Slang, One of the Subcultures in Society (2)

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. Diffusion of slang

As everyone knows, language acts as a tool of communication applied widely by mass media. To be an active thing, slang diffuses in every place. Its hands have reached out to every country and region, every career and profession. In many forms of dissemination, slang is like a magician invading into the dominant culture with his wizardries.

Slang invades the dominant culture as it seeps out of various subcultures. Before the appearance of mass media, such terms invaded the dominant culture slowly and were transmitted largely by oral. Today, with the development of the technology, 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 "flyaway" was first used largely to indicate something loose and flowing because of unconfined fullness at the back, and it also had another meaning of being an aircraft that is ready to fly. Later, because of reports of NBA (American National Basketball Association) action, it is widely used for describing the excellent motion of a basketball superstar Michael Jordan, and now the term has become a popular words in basketball sport.

When subcultures are structurally tight, little of their language leaks out. Thus the Mafia, in more than a half-century of powerful criminal activity in America, has contributed little slang. When subcultures weaken, contacts with the dominant culture multiply, diffusion occurs, and their language appears widely as slang, such as argot or cant. Criminal narcotic addicts, for example, had a tight subculture and a highly secret argot in the 1940s. Now middle-class teenagers, even those with no real knowledge of drugs, use their terms freely. Slang spreads through many other channels, such as popular songs. Take "a dear John letter" (a letter for breaking off relations) for example, the slang expression came from a song, and the words of the song told a story that a girl was saying goodbye to his boy friend John.

.Use of slang

Now, slang has taken its roots over the world, like a big tree standing in a forest. Slang is used for many purposes, but generally it expresses a certain emotional attitude. The same term may express completely varied attitudes when used by different people. For example, the term doll is very typical to the slang usage. The phrase A Barbie doll is used for describing a person who is stupid, but another phrase a baby doll means a pretty girl. Slang sometimes would insult or shock others when used directly; some terms euphemize a sensitive concept, though obvious or excessive euphemism may break the taboo more effectively than a less decorous term. Some slang words are essential because there are no words in the standard language expressing exactly the same meaning, for example, freak-out, barn-storm, rubberneck, and creep. At the other extreme, multitudes of words, vague in meaning, are used simply as fads.
There are many other usages which slang is put to, according to the individual and his place in society. Most slang expressions are used in spoken level, but persons probably are unaware that it is slang. The choice of terms naturally follows a multiplicity of unconscious thought patterns. When writers use the slang expressions, slang is chosen much more consciously and carefully to achieve a specific effect. Writers, however, seldom invent slang. It has been claimed that slang is created by ingenious individuals to freshen the language, to vitalize it, to make the language more pungent and picturesque, to increase the store of terse and striking words, or to provide a vocabulary for new shades of meaning. Most of the slang originators, however, are probably not conscious of these noble purposes and do not seem extremely concerned about what happens to their language.

. Attitudes toward slang

With the rise of naturalistic writing demanding realism, slang began to creep into literatures, but oppositions have been confronting. The important reason is that some of slang comes form other subcultures, such as underworld, criminal groups, narcotic addicts and prostitution. Most of them are very vulgar and coarse. So in some formal occasions, slang is refused and seldom drawn into. Then the schools waged warfare against it, the pulpit thundered against it, and many women, who aspired to gentility and refinement, banished it from the home. Furthermore, some formal types of literatures certainly refused slang expressions. Take research paper writing for example, it has to be a formal style.

But many people still accept slang. By 1925 a whole new generation of United States and European naturalistic writers was in revolt against the Victorian restraints that had caused even Mark Twain to complain. Today any writer may use slang freely, especially in fiction and drama. It has become an indispensable tool in the hands of master satirists, humorists, and journalists. Not only just because it is slang but also because, when used with skill and discrimination, it adds a new and exciting dimension to language. At the same time, linguists and other social scientists are seriously studying it as a revealing index to the culture that produces and uses it. As everyone knows, slang is now socially acceptable. Especially in some countries, slang is widely used. In the United States slang is so rich and varied that collectors have as yet only scratched the surface. A dictionary (written by Harold Wentworth and Stuart B.Flexner) named Dictionary of American Slang t can prove that the slang is a very popular language expression in the United States. Today slang does continue its vitality, and update slang expressions come in everyday, for many people support it and approach it.

. Role of slang

A famous linguist, Doctor Walter Chapman pointed out that the linguistics was like a king of the world, and slang was more like a jester entering into the magnificent imperial palace, making an excellent performance in front of the king for a solemn ceremony. In Walter's words, it was obvious that slang had jumped out of the restriction to be a special one. Undoubtedly, slang has been acting as an important role thought the long river of the human history. During the long history, slang itself becomes an active and indispensable language. More over, slang is the most active part of the language and it concluded large quantity of information of culture in our society. Thus, the most primary role is that slang will act as a transportation of information. As we know, slang expression is a vivid form of language. Slang not only has its strong vitality but also includes much information of different cultures. Foreign culture, like United Kingdoms or U.S., usually prefer to use slang, especially in some newspaper or magazines such as Times, New York Times, Thames and so on. In order to understand the content of the publication, learning more slang seems very necessary to the language learner. Thus, by way of learning slang, people in the world can study and comprehend more subcultures. So, learning slang will enlarge the knowledge and cultural background of cultures. It is obvious that slang itself has much practicality.


As everyone knows, sometimes the slang expressions are so complex that anybody cannot grasp it. A foreigner probably can use his native slang easily to express in his country but not in other countries. A medicine student might be able to list all the technical slang terms in medicine but not in other fields of special study. Thus, for an American English major who has been studying English for a long time, it is impossible to him to master the American slang. It seems very disappointed. But actually not, it is a truth that nobody can finish drinking all the water of a whole sea. Now just imagine, when a foreigner spits a misunderstanding slang expression out, which he or she regards as a splendid expression. It might be embarrassed and puzzled, then what can be done and how to deal with it? Nevertheless, just say, "Sorry, I'm in the dark (be not sure), can you make it please?" In fact, it is lucky to everyone to learn a new slang expression more. Undoubtedly, it is a good thing. So, make slang our food, digest it and burn it. Only in this way, people can completely make use of slang to serve for the human society.

In a word, slang is a significant part of linguistics and an important part of culture. With the development of civilization, more and more slang expressions are appearing while some slang expressions are disappearing. And slang itself has come to form its system, existing in the dominant culture. And it deeply takes its roots and becomes a subculture in human society. Undoubtedly, it is very close to our day life. So it is necessary for us to concern about slang. And slang is the thing that we have to confront and keep in touch with.


Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Slang. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 1994-2000.

Li Beida. trans. Oxford Advanced Learner's English-Chinese Dictionary. By A S Hornby. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Wang Fuxiang and Wu Jinpei. 500 English Slang Expressions in Current Use. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2000.

Zheng Rongcheng and others. trans. Longman Dictionary of American English. By Arley Gray, Della Summers. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 1992.

Zhang Qing. Selected Wisecracks and Witticism. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2000.

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This article is written by Carey- caijiapeng 2001/05/06, thanks for watching.