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Is Slang Destroying the English Language?

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Is Slang Bad and Does Slang Ruin Language?

Slang is inevitable in any language. While you probably won’t be using it in a job interview, here’s why it’s fine for language and here to stay. 

What is Slang?

Although we might think of slang as any nonstandard language use, it actually has a fairly narrow meaning: 

  1. It’s considered informal and inappropriate in certain contexts. 
  2. Only a certain “in” group of people are familiar with the slang term. 
  3. It replaces a conventional term, usually to avoid taboo, and
  4. It consists of new or current words used in a novel way. 

So, while the word ain’t may be nonstandard English, it’s actually not slang. Ain’t is informal, but every English speaker knows what it means, it doesn’t replace a taboo word, and it doesn’t add a new meaning to a word. 

Tracing the Origins of Slang

Slang can be difficult for editors of dictionaries to trace, usually because it is (or at least used to be) restricted to non-written language. Written language provides a record to study word origins. But most slang is created and used only in spoken language.  

However, the internet has made slang much easier to track. Social media is a great place to study slang because of the informal context in which people are writing. 

In addition to providing documentation of slang, the internet has actually created contexts where new slang is invented. Take ‘lol’ for example.  

Origin of “LOL” and Other Internet Terms

LOL, for ‘Laughing Out Loud’ was first used in the late 1980s.  This usage had all of the features of slang: it was informal, not part of standard use, not understood by everyone, and was a new, context-specific term. However, ‘lol’ has since passed into common usage and might not even be considered slang anymore.

While ‘lol’ is recent enough that many people remember before it was used, it has changed over the years. ‘Lol’ originally only meant ‘laughing out loud,’ but nowadays it often doesn’t mean anything at all. Instead, it works to ease tension in text conversations, serving as a politeness marker. If you don’t believe this, notice the next time you type ‘lol’— you probably aren’t laughing at all. 

Linguist John McWhorter has a great new theory on what’s really going on in modern texting. Far from being a scourge, texting is a linguistic miracle.

Standard American English (SAE) vs African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

Most slang still comes from spoken language, though the internet helps slang spread quickly. In standard American English, a lot of slang terms are taken from African American Vernacular English (AAVE). From ‘woke’ to ‘bae’, many slang terms that end up in Standard American English (SAE) are from AAVE. 

SAE and AAVE have distinct grammars and are equally valid English varieties, but Standard American English tends to be more respected (hence ‘standard’). Because of this imbalance, it can be insulting when AAVE slang is taken into colloquial standard American English without proper attribution or even proper usage. 

Cultural Appropriation of Slang

Appropriation of slang or colloquialisms may not hurt anyone, but it’s worth learning why it might be taken as an insult.

Slang seems to annoy people like few other things do. While everyone’s entitled to their language opinions, fighting slang is truly a losing battle. Slang has had the same social stigma—and prestige— for at least a century in American English. 

History of Slang

In Modern Language Notes, written in 1896, a young man is quoted as saying, “I am sorry to say I then… talked entirely in slang; for the one who could invent and use the most striking slang expressions was the best fellow always.” 

Our slang words may have changed, but attitudes towards them haven’t: slang was “disagreeable” and even “disgusting” in 1896, but in the right social context, it made one “the best fellow.” 

How is Slang Created – Stop Trying To Make Fetch Happen

Far from being unnatural or vulgar, slang is a sign of creativity and shared meaning in language. After all, no one can make a novel usage catch on by themselves. The creation of a slang term requires someone to create the word and for others to accept it. 

Most slang doesn’t last, and it’s hard to predict what will stick. People have been complaining about language innovations for millennia, but complaints have never stopped slang or language change. 

Slang and Acronym Dictionaries

Have you come across a slang term or internet acronym and wonder what it means?

Urban Dictionary is your first stop for everything slang.

And Abbreviations.com – can help you decode acronyms, abbreviations, and initialisms on the Internet.  

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