38 What About the Use of Slang?

While language is intended to create a standardized, common speech that all members of society can understand, it is also frequently unique, creative, and full of idiosyncrasies. The use of language as creative expression is easily understood in children who often create their own languages “for the fun of it. ” Anyone remember “pig Latin? ” However, the need to be different and separate doesn’t disappear as children grow up.

Think about the prevalent use of slang in countries around the world. Slang might be described as a specialized language whose primary purpose is to keep talk private; only insiders know enough of the language to successfully encode or decode the message. According to Tom Dalzell, a slang expert and author of several books on the subject, “When slang is used, there is a subtext to the primary message. That subtext speaks to the speaker’s and listeners’ membership in the same ‘tribe.’ Because ‘tribe’ identity is so important, slang as a powerful and graphic manifestation of that identity’s benefits. ” In a 2004 interview with Vivian Goodman linguist Tony Thorne agreed, “Slang is very much a badge of identity. A whole part of adolescence is the playing with identity, creating your own identity. The way they stand, the kind of gestures they have, the kind of hairstyles . . . These are all signs and symbols, and in a sense slang is just one of those. ”

You may feel comfortable speaking to your friends or coworkers using the latest terms; however, it is important for the public speaker to limit her/his use of slang. While you may have an informal style and/or topic, remember that not all members of an audience are privy to the meaning behind the words. Certainly, some slang terms have become so commonplace that these terms have now become a part of the mainstream culture. But slang comes and goes quickly. While just about everyone probably knows what a “BFF ” is, how many people are still using that term on a regular basis? It has already been pushed aside for something new that’s the nature of creative expression. There is always something new around the corner.


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