Slang [origin  unknown]   —  language peculiar to a particular group: as a: the special  and  often secret vocabulary used by a class (as thieves, beggars) and usu. felt to be vulgar or inferior: argot; b: the jargon used by or associated with a particular trade, profession, or field of activity; 2: a non-standard vocabulary composed of words and senses characterized primarily by connotations of extreme informality and usu. a currency not limited to a particular region and composed typically of coinages or arbitrarily changed words, clipped or shortened forms, extravagant, forced or facetious figures of speech, or verbal novelties usu. experiencing quick popularity and relatively rapid decline into disuse.

— words or expressions that are very informal and are not considered suitable for more formal situations. Some slang is used only by a particular group of people (Macmillan). [1]

«Slang… is a peculiar kind of vagabond language, always hanging on the outskirts of legitimate speech but continually straying or forcing its way into the most respectable company.»Another definition of slang which is worth quoting is one made by Eric Partridge, the eminent student of the non-literary language.

«Slang is much rather a spoken than a literary language. It originates, nearly always, in speech. To coin a term on a written page is almost inevitably to brand it as a neologism which will either be accepted or become a nonce-word (or phrase), but, except in the rarest instances, that term will not be slang.»In most of the dictionaries sl. (slang) is used as convenient stylistic notation for a word or a phrase that cannot be specified more exactly. The obscure etymology of the term itself affects its use as a stylistic notation. Whenever the notation appears in a dictionary it may serve as an indication that the unit presented is non-literary, but not pinpointed. That is the reason why the various dictionaries disagree in the use of this term when applied as a stylistic notation.Any new coinage that has not gained recognition and therefore has not yet been received into standard English is easily branded as slang.[5]

This quotation from a well-known scientific study of slang clearly shows that what is labelled slang is either all kinds of nonce-formations—so frequently appearing in lively everyday speech and just as quickly disappearing from the language—, or jocular words and word combinations that are formed by using the various means of word-building existing in the language and also by distorting the form or sense of existing words. Here are some more examples of words that are considered slang:

to take stock in—’to be interested in, attach importance, give credence to’

bread-basket—’the stomach’ (a jocular use)

to do a flit— ‘to quit one’s flat or lodgings at night without paying the rent or board’


the cat’s pyjamas—’the correct thing’

So broad is the term ‘slang’ that, according to Eric Partridge, there are many kinds of slang, e. g. Cockney, public-house, commercial, society, military, theatrical, parliamentary and others. This leads the author to believe that there is also a standard slang, the slang that is common to all those who, though employing received standard in their writing and speech, also use an informal language which, in fact, is no language but merely a way of speaking, using special words and phrases in some special sense. The most confusing definition of the nature of slang is the following one given by Partridge.

«…personality and one’s surroundings (social or occupational) are the two co-efficient, the two chief factors, the determining causes of the nature of slang, as they are of language in general and of style.»

Slang words, used by most speakers in very informal communication, are highly emotive and expressive and as such, lose their originality rather fast and are replaced by newer formations. This tendency to synonymic expansion results in long chains of synonyms of various degrees of expressiveness, denoting one and the same concept. So, the idea of a «pretty girl» is worded by more than one hundred ways in slang.

In only one novel by S. Lewis   there are close to a dozen synonyms used by Babbitt, the central character, in reference to a girl: «cookie», «tomato», «Jane», «sugar», «bird», «cutie», etc.

Jargonism is a recognized term for a group of words that exists in almost every language and whose aim is to preserve secrecy within one or another social group. Jargonisms are generally old words with entirely new meanings imposed on them. Most of the jargonisms of any language, and of the English language too, are absolutely incomprehensible to those outside the social group which has invented them. They may be defined as a code within a code, that is special meanings of words that are imposed on the recognized code—the dictionary meaning of the words.[2]

Thus the word grease means ‘money’; loaf means ‘head’; a tiger hunter is ‘a gambler’; a lexer is ‘a student preparing for a law course’.

