I.1 The origin of slang

The Main Aspects of Slang

Slang tends to originate in subcultures within a society. Occupational groups (for example, loggers, police, medical professionals, and computer specialists) are prominent originators of both jargon and slang; other groups creating slang include the armed forces, teenagers, racial minorities, ghetto residents, labor unions, citizens-band radiobroadcasters, sports groups, drug addicts, criminals, and even religious denominations (Episcopalians, for example, produced spike, the High Anglican Church).

Slang was the main reason for the development of prescriptive language in an attempt to slow down the rate of change in both spoken and written language. Latin and French were the only two languages that maintained the use of prescriptive language in the 14th century. It was not until the early 15th century that scholars began pushing for a Standard English language.

But the scientists consider slang to originate from the Standard English language itself. Speaking of standards, the most respected standard dialect was Received Pronunciation. This kind of speech was considered Standard English and was used in teaching English in all parts of the world. But very soon American English went forward leaving British, Australian and Canadian one far behind. It came to be the most developed one. This can be explained with the partaking of almost all of the dwellers of Europe in the enriching the American English word-stock. But the rest countries of Europe were inhabited by the British people. As a result, the more or less Standard English was preserved there.

The lowest class of people emigrated from England and Ireland to the Northern states of America. The English language was replaced to the position of the official language. In the 18th century the Yankees parted from Britain and the settlements of the other nationalities came there. The English phonetics was very complicated for them and the foreigners simplified some words.

In 1930-s, 40-s, 50-s thanks to the music and cinema the intensive export of words and word-expressions from America to Europe took place. During 60-s this process turned into many-sided phenomenon. Any word that happened to come from the lips of the favorite rock-musician, of the popular actor or actress was picked up by teenagers. Some of the words entered the everyday use but the rest superannuated. This process proceeded during 70-s and 80-s when a great number of new words appeared. A great quantity of shortenings waved Europe [23].

Recorded slang emerged, as the sketch of dictionaries has shown, from the special language of subculture, or perhaps should call the more despised of them undercultures [17].

Among the immigrant-ethnic bestowals, the influx from Yiddish continued strong in spite of the sociological shifting of the Jewish population. The Old Dutch and German sources dried up. The Italian carried on in modest proportion. The Hispanic wasnt surprisingly influential, although a heavier contribution is surely predictable. All these were far outstripped by increased borrowing from black America and this from the urban ghetto rather than the old Southern heartland. Close analysis would probably show that, what with the prominence of black people in the armed forces, in music, in the entertainment world, and in street and ghetto life, the black influence on American slang was more pervasive than that of any other ethnic group in history. The post-War period was characterized by the speeded process of the social life that traced the language but the rocknroll brought up to the surface of Standard English the language of the lowest society and spread it over Atlantic. A lot of terms were introduced by the influx of the other cultures. The resulting mishmash created what academics call slang [21].

The origin of the word slang itself is unknown. Its resemblance in sound and figurative meaning to the noun and verb sling and the occurrence of apparently the same root in Scandinavian expressions referring to language, suggest that the term slang is a development of a Germanic root from which the current English sling is derived. Another conjecture is that slang has been formed by shortening from genitive phrases like beggars language or rogues language, in which the genitive suffix of the first noun attaches to the initial syllable of language and then the final syllable is lost[16].

To fully understand slang, one must remember that a word's use, popularity, and acceptability can change. Words can change in social level, moving in any direction. Thus, some standard words of William Shakespeare's days are found only in certain modern-day British dialects or in the dialect of the southern United States. Words that are taboo in one era (e.g., stomach, thigh) can become accepted, standard words in a later era. Language is dynamic, and at any given time hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of words and expressions are in the process of changing from one level to another, of becoming more acceptable or less acceptable, of becoming more popular or less popular.

Slang is the words so frequently appearing in lively everyday speech and just as quickly disappearing from the language.

Slang invades the dominant culture as it seeps out of various subcultures. Some words fall dead or lie dormant in the dominant culture for long periods. Others vividly express an idea already latent in the dominant culture and these are immediately picked up and used. Before the advent of mass media, such terms invaded the dominant culture slowly and were transmitted largely by word of mouth. Thus a term like snafu, its shocking power softened with the explanation "situation normal, all fouled up," worked its way gradually from the military in World War II by word of mouth (because the media largely shunned it) into respectable circles. Today, however, a sportscaster, news reporter, or comedian may introduce a lively new word already used by an in-group into millions of homes simultaneously, giving it almost instant currency. For example, the term uptight was first used largely by criminal narcotic addicts to indicate the onset of withdrawal distress when drugs are denied. Later, because of intense journalistic interest in the drug scene, it became widely used in the dominant culture to mean anxiety or tension unrelated to drug use. It kept its form but changed its meaning slightly [1].

