boys did.
        However, when the two groups meet, it is James Dashner almost makes a burst of..culture, in a way, between the two groups.
        I love reading blogs and seeing what other people have to think. You seem extremely awesome, and I might just come back to see what else you might blog about.
        Anyways, I highly recommend reading the books. I do agree, the first book was probably the worst of the 3. However, the second one and the third one really do offer details about WHY Teresa and Thomas felt that special connection- and it explains more about WICKED. It also elaborates on how they feel about it all, and how far they will go for survival.
        (I am working on my Glader slang in real life, too. I used to cuss a lot, but reading has saved me from all of that.)
        See ya, shank!

  3. Josh the Glader

    Excuse any typos, I was typing quickly and furiously.

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