Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Katie from Warrington , PA. Katie Wonders, “Where did slang come from?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Katie!
How do you refer to those people, things, and experiences that are amazing or awesome? Are they cool? Perhaps they’re rad? In the 1980s, you might have called them bad. Today, for example, you might refer to your perfect curls as on fleek.
What do all these interesting words have in common? They’re all slang words. If you’re a kid, we’ll bet you use plenty of slang words. But guess what? Adults use them, too.
What are slang words? Some experts define them as “deliberate alternative vocabulary that sends social signals.” Merriam-Webster says slang is “very informal nonstandard vocabulary.” Slang words are more than just words with new or different meanings. They say something about the attitudes of the people, groups, and subcultures that use them.
The word “slang” has an interesting origin. It began as a dialectal word in northern England that was used to refer to territory or turf. Over time, it came to refer to the people who would advertise and sell goods in certain locations. Eventually, slang became the term used to describe the colorful, informal speech these salespeople used.
You may have noticed that new slang words tend to pop up quite often. They can appear as new meanings for existing words, brand new words, or abbreviations for words. Can you think of any recent examples? If you’ve ever said yolo, fleek, bae, selfie, juju, woke, or dank meme, you’ve used slang!
So where do all these new slang words come from? Language grows and changes over time. New words and new meanings for old words come about all the time. This happens as people seek to express themselves in new, creative ways. Slang allows people to be funny, clever, different, shocking, friendly, or even secretive.
Over the past couple of decades, many slang words have come from three specific sources. These are popular music, politics, and the Internet. Popular music, especially rap and hip hop, has led to many slang words. Lyricists contribute by coming up with more creative ways to express themselves.
Politics has also given rise to numerous slang words. In large part, this is due to how divided people seem to be over major issues. For better or worse, words such as snowflake, woke, and triggered have taken on new meanings. Often, this is thanks to constant bickering before, during, and after election cycles.
Perhaps the biggest source of slang words, however, is the Internet. In today’s electronic age, that fact should surprise no one. Sometimes, this happens due to the changing nature of technology itself (selfie, anyone?). Other times, it’s a quickly-changing trend (yolo—you only live once!). The Internet inspires more new slang words than anything else.
But the Internet isn’t just the source of new slang words. It also helps those words to enter our minds and change our language more rapidly than ever before. The Internet and social media can help a new slang word pop up and be known worldwide in a matter of weeks, if not days.
What kind of slang do you use? When you think about it, you might realize many of these words come out when you speak. Spend some time today comparing the slang you use with words the adults you know used at your age.
Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.4