Jargonisms are social in character. They are not regional. In Britain and in the US almost any social group of people has its own jargon. The following jargons are well known in the English language: the jargon of thieves and vagabonds, generally known as cant; the jargon of jazz people; the jargon of the army, known as military slang; the jargon of sportsmen, and many others.

Jargonisms, like slang and other groups of the non-literary layer, do not always remain on the outskirts of the literary language. Many words have overcome the resistance of the language lawgivers and purists and entered the standard vocabulary. Thus the words kid, fun, queer, bluff, fib, humbug, formerly slang words or jargonisms, are now considered common colloquial. They may be said to be dejargonized.

In the non-literary vocabulary of the English language there is a group of words that are called jargonisms. Jargon is a recognized term for a group of words that exists in almost every language and whose aim is to preserve secrecy within one or another social group. Jargonisms are generally old words with entirely new meanings imposed on them. The traditional meaning of the words is immaterial, only the new, improvised meaning is of importance. Most of the jargonisms of any language, and of the English language too, are absolutely incomprehensible to those outside the social group which has invented them. They may be defined as a code within a code, that is special meanings of words that are imposed on the recognized code—the dictionary meaning of the words.

  Slang is the informal use of words that are not considered standard in the speaker’s language. Typically, slang is used in social situations among peers in the same culture/subculture.

Examples of Hipster subculture slang

  • Bronson- beer
  • Cronkite- boy
  • Frado- an ugly guy who thinks he’s good looking
  • Bust a moby- todance

Jargon, on the other hand, is technical vocabulary that is used among people in similar professions or fields. You should only use jargon in your writing if your audience is part of that profession and is familiar with the term.

  • ​CADDComputer aided drafting and design
  • QFD- QualityFunctionDeployment
  • Stochastic- statisticallyrandomvariation

Colloquial language and slang overlap to a certain extent. Both are informal, and are more common in spoken than in written language. You might use either when speaking or writing to a friend; when speaking to a person in authority or writing to an acquaintance you might use colloquial language but avoid slang, and you would not use either in a formal letter or report.The difference between them lies mainly in who uses them, and why. Colloquial language of informal everyday speech, and its words and phrases will be know and used naturally by most people having the language as their mother tongue. Slang is more often used consciously in particular circumstances or within a restricted group. Each generation of teenagers makes up its own slang and uses it as a private language. Most trades and professions have their own slang words, often shorter and simpler words for technical terms, which are used partly for convenience and partly to show that the speaker is «in the trade» and «in the know». Slang can be quite vivid and picturesque, and may be used in fun or to shock. It can also be used to show that the user is speaking informally; that he or she feels at ease or is trying to put the listener at ease. Colloquial terms tend to stay in the language for a long time and to be fairly stable. Slang, on the other hand, may die or fairly quickly or may escape from restricted usage and be accepted into colloquial or standard English; clever, fun, and mob were all once regarded as slang. (This is less true of professional slang, where the ‘in’ group is stable although individual members of it come and go.)

Jargon refers to the language of a trade or profession, which may include the slang, used inappropriately. Technical language is perfectly all right when used between those who do not or cannot be expected to understand it, or when it seems to be used merely to impress rather than to communicate. Jargon can be used deliberately to gull the lay person, but is often the result of experts forgetting that their terminology needs explaining; computer instruction manuals are notorious examples.

The various jargons (which in fact are nothing but a definite group of words) remain a foreign language to the outsiders of any particular social group. It is interesting in connection with this to quote a stanza from «Don Juan» by Byron where the poet himself finds it necessary to comment on the jargonisms he has used for definite stylistic purposes.


«He from the world had cut off a great man,

Who in his time had made heroic bustle.

Who in a row like Tom could lead the van,

Booze in the ken 1 or at the spellken 2 hustle?

Who queer a flat 3? Who (spite of Bow street’s ban)

On the high toby-spice 4 so flash the muzzle?

Who on a lark 5, with black-eyed Sal (his blowing) 6

So prime, so swell 7, so nutty 8, and so knowing?»


