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 perfectly-coifed 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 plenty of slang words, too.
What exactly are slang words? Some language experts define slang as "deliberate alternative vocabulary that sends social signals." Merriam-Webster defines slang as "very informal nonstandard vocabulary."
Language experts distinguish slang from other specialized vocabulary, such as dialects, colloquialisms, catch phrases, slogans, or jargon. More than just words with new or different meanings, slang words convey 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 was used to refer to the people who would advertise and sell goods in particular locations. Eventually, slang became the term used to describe the colorful, informal speech these salesmen used to advertise their goods.
You may have noticed that new slang words tend to pop up quite frequently. They can appear as new meanings for existing words, brand new words, or abbreviations for words. Some examples of slang words that have become popular in recent years include yolo, fleek, bae, selfie, triggered, juju, woke, and dank meme.
So where do all these new slang words come from? Language evolves steadily and constantly over time. New words and new meaning for old words come about 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: popular music, politics, and the Internet. Popular music, especially rap and hip hop, has contributed many slang words as lyricists come up with increasingly-creative ways to express themselves.
The divisiveness of politics in recent years has also given rise to numerous slang words. For better or worse, words such as snowflake, woke, and triggered have taken on new meanings 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. Whether it's the changing nature of technology itself (selfie, anyone?) or 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 infiltrate our minds and change our language more rapidly than ever before. Thanks to the popularity of the Internet and especially social media, a new slang word can pop up and be known worldwide in a matter of weeks, if not days, rather than months or years as in the past.