Slang | Meaning, Definition, Examples, Characteristics, Origin in Language

Slang | Meaning, Definition, Examples, Characteristics, Origin in Language

Slang Meaning

One of the developments which must certainly be credited to the nineteenth century is the growth of an objective and scientific attitude towards slang which has become one of the most prominent features of the English language.

Slang is very informal language that consists of words and phrases basically used in speech rather than writing and restricted in a specific region or a particular group of people.

Slang Definition

Slang has been defined by Greenough and Kittredge as

“a peculiar kind of vagabond language, always hanging on the outskirts of legitimate speech, but continually straying or forcing its way into the most respectable company.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines slang as the

“language of a highly colloquial type, below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting cither of new words or of current words employed in some special sense.”

The following definition given by H. W. Fowler in his Modern English Usage, though inadequate by itself, is complementary to that of the Oxford Dictionary:

“the diction that results from the favourite game among the young and lively of playing with words and renaming things and actions.”

Origin of Slang

Slang has its root in topicality, convenience and elementary human nature. It originates and flourishes best in unconventionality. “Among the impulses which lead to the invention of slang”, Dr. H. Bradley says. “the two most important seem to be the desire to secure increased vivacity and the desire to secure increased sense of intimacy in the use of language.”

The conditions favouring the origin of slang is crowding and excitement As Camden Hotten has said, “Any sudden excitement or peculiar circumstance is quite sufficient to originate and set going a score of slang words.” Slang is as characteristic of the individual as of the clique, the profession, the trade and the class. In the opinion of Greenough and Kittredge the coinage and circulation of slang come from the desire of the individual to distinguish himself by oddity and grotesque humour. Another potent force that makes for slang is the impatience with existing words and phrases- the desire to escape from the restraints imposed by a formal standard. The man in the street considers the expression to dismiss tame and colourless, and so he substitutes “to give one the air”. For the same reason a young woman who fails to keep an engagement with a youngman stands him up. The desire to be novel and striking thus has much to do with the origin of slang. Again the desire to be secret and not to be understood by others around the slang-user has given birth to many slang. Students, very close friends, lovers, members of secret political societies, persons in prisons use slang with this end in view.

Slang is personal in its origin. It is the user who determines the matter and meaning of slang. And slang is devised by persons belonging to the different walks of life by persons of wit and ingenuity, stockbroker, scholar, labourer, lawyer, soldier, sailor, the man in the street, and the man in the car. Whatever the origin of slang, personality and environment are the two most powerful determinants of the nature of slang.

Uses of Slang

Slang, has some good uses. It enriches the language. It invests the abstract with solidity and concreteness, and the remote with nearness and immediacy It terrestrializes the ethereal, and brings down the idealistic to the materialistic level. But the greatest use of slang is in its euphemistic effect. There are many slangy expressions which mitigate the tragedy lightens the inevitability of death and prettifies folly or drunkenness. Among the euphemistic slang may be mentioned “make esay” (to kill), “step into a last bus” (to die), “hop the bags” (to attack the enemy across no man’s land), “in Adam and Eve’s togs” (naked), “excuse my French” (forgive me my strong language) etc.

Slang is sometimes used to amuse a superior and place self on an emotional and mental level with one’s audience. On many occasions a man has recourse to it to make known and even to assert that he belongs or has belonged to a certain school or collages or university, a certain trade or profession, an artistic or intellectual group of social class. In other words, he uses it in order to be in the swim” and establish contact. Slang is also employed to disperse or lessen the solemnity or excessive of gravity of conversation or the pomposity of a piece of writing.

Characteristics of Slang

The most important characteristic of slang is its tendency to rise in the verbal world, and thus to become ennobled. H.T. Buckle has very humorously said, “Many of these (slang) words and phrases are but serving their apprenticeship, and will eventually become the active strength of our language.” The slang of one generation has often become the literary language of the next. Many of the English idioms have come from slang, for “idiom is”, as John Brophy says, “fed by the tested inventions of slang”.

Among the slang phrases that have risen in status are “at fault” (from a dog’s losing the scent), “to start in” (to begin), “on the stocks” (in preparation), to peter out, down to bed rock, it is up to you to be in at the death, below the belt, mass play, knock-out blow etc.

Another distinctive characteristic of slang is its ephemerality. Since novelty is a quality which soon wears off, slang which derives its life from novelty has to be constantly renewed. Like man, its creator, slang comes and goes.

“Vamoose, skiddoo, twenty three and beat it give place to scram! which will certainly be forgotten when a newer expression catches the popular fancy.” (A.C. Baugh).

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The third characteristic of slang is its synonymous abundance, and the ideas and facts which are most fertile in synonyms are money, drinking, drunkenness, the sexual organs and the sexual act. In The Slang Dictionary Hotten lists 130 synonyms for money. He gives drink the next place and intoxication the third place. “But the tabooed words of standard English”, says E. Patridge, “are hardly less productive of slang synonyms: because of the need for euphemism, or of a desire to give them a different appearance and complexion, these taboos result in synonyms more ingenious, and many of them, more picturesque than those for money and drink.”

