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THE PEOPLE’S POETRY
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Preface
“what it is?”: the essentials of slang
Mongo
—Slang by De
nition—Language of Purpose versus Language
Slayer Slang: A “Bu
y the Vampire Slayer” Lexicon
Journal of English Linguistics
(March 2005), Susan Tamasi wrote,
“As a linguist, I have one criticism. . . . I never found an actual de
nition of the
, even though other linguistic terms were de
ned and slang was
often compared to other categories, such as ‘jargon’ and ‘standard American
English.’ ” I thought I knew enough about slang to write that book, concerned as
it was with those aspects of slang especially well illustrated in
y the Vampire
Slayer
yverse. After all, even if there’s lots of slang in the universe of
yverse is a relatively small verse and more easily navigated.
Or so I thought. I soon learned that slang was both more interesting and
more complex than I had realized, and that an adequate understanding of it
would demand investigation far beyond the boundaries of slayer slang. Is slang
merely a swath of English vocabulary, best understood in contrast with other
types of words and phrases? Or is it the currency with which we negotiate our
social identities? Or is it, quite impressively really, a more or less impromptu
preface
compatible with one another. After reading Tamasi’s review, however, I decided
nition, we needed a thorough inquiry into the very
nature and purposes of slang.
Slang is always with us, reinvented by each new generation, so surely, you
imagine, such a treatise has already been written. Eric Partridge’s
Slang: To-Day
and Yesterday
(1933) tried to be that book but fell short, though it was popular
for decades. Partridge devoted a whopping thirty-six pages (of 476) to what he
preface
erent from all of the
works mentioned above. My range of interests is considerably wider, comprising
preface
with this clarity, but copious examples of slang ripped from today’s Web pages
and plagiarized from conversations goes a long way to telling slang’s story, con-
cantly to the book’s interest and value, both to scholars and to
other readers interested in the depths and heights to which language takes us.
In chapter 1, “ ‘What It Is?’ The Essentials of Slang,” I consider where slang
ts into the English lexicon. What types of words are slang? What qualities dis-
tinguish slang from words of other types? Are slang terms necessarily synonyms
for standard words? How have scholars di
erentiated slang from other language,
practices as slang, as opposed, say, to jargon (like the restaurant server’s
the stamp collector’s
hammered down
), argot (like
Sweeney
Todd
preface
Not all slang is here today and gone tomorrow, for various social reasons ex-
plored in chapter 1. School slang, for instance, is part of a school’s tradition, and
this chapter looks at examples from English public schools with centuries of tra-
commoners
at Winchester sit at their
some accounts into the thirties). Even oldsters who aren’t hipsters still occa-
preface
the complex relations among recognizing what count as markers of inclusion
and exclusion from social groups, behaving like others in order to
t in (or some-
times deliberately to not
t in), and evaluating others in terms of the style they
demonstrate in their everyday social interactions. Of course, “style” includes
what we wear, what we do with our hair, and how we walk, as well as how we
uid and profoundly contex-
ed. It’s amazing (though
preface
play and other structurally and anthropologically interesting aspects of
language, such as indirection, which is best characterized as a spectrum from
preface
references at the end of chapters to make reading easier and more pleasurable,
because less interrupted. Scholars who want to know the page number on
which quoted material occurs will have to locate it among the references, where
sources of everything quoted and cited can be found. I hope that it won’t, but the
book’s style may put o
the scholarly reader. I have tried to write clearly, with
a sense of humor. I believe that one can take a subject seriously and enjoy one-
self at the same time, and I hope that what’s sauce for the author is sauce for the
reader. Anyway, surely it would miss the point to write a stu
y book about slang.
I have a tendency to practice books aloud while I’m writing them, to the incon-
venience of students and other friends. Thus I must apologize to the many stu-
preface
My wife, Jennifer, hasn’t read every draft of every chapter (that would be
patiently, helpfully, kindly. After all is said and done, I may not be smart enough
to understand slang, but at least I was smart enough to marry her. I wrote this
book, but, for all that she’s given me, it belongs to her.
MAY
“WHAT IT IS?”
If I were to say to you right now, “Dude, I know where we can score some phat
mongo,” what would you do? Would you call the police? Would you come along
to see what I meant by
? Would you look up
(for the drum) entered American English in about 1920 from American
is the name of a country in Africa and entered English around the year 1800.
Pongo
ed from a Congolese word, once referred in English to various species
of great ape, later to marines and soldiers, and later still, by Australians and New
Zealanders, to Englishmen. P. G. Wodehouse named one of his characters Reginald
cient to distinguish two words, it isn’t necessary: homophones, like
here
“what it is?”
liation’; -
shipper
‘person who focuses on the romantic relationships within a story, espe-
cially a television series or motion picture’. If you’ve wondered why some people
are addicted word-watchers, now you know: the words don’t stay new for long.
2 The big players are J. E. Lighter’s monumental
Historical Dictionary of American Slang
(1994–), of which two volumes have been published; Tom Dalzell and Terry Victor’s
New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
(2 volumes, 2006), and Jona-
Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
aries underlie much of this book, and I will refer to them constantly. If you really enjoy
slang, you should own copies of them. But don’t pick one of them up just before an ap-
pointment, or you’ll be late.
Perhaps
is merely colloquial rather than slang. But, then, how do you
I suggested that, in assigning labels, we should take sources into account, as
well as the attitudes of those sources toward the words in question. For instance,
appeared regularly in newspapers of record and was registered
in dictionaries as Standard English, I was inclined to hear it as slang. Though the
Manchester Guardian Weekly
ing to accept it as standard, because the quotation illustrating the word was one
“what it is?”
in his book: “Some [collectors of sidewalk
trash] also have a word for what they
nd, a word that is suitably playful and
vague. It could be French, Chinese, or even African, but it is, quite appropriately,
American slang, concocted in New York for any discarded item that is picked up,
are told, “ were a very notorious couple of cats” and “ were highly e
cient cat-burglars
as well.” They didn’t salvage discarded items, however, but were “remarkably smart at a
smash-and-grab,” and we can assume that people still wanted what they stole.
Mongo
appears to predate
Mungojerrie
6
mongo
“what it is?”
Maybe. Most of us prefer cars with painted hoods, and, as I argue in this book,
slang is less surfacey than many linguists suppose; it may be an integral part of
the language machine. In any event, slang matters to us, and this book attempts
to explain why.
SLANG BY DEFINITION
Native speakers of American English recognize American slang more or less au-
tomatically: the brain sorts and labels much more e
ciently than any lexicogra-
pher. We know slang when we hear it, and we know how to deploy slang in our
a particular group of people, often deliberately created and used to exclude people
outside the group.
American Heritage College Dictionary,
A kind of language esp. oc-
curring in casual and playful speech, usu. made up of short-lived coinages and
gures of speech deliberately used in place of standard terms for e
ects such as
raciness, humor, or irreverence.
Language peculiar to a group; argot or jargon.
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary,
language peculiar to a par-
jargon
posed typically of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant, forced, or
“what it is?”
Choosing among these supposed synonyms is itself an exercise in jargon,
the jargon of linguists and historians of English. Though the arguments over ter-
minology may sound as incomprehensible as a parliament of fowls, attempts to
pin one term to one phenomenon are meant to clear things up. Certainly there’s
Oxford English Dictionary
“applied contemptuously to any mode of speech abounding in unfamiliar terms,
10
“what it is?”
triple play, triple crown
engaged in sex with three men simultaneously — oral, vaginal, and anal.” A bashful Epis-
copalian boy, I depend on books for the vocabulary of acrobatic sex. There’s a lot out
12
n
1
“what it is?”
nitions of slang agreed in the essential elements:
slang is casual, playful, racy, irreverent, or playful language that outlines social
in-groups. But note that the Merriam-Webster de
nition characterizes slang
quite di
erently: in slang, words are changed “arbitrarily,” and what sounds
playful to one listener sounds “forced” to another, the irreverent becomes “fa-
nitions quoted above also disagree about the stamina of lexical items
we consider slang. Are they ephemeral, or do they persist in the vocabulary?
