A sausage. An old car. A loud firework. A really good song. It seems unlikely that these four things would be connected but connected they are!
They can all be described, in informal British English at least, as bangers.
Did you make the connection?
When sausages are fried, there’s a good chance they might go bang (= burst open with a loud noise), or at least that was the case in the past. In times when meat was scarce, sausages were bulked out with water and other fillers, making them noisier to cook and liable to burst. There is even a children’s counting song called Ten Fat Sausages, all about sausages sizzling in a pan until they gradually all go ‘pop’ and ‘bang’. While today’s meatier sausages are likely to result in a much more muted sizzle, it seems that this characteristic sound is why sausages became known as bangers. Bangers and mash – sausages with a serving of mashed potato – is as much a classic British meal as fish and chips.
You’re not still driving that old banger, are you?
And there are no prizes for guessing why noisy fireworks might be nicknamed bangers!
You will already find these three senses of banger in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. But what of the fourth sense, a really good song?
She banged on the door angrily.
The baby was banging the table with his spoon.
A window was banging somewhere.
The door banged shut behind her.
This is perhaps unsurprising when we consider the etymology, or word origin, of bang:
A sound that is imitative of hammering is unlikely to be pleasant. Why then is banger used to describe a good song?
Well, in recent years, banging has come into use as an adjective in informal British English, with a couple of rather more positive meanings, and has been added to Oxford Dictionaries online (although not yet to our own Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries website). When used to describe dance music, it means ‘having a loud relentless beat’, and when used more generally, it simply means ‘excellent’. It’s clear then how a banging song might have come to be described as a banger.
Unsurprisingly, considering its probable origins in banging, it seems that the term banger is primarily applied to dance music, meaning music for dancing to in clubs: there are 1,008 citations for ‘club banger’ in Oxford’s New Monitor Corpus, making it the top collocate of all senses of banger. However, a quick Internet search indicates that banger can also be used to express approval of songs from other genres of music – indeed one of my colleagues said he first heard the term when his daughter, a fan of musicals, declared a 1930s show tune to be ‘a banger’.
It is also interesting to note that banging and banger bear no relation to a couple of other informal musical terms you may have heard of – headbanging and headbanger. These words apply to fans of heavy metal, rather than club music, and the way they shake their heads violently up and down in time to music.
So now you know: if you’re ever driving along in an old car, listening to a great song, on your way to a fireworks display where there’ll be sausages on the barbecue, one word is all you’ll need.
Do make sure to look out for the new sense of banger in a future update to OALD online.
Kallah Pridgeon is an Editor in the ELT Dictionaries and Reference Grammar department at Oxford University Press where she works on dictionary apps and the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries website.