The events taking place in 60s and 70s developed Europe into more democratic, more perfect and free one. Thanks to the favorite music-groups a great number of new words and idioms entered the English language. And the words considered to be slang yesterday, are turned to be a norm today.

Slang is most popular when its imagery develops incongruity bordering on social satire. Every slang word, however, has its own history and reasons for popularity. When conditions change, the term may change in meaning, be adopted into the standard language, or continue to be used as slang within certain enclaves of the population. Nothing is flatter than dead slang. In 1910, for instance, "Oh you kid" and "23-skiddoo" were quite stylish phrases in the U.S. but they have gone with the hobble skirt. Children, however, unaware of anachronisms, often revive old slang under a barrage of older movies rerun on television [20].

Normally, slang has both a high birth and death rate in the dominant culture, and excessive use tends to dull the luster of even the most colorful and descriptive words and phrases. The rate of turnover in slang words is undoubtedly encouraged by the mass media, and a term must be increasingly effective to survive.

Lets imagine American English as a huge city and the words its dwellers. Slang is the block for poor citizens. Americans call this block a skid row. The dwellers of these blocks leave for the more prestigious ones. Some of them make much money and turn into the successful businessmen. They are the representatives of the higher society. Just the same situation can be observed with slang. A great number of new words came to the English language. Some of the words entered the everyday use but some of them perished. In ten or fifteen years a part of these words was considered to be the literary norm but the rest left to be slang [19].

A slang expression may suddenly become widely used and as quickly die (23-skiddoo). It may become accepted as standard speech, either in its original slang meaning (bus from omnibus, skyscrapers, taxi, movies, piano, phone, pub mob, dandy) or with an altered, possibly tamed meaning (jazz, which originally had sexual connotations). Some expressions have persisted for centuries as slang (booze for alcoholic beverage). In the 20th century, mass media and rapid travel have speeded up both the circulation and the demise of slang terms. Television and novels have turned criminal cant into slang (five grand for $5000). Changing social circumstances may stimulate the spread of slang. Drug-related expressions (such as pot and marijuana) were virtually a secret jargon in the 1940s; in the 1960s they were adopted by rebellious youth; and in the 1970s and 80s they were widely known. But this must be done by those whose mother tongue is English. They and only they, being native speakers of the English language, are its masters and lawgivers. It is for them to place slang in its proper category by specifying its characteristic features.

Many words formerly labeled as slang have now become legitimate units of the Standard English. Thus, the word kid (=child), which was considered low slang in the 19th century, is now a legitimate colloquial unit of the English literary language.

It sounds unbelievable but not so long ago the words: of course, to take care, OK, to get up, lunch were considered to be slang. Lunch entered the language after World War I is not used in some books that prefer dinner to lunch.

Some books still ignore OK. This word came into use in 30s and was borrowed by the other countries of the world. OK is still avoided to be used in business letters though it appears in quite serious newspapers. It needs some time to come into business use. But the linguists treated this abbreviation to be the pure slang and avoided using it for a long time. Some dont use it nowadays. Americans consider this word to be the ordinary one. Just the same must be said about the other words and word-expressions that are treated as vulgar ones.

OK is still avoided to be used in business letters though it appears in quite serious newspapers. It needs some time to come into business use.

Such words should not be used in print till they have become so familiar that there is not the slightest temptation to dress them up in quotation marks. Though they are the most easily detected, they are also the best slang; when the time comes, they take their place in the language as words, die away uselessly after a brief popularity.

Some linguists, when characterizing the most conspicuous features of slang, point out that it requires continuous innovation. It never grows stale. If a slang word or phrase does become stale, it is replaced by a new slangizm. It is claimed that this satisfies the natural desire for fresh, newly created words and expressions, which are to be the utterances with emotional color and a subjective evaluation. Indeed, it seems to be in correspondence with the traditional view of English conservatism, that a special derogative term should have been coined to help preserve the purity of standard English by hindering the penetration into it of undesirable elements. The point is that the heterogeneous nature of the term serves as a kind of barrier, which checks the natural influx of word coinage into the literary language. True, such barriers are not without their advantage in polishing up the literary language. This can be proved by the progressive role played by any conscious effort to sift innovations, some of which are indeed felt to be unnecessary, even containing elements in the body of the language. In this respect the American newspapers may serve as an example of how the absence of such a sifting process results in the contamination of the literary tongue of the nation with ugly redundant coinages. Such a barrier, however, sometimes turns into an obstacle, which hinders the natural development of the literary language.

Thus, during various times in history, American slang has provided cowboy, blizzard, okay, racketeer, phone, gas, and movie for standard or informal speech. It has tried and finally rejected conbobberation (disturbance), krib (room or apartment), lucifer (match), tomato (girl), and fab (fabulous) from standard or informal speech. It has held other words such as bones (dice), used since the 14th century, and beat it (go away), used since the 16th century, in a permanent grasp, neither passing them on to standard or informal speech nor rejecting them from popular, long-term use.


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