And if they survive, do they survive as slang, or do they “ascend” from slang to
colloquial English, relatively informal English that isn’t invested in
tting in
Merriam-
Webster Collegiate Dictionary
New Oxford American Dictionary
American Heritage College Dictionary
Encarta World English Dictionary
characterize slang as “short-lived.” But as
were slang, at least when they started out. Rather than merely listing them here,
19201930194019501960197019801990
annihilated
blasted
fucked up
polluted
shit-faced
snockered
stoned
wasted
whacked / whacked out
wrecked
Several of these terms illustrate various essentials of slang, as proposed by the
nitions. You may disagree, but I think that
is racy,
deliberately casual, euphemistic successor to
way, playful and vivid. (Its way is convoluted: it derives from the once popular
and ubiquitous circus sideshow “The Wild Man of Borneo,” so it is vivid if you
“what it is?”
can imagine the wildness and playful when you realize that someone who has
is a sideshow to an evening’s entertainment.)
But the chronology is especially interesting: once most terms start, even
bent
Indeed, within generations several slang synonyms jostle one another for
attention and use. No generation
more words to mean ‘drunk’, if by
you mean that there’s a lexical gap that needs to be
nely calibrated to
when you are talking to your parents, another when you are describing
“what it is?”
the restaurant and its automated ordering and inventory system uses to identify
the human employee who tends the blender. Blending frozen drinks for eight
hours isn’t a pleasure, exactly; the humor conveyed in jargon compensates some
for the numbing boredom of the work. A term like
amateur diner
servers for the customers who eat out once a year, perhaps on Mother’s Day, and
who aren’t sure what the menu items are or how to order them e
ectively. Cus-
tomers provide servers with most of their income; one might think that they de-
serve some respect.
Amateur diner
, you’ll note, is a little irreverent.
If both slang and jargon are playful and irreverent and casual, then why
a group with a shared interest but not a shared purpose. It’s a language of
being, not of vocation or avocation. As I said before,
You’re not supposed to know about
amateur diner
camper
because you sit too long at your table without
ordering anything. To make money, a server needs to
deuces
deuce
seats two. Four people
covers
“what it is?”
table too long’, and ‘unbelievably busy’, respectively) and so resemble slang,
well, I suppose they do resemble slang. But the social circumstances that
provoke jargon are di
erent from those that provoke slang: in jargon, there’s
Jargon is not exclusively the language of work; it is also the language of
serious play. Sports and hobbies and activities with equipment, rules, strate-
gies, and traditions have jargons. Stamp collecting, for instance, has jargon;
nd out about it at the Collectors Club of Chicago’s philatelic refer-
ence site, AskPhil. A
is apparently a “duplex cancel used in
England and Wales, named from the oval shape of the duplex portion.” A term
like
will not come up in general conversation — it’s technical.
And it belongs to a vast technical vocabulary: every stamp that’s used on mail
erent cancellations in every country with
a postal service at this moment, not to mention throughout the worldwide his-
“what it is?”
being, and people don’t hang with friends and discuss philately unless they’re
all stamp collectors, and then they are talking with a shared purpose, namely,
collecting stamps. Collecting stamps is very, very di
erent from serving food in
restaurants. But each activity has a purpose and a purposeful lexicon that helps
to achieve it.
Jargon turns up in every corner of American life, and even those familiar with
the ways of words can be taken by surprise. I followed snowboarding for a while
freestylers
carving powder
that would spray up into the mountain sun. It was all so graceful
and exciting that I didn’t think much about snowboarding jargon, even though
half-pipe
overall
length and you’ll have the e
ective edge. In
touching the snow.
Boarders give names to important features of their equipment, and here the
authors are conscious that a word like
belongs to the jargon, so they itali-
cize it, to warn the uninitiated. They don’t bother to italicize
tail shovels
to remember what’s special vocabulary and what’s not.
But the unitalicized term of most interest is
ective edge.
Is it a “thing,” like
tail shovel
, or is it a “concept”? I opt for both (why make it easy?): every board’s
ective edge can be measured and physically touches snow, but
ective edge
an abstract category of length and surface, like the ones you encountered in ge-
“what it is?”
ective edge. Snowboarders may act like slackers, but they are pulling the wool
24
sh
“what it is?”
up with their jargon, and it’s hard for stamp collectors to distinguish one from
the other. Chris Daniele’s comments in the magazine
SnowboarderGirl
illustrate the point (jargon in italics, slang in boldface):
No
in the history of snowboarding has inspired as much
. For those who don’t understand, allow me to explain: a
Indy
company, and jargon helps it serve a high volume of
senders
cessfully day after day. To manage that volume, UPS consolidates shipments to
ones don’t undergo repeated sorting. The order to follow this procedure is
by-
UPS slang is similarly clinical, pared to the
communicative essentials. It’s a language of
at, handed down in a stylebook so
that everyone “agrees” about how to address the work of UPS in o
cial speech.
general use, not unique to UPS, especially those related to computers or orga-
, but most by far have been
invented by and imposed on UPSers. On one hand, this makes sense (though
I am far from presuming that I know how to run corporate operations for UPS),
‘destination loads created for loading in hub operations’ means
the same thing to all UPS employees worldwide and is the reliable term. I don’t
know what that means, but I don’t need to know. And fundamentally, there is no
“what it is?”
to accomplish any manual task according to the conditions under which it is
performed,” because they’re just taking one for the team.
cult to follow UPSers around (for instance, you’d need spe-
cial permission to ride in one of those brown trucks), but if you did, I am sure
ciency and e
ectiveness. I suspect
cial UPS jargon resembles restaurant jargon more than it resembles
cial alternative. Some of it would be directed at the o
cial jargon and the
corporate attitudes re
ected in it. Work is social, and the language of work must
serve social purposes on “natural” terms, originating with workers rather than a
cial UPS jargon? The answer is easy: fringe ben-
ts. Save extreme sports for the weekend and you can play with language
pay the hospital bills.
Though you can map the correspondence of any item of the server’s lexicon
to some aspect of restaurant work, though you can distinguish snowboarding
cial UPS jargon is plainly jargon
and not slang, there are still problems of de
ning one relative to the other. For
instance, when Pamela Munro and her colleagues compiled
a wonderful dictionary of UCLA student slanguage, they noted:
A category of words that is often confused with slang is jargon: the specialized vo-
cabulary of a particular group. While words which begin as jargon (in California,
Notions are nothing if not playful, in just the way that slang spoken by students
“what it is?”
personal property were kept.”
looks like an irreverent nonstandard syn-
Still, Winchester Notions are institutional, and only a certain degree of ir-
reverence is permitted within institutionally approved grounds. The “level,”
slang or jargon, of Winchester Notions is confused because the social struc-
became more important to students at Winchester when they needed to assert
an in-group identity more forcibly, as a sort of countero
ensive to the hostility
they felt directed at them and the school. Notions had always
gured as com-
munity slang, but when Wykehamists considered themselves an in-group
of self-contained or isolated identity, rather than an identi
able group that
uidly with the world at large, their language re
ected the new rigidity
of purpose and began to seem more like jargon than slang, without quite being
one or the other.
The potential confusion (or interfusion) of slang and jargon is typical of
schools. At Duke University, students undergo an arduous ritual in order to ob-
“what it is?”
