Slang and The Use of Language

 Posted by on March 21, 2011  Add comments
Mar 212011

An email arrived the other day from someone remarking on my use of slang.

What’s slang?  Feeling like some kind of klutz, I had a quick shufti at my trusty old Wikipedia.

This is what it said:

Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker’s dialect or language. Slang is often to be found in areas of the lexicon that refer to things considered taboo (see euphemism). It is often used to identify with one’s peers and, although it may be common among young people, it is used by people of all ages and social groups.

I could hardly Adam and Eve it.  I was mad as a cut snake.

I don’t use slang!

Yes you do.  All the time.  Bollocks.  Gobshite.  Skanger.  Skobe.  Rat’s arse.

I was caught bang to rights.  It’s a fair cop, I said.  I’ll go quietly.

Being a bit of a bludger, I had another gander at the Wikiwhotsit, and came up with this:

… an expression should be considered “true slang” if it meets at least two of the following criteria:

It lowers, if temporarily, “the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing”; in other words, it is likely to be considered in those contexts a “glaring misuse of register.”

Its use implies that the user is familiar with whatever is referred to, or with a group of people who are familiar with it and use the term.

It is a taboo term in ordinary discourse with people of a higher social status or greater responsibility.

It replaces “a well-known conventional synonym”. This is done primarily to avoid the discomfort caused by the conventional item or by further elaboration.

Slang should be distinguished from jargon, which is the technical vocabulary of a particular profession. Jargon, like many examples of slang, may be used to exclude non–group members from the conversation, but in general has the function of allowing its users to talk precisely about technical issues in a given field.

Lowers the dignity?  What does that mean?  What do Formal and Serious mean?

Some crowd of stuffed-shirt tossers decide they’re being formal and serious  so you can’t use certain words.  Is that it?  Someone is looking for a knuckle sandwich.  The same stuffed-shirt tossers, once plied with sufficient G&T drop the facade and reduce themselves to knackers like the rest of us, but here’s the difference: it’s on their own terms.  Maybe that’s the difference.  Volition.

What about the next bit?  Its use implies that the user is familiar with whatever is referred to.

Hold on.  Don’t artists, priests, politicians, economists, tv pundits and food snobs do that all the fucking time?

In other words, half the planet is talking slang.

Wine snobs are the worst.  I once dealt with a wine salesman who got a kick out of quoting facts about his plonk, until I realised he hadn’t the slightest grasp of Italian, French or Spanish, and I had to sit the fool down for a whole afternoon teaching him how to pronounce the names of the wines he was selling in case he made an even bigger fool of himself.

It didn’t work.

Is that behaviour slang?

No.  It’s not.  That’s the snobbery of the under-educated arriviste.

We get to the real heart of it with the third and fourth paragraphs, which I’ll conflate.

It is a taboo term in ordinary discourse with people of a higher social status or greater responsibility

How much baggage is in that definition? Where do you want to start?

Taboo terms.  Ordinary discourse.  Higher social status.

It’s like, totally.  Lame?

Do you know someone of a higher social status?  I wouldn’t even know how to measure it, but I have certainly rained on the parades of one or two people who perceived themselves to have a status higher than mine.

Combine that with the last paragraph.

It replaces “a well-known conventional synonym”. This is done primarily to avoid the discomfort caused by the conventional item or by further elaboration.

I love that one.  It means you can say Copulate but not Fuck.  You can say Defecate but not Shit.  In the United States, it means you can say Restroom but not Toilet.

It’s all about being prissy and uptight.

I was talking about this shit only a few weeks back, in particular relating to people abandoning their languages, their accents, and even their local phrases, largely due to a perception that people of a higher social status might disapprove.

So what’s slang?

I know in an incoherent way what it is, but I don’t think there’s a clear distinction between slang and colloquialism.  Even that word gives me the hoppy-shivers, though I don’t know why.  Somehow it seems to carry the condescension of academic disapproval about it, as if the prattle of the common man is somehow of a different order to the measured exchanges of the privileged.

You can’t study language without considering social class.  They’re wrapped up in each other so much, they’re indistinguishable.

I remember reading somebody years ago who argued that language is the very stuff and essence of thought.  He was right.  Language shapes our identity. It shapes our way of looking at life.  It shapes our ethnicity.  It shapes our standing in society.

That was in the days when I used to think a great deal, as opposed to now when I simply consider.

