"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


Modern Life. What is leng? By Charlotte Metcalf

Blog | By Charlotte Metcalf | Jan 11, 2024

Wikimedia Commons image - two teenagers

He’s leng. She’s soooo leng. This ice cream is leng. That handbag is leng. What on earth does ‘leng’ mean?

If you have regular contact with teenagers, you’ll know that ‘leng’ is a superlative term of the highest praise.

‘Leng’ can be applied to anything from an extremely sexually attractive person to a perfectly mixed cocktail or piece of fashionable clothing. The word is described in the Urban Dictionary as a ‘levelled-up version of peng’. ‘Peng’ used to be the popular word for attractive until superseded by ‘leng’, and the two can now be combined into ‘peng-a-leng’.

The origins of both words are disputed. According to Reddit, some say it came from a Cantonese phrase meaning attractive but cheap. However, the Urban Dictionary confirms them as ‘roadman slang’ (roadman meaning the ultimate hard man). So it’s more likely their roots are in the word 'kushempeng’, Jamaican slang for high-quality marijuana.

The opposite to ‘leng’ is ‘butters’. A bad haircut, a runny nose, bad breath, dirt under your fingernails or simply being downright ugly elicits a look of disgust and a cry of ‘butters’.

Even worse than ‘butters’ is ‘meady’. To call somebody ‘butters’ is an out-and-out combative insult and worthy of retaliation. But ‘meady’ just means middle-of-the-road, not worth bothering with. In our day, we might have said ‘plain Jane’ to describe a ‘meady’ girl. But then we knew of many plain Janes (such as Jane Eyre) who were heroines beneath their misleading exteriors and went on to triumph.

Today, to be considered meady is to be considered not plain enough to be worthy of a second glance. Instead, the definition consigns you to a lifetime of invisibility, of being overlooked and disdained, swiped into oblivion on Tinder. No invitation onto Love Island for you. In this social-media age of high visibility, when every ‘Like’ on your latest Instagram selfie is an addictive hit for the fragile ego, being considered meady is every teenager’s greatest fear.

If you’re leng, on the other hand, you’re a valuable commodity. Looks matter, and don’t for a minute think this is just about natural beauty – no, it’s about how you present yourself. A girl is prized for the effort she has made with her make-up and her outfit.

The qualities we once prized, such as a flawless, scrubbed complexion, would not begin to qualify as leng. By the same token, a boy turning up on a date with a fresh haircut, brushed teeth and wearing a pair of crease-free Dior trainers (worth well over £1,000) would be leng. No rumpled linen and scuffed leather shoes for this generation!

Don’t even consider telling a teenager, as our parents did, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’ The cover is all, now that we’re in an age of being Instagram-ready – and that takes dedication and effort.

Charlotte Metcalf