LOWDOWN, OR POETRY ON THE DOWN LOW?
Slang has a bad reputation. Teachers and parents tell you not to use it because
it leaves an impression of you that they think you don’t want to leave. If the
term
“what it is?”
dealt heavily, if not exclusively, with the slang and cant of criminals and lowlifes, and
patrons of sins.
than it seems at
but it’s harder to be low than it used to be. Sledd does not insist, however, that the
ection that leads to slang be criminal; the inevitable disa
ection of youth
cient. And surely every one of us denies allegiance to the existing order
now and then, at least jokingly, even if she stops short of joining the revolution.
Every one of us is convinced, rightly or wrongly, that she is one of the outs, with
a grudge against the ins that she can only exercise socially in slang, the patch-
work jeans she wears, the alt rock she listens to, the pork rinds she eats. Surely,
at some level, all Americans must dislike gentility — gentility is undemocratic.
Even church ladies acknowledge this on occasion, when they eat fried chicken at
ngers.
J. E. Lighter, who knows as much about slang as anybody (and there are sev-
eral Anglo-American scholars who know quite a lot), elegantly pares Sledd’s
somewhat polemical comment to its essentials:
Slang deviates stylistically from other sorts of English; its hallmark is its undigni-
“what it is?”
it, after which one rogue might say to the other
What was Oliver’s horror and alarm as he stood a few paces o
, looking on with his
eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand
“what it is?”
Flying Squad’s despair” ), and
(the name of a potato and cab-
bage dish) stands in for ‘beak’ (which in turn stands in for ‘magistrate’). You
see how it works: the rhyming phrase need have nothing to do in substance
38
“what it is?”
New Yorker
disguise from the ’rents, just ask a friend to invite
Harry Hill
to the club —
Hill
to rhyme with
, referring simultaneously to Henry Hill, the coked-up
mobster antihero of Martin Scorsese’s
Unless you knew that they all somehow referred to MDMA, you would not
otherwise associate most of the terms in this list with one another; they rep-
“what it is?”
should, the wafer that blows your mind, analogous to the “wafer-thin mint”
that blows out Mr. Creosote’s stomach in Monty Python’s
The Meaning of Life
(1983); or it may be an irreverent allusion to the communion wafer and the tran-
scendence, the ecstasy or clarity or love, that it stimulates. All of these inter-
“what it is?”
they represent. Obviously, knowing about ecstasy and raves and clubs doesn’t
44
“what it is?”
Webster de
as “low, vulgar, unmeaning language” (1828), Ralph Waldo
Emerson advocated slang’s place in American speech not long after, when he
asserted in
whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. . . . Slang, too, is the wholesome fer-
that book was a seminal college text and has helped to advance slang’s cause.
And Thomas E. Gaston titled (of all things) a
“what it is?”
ne.” Upon Whitman’s admonition, John Stephen Farmer and
William Ernest Henley, in
Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present
(1890–1904);
Eric Partridge, in the
Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
(1937),
(1947), and
Dictionary of the Underworld, British and
American
(1960); Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, in
Dictionary of
American Slang
(1960); Richard A. Spears, in
NTC’s Dictionary of American Slang
Dictionary of American
Dictionary of Australian Underworld
(1993); Clarence A. Major, in
Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American
(1994); John Ayto, in the
Oxford Dictionary of Slang
(1998); Jonathon
Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
, 2nd edition (2005); Tom Dalzell and
Terry Victor, in the
New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
(2006); and J. E. Lighter, in the monumental
Historical Dictionary of American
(1994–), just to name the most prominent among many, have recorded
an indispensable use for the term
to name a body of lexemes that are distinct
able primarily by the intent (or
the perceived intent) of the speaker or writer to break with established linguistic
Its “intent” or perception must be social, or personal, or both; thus
word for linguists as long as it’s understood in sociolinguistic or psycholinguis-
tic terms. McMillan wanted a de
nition of
divorced from slang’s context;
Dumas and Lighter understood that context is an essential component of any
Mencken may have been at the back of everyone’s mind. In
The American
(1936), he insisted that “what slang actually consists of . . . doesn’t
depend . . . upon intrinsic qualities, but upon the surrounding circumstances.
Sporting Magazine
pears to the demimonde “[w]ithout the slightest appearance of slang or
toggery about him.” In 1842, looking forward to Sledd, the American writer
Richard Henry Dana Jr. wrote in his journal of Dickens’s
American Notes
“what it is?”
Historical Dictionary of American Slang
, Jonathan Lighter recently proposed a
denotes an informal, nonstandard, nontechnical vocabulary composed chie
it is often associated with youthful, ra
sh, or undigni
ed persons and groups; and
it conveys often striking connotations of impertinence or irreverence, especially for
established attitudes and values within the prevailing culture.
Lighter is the best at writing de
nitions among lexicographers of his generation,
nition of
, written with such clarity, grace, and assurance, illus-
trates why reading through the
Historical Dictionary of American Slang
(New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1971), 156–157 (“Mungojerrie
and Rumpelteazer”), 150–151 (“The Old Gumbie Cat”), and 163–164 (“Macavity:
“what it is?”
A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries. Volume II:
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); a third volume is in prepara-
Karen Grigsby Bates on NPR’s
Day to Day
is on 317–318, that for
is on 254–255. Stevens is quoted from xi,
xiii, xv,
and xvii, in series; Stray is quoted from 13. Aaron Dinin’s
The Krzyzewski-
ville Tales
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005) may fall somewhat short
of its Chaucerian inspiration, but Dinin’s glossary of tenting terms is excellent.
Tom Dalzell’s
is quoted from xi. James Sledd’s classic descrip-
tion of slang appears on “On Not Teaching English Usage,”
English Journal
54
(1965), 699; Lighter is quoted from his article “Slang,” in
English in North Amer-
, edited by John Algeo, volume 6 of
The Cambridge History of the English Lan-
(Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 220–221. John Ayto
is quoted from the preface to the
Oxford Dictionary of Slang
(Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1998), v. Material from
The Canting Crew
The New Canting
Dictionary
is quoted from Coleman,
A History of Slang and Cant Dictionaries.
Volume 1: 1597–1785
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 80–81 114, and 112,
in series. For examples of Jack Dawkins’s slang, I have turned to
Oliver Twist
The Oxford Illustrated Dickens
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 53, 56, 61,
and 66. References to Mayhew’s and Hotten’s accounts of rhyming slang are bor-
rowed from John Ayto’s
The Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang
(Oxford: Oxford
ary and from Eric Partridge,
Slang: To-day and Yesterday
(New York: Bonanza
Books, n.d.), 273–276, and examples of back and center slang from Partridge,
276–278. Emerson is quoted in H. L. Mencken,
The American Language
(New
York: Knopf, 1936), 556 n3; Whitman is quoted from
“what it is?”
