A dictionary that explains commonly used American slang words can be a very useful resource for anyone interested in learning more about how language continues to evolve throughout the United States. YourDictionary includes definitions of the most common of these slang words and provides additional usage information in various slang articles.
About Slang in Popular Culture
Slang is defined as a casual type of language that is playful or trendy. It consists both of coined words and phrases and of new or extended meanings attached to established terms. Slang tends to develop from the attempt to find fresh and vigorous, colorful, pungent, or humorous expression.
Examples of common slang within the United States include:
- Ankle biter – a derogatory term for an infant or small child
- Bail – leaving in a hurry
- Chillin' – spending time with your friends
- For real – speaking honestly and truthfully
- Hooker – a female prostitute or someone who is behaving like a prostitute
- In a New York minute – to do something very fast
- Juiced – to be very excited or eager to do something
- Knocked up – a woman coping with an unplanned pregnancy, usually someone who is either very young or unmarried
- Queen – a homosexual man
- Trashed – to be very drunk or to completely destroy someone’s property
- Zonked – completely exhausted, very tired
Since a number of slang terms make reference to sex, violence, drugs, or crime, the use of slang is often seen by many people as an indicator of the speaker’s lower social status. Slang used by particular ethnic groups is also frequently looked down upon, although it should be noted that use of slang in everyday speech bears no relationship to the speaker’s intelligence.
Regional Slang Words
Some slang words are commonly used nationwide and appear in nationwide communication such as movies, television and magazines; but, some slang words have not gone mainstream and are used only in certain regions of the U.S.
For example here are a few regional slang words highlighted by HuffingtonPost.com:
- Y'all (South and Texas) - a shorthand way to say "you all." Do y'all want to go?
- Fixin' to (South and Texas) - a quick way to say "about to." I'm fixin' to go. Are you ready too?
- Wicked (New England) - it translates as "really." These lobsters are wicked good.
- Clothes tree (Northeast) - a piece of furniture with extended arms that stands against the wall for hanging clothes.
- Hella (Northern California) - a very casual slang word used as an adjective to describe something that is really good. The waves are hella good, so it is a great day to surf.
- Bubbler (Eastern Wisconsin, eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island) - identifies a public drinking fountain. It was so hot after my walk that I looked for a bubbler in the park.
- Pank (Michigan's Upper Peninsula) - another way to say compress or push down. I had to pank down the garbage so that I could get more into the can.
- Bufflehead (Pennsylvania) - slang for idiot. The guy was a real bufflehead.
- Whoopensocker (Wisconsin) - a shorthand way to describe something that is really terrific. This multi-level burger is a real whoopensocker.
- Punee (Hawaii) - a small couch or day bed.
Slang should be avoided in most types of writing, especially academic research papers and essays. Screenwriters and novelists sometimes use certain expressions to add a touch of their character’s personality to specific bits of dialogue, but this tactic can backfire if the slang is obscure and thus unfamiliar to the reader.
Although slang is informal speech, it is not equivalent to jargon. Generally, jargon refers to terminology that is associated with a particular profession—such as medicine, law, or computer science.
American Slang Dictionaries Online
Since slang is constantly changing, it can be difficult to find definitions of certain terms in a printed dictionary. Luckily, there are many different websites offering online American slang dictionaries. For example:
- SlangVocabulary is an extensive dictionary of slang and colloquialisms that is neatly organized and easy to use. Definitions are fairly short, but example sentences are provided for the majority of terms.
- Urban Dictionary is a large website that allows users to submit their own definitions for various slang terms. While the quality of the information can sometimes be questionable, this site is often the best resource for learning more about obscure slang usage.
- Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) breaks the U.S. into multiple regions and subregions. It only includes words that are used regionally. Audio clips are included for many words, giving you the opportunity to hear the regional slang word being used.
- ManyThings has a list of more than 280 American slang definitions sorted alphabetically. Example sentences are provided with each term to make it easier for you to understand the correct usage.
- Dave’s ESL Cafe has a short guide to American slang designed to assist those who are learning English as a second language.
Although it’s not a dictionary in the traditional sense, Slang City is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the use of slang in America. This entertaining website features articles, illustrated topical guides to various types of slang, and interactive games such as the “Random Insult Generator.”