Origin of slang1
usage note for slang
Words nearby slang
Other definitions for slang (2 of 2)
BEHIND THE WORD
Where does slang come from?
Every single person uses slang in one form or another.
Defined as “very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language,” slang is sorta like the rebellious teen of our vocab.
Appropriately enough, the origin of the word slang is unruly as well. The word is first recorded around 1750–60, and was used early on for the special, secret lingo of the underground, often referred to as thieves’ cant.
One now obsolete theory connected slang to sling, imagining slang as the kind of language that’s tossed or thrown around. Another theory links slang to another sense of slang, meaning a “narrow strip of land,” which became associated with the territory that hawkers traveled and their unique speaking style.
Slang ain’t alone: it finds lots of company in other English words that seem simple but whose origins are not. Discover more in our slideshow “‘Dog,’ ‘Boy,’ And Other Words That We Don’t Know Where They Came From.”
Did you know … ?
Slang can be a single word like cool (“great”) or an expression, such as I feel you (“I relate to you”). Slang is informal and fast-changing. It generally originates within an in-group (especially marginalized communities), and using a slang term is a way of signaling identity in that group.
Because slang is fast-changing and can become quickly outdated, slang words don’t often survive long or pass into the mainstream. There are many exceptions: consider cool, for one. Others quickly become dated. Sorry, on fleek. Today, slang words and phrases often spread—and die out—very quickly thanks to social media.
Because slang is a product of people, place, and time, slang words and phrases are often closely associated with those factors. For example, hearing the slang codswallop or groovy probably makes you think of people from specific places (the U.K.) or time period (the 1960s). And so, we frequently specify slang by its in-group 9e.g., surfer slang, prison slang, Internet slang, military slang).
But keep in mind this other fact about slang: it’s almost always older than you think, because informal language hasn’t historically gotten documented in the written record. For instance, groovy dates back to the 1930s—though it has become closely associated with the 1960s.
As noted, slang is considered a type of informal language—but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “wrong” or “bad” or “ignorant” language. That said, many slang terms and expressions are offensive, dealing with vulgar or taboo topics.
How to use slang in a sentence
In the early days, there was a strong Jewish influence, and much of the underworld’s slang is borrowed from Yiddish.The Mobster Who Brought Armenia and Azerbaijan Together … in Death|Fiona Zublin|October 9, 2020|Ozy
So he built his own list that includes thousands of proper names, then added to it more slang and contractions to expand it even further.Former Apple engineer and autocorrect creator builds his first app, a word game called Up Spell|Sarah Perez|October 7, 2020|TechCrunch
Both fintech startups are unicorns—industry slang for private companies valued at $1 billion or more.She was one of the world’s few female bank CEOs. Now she’s founding a fintech venture group|Claire Zillman, reporter|September 15, 2020|Fortune
We build our slang, our jokes, our medicine, even our obscenity around the belief that sex and social behavior go together.Gender Is What You Make of It - Issue 88: Love & Sex|Charles King|August 5, 2020|Nautilus
Feel free to use slang with your friends and family, but probably avoid it when you’re communicating with coworkers.Six tips for writing emails that aren’t absolute garbage|Harry Guinness|July 8, 2020|Popular-Science
Not even Radio Bemba (Cuban slang for the rumor mill) had picked up the signal.The Life and Hard Times Of The Family A Cuban Defector Left Behind|Brin-Jonathan Butler|December 19, 2014|DAILY BEAST
It's a long trip, to be sure, illustrated here with the hypothetical slang "couch."
“I do all this stuff in the community and the haji mart over there,” he said, using the slang for Iraqis used by U.S. soldiers.Awkward: This Democratic Judicial Candidate's Husband Is a White Supremacist|Gideon Resnick|August 11, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Jenna and Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) her best friend, speak almost exclusively in inside jokes and ever-evolving slang.In Praise of ‘Awkward’: OMFG MTV, Like, Really Gets High School|Amy Zimmerman|June 20, 2014|DAILY BEAST
To be bad is to be afraid of equality: Behind all the sloganeering and slang, that is the truth of the age.From Smarm To Snark, We’re All Soldiers In The War On Obscurity|James Poulos|December 7, 2013|DAILY BEAST
She has real pretty manners when she is with them, and really tries not to talk slang.Tessa Wadsworth's Discipline|Jennie M. Drinkwater
She did not powder too much, and she had the latest slang at her pink tongue's tip and was yet moderate in her use of it.Cabin Fever|B. M. Bower
A well-bred person will take care not to use slang words and expressions.The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness|Florence Hartley
Notwithstanding the fact that we owe some of our strongest idioms to slang, the free use of slang always vulgarizes.English: Composition and Literature|W. F. (William Franklin) Webster
His conversation was at all times interlarded with the slang terms appropriated to the science, to which he was so devoted.Newton Forster|Captain Frederick Marryat
British Dictionary definitions for slang
- vocabulary, idiom, etc, that is not appropriate to the standard form of a language or to formal contexts, may be restricted as to social status or distribution, and is characteristically more metaphorical and transitory than standard language
- (as modifier)a slang word
Derived forms of slangslangy, adjectiveslangily, adverbslanginess, noun
Word Origin for slang
Cultural definitions for slang
Expressions that do not belong to standard written English. For example, “flipping out” is slang for “losing one's mind” or “losing one's temper.” Slang expressions are usually inappropriate in formal speech or writing. (See jargon.)