Formal writing should generally eschew the use of slang, which is defined as the vocabulary (words, phrases, and linguistic usages) of an informal register. It may also be used to describe the language that is often used only by members of certain in-groups to either foster a sense of belonging within that group or to distinguish themselves from members of other groups. The term first appeared in the 18th century and has been understood in a variety of ways ever since.
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It was first used to describe the language of the “low” or “disreputable” in the year 1756. Although it was no longer primarily used to describe unsavory characters by the turn of the nineteenth century, the term was still often used to describe language that was not up to snuff in the eyes of the educated elite. Poet William Scott of Aberdeen coined the term in 1832, and it meant “talk, conversation, gossip” in Scots: “The slang gaed on about their war’ly concern.” It signified “inappropriate, threatening words” in northern English.
No one knows for sure where the term came from, however, it may have roots in the jargon used by thieves. Some have suggested a Scandinavian origin (see also: Norwegian slengenavn, “nickname”), although the Oxford English Dictionary dismisses this on the grounds of “date and early connections.” However, Jonathon Green concurs with the likelihood of a Scandinavian origin, proposing the same root as that of the sling, which means “to fling,” and adding that slang is flung words – a rapid and honest method to make your point.
The Meaning of Slang
Linguists believe that slang is a phenomenon in language that is found in every subculture throughout the globe but for which no one definition exists. It has been said that the existence of slang is because we need to find words to describe the many novelties that have emerged in the contemporary day. However, to rectify the absence of a precise definition, Bethany K. Dumas and Jonathan Lighter suggest that a phrase should be regarded as “genuine slang” if it fits at least two of the following criteria:
- It’s likely to be seen as a “glaring abuse of register” in situations when “the dignity of formal or serious speech or writing” has to be maintained, even if only momentarily.
- The phrase’s use suggests familiarity with the thing being referenced or with the group of individuals who share that familiarity and employ the term.
- It’s not a word you use casually while talking to individuals in authoritative positions since it’s considered rude or inappropriate.
It is the new standard replacement for “a well-known conventional synonym.” This is often done to save the speaker from the bother of having to expand on the standard synonym or the potential pain of avoiding the synonym altogether.