By: Mackenzie Maxwell On: June 25, 2015 In: Off Topic, Pop Culture, Social Media Comments: 0

Teens and Their Slang

Yo, WTF is up with slang? Is it a legit way of using language? Or is it totes ridiculous?

Those are just some of the questions we’ve been pondering at Duncan/Day. The topic of slang came up in a meeting when one of us asked what in the world “on fleek” means. Of course, we went down a rabbit hole and came out the other side with more information than we had bargained for.

To understand where slang comes from and why it is so widely used, we first must define what slang actually is. Dictionary.com defines slang as, “very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language.” As you probably noticed, we used several examples in the absurd opening paragraph here.

But slang doesn’t have to be so over the top. It’s very likely that you use slang words and phrases in your every day life, even if you think you are a perfectly proper speaker. For example, many of us use the phrase, “What’s up?” to greet a friend or colleague. Of course, you’re not actually asking the other person to look up and literally tell you what they see.

However, a non-native English speaker who is new to the United States might misunderstand the common phrase. This is because slang is often used by people in the same group and not understood by people outside that group. You could say that slang is simply in-group ways of using language.

Think of the many social groups you belong to. I’m sure you can think of words that group uses that others would not understand. For example, people who use Reddit will know what “OP” and “TLDR” mean, but people outside of the online forum may not understand these acronyms. (OP = Original Poster/Post. TLDR = Too Long, Didn’t Read.) People from different countries, races, age groups and industries all have terms like this that are only used in their circles.

But where do these terms come from? Well, slang evolves the same way formal language does. It can be an acronym like LOL or it can be the shortening of a word, like legitimate to legit. Slang can be the combination of words, like sleazy and skanky combined to make skeezy. Alternatively, slang can be using a proper word in a completely new way. An example of this is using the word literally to describe something figurative.

Slang often pops up randomly and in one particular group. A term might become more popular as it is shared among similar groups. For example, 1930s jazz singers originally used the term gig. As more and more performers of different types began to use the word, it became part of the lexicon. As sometimes happens, gig has transformed from a slang term to a proper word.

Sometimes, however, slang does not move from group to group. Instead, it stays in one particular group and grows to be associated with that subculture for decades to come. A great example of this is the word groovy. Originally used by hippies in the 1960s, it is still associated with that culture today.

Other times, slang simply dies out. For example, a buzzer used to be a slang term for a police badge in the 1930s. Today, if you tried to use that word in that context, most people would have no idea what you were talking about.

Etymologists still have a lot more research to do before we completely understand how slang terms come about, why some stick, and why others fade out. But one thing’s for sure: slang, as a concept, is here to stay. People will always find new meanings in words and completely invent new words for eons to come. Foshizzle.