The history of American slang words is very interesting. Slang words are kind of like jargon; they are used in certain groups and understood by the group members. Let's look at some examples of slang words and see how they came about.
It can be difficult to find the exact origin of a slang term as they are usually formed and used by a small group, or subculture, before entering common use. Even the exact origin of the word slang is unknown! It was first seen in print around 1800, but was probably used in speech long before that. Other commonly used slang words that have been around for a long time are:
Each decade has had slang words appear during that time. Here are common slang words and expressions from previous decades:
Language constantly evolves and the meanings of words in it change, including the slang words.
Slang refers to words or phrases that begin to be used in a widespread way. This way, our language renews itself and changes with the times. Slang words show the attitudes of the group or sub-culture that uses them.
Slang can appear as a brand new word, a new meaning for an existing word, an abbreviation for a word, or a word that becomes more generalized than its former, narrow meaning.
It may help to go over what is not considered slang. Slang is not dialect, colloquialism, or catch phrases, where both parties are familiar with the references, like "Beam me up, Scotty" from Star Trek. It is not jargon, which is limited to a certain field, or slogans used in advertising. Graffiti is not slang, nor is any special language used in a secret group.
By the 18th century, the differences between America and other English speaking countries prompted the evolution of slang. For a time, any words not used in Britain were considered slang. Originally considered to be the language of foreigners and criminals, slang began to be used by writers in the 1900s.
There are many reasons people use slang words and expressions.
Even if you don't know it, slang enriches the language.
Slang is a way of using descriptive or figurative language. It sometimes is irreverent and humorous. Slang expressions describe activities or objects. There is a high number of slang terms associated with the activity or object if it is prevalent. In 1901, G. K. Chesterton wrote "All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry," in Defence of Slang.