What is Slang?

Posted: February 11th, 2014, 12:09 pm   By: brittany.corners

Gretchen: “Oh, it’s so fetch!”
Regina: “What is fetch?”
Gretchen: “Oh, it’s like slang, from . . . England.”
—a linguistically significant exchange in Mean Girls

This week we tackle an important question: what is slang? Merriam-Webster, defines slang as

  1. Language peculiar to a particular group as argot or jargon
  2. An informal nonstandard vocabulary composed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech.

Oh, if slang were only that. Despite its first-glance appearance, slang represents much more.

Death is the greatest tragedy of human existence—yes, more spirit-crushing than the dissolution of TomKat. As skittish primates absorbed in our ephemeral affairs, we humans spend each picosecond of our lives rocketing toward oblivion. During the course of this merciless murder march, there exists no more salient reminder of the passage of time than slang.

The vigor of the young spawns slang, which screams forth from human culture’s birth canal waving the flag of the contemporary zeitgeist. It emerges from the now. It establishes in-groups and out-groups. It helps define and separate generations. Unfortunately, its modishness is transitory: once-cool slang often becomes sadder than the fact that we now have a documentary about Katy Perry.

Consider just a few of the bones rotting in the elephant graveyard of yesteryear’s slang:

  • 23 skidoo
  • The bee’s knees
  • Daddy-o
  • Gnarly

At one point, all of these were fashionable. Now they reside in the eternal fire that will someday welcome Jerry Sandusky’s lawyers, the guys who invented bath salts, and everyone involved with the creation and promulgation of “Call Me Maybe.” If any justice remains in this universe, there will be a very special place in the inferno for that last group.

Because slang originates in speech and is more informal and short-lived than standard English vocabulary, you should avoid using it in your work for Write.com. As a general rule, slang belongs in conversation—not in writing.

To disobey this advice is truly an epic fail, brah.