How Slang Affects the English Language

When people speak using slang, it broadens the English language by adding more words. Language isn’t static, and a language such as English is a collection and reinvention of the words of many other languages, including Latin and Greek as well as the romance languages of Europe. Learn more about how slang affects the English language, its impact and the evolution of slang.

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Why People Use Slang

When you want to know why and how slang affects the English language, you first need to understand what slang is. Slang is informal English. Many times, slang words are vulgar and not appropriate for certain social situations.

There isn't one hard and fast rule as to how people use slang. In fact, slang is used in various ways within a language. However, in the overall scheme of things, slang helps you to connect to the people around you. Slang can create emotions, provide a sense of belonging or just make you stand out within a crowd. Now that you know a bit about slang, learn more about how it's used.

Slang Helps People Belong

Slang is often used as a way to appear friendly to someone, to show that you belong to a certain group of people or that you understand popular culture. It shows that you are part of the "in-crowd," and the slang you share is part of your secret language. Like the word conversate, some slang expressions are known to a small group of people, while others are used by many. Check out a few examples of how slang can make a generation distinct.

Texting Slang Example

If your friends and those within your social circle all use texting slang, then you will know and use that slang too. You find that over time LOL and BRB make their way into your face-to-face conversations as well. Using this slang in your vocabulary and evolving to the new trending words like "on fleek" and "no cap" help you stay current with your generation. Therefore, the slang of one area or generation will be vastly different from the slang of another.

23 Skidoo Example

Try to see how many people you know have a clue as to what “23 skidoo” ever meant? While this isn't a popular expression now, you'd know the meaning if you were in New York City in the 1920s.

The expression "23 skidoo" is said to have come from the sight men saw around the Flat Iron Building on 23rd street in New York City. The winds around the angular building would blow women's skirts up. Male crowds would form, waiting for the next “show” as women passed by, but police would come to break them up. Hence, leaving anywhere quickly or being forced to leave fast became known as the “23 skidoo.” While the phrase was popular prior to the 1920s, it died out during the roaring 20s.


Change Is Constant With Slang

Not all slang expressions disappear from the language after serving their purpose or as the generation who used them assumes adulthood. In fact, the expression can become so absorbed into the English language that it’s no longer mere slang but a mainstream expression. For example, the phrase “hung out” or “hang out.”

Evolution of Hung Out or Hang Out

The phrase "hang out" or "hung out" is commonly used today, and not just in casual settings. It’s become so instilled into our culture that one can use it, even in an executive board room, and no eyebrows will be raised in response. So what’s the source of “hang out”?

Although there’s evidence that the term was used as early as the 1830s to mean “loiter or idle about,” the current use of the phrase probably has a more recent incarnation. This phrase also morphed in the 1960s slang derivative of "letting it all hang out." However, you use it, "hang out" and "hung out" are common idioms used in speech.

Slang Evolves to Keep English Fresh

Slang is “street,” as in ordinary, common and yet vivid expressions to describe current life and events. It keeps the language from getting stale. It frequently changes, so it is difficult to find an up-to-date slang dictionary. Some words that once were cool have faded from use, only to be revived by the current generation. One such word, in fact, is “cool.”

Morphing of the Word Cool

"Cool" is an expression that had its modern-day beginnings with the 1960s hippies generation; but, it probably goes back at least to the 1920s with the arrival of the jazz age. In the Flapper Era, jazz music was considered extremely cutting edge, and jazz musicians had their own modes and means of living.

Some of that rubbed off on the Charleston dancers and the patrons of the speakeasy (a slang word for a bar with alcoholic beverages back when Prohibition made serving liquor illegal.) Jazz was “cool,” as in sophisticated. The latter-day hippie's use of it meant that the object of coolness was singular and unique, a twist on the Jazz Age use of the word.


History Is Learned From Slang Words

Some slang words have been part of the English language for many years. For example, if you review the history of American slang words, you will find that "dude" was first used as a slang term for a man in the 1870s.

Slang words can be a good indicator of what was going on during a specific period of time. For example:

  • The free love hippie movement of the 1960s can be seen in "vibes" (feelings) and "far out" (amazing).
  • The fast-paced times of the 1980s can be seen in "go postal" (go crazy) and "meltdown" (total collapse).
  • The prevalence of pop-culture and rap industry can be seen in the '90s "talk to the hand" (you've heard enough) and "gettin' jiggy" (dancing).
  • The technology age can be seen in 2000s slang like "LOL" (laugh out loud) and "shook" (uncomfortable).

Slang freshens and enhances the English language by adding words that describe what people of the era are doing and feeling.

Common Slang Expressions

When you are trying to get a feeling for how slang affects language, it can be helpful to check out a few different expressions. The slang expression is used first, followed by a proper English sentence.

  1. We just wanted to chill for a minute. (We just wanted to relax for a minute.)
  2. What's up? (What are you doing.)
  3. It's no big if you can't come. (It's not a big deal if you can't come.)
  4. She is a drama queen. (She is so overly emotional.)
  5. She just ditched me, man. (She left me behind.)
  6. Bob just goes with the flow. (Bob just accepts things as they are.)
  7. She's really down to earth. (She's really genuine.)
  8. Bruh! You slayed that performance. (Bro! You did excellent on that performance.)
  9. Here is the tea. (Here is the gossip.)
  10. Man, that assembly was wack. (Man, that assembly was boring.)

A Look Into How Slang Affects the English Language

Want to learn more about today's slang? Talking to high school and college students and visiting their campuses are great ways to hear and learn about the popular new slang words.