Slang: To-day and Yesterday
, 4–5. Richard Henry Dana is quoted from Lighter’s
essay on “Slang” in the
Cambridge History
, 227. Lighter’s most recent de
appears on 220 of the same essay. Dalzell and Victor are quoted from
New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
, 2 volumes (New
York: Routledge, 2006), ix. Throughout this chapter and, indeed, throughout the
Oxford English Dictionary
FITTING IN
WASPish, a little removed from the American mainstream, but in the right
direction. The cartoon
gures are not those from whom you expect the accom-
panying slang; they are stereotypes of Americans we suppose have little contact
speaker of American English hears on the cards con
rms that although white
folks generally should not speak like African Americans, white folks think that
of the fastest paced monologues ever aired on television, Dr. Mambuca sprints
through the history of African American slang jacked by mainstream Ameri-
can speakers (that is, white speakers). In Stage 1 of the appropriation, those
speakers want to sound a little black; in Stage 2 they don’t realize that they
sound a little black; and, in Stage 3, they no longer sound black because the ap-
more forceful, perhaps because more resigned, but no more accepting. In an epi-
ce
titled “Casino Night” (May 11, 2006), the warehouse manager,
Darryl Philbin (played by Craig Robinson), has apparently taught the regional
manager, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), that *
eece it out
rebellious word. Interestingly, though, Darryl is not the o
ce deviant; rather,
he exposes the link of language and prejudice. Since James Sledd (quoted in
chapter 1) wrote in the 1960s, the world is turned upside down.
appropriates it. The
rst white woman who cheered on a friend with
You go, girl!
raised eyebrows and expressions of disbelief. But
You go, girl!
once was. It can still belong to a group, African American or otherwise, but it no
longer as reliably distinguishes one group from another, and certainly not in the
cant way that it did when it belonged exclusively to the slang of
When white speakers borrow a feature like
You go, girl!
work relatively hard to maintain di
erence. And di
erence will be maintained;
what’s futile is resistance to di
tting in — not the same thing, by the way, as saying
tting in. Slang is about
tting in to groups
marked against the mainstream. But “
tting in” is not absolute. The Borg “
in.” Actually, they plug in to The Collective and don’t have minds and motives
of their own. Without regard for grammatical number, they have a mind of their
own. We all have minds and motives of our own, though, even teenagers do, no
among group identities, or identify with a group, on the basis of facts; instead,
we rely on perceptions only partially informed by facts. So although a clinical
myth, that doesn’t mean, paradoxically, that the myth is “untrue.” Slang is all
tting in to one group or another, but
tting in (and keeping others out)
are as perceptual as they are anything. Perception is actually linguistically,
historically, and culturally signi
cant: African American slang is more slangy
not necessarily more prone to slang than are suburban white moms. Indeed, the
perceptual element is essential to slang: slang is stylish, rebellious language, and
it isn’t slang until someone recognizes it as slang.
African American slang is everything that slang is supposed to be, plus soul.
African Americans took English
and used it to mean its opposite, as well as
‘stylish, sexy, wonderful, formidably skilled’. The word, to those hip to it, was
casually racy and irreverent, and vivid in its emphasis, more vivid the longer
the vowel. African Americans taught the average (read “white” ) American how
to play that
‘soulful’ music, have a
‘party, celebration, big time’, and
shake his
‘rump’, to
among African Americans longer than among other English speakers, shift its
level from “standard” to “slang,” and then reenter mainstream English as a slang
term, because anything white speakers borrow from African American speak-
erence, and the act of borrowing in itself rebels mildly against the
white-dominated status quo.
New Dictionary of American Slang
(1986) Robert L. Chapman suggested,
African American slang has an impressive history within African American
culture, regardless of what the mainstream or any other group thinks of it. One
way to measure that history is to examine Clarence Major’s
Juba to Jive: A Dictio-
nary of African-American Slang
‘that which is emphatically correct’ (as in, according to Major,
“You fucking A, man” ) to
‘stylish’ — well, actually to
Zutty
have entered the vocabulary from 1950 to 1990, and 217 (39 percent) entered in
Dr. Mambuca into action. Obviously Dr. Mambuca hasn’t heard about Zwinky
. com, a virtual world in which you can “turn yourself into a 3D image,” dress
English word was borrowed from Old French
67
extent to which adolescents used and understood eighty-nine slang terms. Of all
the social variables she considered, race turned out to be the most signi
cant fac-
tor, with blacks much more familiar with terms like
(for ‘cool’), and whites much more
familiar with terms like
schlep
(for ‘to drag along’) and
onym for ‘drunk’). That the black respondents knew the black terms is signi
they were college students at predominantly white institutions.
Other social variables were also important, of course: the students were not
merely
white or
merely
black, but belonged to several intersecting social
arresting.
and must have been used early in its American career exclusively by Gullah-
speaking slaves in South Carolina and Georgia, it features in every American’s
position as the bearer of cash and credit. It’s a little like a server in a restaurant
asking if my table would like to order any apps, a familiarity just inappropriate
enough to grate on my goodwill, just innocuous enough to evade response. “No
, both post–World War II forms. To
the extent that white folks have started to use these African Americanisms, the
terms have lost some of their African American identity, but all of them are as-
sociated with African American culture, and white speakers are at least vaguely
aware that their use is rebellious, in departing from the mainstream, exactly be-
cause it’s racy. In this regard,
ed with African American speech, though the catchphrase “You
72
uenced what counted as hip (and still does). International
awareness of English speech probably has had an e
ect, some the result of con-
Though I have outlined the history of
at some length, Lighter is abso-
with rap music and dates it from 1986, but clearly the term had been around for more than
half a century before that.
In 2004 Scott F. Kiesling published an excellent account of
it from every linguistic angle. Kiesling notes that “the use of
term developed in the 1930s and 1940s from groups of men, ‘Urban Mexican-
and African-American
zoot-suiters
clothes consciousness. These groups began to use
as an in-group term, and
it was soon used as a general term of address among men,” after which “
Americans and Mexicans to whites through African American music culture.”
Today, as Kiesling notes, the avatars of
are characters in
lms such as
Fast
Times at Ridgemont High
that serve as what the sociolinguist Penelope Eckert
calls “sociolinguistic icons.” Once an item of African American slang has been
borrowed by whites to sound hip, the word may have been bleached so white that
many African Americans avoid it. Do they really want to sound like Je
Spicoli,
the stoner surfer dude from
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
? Do African Americans
ask, “Dude, where’s my car?”
The answer is that some do. Dr. Chris Turk, a character in the television
sitcom
would, but then he’s a surgeon whose best friend is a white guy
of the reason for the rapid change. Since the days of slavery, this secrecy has served
as a form of cultural self-defense against exploitation and oppression, constructed
embryonic stages during slavery, the secrecy was a powerful medium for making
Actually, Geneva Smitherman, in
Black Talk
(2000), more precisely aligns Af-
rican American speech with Sledd’s theory of slang, for she focuses on “resis-
tance” rather than “self-defense”:
Africans in America have always pushed the linguistic envelope. The underlying
tone of resistance in the language may explain why African American linguistic in-
novations are so often dismissed as slang. It’s an easier concept to deal with than
confronting the reality that the words represent. Slang, after all, is rather light-
hearted and harmless, and it’s usually short-lived — here today, gone tomorrow —
serious as a heart attack
While most slang pulls up short of infarction, it’s often lighthearted but edgy,
harmless insofar as words aren’t sticks and stones, and less ephemeral than we
are led to expect. In the end, all slang is social critique. But African American
slang is more noticeably slang, I think, because its critique is especially war-
ranted: the seriousness of what prompts the critique is displaced onto the lan-
resistance and rebellion is slang. Similarly, as Smitherman observes in
Talkin and
Testifyin: The Language of Black America
(1977), “Black slang is Black Language;
but not all Black Language is Black slang.” In fact, there may be less black slang
than folks, white and black, think there is. We perceive black language as slang
when it isn’t. As Smitherman argues, “There is a popular tendency to think of the
dialect spoken by African Americans; like all dialects, regional and social, it isn’t
es intense, consistent, and continuous action, somewhat more than
“is rapping steadily” would signify in standard American English. In “She come
going in my room, didn’t knock or nothing,”
the speaker’s indignation, according to Arthur Spears in his seminal article on
over again was that of a Black male speaking Black slang in a school context.”
Several of those who testi
ed about the school board’s resolution before the U.S.
