Tag Archives: slang

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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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

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

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

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(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

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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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(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

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

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(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.

*update* For those interested, Grammar Girl has posted an interview with author James Dashner on the subject of Maze Runner slang.

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