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SLANG

SLANG An everchanging set of COLLOQUIAL words and phrases generally considered distinct from and socially lower than the standard language. Slang is used to establish or reinforce social identity and cohesiveness, especially within a group or with a trend or fashion in society at large. It occurs in all languages, and the existence of a short-lived vocabulary of this sort within a language is probably as old as language itself. In its earliest occurrences in the 18c, the word slang referred to the specialized vocabulary of underworld groups and was used fairly interchangeably with CANT, flash, ARGOT.

Defining slang

The word is widely used without precision, especially to include informal usage and technical JARGON, and the social and psychological complexities captured in slang vocabulary make the term difficult to define. For linguistic purposes, slang must be distinguished from such other subsets of the lexicon as regionalisms or dialect words, jargon, profanity or vulgarity, COLLOQUIALISM, cant, and argot, although slang shares some characteristics with each of these. It is not geographically restricted (like BrE lift, AmE elevator), but is often regional (BrE bloke, AmE guy). It is not jargon (vocabulary used in carrying out a trade or profession), but it frequently arises inside groups united by their work.

Although slang synonyms abound in the taboo subjects of a culture, not all slang terms violate social propriety; Mickey Mouse meaning ‘easy’ and dough for ‘money’ may be inappropriate in some contexts, but they are not usually offensive. Slang belongs to the spoken part of language, but not all colloquial expressions are slang: shut up for ‘be quiet’ would rarely be written except in dialogue, but it is not slang, which is often the usage of the young, the alienated, and those who see themselves as distinct from the rest of society.

Transience

Despite the difficulty of defining the term, slang does have some consistent characteristics. Foremost, taken as a whole, the slang vocabulary of a language is ephemeral, bursting into existence and falling out of use at a much more rapid rate than items of the general vocabulary. This rapid change requires a constant supply of new words, sometimes replacing or adding to already established slang words, like a waste case for a ‘drunk’, and sometimes extending to new areas of meaning, like jambox, ghetto blaster, or Brixton suitcase for a portable stereo tape player. This makes novelty, or innovation, an often cited characteristic of slang and freshness a large part of its appeal. Yet some slang items have long lives. Thus, bones as slang for dice was used by Chaucer in the 14c and is still slang. But when such items remain in the language for years, they often lose their slang status: for example, jeopardy from gambling and crestfallen from cockfighting have even acquired a learned tinge.

Sounds

Although, for the most part, slang items conform to the general constraints on sound combinations that govern English, the venturesome spirit behind much slang includes playing with sounds. Onomatopoeia accounts for many slang terms, including these for ‘vomit’: barf, ralph. The American linguist Roger Wescott has noticed that some sounds appear to give words a slangier flavour, most noticeably: z, in words like scuz from ‘scum’, and zap from ‘slap’ or ‘whap’; the replacement or addition of a vowel with oo, in words like bazooms from ‘bosom’ and smasheroo from ‘smasher’. Rhyming, however, is the favourite sound effect of slang, as in boob tube television, frat rat member of a US college fraternity. The rhymers par excellence have been the Cockneys of London, who have developed an elaborate and colourful collection of slang terms based on rhyme, such as trouble and strife for ‘wife’ and mince pies for ‘eyes’. See COCKNEY.

Semantics

The intricate interplay of exclusivity, faddishness, and flippancy which breeds and supports slang guarantees semantic and etymological complexity. Nevertheless, slang items often diverge from standard usage in predictable ways, especially by generalization and melioration. In generalization, a term acquires a wider range of referents: for example, in the 19c dude was ‘a dapper man, a dandy’ but in current US slang, via Black usage, it can be applied to any male. Schiz out is to have any kind of mental or emotional breakdown; it is not restricted to schizophrenia. Evaluative words in slang sometimes become so generalized in application that they lose specific meaning and retain only a value: for example, AmE awesome, heavy, key, and solid, BrE ace, brill, and triff, and def in both varieties, all mean ‘worthy of approval’. Generalization often operates in conjunction with melioration, a process in which the connotations of a word become more favourable. Many words enter general slang from the taboo words of subcultures. Through increased use and broad application, they can lose their shock value and become more positive; the verb jam a century ago had specific sexual referents, but now means ‘to dance, play music, have a good time, succeed’. Yet many words in slang remain negative, especially the large and constantly replenished set of epithets available at all time in slang: for example, the pejorative boob, dork, dweeb, jerk, nerd, scuzbag, slimeball, wimp.

