Some thoughts on slang


  • Jonathon Green



English language, Slang


Slang is a self-sufficient, subversive, oppositional subset of the English language. It has given a tongue, by no means inarticulate, to the marginal, the criminal and the dispossessed for at least half a millennium. But it is hard to pin down: even the etymology of the word ‘slang’ remains unsubstantiated. Perhaps inevitably it challenges concrete linguistic definition, remaining a source of argument: is it a full scale language or simply a lexis of synonymy. And what exactly constitutes a ‘slang’ word, what qualifies it for inclusion in that lexis? Whatever the ‘truth’ it remains a flourishing and endlessly self-inventive channel of communication. As a slang lexicographer of thirty years’ experience, I have come to ask another question: to what extent does any of this matter? Slang is important, slang dictionaries are important, even slang lexicographers are important. But this need to pin down, to categorise, to set in place: is it vital? Does it not run almost perversely in the face of slang’s own imperatives: to represent without compromise – through its obsessions and its relentlessly negative, cynical take on the world – a side of humanity that some, including myself, see as our most human.


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How to Cite

Green, Jonathon. 2011. “Some Thoughts on Slang”. Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina De Estudios Ingleses, no. 24 (November):153-71.