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Schoolchildren jeer Tony Blair | April 27 2005

PRIME Minister Tony Blair's spin doctors have mounted a novel defence after schoolchildren appeared to boo him on a pre-election visit, explaining they were actually chanting "boom", an arcane term of approval in British youth slang.

As he unveiled a plaque to mark the official opening of school in south London, Mr Blair was welcomed by hundreds of pupils loudly applauding - but also, to the embarrassment of aides, an audible minority which seemed to boo.

Afterwards, anxious officials from Mr Blair's Labour Party, desperate to avoid a scandal just nine days before the May 5 general election, steered reporters towards one group of children at the Lilian Baylis Technology School.

The pupils explained that they were in fact chanting "boom", a slang term roughly equivalent to "hooray" which is popular among young black Britons, of whom the school has a sizeable population.

Headmaster Gary Phillips backed this up, saying: "Different cultures celebrate in different ways".

Other pupils, however, told reporters they had indeed been booing Mr Blair and Education Secretary Ruth Kelly, who had accompanied the premier.

Slang expert Tony Thorne from London University, who compiled the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, confirmed that "boom" was a term signifying "approval or delight".

It originally meant party or big celebration in the Caribbean, the origin of much of Britain's black population.

However, Mr Thorne said he was less convinced that the term had been directed at Mr Blair.

"I think they are probably trying it on. They were probably booing, and it is a good get out because nobody really is expert in slang. You can tell people anything: kids often try it on," he said.

"I can't believe they would see Ruth Kelly and shout "boom, boom" in an exclamation of delight or praise, but it is certainly authentic."