Another characteristic of the semantics of slang is the tendency to name things indirectly and figuratively, especially through metaphor, metonymy, and irony. Couch potato one who lies around doing little except watch television, coffin nail a cigarette, are metaphors. Brew and chill (beer) take their meaning by association and are metonyms. Irony, in its simplest form, categorizes the tendency in slang for words to evoke opposite meanings: bad, wicked, killer can all mean ‘good’ when signalled with appropriate ironic intonation. The influence of semantic fields on productivity in slang is also important, as they provide an established framework to shape the form and meaning of new words. In English, the semantic field ‘destruction’ sets the pattern for the proliferation of terms for being drunk, such as blitzed, bombed, fried, hammered, polluted, ripped, slammed, smashed, toasted, wasted. Slang also often evokes meaning by drawing on the shared cultural knowledge of its users. The verb bogart (to take an unfair share, originally of a marijuana cigarette) alludes to the American actor Humphrey Bogart's tough-guy image in films.

Functions

The aim of using slang is seldom the exchange of information. More often, slang serves social purposes: to identify members of a group, to change the level of discourse in the direction of informality, to oppose established authority. Sharing and maintaining a constantly changing slang vocabulary aids group solidarity and serves to include and exclude members. Slang is the linguistic equivalent of fashion and serves much the same purpose. Like stylish clothing and modes of popular entertainment, effective slang must be new, appealing, and able to gain acceptance in a group quickly. Nothing is more damaging to status in the group than using old slang. Counterculture or counter-establishment groups often find a common vocabulary unknown outside the group a useful way to keep information secret or mysterious. Slang is typically cultivated among people in society who have little real political power (like adolescents, college students, and enlisted personnel in the military) or who have reason to hide from people in authority what they know or do (like gamblers, drug addicts, and prisoners).

See BACK SLANG, COCKNEY, DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH, PARTRIDGE, POLARI, RHYMING SLANG.

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"SLANG." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"SLANG." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/slang

Slang

SLANG

SLANG, the carbonation that often puts fizz into everyday language, usually does not last. "Twenty-three skiddoo" of the 1920s, "Daddy-O" of the 1950s, and "far out" of the 1960s are gone, but other slang terms such as "cool" continue to live. Some even lose the label "slang" in the new dictionaries, as did "peter out" (from miners' argot) and "jazz" (originally a slang expression for "sexual intercourse" in juke joints in the South). The shelf life of slang may depend on the environment that produces it. Connie Eble found that four words had endured in college slang at the University of North Carolina from 1972 to 1989: "bad" (good); "bummer" (an unpleasant experience); "slide" (an easy course); and "wheels" (car).

Slang should be distinguished from dialect, speech peculiar to a region. "I got screwed by that used car salesman," is slang. "I reckon so," is Southern dialect. The essence of slang, according to the iconoclast H. L. Mencken, in his classic The American Language (1918), is its "outsiderness." Slang works to prove that the speaker is "hip" or "with it" or "in the know." Can you dig it? Along with being "outside" comes the quality of being "disreputable." After all, an "outsider" has to be outside of something and that something is (in 1960s slang) the Establishment.

