Slang - An Introduction


SLANG. [18c: origin uncertain, perhaps from sling or such phrases as beggar's language or rogue's language]. An ever-changing set of colloquial words or phrases generally considered distinct from and socially lower than the standard language.

(The Oxford Companion to the English Language)

The Development of Slang Terms

Slang terms develop in a number of different ways:


The Semantic Areas of Slang

Slang terms are particularly common in certain semantic areas.
Taboo areas make up a large group and include:

EUPHEMISMS TO AVOID BLASPHEMY
To avoid saying "Jesus" or "Christ":
- jeez, jipes, jeezus, jee-wizz, jeepers-creepers, cripes, crikey, ker-ist, etc.
To avoid saying "God":
- cor, cor blimey, gosh, gawd, Gordon Bennet, goddam, etc.

Two other large areas, which tend to shift and change with alarming speed, are approval and disapproval:

There is also a wide category of "forgotten words": thingumajig, whatyoumaycallit, whatsit.


The Vocabulary of Slang

The range of vocabulary is enormous. Here are some common evergreens:

COMMON SLANG TERMS
(to) beat it - go away
bird - girl, girlfriend (GB)
(to) blab - talk, gossip
(to) blather - talk, gossip
bloke - man, fellow
broke - penniless
bunch - group (people)
(to) bung - push
chick - girl, girlfriend (US)
cinch - easy thing
(to) clear off - go away
(to) cop - get, catch
creep - yes-man
cuppa - cup (of tea)
cushie - easy
(a) do - party, celebration
drivel - rubbish, nonsense
fag - cigarette (GB) gay man (US)
fed up - tired, bored
(to) flog - sell
(the) fuzz - police
geezer - man, fellow
grotty - horrible
guts - intestines, courage
hassle - trouble, problem
jerk - fool
jiffy - moment, second
keen on - fond of
kid - child
lousy -rubbish, awful
lout - worthless person
(to) nick - steal
(the) old boy - (my) father
(the) old girl - (my) mother
(the) old man - (my) husband
(the) old woman - (my) wife
(a) packet - a lot of money
past it - out-dated, old
pig - policeman
to pinch - steal
posh - sophisticated
(to) push off - go away
(on the) quiet - secretly
rotten - bad
(to) scotch - spoil
(to) scram - go away
shattered - exhausted
(to) shove - push
sucker - gullible person
up the creek - in difficulties
walkover - easy thing
wishy-washy - indistinct
whiz-kid - successful person
(to) zap - hit

The Grammar of Slang

Closely linked to uneducated, dialectical speech, with the following features:

© Nigel J. Ross, 2003


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