More Thoughts On the Nonstandard Uses of “Slash”

slash, typewriter, question mark

A couple weeks ago Anne Curzan wrote an article for the Lingua Franca blog about new slang uses of the word slash. This article particularly interested me because I, like her students, have been using the slash in these ways for the last five-plus years. As a linguist slash huge nerd, the first thing I did after reading Curzan’s article was search my personal corpus of Google Chat logs for real-life examples of these new usages of slash.

Let’s review the new uses of slash brought to Curzan’s attention by her undergraduate students.

1. Written out where the symbol [/] traditionally appears (discussed here)
Curzan’s example:
Does anyone care if my cousin comes and visits slash stays with us Friday night?

My examples:

I want to go there slash hang out. (8/6/08)
Anyway, he has a girlfriend slash nothing in common with me. (5/8/13)

2. Distinguishing between “(a) the activity that the speaker or writer was intending to do or should have been doing, and (b) the activity that the speaker or writer actually did or anticipated they would do”
Curzan’s examples:
I went to class slash caught up on Game of Thrones.
I need to go home and write my essay slash take a nap
My example:

Making sure my facebook photos are “workplace appropriate” slash obsessively scrutinizing every outfit I’ve ever been photographed in. (1/21/13, submitted by a coworker)

3. Conjunction meaning “following up,” “related to that,” or “on another topic”
Curzan’s examples:
I really love that hot dog place on Liberty Street. Slash can we go there tomorrow?

JUST SAW ALEX! Slash I just chubbed on oatmeal raisin cookies at north quad and i miss you
My examples:
Are you going to Rachel’s tonight? Slash is she really sick? (7/14/08)
You’ll have to tell me what’s up with your boyfriend when you find out. Slash, you should call him out on this. (10/14/08)
When do you get off work? Slash, do you need alone time before I come over? (12/7/10)

While all three of Curzan’s senses of the nonstandard slash are interesting, the second one particularly fascinates me because it brought another use of slash to light. In this sense, the students were possibly doing the two different things at once. The student was watching Game of Thrones while in class, doing both activities mentioned before and after the slash simultaneously.

The second example stood out to me as an entirely different use of the slash. It could mean that the student will go home and work on an essay and take a nap. However, it could also mean the student will go home and take a nap instead of  working on the essay. In this second interpretation, the slash transforms “write my essay” into a euphemism for “take a nap.” My additional sense of the slash encompasses this usage:

4. Slash used between a euphemistic way of saying something and an overly dramatic, negative, or direct way of saying the same thing
My examples:

“Former Donald Trump lieutenantess Carolyn Kepcher may have left-slash-got-fired from the Trump Organization last summer, but she’s still got a lot of wisdom to impart about how to deal with bosses.” (01/30/07, Gawker)
“The Huffington Post, your favorite blog network slash mass content grave, will debut a streaming online video channel this summer.” (02/04/12, Gawker)

Even Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame tweeted an example of this use of slash in 2011.


Here the slash expresses snark and not simultaneity. In my estimation, both senses (Curzan’s second sense and my additional sense) are unique and speak to current trends. In a time when so much communication happens in writing, whether text message, instant message, or email, it’s difficult to fully grasp tone. In this case, slash is used as a tool to connote humor similar to the smiley- and winky-face emoticons. “I’m joking,” they say to readers, “I’m being funny.” Curzan’s second sense of slash (I’m doing this thing I probably shouldn’t be doing and/while I’m doing something else) acts as a catch-all in this age of multitasking and (over)sharing. There is an implicit hierarchy to the slash. Imagine telling a friend that you worked on your presentation slash stalked your ex on Facebook versus telling the same thing to a coworker. The friend will probably focus on the cyberstalking bit, while the coworker is likely to weigh the work-related part of this statement more heavily.

In these examples, slash is used in the same context and with the same level of snarkiness as the strikethrough. The strikethrough is when a writer strikes through text, replacing it with new text. Of course, in the age of computers this outdated mark-up is used as a writing convention to express a snarky or joking tone, as opposed to its original use to simply correct a mistake. Gossip websites like Jezebel and Perez Hilton take advantage of this convention as a sort of wink to their readers. (See also the slang euphemistic construction of “and by ____ I mean ____” as popularized by the show Clone High. In one episode a character says the following to a table full of ladies: “Hey, let’s all go swimming in my pool, and by pool I mean bathtub, and by swimming, I mean sex.” The two real-life examples could easily be written with a strikethrough or with Clone High-style phrasing.)

All three of Curzan’s uses of slash and my additional sense are casual and light in manner. While they’re still considered to be slang at this point in time, they certainly seem useful enough to me to be candidates for mainstream usage in the future. I wonder if they’ll ever be elevated beyond nonstandard usage. What do you think? Do you have any good examples of these new slang uses of slash? Let us know in the comments.

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