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slang

1
[ slang ]
/ slæŋ /
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noun
very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language, as Hit the road.
(in English and some other languages) speech and writing characterized by the use of vulgar and socially taboo vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
the jargon of a particular class, profession, etc.
the special vocabulary of thieves, vagabonds, etc.; argot.
verb (used without object)
to use slang or abusive language.
verb (used with object)
to assail with abusive language.
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Origin of slang

1
First recorded in 1750–60; origin uncertain

usage note for slang

See informal.

WORDS THAT MAY BE CONFUSED WITH slang

cant, jargon, slang

Other definitions for slang (2 of 2)

slang2
[ slang ]
/ slæŋ /

verb Nonstandard.
simple past tense of sling1.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

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

British Dictionary definitions for slang

slang
/ (slæŋ) /

noun
  1. 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
  2. (as modifier)a slang word
another word for jargon 1
verb
to abuse (someone) with vituperative language; insult

Derived forms of slang

slangy, adjectiveslangily, adverbslanginess, noun

Word Origin for slang

C18: of unknown origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for slang

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.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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