Printable Version
Pronunciation: slæng Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: A set of socially unacceptable metaphors replacing normal words in a language, used as a code for identifying with a cohort group—especially the younger generation—or profession. (For a more complete definition, click here.)

Notes: Today's Good Word has a rich and appropriately slangy family, beginning with slangy "slang-like" itself. Words somewhat slangy are slangish and a slang word is a slangism. Because slang refers to an outlaw language, many illegal derivations have reared their ugly if funny heads: slangster "someone who uses slang", slanguage "slangy speech", and slangular "related to slang". Use them at your own risk and if slang doesn't frighten you.

In Play: Slang words may be completely concocted, like shiznit "excellent, outstanding", bling "shiny jewelry", dork "stupid person", hork "to gobble or throw up". However, it usually is a vocabulary of ordinary words used metaphorically: beat feet meaning "to leave", maul meaning "to hug and kiss", or digits for "telephone number". The important thing is that slang is a set of code words that only "in" people can correctly interpret.

Word History: The word slang first appeared in print in the mid 17th century, referring to street cant, the language of beggars and thieves. No one has any idea where it came from. It has been used to refer to a particular kind of cannon and to chains at various points of its career. These meanings were derived from German Schlange "snake, serpent" but neither is semantically related to today's Good Word. Slang has also been used as a verb meaning "to cheat" and "to curse". Current usage cannot have derived from this verbal use either, since the noun's current meaning predates that of the verb. (To use an appropriate slangism, let's all say, 'Thanks,' to Jan Arps, of Greensboro, NC, for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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