Senate similarly objected to the notion that students would speak slang in school;
so did prominent African American authors such as Earl Ofari Hutchison. In
Importantly, as the story of the Julliard student illustrates, African Americans
cial markers of rebellion dissolve in experience, duty, and
masculine; girls spoke it unconsciously but heard it consciously and socialized
one another out of its use by the time they became adults; women well past
adolescence, like Alcott when she wrote
Little Women
, used slang anyway.
Little Women
to verb was a staple of slayer slang: “Does anyone feel like we’ve been Keyser
men. The author, Erin Flaherty, includes the following among her 488 words
(some more than once, which is why they don’t add up to 38):
irt buddies
late’. The article is about the hazards of converting a
irt buddy into a fuck buddy.
‘request, by telephone or otherwise, for sex with a reliable friend; what
you give your fuck buddy, when you feel the need’
‘copulate’; the former is for
irt buddies, the lat-
ter for fuck buddies
extreme
‘total’
roundabout way;
is a little vulgar, as are
screw
guilty pleasures to say (
are a little problematic, as their raciness depends on just how they’re
ects the soccer mom’s social position: she
is educated, picks up lyrics from old songs in martini bars, knows gamers (her
84
vicariously through an alter ego, a hybrid of what they were before they became
soccer moms, and what they had become when they started to read
Saturday morning pedicure. That doesn’t make the slang fake, just complicated.
en’s slang that sociolinguists have begun to investigate across generations and
cultures.
For instance, when Diane Vincent studied religious profanity in Québec
French (her book on the subject was published in 1982), she found that use of
cant number of boys surveyed
speech. Regardless of their disapproval, however, women seem to have indulged
in profanity just as often as men; in Vincent’s study, older women reported that
profanity is used as often among women as men. I have put the case this way for
little profanity, girls were much more aware than boys of their mothers’ swearing,
erent functions are often intertwined. A re
ection of this is that not
Girls are ahead of boys at the rate of 3.81 per thousand to 2.44 when it comes
to quotative
; they marginally outdistance boys, too, in the use of intensi
.52 per thousand to .48. And they not only use more but, on average, di
(.17 vs. .16),
(.68 vs. .61), and
vs. .56); boys are ahead on
(.48 vs. .36) and
(1.91 vs. 1.25) — they’re in a
gray area.
may use more slang than white women, or young, urban African American men
may use more slang than suburban soccer moms. Or, depending on what you
slang, they don’t.
But all of us, young and old, black and white, urban and suburban have slang,
and, with your eyes closed, we can tell black guys chillaxin’ with their buddies
from young soccer moms dishing about the latest issue of
. We share more
slang than separates us, but what separates us tells us and others where we
t in,
or perhaps, where we hope to
t in, and where we don’t. It supports social my-
thologies natural to the formation of group identity but potentially harmful be-
cause they don’t correspond to the truth and, as
rmly embedded assumptions,
obscure and obstruct the truth about the way we speak now. As a social marker,
though, slang works: you know that you’re among the old, tired, gray, and hope-
less, rather than hip, vivid, playful, and rebellious, if only in spirit, when you hear
no slang. Slang is a tell even in its absence.
YOUTH: AN INTERLUDE
Though slang marks many types of social groups, most of us associate it with
youth, especially with adolescence, and research like that of Stenström and her
colleagues on COLT con
rms our intuitions. As Mary Bucholtz has written,
so, as we are inclined to do with African American slang, we may overestimate it,
guage use change considerably as we age. Oddly, the slang in dictionaries often
seems more mature than adolescents are likely to use. How many teenagers spend
their afternoons at the track, smoking crack, or shooting smack? (The answer
is “Too many,” but you understand the statistical point.) Dictionaries include
lots of words without indicating how many speakers use them or how often,
which distorts our picture of slang’s social role: old slang used by relatively few
people from long ago takes up as much space as new slang used by lots of people
right now. Young people slang their way through their teens and twenties, pro
length to tattoos to slang, test the limits of authority and resistance. Though
Lyn Mikel Brown has a particular group of girls in mind, the following comment
aptly characterizes the role of language in fashioning adolescent identity:
The Acadia girls, too, occupy this liminal reality; they, too, struggle against the gen-
dered boundaries pressing upon them. But unlike the Mans
eld girls, they embrace
manipulate the conventions of language speaks to their comfort with, indeed, their
pleasure in, the privileged middle-class world of school they occupy. Experiencing
the limits of “appropriate” speech and behavior, they create new, uno
cial ways of
ignore the crowd and its norms. Never having the guts to challenge the powers
that be isn’t cool, but constantly raging against the machine isn’t cool, either.
Finally, it doesn’t do you any good to be inscrutable if people don’t notice your
exquisite inscrutability; nor does it do you any good if your outrageous behavior
allows others to pigeonhole you. One of the greatest pressures bearing on ado-
lescents is the pressure to establish an individual identity while learning to
in to groups. If you are aggressively only individual, you disrespect your group;
groups disrespect their members if they obliterate all emerging individuality.
Mostly, youth rebels against authority and revels in the pleasures of rebellion.
As Samantha Moeller, the founding editor of
Missbehave
a certain mind and attitude, it’s
plenty
enough) to evade the dictionary record so far, like
alcoholic beverage, or does it refer more precisely to bourbon or corn mash
whiskey, associated in the urban imagination with hillbillies, vittles, and such?)
(which Dalzell and Victor’s
New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Un-
conventional English
[2005] locates in the United Kingdom and de
nes as ‘en-
the “quest” seems to be over and
But I’m not supposed to understand youth slang; it’s designed to keep me
at a distance. Even if, in all of my lexicography, I manage to understand it, I’m
For all I know, in a couple of years Moeller will have a junior fullback on her hands. By
then, however, she’ll have left her magazine’s youthier demographic behind.
erences in meaning or, above all,
tone. So, you can’t credibly write things like, “Catherine the Great wore mad
bling at her coronation” or “In a world fraught with international misunder-
standing, multilateral negotiation is the shiznit.” To use slang e
ectively, that
is, appropriately within a group-de
ned social circumstance (and, to some ex-
tent, all social interaction is group-de
ned), you have to grasp intuitively what
es you with the conversational group, what pre-
sents the social face you want others to see, and what accomplishes the social
work you have in mind for any given conversation.
When it comes to negotiating social status, you can’t fool any of the people
any of the time. One African American man can react approvingly to another’s
prowess with “You one ba-a-a-a-d muthafucka!” If you are a white guy, you can
drill night after night with your slang
ash cards, but you won’t hit the note when
you blow: you will say “You are one bad motherfucker.” You will sound like Dave
Chappelle’s caricature of a white guy talking, and people are going to suspect
that you are, in fact, a white guy. You need to know the slang that counts in iden-
tifying with the interests of one group or another, but you also need to know how
to use the slang authentically and e
tting in and standing out. On one
es us with a group: what everyone’s saying is like what every-
one’s wearing; on the other, style ensures that everyone in the group sees us as
local group, but the local group has no interest in erasing global distinctions
y and her friends attend Sunnydale High; they
start college in Season 4, and arguably, as evidence and argument earlier in the
chapter suggest, speakers over the age of eighteen use di
erent slang di
from those just a phase younger.
In every instance in which you could use either a full phrasal verb, like
all sorts of evil forces, but especially vampires. The Slayer (there’s only supposed to be
one in the world at a time), is “chosen,” often against her will, to serve destiny and has
supernatural powers. (At the very end of
demonic.) Like all Slayers, Bu
y has a Watcher, Rupert Giles, who guides her, trains her,
teaches her, and protects her. It’s unusual in the history of slaying, but Bu
y has friends
centrally, these are Willow Rosen-
berg, Xander Harris, and Cordelia Chase, though, in later seasons, the group expands and
contracts.
