Let’s Sling Some Slang

(right-click and open in a new window to listen while reading)

Why am I writing about slang?

You asked for it. You got it. Some of my students have asked me to talk about slang expressions used in American English.

What is slang?

There are a gazillion definitions of “slang”. I think of slang as informal spoken words and phrases that are often crude or rude and which are frequently limited to specific segments of the population (e.g., black people, teenagers, poor people, rich people, policemen). Slang does NOT belong in formal, educated, academic writing.

Why do people use slang?

People use slang as a tool to achieve a degree of intimacy with their peers. Slang helps like-minded people fit in with their friends (or would-be friends) by allowing them to share a “private language or vocabulary set” understood only by them. One group’s slang may have no meaning at all to people outside that group. For example, in the past, poor black Americans often used so much slang in their conversations that I, being a whitey (a member of the white race, a Caucasian), literally could not understand what they were talking about. Some people think using slang is cool, hip, where it’s at.

Authors of paperback novels often have their fictional characters use slang because the authors wants their characters to be believable andin character with today’s society.

What slang am I going to cover?

American English has thousands upon thousands of slang expressions. We have over 50 slang terms just to refer to “money” or denominations of money! In fact, there are so many slang expressions that I dont even know where to begin. I dont use slang much, so I am a newbie (new + baby) (a rookie, a beginner, an inexperienced person) when it comes to wheeling and dealing in todays slang, so I will limit my slang examples to well-known, common slang.

I’m going to cop out (use minimum effort, take the easy way out to avoid working hard) and let the Internet do most of my work. The website link below has more than 280 slang expressions in alphabetical order, including a link you can click that will give you ten random slang expressions each time you click it. These 280 slang terms are all very common slang.


(right-click and open in a new window to listen while reading)

However, I will also give you some instructive sentences using some slang so you can see how it is used in real conversations.

  1. I just graduated from college. I can’t get a job because I have no work experience. I can’t get work experience because I have no job. It’s Catch-22. (from a movie of the same title)
  2. Your incessant nagging is driving me bonkers! If you don’t shut your trap, I’m going to give you a knuckle sandwich.
  3. He hangs out with that motorcycle gang because he’s a “tough guy” wannabe. (from “want to be”)
  4. That is nonsense, bullsh–, hogwash, poppycock! That’s the biggest load of bull (crock) I’ve ever heard! What a yarn!
  5. Most teenage girls like to watch chick flicks while guys like to hang out in their man caves.
  6. Watch your six. Bogey incoming! (If you’re facing toward 12:00, then six is your rear, behind you. A bogey is an unidentified contact, possibly an enemy contact detected on military radar. A bogey signals or represents a known or unknown danger. Incoming mean coming towards you quickly.)
  7. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg. How much is that? It’s about 20 large. ($20,000)
  8. He doesn’t know jack (or squat or jack squat). In other words, he knows zip, zilch.

That should be enough to whet your appetite. Bold terms are new vocabulary. Underlined terms are idioms or common word phrases that go well together. Yellow-highlighted words are slang.

So, students, I have told you what some of the slang terms mean but not all. Now comes your homework: Please offer your own meanings or explanations of what the remaining slang terms mean to teach other students.


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