Outsiders whose slang has found acceptance by the Establishment include circus folk (guys, geeks), hoboes (handout), criminals (cop, the third degree), actors (makeup, star), aviators (to bail out, tail spin), and deep-sea sailors (aboveboard, shipshape, to keel over). Eric Partridge, whose Slang Today and Yesterday (1970) remains a valuable (if stylistically dated) study, refers to this process of acceptance as "ennobling."

Such language is usually referred to as argot while used within the group itself. Picked up by others, these terms become slang. As noted in Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, "There is no completely satisfactory objective test for slang, especially in application to a word out of context. No word is invariably slang, and many standard words can be given slang connotations or used so inappropriately as to become slang." The word "screw," for example, which in a hardware store has a specific standard English denotation, was often used as vulgar term for sexual intercourse, but during the late twentieth century it came into widespread use meaning "to take advantage of; cheat" according to The American Heritage College Dictionary (1997)—which, however, still labels it as slang.

While some slang is borrowed from a group, it is often created by shortening a word, as "mike" for "microphone." This kind of slang becomes more surprising when the stressed instead of the unstressed syllable is dropped: "ig" for ignore, "za" for pizza. This form seems startlingly modern until we recall wig (now standard English), a shortening of "periwig."

Sources of slang at the turn of the twenty-first century have included advertising, cyberspace, and media. "Where's the beef?" evolved from a hamburger slogan to a political slogan. Online conversations have elicited their own shorthand: TTYTT (to tell you the truth), IRL (in real life) and BTW (by the way). This extreme form of shortening is seen in college acronyms: TAN for an aggressive male (tough as nails); MLA for passionate kissing (major lip action). Movies often make a slang expression popular (as with "bodacious ta-tas" for large female breasts, from An Officer and a Gentleman), but like bell-bottom trousers, these fads quickly passed.

Many scholars see slang, because it is powerfully metaphoric, as "the poetry of everyday language" or "the plain man's poetry." Others, especially those of Victorian vintage, were much more negative. George H. McKnight (1923) finds it "akin to profanity." There is a certain in-your-face quality about slang, since it often, as Mencken notes, "embodies a kind of social criticism." As the late twentieth century American public grew more comfortable with satire and sexual innuendo, slang became more acceptable, though The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1987) comments, "Because slang expressions are characterized by a sort of general irreverence, raciness, or figurative zest, their use is often avoided in the presence of social or hierarchical superiors."

NTC's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions (2000) is an accessible and up-to-date resource for tracking down the meaning of contemporary slang terms, but many can be found in standard dictionaries. Currentness is the key. For example, the 1986 edition of Webster's Third International Dictionary provides only the standard English meaning for "geek": a circus performer who performs bizarre acts such as biting off the heads of chickens. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000) includes the new slang association with technology (as in computer geek).

In addition to general dictionaries of slang, there are specialized ones for cowboy slang, sexual slang, British and American slang, even Vietnam War slang. The Dictionary of Sexual Slang claims that "no other language can rival the variety, color, or sheer number of sexual terms to be found in English."

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clark, Gregory R. Words of the Vietnam War: The Slang, Jargon, Abbreviations, Acronyms, Nomenclature, Nicknames, Pseudonyms, Slogans, Specs, Euphemisms, Double-Talk, Chants, and Names and Places of the Era of United States Involvement in Vietnam. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1990.

Eble, Connie. College Slang 101. Georgetown, Conn.: Spectacle Lane Press, 1989.

Hayakawa, S. I. Language in Thought and Action. 4th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Lewin, Albert, and Esther Lewin, eds. The Thesaurus of Slang: Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

Mencken, H. L. The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States. One-volume abridged edition. Edited by Raven I. McDavid. New York: Knopf, 1963. Includes a chapter on "American Slang."

Partridge, Eric. Slang Today and Yesterday, with a Short Historical Sketch and Vocabularies of English, American, and Australian Slang. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970. Dated, but thorough.

Richter, Alan. The Dictionary of Sexual Slang: Words, Phrases, and Idioms from AC/DC to Zig-zag. New York: Wiley, 1992.