Given the sexually charged atmosphere in which they’re spoken, the following
would be awkward conversations if the verbs were clipped:
: “I can’t. Unless you invite me, I can’t
: “Well, OK, I invite you . . . to
not consummate that love shouldn’t talk about “coming.”
: “Hey, Snyder, heard you had some fun Friday night. Have you
younger generation to distinguish itself from an older one, but, as we’ll see, it’s
much more complicated than that.
Certainly, youngsters prefer that oldsters not tread on their slang territory,
Queen Bees and Wannabes
cant in masculine speech. In the show men never clip among
tting
in to groups dominated by them.
y is a leader, of sorts. She is isolated (much of the show is about the loneli-
the Vampire Slayer is no Spice Girl. The Slayer’s world is a girl’s world: the Slayer
is always called when a girl and, given the risks of vampire slaying, she usually
y dies twice, in fact. Bu
y is at the center of the Bu
yverse, her
best friend is a girl, she has a sister, and many of the extended Scooby Gang are
rising young women. Xander is a friend of girls, and he spends a lot of time talk-
loosely organized group, one in which individuality is respected and encour-
aged; the series story arc includes much discussion of who is in whose shadow
, and, in doing
so, she speaks a little more formally and politely, meant as a deferential ges-
ture. It’s not that Willow’s incapable of clipping: she chooses not to clip here
Because you’re always around when all this weird stu
is happening,
and I know you’re very strong and you’ve got all those weapons — I was kind of
hoping that you were in a gang. Please! I don’t have anyone else to turn to.
Only the desperation apparent in her last plea would move Cordelia to change
her demeanor from Queen C to that of supplicant. It isn’t easy for her: she can
ort, as indicated by the “Oooh” she emits when she realizes
that she has slipped back into her familiar, caustic persona. That persona nei-
y’s help, but unless she can put it aside she’s unlikely to
that moment, up to no good, violating their intimacy, but she wants to seem as
intimate as usual, so comes up with the unconvincing, “I’m gonna do work in the
computer lab, uh, school work that I have, so I cannot hang right now.” Most of
the sentence is sti
and awkward (“school work that I have” ), and styles mix like
oil and water:
can English into a variation on an idiomatic theme, a variation both acceptably
104
interactions by forging alliances, taking hostages, raising their
ags, and even
occasionally surrendering in barely noticeable manipulations of slang. While as-
tting in socially
appeals to what social interests of those to whom you speak. Slang, among other
vocabulary, and indeed, among other aspects of language (the sounds that make
an “accent,” structure of sentences, narrative styles) helps to de
ne groups in
contrast with one another. But to succeed socially, conversation by conversa-
tion, sensitivity to the immediate context guides our choices about how to de-
ploy slang to our advantage.
Conversation is transactional, and language and gesture are the currency
rm our
membership in various groups, because, of course, we all belong to more than
one. Is slang the paint on the hood of the car, as Labov suggested? Certainly, it is
only a small part of the language that constitutes social identity, but it is none-
theless essential, the penny or the nickel you need in order to make change.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD, AFTER ALL
No group is de
ned solely by slang, but slang participates in de
group. Some of the groups in question are very big, what we think of as nations,
in fact. According to SlangSite.com, Germans (and perhaps German speakers
durch einfach liegen lassen
erledigt
over centuries, than we even begin to realize, just because most of it, most of it by
far, never exceeds or exceeded the speech of a few intimate friends. It’s ephem-
eral in a way that makes ephemeral language recorded in dictionaries look stan-
dard by comparison. Slang is always changing, and it participates in workaday
language change. One can think of socially motivated language change in terms
ned by any marked agree-
to the connoisseur, each
eld has its
avor. Whatever its origin and however it
tastes, honey always comes from a hive.
Obviously, we begin with
(Venice, CA: Who’s There, 2003) and
(Venice, CA: Who’s There, 2005). We looked so much younger
cial Preppy Handbook
, edited by Lisa Birnbach (New York: Workman,
1980). For
’s non–African Americanness, see volume 2 of J. E. Lighter’s
His-
torical Dictionary of American Slang
lience, see Mary Bucholtz, Nancy Bermudez, Victor Fung, Lisa Edwards, and
Rosalva Vargas, “Hella Nor Cal or Totally So Cal? The Perceptual Dialectology of
Journal of English Linguistics
35.4 (December 2007): 325–352; though
is entered in
Pamela Munro’s
Slang U.
(New York: Harmony Books, 1989), 106, and
Slang U.
records slang used by students at UCLA, notably in southern California, though
Randall Kennedy tells the story of David Howard in
Nigger: The Strange History of
a Troublesome Word
(New York: Pantheon, 2002), 120–122. Geo
rey Nunberg is
quoted from his excellent collection of radio essays,
The Way We Talk Now
ton: Houghton Mi
in, 2001), 96. Allen Walker Read noticed that previous histo-
rians of American English had forgotten the “Americanism by survival” in
“Approaches to Lexicography and Semantics,” in
Current Trends in Linguistics
edited by Thomas Sebeok (The Hague: Mouton, 1972), 153. John Russell and Rus-
sell John Rickford write about Teresa Labov’s research in
Spoken Soul: The Story
(New York: John Wiley, 2000), 93; Labov published her research
American Speech
67.4 (1992): 339–366. Amy March’s comment about “Yankee biddies” appears on
312 of Louisa May Alcott’s
Little Women
(New York: Penguin, 1989). SlangSite.com
can be found, conveniently, at www.slangsite.com. I listen to
The Tavis Smiley
Show
when I can, Friday afternoons at 2, on NPR station WFYI in Indianapolis.
Brian Mockenhaupt reports Colonel Scott Henry’s comment in “The Army We
Have,”
Atlantic Monthly,
June 2007, 96. Randy Jackson’s “Yo, dawg, check it” is as
regular a feature of Fox Television’s
American Idol
as Cornel West’s tag line is of
The Tavis Smiley Show
— pick your episode! I take Chaucer’s text from the third
The Riverside Chaucer,
edited by Larry D. Benson and others (Boston:
Houghton Mi
in, 1987), p. 80, lines 4073–4074 of “The Reeve’s Tale.” I bor-
rowed the quotation from Zora Neale Hurston’s
Jonah’s Gourd Vine
. in sense IV.16.c. Geneva Smitherman’s
Black Talk:
Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner
rst published in 1994
and then revised (Boston: Houghton Mi
in, 2000); like Major’s dictionary, it is
an indispensable reference. Scott Kiesling’s “Dude” appeared in
American Speech
79.3 (2004): 281–305; I quote from 284. Penelope Eckert discusses “sociolinguis-
Linguistic Variation as Social Practice
(Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000),
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(1982) was written by Cameron Crowe and
directed by Amy Heckerling; Sean Penn acted the part of Je
Spicoli.
Dude,
Where’s My Car?
(2000) was written by Philip Stark and directed by Danny
Leiner; Ashton Kutcher plays Jesse Montgomery III, who asks the famous ques-
is a Fox Television comedy that aired
rst in 2001, and the episode
“Her Story,” written by Angela Nissel and directed by John Inwood, aired Sep-
tember 28, 2004; Donald Faison plays the role of Dr. Chris Turk, and Sarah Chalke
and Heather Graham play the two whitest girls. I quote Geneva Smitherman
Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America
Education in African America
(New York: Routledge, 2000), 25 and 126. Walt
Wolfram’s pithy formulation is from
Dialects and American English
(Englewood
s, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991), 2. John Baugh discusses
Out of the Mouths
of Slaves: African American Language and Educational Malpractice
(Austin: Univer-
sity of Texas Press, 1999), 101–110, and
“The Black English Semi-Auxiliary
Perry is quoted from “I’on Know Why They Be Trippin’: Re
ections on the
Ebonics Debate,” in
The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and Education of
African-American Children
, edited by Theresa Perry and Lisa Delpit (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1998), 9. I have quoted from Edwin L. Battistella’s
Benjamins, 2002), particularly that on 74, 81, 93, 126, 143, and 187. Harry McGurk
and John McDonald published their astonishing discovery of the McGurk e
as “Hearing Lips and Seeing Voices” in
Nature
264 (December 23, 1976): 746–748.
