Tight. Dawg. Baller. Grill. Booty. These are all American English slang words. They were once seen as words used by African Americans or even people in gangs. However, some of these vernacular words are becoming more common place and used by people from all races and backgrounds. Now what is interesting about this, is that these words are no longer seen as only used by a particular group of people but by a much larger majority. But the interesting question we have to ask is why do some slang words get absorbed into everyday language? Because not all words that were used by a particular group of people (African Americans, Latinos, New Yorkers, etc.) become a part of everyday American English. I for one have heard plenty of people on the street using slang words that I have never heard before. So it begs the question why do certain vernacular words become integrated into the English language?
Now the reason I ask these questions is because I am an English teacher; I teach English to non-native speakers. When a non-native speaker here’s a slang word in English and it is not a dictionary word they tend to be confused and uncertain as to how to translate it. It is quite funny when a student comes across a word like ‘bombed’ and they are uncertain what it means. The dictionary’s definition of the word ‘bombed’ is: to explode by means of a bomb or explosive; to hurl or drop bombs; to explode a bomb or bombs. But, the context of what we were reading was using it in a figurative slang way. The sentence referred to a movie that bombed. So of course you can see how this would be funny if the student is thinking that the movie had bombs dropped on it.
Using the word bombed as an example doesn’t really give a full depth of what I’m talking about. Like the words I used at the start of this article, which are more modern than my example word bombed, it is interesting to see how the language changes and develops as slang words are added. I know that words are brought to the masses by songs, movies, and YouTube videos; but these only account for part of the slang in the English language today. So how did these slang words manage to become popular all across the country when there was no internet? I’m talking words like cat, daddy-o, groovy, danno, etc. Yes, these words are more popular in the fifties and sixties, but they make a point that slang words became popular without the internet.
I’m looking at slang from my students’ point of view; but it makes me curious as to how new slang words come across to people who have never heard them before. Have you ever been talking to a friend and they use a slang word and you have no idea what it means? Do you sit there and try to figure it out or do you ask what they meant? A lot of people tend to just keep quiet and tried to learn or figure out its meaning on their own. However, this then begs the question why do some slang words become popular. Is it how they sound? Is it what they mean? Or is it merely a means of fitting in?
One more thing about slang that is interesting is that while there are many words that have been added to the English language, a good one is twerking, there is also regional slang. The slang that say you would hear in New York is very different than the slang if you would hear down south. And the slang in California is completely different than the slang from say Seattle. Now while there is regional slang and national slang there is also group slang, which are the words used among friends and/or family. What is interesting about group slang is that this is usually the beginning of where regional and national slang start. So think about that the next time you and your friends are speaking in your own a private jargon.
Slang to me as a very interesting topic and I could have made this blog much, much longer; but I didn’t want it to be the length of a thesis paper. I merely wanted to give readers something to think about, and draw attention to a topic I find very interested. I’d like to hear about your experiences with slang and what you think of how slang has developed and progressed.
Written by Samantha Cook