Spears, Richard A., ed. NTC's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions. 3d ed. Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 2000. Accessible and up-to-date.

William E.King

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slang

slang, vernacular vocabulary not generally acceptable in formal usage. It is notable for its liveliness, humor, emphasis, brevity, novelty, and exaggeration. Most slang is faddish and ephemeral, but some words are retained for long periods and eventually become part of the standard language (e.g., phony, blizzard, movie). On the scale used to indicate a word's status in the language, slang ranks third behind standard and colloquial (or informal) and before cant. Slang often conveys an acerbic, even offensive, no-nonsense attitude and lends itself to poking fun at pretentiousness. Frequently grotesque and fantastic, it is usually spoken with intent to produce a startling or original effect. It is especially well developed in the speaking vocabularies of cultured, sophisticated, linguistically rich languages. The first dictionary of English slang is said to be Thomas Harman's A Caveat or Warening for Commen Cursetors, published in 1567.

Characteristically individual, slang often incorporates elements of the jargons of special-interest groups (e.g., professional, sport, regional, criminal, drug, and sexual subcultures). Slang words often come from foreign languages or are of a regional nature. Slang is very old, and the reasons for its development have been much investigated. The following is a small sample of American slang descriptive of a broad range of subjects: of madness—loony, nuts, psycho; of crime—heist, gat, hit, heat, grifter; of women—babe, chick, squeeze, skirt; of men—dude, hombre, hunk; of drunkenness—sloshed, plastered, stewed, looped, trashed, smashed; of drugs—horse, high, stoned, tripping; of caressing—neck, fool around, make out; of states of mind—uptight, wired, mellow, laid back; the verb to go—scram, split, scoot, tip; miscellaneous phrases—you push his buttons,get it together,chill, she does her number, he does his thing, what's her story, I'm not into that.

Bibliography

See H. L. Mencken, The American Language (3 vol., 1936–48); P. Farb, Word Play (1973); J. Green, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1985) and Green's Dictionary of Slang (3 vol., 2011); R. Chapman, Thesaurus of American Slang (1989); E. Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1990); J. E. Lighter, ed., Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (A–G, 1994, H–O, 1997); Bodleian Library, ed., The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699 (2010); J. Coleman, The Life of Slang (2012).

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slang

slang / slang/ • n. a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people: grass is slang for marijuana army slang. • v. [tr.] inf. attack (someone) using abusive language: he watched ideological groups slanging one another.

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slang

slang (orig., but now differentiated from) †cant, jargon XVIII; colloquial language of an undignified kind XIX. In its earliest appearance a cant term variously applied, with gen. implication of irregular or lawless activity variously specialized; of uncert. orig.
Hence slang vb. †exhibit at a fair XVIII; rail, or rail at, abusively (as in slanging match) XIX.

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slang

slang a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. The word is recorded from the mid 18th century, but the ultimate origin is unknown.

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slang

slang Non-standard, colloquial form of idiom or vocabulary that is highly informal and often full of obscure or colourful imagery. Slang may be restricted to certain social, ethnic, occupational, hobby, special-interest, or age groups.

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slang

slangbang, Battambang, bhang, clang, Da Nang, dang, fang, gang, hang, harangue, kiang, Kuomintang, Kweiyang, Laing, Luang Prabang, meringue, Nanchang, Pahang, pang, parang, Penang, prang, Pyongyang, rang, sang, satang, Shang, shebang, Shenyang, slambang, slang, spang, sprang, Sturm und Drang, tang, thang, trepang, twang, vang, whang, Xizang, yang, Zaozhuang •Xinjiang, Zhanjiang, Zhenjiang •Palembang • whiz-bang • charabanc •pressgang • chaingang • Wolfgang •strap-hang • ylang-ylang • boomslang •Semarang • boomerang • linsang •Sittang • mustang

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