Slang in relation to legitimate speech

Slang hangs on the outskirts of the legitimate speech and some slang words manage, now and then, to find their way into legitimate speech. Thus we use now naturally, and with entire propriety, many slang words which were regarded as linguistically untouchable by writers of a generation or few generations ago. The expression “what on earth” seems to us an idiomatic expression and certainly will not be objected to in the speech of anyone today. But De Quincey condemned its use and was horrified at hearing it used by a government official. The word “row” in the sense of disturbance or commotion was considered slang in the eighteenth century and Todd (1818) described it as a very low expression, but to-day the word is used in this sense in the works of many reputed authors. So “to parry a thrust”, “o fence” (in an argument)”. “to cross swords with the opposing counsel”. “to bandy words”, “to wrestle with a problem”. “to trip one up” (in a discussion), “lo lose track of a subject”, “to run counter”, “to hit or miss the mark” are now all good English expressions, though most of them were formerly slang, and had passed through the intermediate stage of colloquialism before they gained admission to the legitimate vocabulary.

The once slangy words and expressions like bias (from bowling), fair play, foul play, hazard are all now firmly seated on the shelf of legitimate speech. Can any one now imagine that such indispensable words as “desire” and “salary” were once soldiers’ slang?

Some clipped words which were once slang now occupy a whole niche of legitimate vocabulary – exam for examination, auto for automobile, varsity for university, cab for cabriolet, van for wangward, fence for defence, miss for mistress, mob for mobile vulgus, per for apert, bus for omnibus (which was itself originally a slang term), pad for footpad, piano for pianoforte, kilo for kilogram, zoo for zoological garden, percent for per centum, pros and cons for pros and contras, sweets for sweetmeats, sport for disport etc.

To speak the truth, “there is no real difference in kind”, as Greenough and Kittredge say, “between the processes of slang and those of legitimate speech. Slang is only the rude luxuriance of the uncared for soil, knowing not the hand of the gardener.” The same desire for novelty as is constantly at work in slang is also constantly working in the figurative expressions and new coinages of legitimate speech.

Again like slang artistic literature, apart from the more conveyance of thought, seeks to stimulate the attention of the reader by clever novelty, and even sometimes to shock him into thought by grotesque or startling language. In this way, there come into existence a number of new words, most of which soon die, but some of which are sure to find their place in the general vocabulary. Phrase-composition is as active in slang as in legitimate speech. Thus carouse (shortened from the German gar aus ! ‘quite out‘), hoax (a shortening of hocus pocus), jeopardy (from French jeu parti) were all slang phrases, but are now included in the legitimate vocabulary.

Despite all these similarities between slang and legitimate speech, we cannot adopt all the products of slang without question. All human speech is intended for the cars of others, and as such, must possess a certain dignity and courtesy. Now most slang words have a taint of impropriety about it which makes it offensive. Again the very currency of slang hinges on its allusions to things which are not universally familiar or respectable with the result that slang comes to be regarded as vulgar and vague.

Furthermore, the accepted means of communication in any widespread Language like English has a certain constant and enduring nature. Though the language is ever in flux, yet the endurable and permanent elements far outbalance the changing elements so that in spite of all the changes that affect it, it remains always intelligible through a long period of time. Slang words, on the contrary, are evanescent, living through days, and not through Sears, and falling out of use even while one is speaking them. Hence slang sill-adapted to serve as a medium of intercourse and therefore is unsuitable for adoption into legitimate speech.” (Greenough and Kittredge).

Not only is slang characterized by ephemerality, but also it has no fixed meaning. Slang words are vague and ill defined, and their meanings grow more and more uncertain from day to day. The result is that the use of slang tends to level down all those nice differentiations in meaning, all those distinctions between word and word, which make for linguistic development. In slang everything is “fine” or “immense” or “stunning”, from an appetizing meal to a drama, from a mountain scenery to the cut of a friend’s trouser. Slang has been branded as the idle man’s dialect, and if the sign of cultivation is an enriched vocabulary, the constant employment of vague and uncertain slang for every shade of meaning reduces one’s thought to the ignorant level. When slang becomes definite and clear-cut in signification, it ceases to be slang, and finds it place in the legitimate vocabulary. “In fact, anything that is good in slang is almost sure to be picked up and adopted in legitimate speech.” (Greenough and Kittredge).