Here’s the confession.  It’s easy for me to talk shit and slang and jive and all the rest of it, because when the moment demands it I can do a Pulp Fiction Jules ‘n’ Vinnie on it and get in character.  That option isn’t open to everyone, and therefore, bizarrely, we discover that slang is even more socially skewed than ordinary speech.

You can use slang and no-one will make unwarranted judgements about you, because they know you’ll come right back at them, and however rational they want to get, you’ll match them line for line.  On the other hand, some ghetto kid uses it and they’ll say, well that’s how them muddafukkas talk. Right?

I might be cool with that.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  San ferry ann.



  27 Responses to “Slang and The Use of Language”

Comments (27)

    whenever I try to use slang, I come out with something like was demonstrated in the XKCD image. wrong words, wrong context. This is because it’s not my usual medium.

    Even using popular sayings can sometimes throw me – “between a rock and the fireplace”, “deaf as a dormouse”.

    One thing I thought was interesting in the article was the discussion of “copulate” and “fuck”. While “copulate” is a lot more accepted than “fuck”, I think that more people would understand what “fuck” means. Shouldn’t that be the measure of how accepted a word is?
    Personally, I think that “copulate” has a bit of a poncy feel to it – it’s the direct opposite in feel to the vulgarity of “fuck”, while “have sex” (which I think is in the middle-ground) is a phrase instead of a verb, and is also grammatically silly. I hate talking about something if I can’t stand the words I’m using. Maybe that’s the prude in me?

    I think that slang which is overly-localised should be avoided (cockney slang, txt-spk, anything my brother says), but if the point of language is to communicate, and the meaning of the slang is obviously well-understood, then there’s no problem in using it.


    That definition does seem a bit silly really. Silly and stuck up.
    Personally I run a mile from pretentious gobshites.
    Ordinary speech can be boring sometimes.
    I’d disagree that language shapes our identity. It may shape how others view us possibly. But I think it’s a bias we have. Some of the smartest people I know aren’t very good at expressing themselves.

    Personally, I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about my standing in society. I’ve never pondered what class I fit into. Sometimes though I think I fit into different groups and my language changes according to who I’m with. I think we all do this.
    But occasionally the slang will come out inadvertently. My sister told me I said fuck in front of her well- to- do mother in law once.. oppsy. Or I was playing badminton last week with some guys, I’d miss a shot and say balls or bollix. Which they thought was funny, if not a little unladylike probably. Slang is not ok for us girls sometimes. It’s not like I’d miss a shot and yell golly gosh or something.

    I guess language has its limitations for expression. You could understand why some people play music or paint to express themselves.


    Some very good points you make Bock. For me, slang is more of a local dialect, possibly a bad habit, definitely viewed as a class barrier in certain quarters, but still used from Harrow to Harlow, Wicklow to High Wycombe, regardless of old school tie or bib and braces. Expression, and the use of expression in speech can only be a good thing.

    If replacing a synonym with a noun is a sin, 95% of Glasgow would have been burning in hell long ago.


    Indeed, Jimmy. There’s a whole dynamic behind the categorisation of certain words as socially superior or inferior to others.


    You know how sometimes you just do something that you know is a total waste of time, but you just need to do it to take a break and relax? Here goes. Three parts: Definitions, Wiki, Glossary. Thought of posting them seperately, but – nah.(links purposely not given directly, leaving out the dot com, so that this won’t need “moderation”)…


    1. Some Lighter Definitions of “Slang”, Googling “slang define”:

    very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language, … (dictionary dot reference)
    slang n. A kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of short-lived coinages and figures of speech that are. (answers)

    A Slang Dictionary is an essential tool to understand the way contemporary language is used in its informal context. (slangdictionary)

    An informal nonstandard variety of speech characterized by newly coined and rapidly changing words and phrases. (grammar about)

    Internet Slang. A list of common slang words, acronyms and abbreviations as used in websites, ICQ chat rooms, blogs, SMS, and internet forums. (internetslang)

    Also, see “peevish co uk intro” for an interesting, well, intro!


    2. What I particularly found interesting in the Wiki article:

    One use of slang is to circumvent social taboos, as mainstream language tends to shy away from evoking certain realities.

    Cabernet Sauvignon is often known as “Cab Sav”.

    slang refers to informal (and often transient) lexical items used by a specific social group, for instance teenagers, soldiers, prisoners and thieves.

    The origin of the word slang is uncertain. It has a connection with Thieves’ cant, and the earliest attested use (1756) refers to the vocabulary of “low or disreputable” people.


