Saturday, December 2, 2017

Be with the times: slang and its multiple meanings

This Blog Was Written by 

Yumna Ahmed Qazi - Hunter College

My friend and I were having a conversation over lunch recently when I suddenly overheard someone in the vicinity say, “It’s mad brick out today.” I paused my conversation and asked myself what in the world this person meant by the word “brick.” If I took it literally, the word brick would be a piece of material used to construct buildings. However, after a quick search on Google, my answer was found on Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary that explained slang words and phrases for the unaware. 

Apparently, the word “brick” meant many things - the most popular definitions was that it conveyed the meaning of “very cold” or it meant a pound of a certain drug, most commonly cocaine (  I thought about the sentence again and realized after putting it into the right connotation that the person meant to say that it was really cold outside that day. This situation led me to think about slang linguistically. Why do people make up words to convey a different meaning in the first place? And how do other people adapt to it in such a widespread manner? 

Slang, as proven by the word “brick,” can be difficult for others to understand if they aren’t in the know. If a person is using slang in a conversation with someone who is not in their group and does not know the words they’re using (such as a person from another region) they will not understand one another, and that someone may feel put off. Some slang words are derogatory, but slang is more likely to be spoken or texted than it is to be written formally. 

Slang can be used because people are lazy – we (as a generation who expect quick responses) can communicate more quickly with slang than with formal language. Perhaps people use this type of jargon to feel like they belong or feel cool in their social environment. Or perhaps these people simply want to be creative with language and be unconventional. Over time, slang either dies out because people start using new words or it might become so popular that people adapt to it and insert it into their own daily vocabulary. An example of this can be the word “hip.” Initially, it meant that someone was cool and fashionable for their time, but then the word changed into “hippie” during the 60s. Today, the word that everyone uses is “hipster,” which describes a self-aware person that rejects mainstream ideas. 

Slang can vary depending on what area the person is from. People from other parts of the country, or from other English-speaking countries, will not have the same understanding of a word – you might be seriously misunderstood if you use a word that you think of as neutral. In some places, any soda might be considered as just “coke” to everyone. A submarine sandwich might be considered a “hoagie” to others. Bags might be called “fanny packs” in some areas while in other areas (I think England?), “fanny” can be considered offensive. As generations come and go, there is more new and creative slang added to the culture, so people can hear something new pretty often. As for demographics, it seems as though everyone has their own slang. Older people can use words like “baby doll” while young people today can use “bae” even though both convey the meaning of “significant other.” Slang seems universal, but some might use it more than others. 

There are some drawbacks to using slang. If it’s used when talking with your elders, they might not understand you and think you’re immature. If slang is used in a formal environments like job interviews, you might be considered as stupid or not serious about the job. If someone in today’s generation uses yesterday’s slang, you can be labeled as outdated by society.  For example, if someone uses the word “groovy” in a conversation today, they’re most likely saying it in a humourous way.  Slang should be used effectively – using it well means you need to have an awareness of why you’re saying it and who you’re saying it to. A person should understand all the connotations of a slang word before using it, especially if they are not familiar with it. If not, it’s probably best to avoid slang and stick to straight-forward language.

Slang is proof that the English language is constantly evolving. However, critics of slang believe that it makes people sound less intelligent and when it becomes more common, it can eradicate the use of a certain language. Historically, slang used to be banned in schools and homes for those who wanted to sound more refined and educated. Today, slang is deemed as socially acceptable among the public since it creates a social identity for various groups. Do you think slang should be banned from schools? Is slang making us stupid? Can slang promote creativity instead of “corrupting” the English language?

Something for fun – have any of you used these words before?

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