Slang Examples

In all languages slang is widely used by the native speaker. Here are a few examples of slang used in different English speaking countries:

21 Most Common British Slang

Sl. No. British Slang/ English Slang Meaning
1. All right? This is commonly used as a greeting that doesn’t always need a response
2. Rubbish criticize severely and reject as worthless
3. Snog A kiss in any form
4. Pissed This doesn’t mean angry or frustrated in the way Americans use it– rather, it means to be blind drunk
5. Bird A word used to describe a woman
6. Fag Another word for a cigarette
7. Posh Posh typically denotes English upper-class folks. It equates to the American word ‘fancy’.
8. Taking the piss it means one person is shocked at what another person is doing or saying.
9. Wanker Possibly the best single-worded British insult on the list, wanker fits closest by ‘jerk’ or ‘a-hole’
10. Cheers While most people associate this word with a toast, it can also mean a quick ‘thanks’ or ‘thank you‘.
11. Bloody a rude way of expressing great anger
12. Fancy This term is used as a verb to express desire or wanting. For example, you might ask “Do you fancy some dinner?”
13. Mental Absolutely crazy person
14. Cheeky to describe something lighthearted but a little bit rude
15. Piece of cake it’s easy to do
16. Tickety-boo someone wants to express everything is going exceptionally well
17. Vibe Refers to feelings, atmosphere, mood
18. Shirty one way to describe someone who is ill-tempered
19. Hunky-dory  cool way of saying that something is just fine!
20. Cheerio used to say goodbye
21. Ace something that is awesome


22 Popular American Slang

Sl. No. American Slang Meaning
1. Down to earth Referring to someone who is humble, genuine, and easy to get along with
2. G.O.A.T. Not the cute animal, but the acronym for “Greatest of all Time”
3. What’s good It is often used to make friends say hello or to say how you are doing.
4. Chill to relax, Hey, chill out! Everything will be fine
5. Shut up


stop talking, close your mouth
6. Freaky “strange” or “weird”
7. Fire awesome, excellent, crazy amazing
8. What’s up?  what are you doing?
9. Oh my God!  describe excitement or surprise
10. My bad My mistake
11. No worries That’s alright
12. Cool Fine
13. Cheesy  silly
14. It sucked It was bad/poor quality
15. Have a crush Attracted to someone romantically
16. Dump To end a romantic relationship with someone
17. Getting hitched/ Tying the knot Get married
18. Hang out To spend time with others
19. Freebie Something that is free
20. Wrap up To finish something
21. Netflix and chill making out, sex
22. See ya! goodbye


11 Very Common Canadian Slang

Sl. No Canadian Slang Meaning
1. Eh? indicate that you don’t understand something, can’t believe something is true
2. Canuck An informal term for an individual from Canada
3. Klick kilometers
4. Stag pre-wedding bachelor
5. Beauty


Used to say something is good or awesome
6. Buddy  buddy is a way to talk about a person without using a name
7. Dart A cigarette
8. Jesus Murphy To avoid the guilt and shame of blasphemy yet retain the satisfaction of cursing
9. True used instead of OK
10. What you sayin’? It’s used when asking what someone is doing
11. Keener A person who is extremely eager or keen to please others, not in a good way


11 Most Used Aussie Slang

Sl. No. Aussie Slang Meaning
1. Billy Teapot
2. mate friend
3. cake hole mouth
4. Ankle bitter a small or young child
5. bonzer great, awesome, first-rate
6. arvo afternoon
7. in the nuddy naked
8. pash a passionate kiss
9. dog’s breakfast  complete chaos, mess
10. dinkum unquestionably good or genuine
11. Stuffed Tired


8 Best Gen Z Slang

Gen Z or generation z refers to youth who were born after 1996. Gen Z uses specific slang words while communicating:

Sl. No. Gen Z Slang Meaning
1. no cap  to cap about something means “to brag, exaggerate, or lie”
2. OK boomer
3. low-key/high-key “quiet,” “restrained,” “moderate,” or “easygoing.”
4. simp


 an insult for men who are seen as being too submissive to women
5. E-boy or E-girl The one who uses the internet to express themselves.
6. Salty feeling jealous
7. Finesse to trick or manipulate someone or a situation in order to get what you want
8. Bet this slang term means “yes”


Top 5 Best Slang Dictionary

  1. Urban Dictionary
  2. Unsuck It
  3. Wiktionary
  4. Online Slang Dictionary
  5. Double-Tongued Dictionary


There are good slang and bad slang. Good slang has a real meaning, while bad slang has no meaning, and is simply a succession of sounds. Good slang is often humorous, witty, picturesque. It is also refined in its associations. Now good slang words frequently elevate themselves to the rank of colloquialism, and thus in time gain admission to the legitimate speech, “Hit or miss”, “tooth and nail”, “by hook or crook”, “sink or swim” “rough-and-ready”, “higgledy-piggledy were all slang, but have now passed through the colloquial stage and are recognized idioms.

“Again, an expression that is unquestionable slang may be so apt and necessary in the discussion of a particular subject, and so often quoted by the best writers, that it loses its taint and becomes a part of our common stock of quotation.”

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