William Labov discusses the “adolescent peak” at several points in
Principles of
Linguistic Change: Social Factors
(Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001), conclusively on
517. Mary Bucholtz writes about “Language and Youth Culture” in
American
75.3 (2000): 280–283; the quotation here comes from 282. Marcel Danesi
is quoted from
Forever Young: The “Teen-Aging” of Modern Culture
(Toronto: Uni-
versity of Toronto Press, 2003), 52 and 54. Lyn Mikel Brown is quoted from
Rais-
ing Their Voices: The Politics of Girls’ Anger
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
8, 1997); “Passion,” written by Ty King, directed by Michael E. Gershman
(February 24, 1998); “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” written by Joss Whedon, di-
rected by Charles Martin Smith (March 10, 1997); “Becoming, Part 2,” written
and directed by Joss Whedon (May 19, 1998); “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,”
written by Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali, directed by David Semel (March 31,
1997); “Nightmares,” written by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, directed by
STANDING OUT
unconventional language, after all, but the history of art and taste proves that
exible concept.
standing out
the underworld, a world inhabited, as James Sledd put it, by gentlemen who are
not gentlemen and dislike gentility.
Though slang is often characterized as gritty and unshaven, some of it is
squeaky clean behind the ears. When
forms part of the catchphrase
it isn’t gritty at all, but pleasant and playful —
standing out
If I want to know what’s on Jenny’s mind, I ask,
Whatcha doin’ pruin, stewin’?
Rainy weekend days can be dull, and a little connubial rhyming goes a long way
to lighten the mood. As Henry Bradley, one of the
’s editors, suggested, our
“desire to secure increased vivacity” mingles with our “desire to secure [an]
116
standing out
femur
lemur
belong, but because it’s even more arti
cial to rhyme
Don’t make me laugh, you big gira
ower. But unlike T. S. Eliot’s peach in “The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock” or Williams’s red wheelbarrow, they don’t attempt any more univer-
does, and so it is irreverent about language itself. In some cases it’s impossible
standing out
Perhaps, as Katherine Martin suggests, we have overlooked women’s sexual
euphemism because we prefer to believe that only men use fancy words for
self-grati
Of course, there are rhyming euphemisms for masturbation, too, like
jerk the
gherkin
whole immense tangle of the old mythologies. . . . Slang, too, is the wholesome fer-
doesn’t have to be wine of depth or vintage; froth is good enough for living in
standing out
spoken with pleasure, for the sake of the way they sound, rather than for what
xing is partly rhythmic. Of course, all speech is rhythmic,
Mockery is just one use to which the quick, prosodic in
x can be put. There
xings with -
standing out
Nevertheless he always knows where to stick the in
x — not a linguist, then,
Father’s a nobleman,
Mother’s a queen.
My dame has lost her shoe,
My master’s lost his
And knows not what to do.
standing out
126
standing out
tting in and of standing out, the con
uence of slang’s social and
fabricated from “a polysyllabic word as the matrix and
an emotive intensi
standing out
“Everything takes time. What about my time? Does anyone appreciate that I’m
on a schedule here? Tick tock, Dreg — tick frickin’ tock.” Linguistically, there’s
nothing remarkable here. Indeed, the item simply reminds us of the conven-
xing and interposing in English as described in McMillan’s classic ar-
ticle on the subject. The matrix
- is just the sort of insert that McMillan describes as an “emotive stress
xes and interposings can
take meaningful inserts on occasion, whenever an in
xing or interposing with
standing out
xed -
- can intensify nearly any part of
ofriggenkay
; not to mention (4) syntactic interposings with
one of its euphemisms as the interposed element, such as
where
n hell
. Ostensibly,
more example of category 3, though it is an interesting addition because rela-
tively few euphemisms are recorded as inserts. McMillan listed only eight, and
HDAS
True to our expectations, in
xed and interposed
are assigned more or less arbitrarily and are meaningful only as intensi
ers and
euphemisms. Signi
cantly, though, context suggests that
erently than the many parallel forms, because -
‘fool, oaf, jerk’ re
ects Peppermint Pat-Eye’s initial concern that the
Camp Snoopy enterprise and his or her participation in it was foolish or would
make him or her look foolish. Thus the insert unusually adds a stratum of lexical
meaning to the word. When McMillan suggested that “some inserts which are
In other words, although context indicates that -
- famdamn’ly.
xing and interposing with meaningful inserts been going
on? Not very long, though some earlier forms without strictly meaningful
inserts may have contributed to the very possibility of such things. With models
in mind, speakers may feel licensed to innovate.
Jesus Christ
(in Greek, ‘Jesus, the
Anointed One’) is a phrase, but it’s also idiomatically a name that counts as a
single lexical item, so it’s di
standing out
Jesus Hebe Christ
identifying Jesus as Jewish, arguably have meaningful inserts. The pragmatic
Henry
ish Jesus, as though
Jesus Christ
‘Jesus the Anointed One’ (that is, ‘Messiah’) were
a name like any other and Jesus just a guy with a middle name. But neither name
has any lexical meaning; like all personal names, they’re a type of pointing when
they actually refer to someone.
Jesus Hebe Christ
es Jesus as Jewish in a
transparently anti-Semitic way, though the expansion of
Jesus H. Christ
closest to
having a meaningful insert is probably
Jesus Holy Christ
. But all of these are after-
Fuckin’-A
is well attested in
HDAS
The F Word
‘obviously, undoubtedly, absolutely’ (where ‘obviously’ can be mildly derisive,
roughly equivalent to ‘No shit!’). However, consider the following bit of dialogue
ce Space
lawrence:
When a boss wants you to work on Saturday, he generally asks you at
the end of the day, right? . . . So all you’ve got to do is avoid him . . . the last few
hours on Friday, duck out early, turn o
your answering machine; you should be
standing out
Sunshine 24/7, so I can be considered a lady? I’m the Marcia fucking Brady of the
own account) is Little Mary Sunshine by day, but Marcia Brady of the Upper East
Side fucking by night.
One suspects from such examples, from
to
Marcia
standing out
the character Courtney Shane, played by Rose McGowan, several times uses the
peachy fucking keen
, as in “Remember, everything is peachy keen — peachy
fucking keen.” Courtney’s characteristic interposing adheres to McMillan’s
er,” it is
an attitude ampli
er, because it’s transgressive and used to establish Courtney
fuzzy
interposing, is the relevant form, the one that might incite imitation or serve as
a model for future interposers. Few adolescents borrow a word or phrase from a
lm and propose it to their eight best friends as a form to use.
standing out
the terms
to describe the interruption of a compound by
xing or interposing is not an “emotional stress
er,” he insisted, we observe tmesis or diacope instead, a simple enough
140
must
standing out
“Doomed” (2000) an earthquake hits Sunnydale, California, and Bu
y, the
Slayer, sees the event as a portent: “There’s gonna be lots of red faces when the
world comes to an end,” she claims, and she’s right. The earthquake is one stage
in the world’s collapse, motivated by demons not easily conquered. The broader
context is signi
cant. When Bu
y and her associates recognize the demons’ sig-
nature, Rupert Giles, the Watcher, exclaims, “It’s the end of the world.” “Again?!”
y, Willow, and Xander simultaneously.