The explanation of the words used here was made by Byron’s editor because they were all jargonisms in Byron’s time and no one would understand their meaning unless they were explained in normal English.

Byron wrote the following ironic comment to this stanza:

«The advance of science and of language has rendered it unnecessary to translate the above good and true English, spoken in its original purity by the select nobility and their patrons. The following is a stanza of a song which was very popular, at least in my early days:-

1 ken = a house which harbours thieves

2 spellken = a play-house or theatre

3 to queer a flat = to puzzle a silly fellow

4 to flash the muzzle (gun) on the high toby-spice = to rob on horse back

5 a lark = fun or sport of any kind

6 a blowing = a girl

7 swell = gentlemanly

8 nutty = pleasing (to be nuts on = to be infatuated with)

«On the high toby-spice flash the muzzle,

In spite of each gallows old scout;

If you at all spellken can’t hustle,

You’ll be hobbled in making a Clout.

Then your Blowing will wax gallows haughty,

When she hears of your scaly mistake,

She’ll surely turn snitch for the forty—

That her Jack may be regular weight.»


If there be any gemman (=gentleman) so ignorant as to require a traduction, I refer him to my old friend and corporeal pastor and master, John Jackson, Esq., Professor of pugilism; who, I trust, still retains the strength and symmetry of his model of a form, together with his good humour and athletic as well as mental accomplishments.» (John Murray. «The Poetical Works of Lord Byron»)

Slang, contrary to jargon, needs no translation. It is not a secret code. It is easily understood by the English-speaking community and is only regarded as something not quite regular. It must also be remembered that both jargon and slang differ from ordinary language mainly in their vocabularies. The structure of the sentences and the morphology of the language remain practically unchanged. But such is the power of words, which are the basic and most conspicuous element in the language, that we begin unwittingly to speak of a separate language.

Jargonisms do not always remain the possession of a given social ‘group. Some of them migrate into other social strata and sometimes become recognized in the literary language of the nation. G. H. McKnight writes:

«The language of the underworld provided words facetiously adopted by the fashionable world, many of which, such as fan and queer andbanter and bluff and sham and humbug, eventually made their way into dignified use.» There are hundreds of words, once jargonisms or slang, which have become legitimate members of the English literary language.

Jargonisms have their definite place of abode and are therefore easily classified according to the social divisions of the given period. Almost any calling has its own jargon, i.e. its set of words with which its members intersperse their speech and render it incomprehensible to outsiders. Some linguists even maintain that:

«Within the limits of any linguistic unity there are as many languages as there are groups of people thrown together by propinquity and common interests.»

This is, of course, an overstatement. First of all, one should not mix up such notions as language and vocabulary. True, unknown words and phrases, if too many, may render speech unintelligible. But this fact does not raise speech to the level of a different language.

«American slang,» remarks G. H. McKnight, «on the whole remains a foreign language to the Englishman. American plays such as «Is zat so» and American novels such as «Babbitt» have had to be provided with glossaries in order to be intelligible in England. John Galsworthy in his recent novel «The Silver Spoon» makes a naturalistic use of colloquial idiom. He exhibits the rich element of native slang in the colloquial speech of England.»

Some linguists make a distinction between slangisms (slang words) and colloquialisms. According to Ghil’adZuckermann, «slang refers to informal (and often transient) lexical items used by a specific social group, for instance teenagers, soldiers, prisoners and thieves. Slang is not the same as colloquial (speech), which is informal, relaxed speech used on occasion by any speaker; this might include contractions such as ‘you’re,’ as well as colloquialisms. A colloquialism is a lexical item used in informal speech; whilst the broadest sense of the term ‘colloquialism’ might include slangism, its narrow sense does not. Slangisms are often used in colloquial speech but not all colloquialisms are slangisms. One method of distinguishing between a slangism and a colloquialism is to ask whether most native speakers know the word (and use it); if they do, it is a colloquialism. However, the problem is that this is not a discrete, quantized system but a continuum. Although the majority of slangisms are ephemeral and often supplanted by new ones, some gain non-slang colloquial status.