Slang in Language

Language is a method of communication and can be emphasized as a system of symbols and grammar, including the uniformity of structure and meaning. The structure of words and the expressions in a language typically reveal recurring patterns of organization. Such patterns offer speakers the resources to establish new forms based on the structures within the language, rather then having to coin new words directly from sounds. Slang is a set of colloquial words and phrases that usually define a trend, or social identity within a group. The characteristics distinguishing slang from other forms of vocabulary are fundamentally social. Different methods of slang are used in everyday conversation; however they are not considered formal speech. In the term’s earliest form, it was applied to describe the language utilized in underworld groups. There are consistent characteristics of the term slang. Firstly, slang is ephemeral, meaning words that are derived and only popular for a brief time. Sometimes a new slang word either replaces an earlier one or provides a synonym. Slang is often criticized as a lesser form of language, one that is simply not as meaningful as regular English language. This essay will examine the various methods in which slang contributes to language and emphasize that it is an important part of communication, which in turn shapes our social community.
Slang is derived from existing vocabulary and therefore gives new semantic meaning to established words. For example, “to nuke” replaced “to microwave” once the microwave became widely used. In this example slang tends to provide alternative meaning, laden with connotations and cultural associations. Therefore, slang proliferates around topics of importance toward a specific group. Slang also grows by metonymy. An example of this reference is the White House, which is sometimes used to describe the totality of the U.S. government. Furthermore, slang, as with all types of language, incorporate irony and metaphor. Metaphors strengthen the meaning of words by giving cultural allusions. For example, the post office will have to play ‘catch up’ to deliver the mail after a major snowstorm. Slang can be analyzed by using the same criteria as other aspects of language, confirming that it is a necessary concept to our speech community.
Slang is derived and composed of multiple meanings. Terms that are not used in everyday speech, simple conversation or social context cannot be translated into slang. An example of this is the term “chromosome”. In certain areas of society where the nature of the environment is stressful, slang is emphasized to lighten the situation and promote solidarity. Connie Eble, provides an excellent example of this method in her book, Slang and Sociability. Eble states, “in a hospital setting death is referred to being “boxed” or “tubed” (Eble 53). Slang generalizes certain aspects of our culture and community. The term ‘homeboy’ in its derivative, is used to refer to someone who is friendly, not just someone who is from the same town (Eble 55). Slang can also be described as instances of specialization. This has played a crucial role in the formation of meaning for English terms. For example, “pulling an all nighter” refers to staying up all night to write a paper or study for a test, rather than not sleeping. Slang allows us to extend our current language use, by altering words and giving terms new meanings. It is impressionable, which can be demonstrated through observation of how people have tendencies to pick up slang and to adopt it as their own term.
People have been taught to recognize proper word order. As a result, if something is out of order we are able to automatically recognize it. Syntax does not qualify in the determination of slang. The expressions of slang are not structured in sequence, and terms are often appropriated in established grammatical patterns. In regular structure language we use Zipf’s law to recognize abbreviated words that are often employed. The same law can apply to slang. The more we use a slang term, the shorter the original term becomes. The term ‘24/7’ is used to describe twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This further assists in establishing the theory of Zipf’s law. Slang enables us to abbreviate language and intensify the meaning within a group of people.

Metaphors may be defined as figurative and direct comparison between two rather unlikely things. This literary technique has the ability to see the universe as a coherent structure. Metaphors are descriptive and have the ability to thoroughly illustrate a feeling or situation that would otherwise be difficult to present. Ultimately, a metaphor shapes our reality into a coherent and relatable explanation. Using metaphors is a primary technique in which we accommodate and assimilate information and experiences to our conceptualization of the world. We use metaphors as a tool to enhance our ability to learn new ideas and creative concepts. Language users easily adjust between sound and meaning which are required to construct an effective metaphor. Eble states that “given the tendency of a general vocabulary towards metaphor it is not surprising that metaphor abounds in slang” (Eble, 69). Metaphors used in slang enhance the meaning by cultural illusions. A metaphor can be described as a process in which something abstract is rendered comprehensible in reference to something that is tangible and are also very effective. They create images in the mind, which allow people to develop their own interpretation. However, metaphors can sometimes have little meaning behind them until they are fully decoded. An example of a metaphor would be the word “star”, which is a reference to celebrities within the media. The word “star” is used to better describe a person whom is typically out of reach, and universally identifiable to others. However, although metaphors are immense enhancers in terms of understanding a situation they also have limitations that are found within culture and language. For example, a joke, a reference, or a poem may be significant in one culture although is of no importance in another.
“Metonymy is the process in which a part stands for the whole" (Danesi). For instance, journalists are referred to as the “press” because of the act of how a newspaper is printed. This can also be seen in the context of colours. The colour orange was derived from the fruit, as was the colour turquoise from the gem. Metonymy is closely related to metaphor and semantics.

Forms of slang are widely used among people of all ages and cultures. Slang is not geographically restricted vocabulary. As emphasized in British slang, the terms ‘lift’, ‘serviette’ and ‘zed’, are used instead of the common English words as ‘elevator’ ‘napkin’ and ‘zee’. Slang can be recognized worldwide. Slang terms are not used in isolation because they carry with them much embedded meaning(s). For example the context in which a slang term is used has to be analyzed. A common term used with youth to describe a curvaceous and attractive female is ‘phat’, pronounced the same way as fat. However, it obviously has a different meaning than its original counterpart. Furthermore, the individual that uttered the term is relevant, which can usually shift the meaning of the word. If an older individual were to call a young girl ‘phat’, it would probably not be well received. Slang is usually used in social settings and is never formal. The technique is used as an icebreaker, and is usually never in intimate settings. The effect of its use makes it unique. The relevancy of slang terms is limited to the circle of people that understand the full meaning of terms used. Just like regular everyday language, slang can be analyzed and looked at by using linguistic theories. Slang is always used in proper grammatical construction and sentence structure. The only opposition to slang is usually focused on social appropriateness, and not grammar. Slang is innovative, but so is language in general, therefore there is no evidence that it is formed in a special way. For the most part slang conforms to the general sound constraints in the English language; however it does play with sounds to gain meaning.

Slang has also evolved into such a state that there are sites online, such as http://www.urbandictionary.com that helps people identify and understand certain slang words used in every day conversation.

For example: the slang word "brokeback" is used to describe anything of questionable masculinity. It is believed to have originated from the 2005 motion picture Brokeback Mountain, the story of two homosexual cowboys.

The word "brokeback" used in a sentence:

"Those two were meant for each other, but they could never be together. It was a brokeback situation."
"Did you see the way John and Dave hugged? That's pretty brokeback!"