    3. Now the main part: Glossary of Slang Terms Used in This Very Post! (Some I knew, most I didn’t. Come on, admit it – how many did you know?).

    SHUFTI – quick look around – Arabic military slang brought by English soldiers.

    ADAM AND EVE IT: to believe. Well-established rhyming slang which is still heard among working-class Londoners and their middle-class imitators, usually in the expression of astonishment ‘Would you adam ’n’ eve it?’. (Slang-dictionary)

    MAD AS A CUT SNAKE (Australian, colloquial) Very angry (ie. mad in the sense of anger, not mental derangement).

    BOLLOCKS is a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning “testicles”. The word is often used figuratively in English, as a noun to mean “nonsense” (Wiki). And from urbandictionary: A highly flexible term commonly used by the English.

    1. something rubbish
    2. a falsehood or series of lies
    3. something great
    4. the best possible
    5. testicles
    6. exclamation on making a error.

    GOBSHITE: Loud-mouthed person who talks a lot, but nothing with any value – as in shite coming out of their gob. (urbandictionary)

    BANG TO RIGHTS Phrs. Caught red-handed. Police/criminal vernacular often heard used jocularly.


    Noun. 1. A legitimate arrest. Often tongue in cheek use in expressions such as “it’s a fair cop, guv”. [Orig. Underworld. Late 1800s]
    2. A situation or event that is seen as deserved or justified. (peevish).

    GO QUIETLY: thought it was slang, but isn’t.

    BLUDGER: lazy bludge useless dole bludger slob beat loser dole slacker … Why don’t you get off your arse and give us a hand, ya bludger! (urbandictionary).

    GANDER: Abbreviated form of the title of the nursery rhyme Goosey Goosey Gander, making use of the word ‘gander’, being slang for a look. (peevish). A slang word for somebody stupid and dumb. One can often hear sentences like he was being a gander which means that he was being foolish. (blurtit)

    STUFFED SHIRT: A person regarded as pompous or stiff. stuffed shirt. n. Informal a pompous or formal person. (freedictionary). And: n. person who is perceived as useless, stupid, or given more credit than he/she deserves — usually a person in higher income or social prominence. (urbandictionary).

    TOSSER: Noun. An idiot, a contemptible person. Also, occasionally spelt tossa. tossing, Adj. An intensifier. E.g.”I’m not doing the tossing washing up (peevish).

    KNUCKLE SANDWICH: may refer to: a knuckle sandwich, or a proverbial punch to the mouth. (Wiki).

    KNACKER: 1. a person in the trade of rendering animals that are unfit for human consumption, such as horses that can no longer work. (wiki).

    2. Members of the Irish Traveling community with nothing better to do than steal hub caps off cars, wear tattered clothing or pointlessly beat businesses signs with sticks. Popular knacker names include Francie and John-Joe.

    Another meaning of the term “Knacker” can roughly be equated with the English term Ned, ie, a person who wears nothing but Nike, Adidas or Puma gear, stands on the corner of the local Mac Donalds all evening trying to intimadate young children who walk by.

    Generaly however, all members of both Knacker sub-divisions display complete ignorance of all civilisied culture.
    That fuckin knacker stole my car radio and hub caps.

    Ya filthy dirty knacker…get away from my hub caps! (urbandictionary).

    PLONK is all about bringing eminently drinkable, supremely affordable wine to the world at large. Technically, the word ‘plonk’ itself is British slang for ‘cheap wine.’ But we prefer to think of it as describing ‘wine for everyone.’ We’re teaming up with the world’s best small vintners to introduce better-than-average wine to the world’s experienced and not-so-experienced palates. Try some! (plonk, an actual wine site!).

    TOTALLY: In 80s slang, “totally” became so frequent, so standard, that it actually lost some of its meaning. It was just some word you plugged in front of every other word. It was another word for “yes,” a way to emphasize anything under the sun, and a way to plant yourself firmly in the 80s. (total80sremix)

    RAIN ON MY PARADE: informal prevent someone from enjoying an event; spoil someone’s plans. (oxforddictionary)
    Also has its own internet acronym: ROMP (acronymfinder)

    HOPPY-SHIVERS: A very rarely used slang: only one other person found in the search using this was: The beer is really good, the XIPA gives me the hoppy-shivers.. a rare thing in Singapore. (ratebeer) Bock is #3 in a google search, and #1 for “hoppy-shivers slang”.

    PULP FICTION JULES ‘N’ VINNIE: Bock is the first listing! But I didn’t find it as a known slang term – apparently a Bock Original. I didn’t even know what Pulp Fiction was, until I read about it at the very long Wiki article – Pulp Fiction. Just the most highly rated movie of the 90’s:

    OK – back to work…


    Wow – this was REALLY a waste of time – nobody commenting anymore, not even a 1 line response from Bock! Big (Fianna) Fail.


    90% of Glaswegians finsh a statement with the word “no”, turning it into a question

    I had never noticed it till a Southerner living in Glesga pointed it oot tae me. No

    Slang in Scotland is still very much a class thing, and the Scottish have been demonised for years for having a local dialect.


    I’d say people were just so astonished they didn’t know how to answer.


    Good astonished or bad astonished? I admit that I got carried away. OK – tis what it tis – at least I had a good time doing it! People could have just ignored it and commented on your post, like LE here – they didn’t even do THAT!


    Welcome to my world. Sometimes you spend hours on a post and everyone ignores it. Other times, you throw some demented shit out there and get 800 replies. Them’s the breaks.


    I think i have Tourettes, I keep fucking out of me, using balls, cunts, bastards. Usually interspersed within any conversation i`m having at the time. I get the greatest kick out of it, don`t really know why!


    And sometimes, maybe you’re lucky and even get 800 replies on a post you spent hours on!

    Thanks for the consolation. Appreciation is appreciated.


    That can happen too.

    Let me also offer this possibility, which is more plausible than you might imagine. Shit happened in people’s lives and they forgot about this irrelevant little corner of the internet until they sorted out their troubles.


    I guess that that’s possible, even if unlikely ; ).

    Lots of troubles out there lately for most people, in most places. Sigh.


    @ some1loves you Post 9 re post 5. You post just reads like a statement of slang around, more kind of information for people to read.

    I wouldn’t say it was ignored, probably just read and digested

    I think people have been spoiled by Facebook to expect some sort of thumbs up, like or dislike, instant reaction to comments made

    You should have finished it with the word “No” and turned it into a Glaswegian question


    I’ve never noticed that Glasgow No.


    Yeah, LE – you’re right about the likes and dislikes – no?

    Didn’t find anything searching “Glaswegian question” ; ) – no?

    Not necessarily Glaswegian, but found this at Wiki (of course!) – no?

    You went there, no?

    Closest thing I found:

    BTW, why is it Glaswegian and not Glasgwegian or Glasgowian? Norway is Norwegian/ Glaswow would be Glaswegian. JWN (Just Wondering, No?)…


    Very funny! – no?

    upatra burd’s –

    Teach Yourself To Speak Scottish – 4 – Parliamo Glasgow

    Teach Yourself To Speak Scottish – 1 – Scunnered

    glaswegian accent –

    I can come to Glaslow now – no?


    I’m reading all the nos and all I hear is Gordon Ramsey’s “yes?”. Isn’t that odd?


    “I’m reading all the nos and all I hear is Gordon Ramsey’s “yes?”. Isn’t that odd?” Aye. :)

    Reminds me of Rab C. Nesbitt. Hilarious but couldn’t understand half of it.


    @FME, Rab C Nesbit & Jamsey perfect examples of the use of the word “no” at the end of a sentence must have a look on youtube

    Gordon Ramsay is practically Engrish, no hint of a Scottish accent , No


    Aye. No.
    I have a boss who says ‘right’ at the end of every second sentence. Similar to the Scottish use of No. (I take it as ‘ Am I not wrong’, rhetorical question)

    He’s a yank. I’d say he’d think I’m in agreement with him when I’ve often replied, “daaats right” to his “riiight”.


    Didn’t Nancy Mitford take the piss with her U and Non -U class distinctions in language?


    That’s right. It became part of the language for a while.


    I was listening to the radio this week and I heard George Hook refer to his native city as “Coark”. Marty Morrissey pronounces it like wise. Would that be slang Bock,or are these guys after climbing to near the top of the social ladder?


    Well now, those two characters are likely to say anything. Hook is bonkers and MM is an annoying little twit.


    Hi Bock, did not the great bard Shakespeare use slang.? I tend to get a
    good giggle out of word snobs, sure their harmless, they dig away at the
    greatest wordsmiths and half the time their swearing like a rat assed cat, only
    they don’t know it.

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