To achieve the destruction of the world, the demons require the Word of
Valios. When Giles discovers that the Word of Valios is actually represented by
by potential apocalypse season after season, is an Oxford-educated English
librarian, inclined toward stereotypical restraint. In
xes and interposings are
standing out
knowledge is more important than technology, that knowing is more important
than the techy means to knowing. In hindsight, though, Apple may not have
taken the sophistication of Michigan alumni for granted: arguably, the capitals
are patronizing, a cunning device to ensure that we noticed their fancy word and
xing, or a pun, or both — to be honest, I still can’t say. God
forgive me, I’m still in thrall to Microsoft.
, which SlangSite de
nes as ‘art of desperately inventing a word to
substitute for one you can’t think of right now’, but which I prefer to think of as an
xed synonym for
and as a word whose form perfectly illustrates its meaning
“They’re making these up!” you say. “These are all stunt words, and no one
would use them in everyday speech.” And you have a point: Who thinks fast
enough and well enough to produce such contrived forms on the conversational
y? But in “extreme” situations, one might argue, where people see the oppor-
tunity to develop or re
ne the possibilities inherent in in
xing and interposing,
standing out
though he doesn’t go into what would be satisfying, or to whom. As much as it’s
146
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder
(2002), and you have a good idea of
what Raunch is all about. By contrast, Hip is smooth like jazz, free like the Beats,
relaxed as the aftermath of a junkie’s morning glory. Hip is about being in the
One of the site’s features is “This Week’s Hip New Slang Word or Phrase.” The
standing out
147
Penile stimulation in the armpit
box out dealin’
Of a woman, showing genitalia, usually because she’s unclothed
Three-way with two men (who put the
brotisserie
tittoo
Tattoo on a woman’s breast
“A polite way to say fart”
Tattoo on the small of a woman’s back
Vomit
This lexicon of Raunch has a little bit of everything, though not necessar-
standing out
149
‘girl-on-girl box-eating’ contest in Fort Lauderdale later in the week.” Girls Gone
Wild, Fort Lauderdale, box-eating contest — that’s Raunch, yo.
Our
seems to be a functional shift to a verb from the noun
means exactly this type of penis. The transparent
is entered in Dalzell
and Victor but not
Records believes you should give to receive);
tent
ned politely as the ‘perineum’, but neither includes
but generous; women may be objects, but they’re objects with rights). The New
Partridge records
‘fart’ but restricts it to Australia. Clearly, Americans are
also capable of back slang, as long as the words in question have one syllable.
For Green,
standing out
its own limits,” so as Hip circulates through the American culture, it clears the
way for ideas, attitudes, and styles that convention impedes or excludes. In this,
erent from other slang: Raunch, too, has its saving qualities,
but we are reluctant to admit them; at least, confronted with two resistance
nition, which is a
standing out
interestingly enough, a number of blacks who went to schools with whites were con-
stantly ‘corrected’ for this pronunciation, I among them). In the black community the
term has always been rendered as
and used widely in the community, not just among
154
The language of Hip, like all slang, has attitude, and Hip’s attitude is especially
“loose,” in sound and structure and semantics. Perhaps not all Hip is African
African American speakers and those whites who live, work, jazz, and jive among
them. If that’s the way it
slow and long because of its vowel and its voiced bilabial (the / b / ) and alveolar
hip. (One has to admit, though, that
keys
, none of which is particularly hip.)
Black Talk
as “that’s how it is, that’s the way
it goes, that’s life; an existential reference to the human condition,” in other
words, an excellent example of slang as the language (of the essence) of being.
Similarly “loose,” at least referentially, is
whatever ‘it’ is, it’s not a problem or obstacle, it can be dealt with” (sv
standing out
155
some African Americans may wish that some words had not “crossed” cultur-
ally. I have in mind those African Americans, and there are many, who have never
uttered slangy
whatever
in their lives.
Because Hip is unobtrusive it’s harder to identify its slang than the in-your-
face slang of Raunch. It was easy to come up with a long list of Raunchy words,
not just because they were available on one Web site, but because Raunch is
too vivid to blend in and doesn’t want to blend in but to shock, and because, in
Raunch, size matters. Hip, you’ll notice, is not as funny as Raunch. Or perhaps it’s
a limitation of mine that I can’t write about it humorously. Part of what’s funny
about Raunch is individual items of the slang, which, in fact, can glitter like dia-
mond turds or pop like your cherryoke. Another funny part is that people actually
in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achieve-
ment especially in Literature & which Shakespeare posessed so enormously — I
Negative Capability
, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mys-
teries, doubts, without any reaching after fact & reason.
standing out
say today, breaking a sweat. As an equestrian, the courtier practices for war by
gures that simulate their movement
in battle. Nowadays, we call that exercise “dressage,” a sport in which observ-
ers (Olympic judges, for instance) should not see the rider instruct the horse:
rider and horse must move seamlessly, as one. This capacity to do the hard thing
158
standing out
159
Selected Poems
(New York: New Directions, 1985), 56. Frank Perry directed
David and Lisa
(1962), and Eleanor Perry wrote the script, based on a novel by Theodore Isaac
Rubin. The masturbation euphemisms listed here are borrowed from Tom
Dalzell’s much more comprehensive collection in
(Spring
MA: Merriam-Webster, 1998), 174–176. Whitman is quoted from
“Shadow,” written by David Fury and directed by Daniel Attias, aired on Novem-
cus / Glory was acted by Clare Kramer. “Peppermint Pat-
in “Camp Snoopy,”
Transworld Snowboard
October 1997, 99. Eliza Doolittle is quoted from “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” in
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s
My Fair Lady
lm version directed by
George Cukor (1964), with Audrey Hepburn playing Eliza Doolittle, though the
line in question is sung by Marnie Nixon, whose versions of the songs replaced
Hepburn’s in the soundtrack. Keith Allan and Kate Burridge discuss euphemistic
Euphemism and Dysphemism: Language Used as Shield
and Weapon
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). Jesse Sheidlower’s
F-Word
(New York: Random House, 1995), includes an introductory essay by
Roy Blount Jr., quoted here from xiv. Roger Smith’s “The
Jesus H. Christ
American Speech
69 (1994): 331–335; I have the information about
Twain at secondhand from this source; I quote from 332.
The Blues Brothers
(1980) was written by James Landis and Dan Ackroyd and directed by John
Landis.
Heathers
(1988) was written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael
Lehmann. Though it may be hard for readers to believe that
USA Today
standing out
ten by Ian Maxtone- Graham and directed by Jim Reardon. In the discussion of
tmesis and diacope, I refer to the second edition of Richard A. Lanham’s
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder
(2002) was directed by Walt
Becker and written by Brent Goldberg and David Wagner. I quote from Ariel
Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
(New York:
Free Press, 2005), 4, 5, 29, and 17, in series. Drew, in
ce Space
, is perfectly per-
manently adolescent partly because Greg Pitts plays him that way. You can see
all of the raunchy words and phrases listed here and many, many more at
www. slyr
ecords.com. I quote from John Leland’s
Hip: The History
(New York:
HarperCollins, 2005), 7, 8, 8 again, and 8 again, 69, 51, 274, and 11, in series. Quo-
tations from Leland are interrupted by some from Geneva Smitherman’s
Talkin
and Testifyin: The Language of Black America
(Boston: Houghton Mi
in, 1977), 45
and 69 (the note also quotes from 69), and John Russell Rickford and Russell
John Rickford’s
Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English
(New York: John Wiley,
IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
Recently a group of researchers, principally Philip Davis (a professor of English
at the University of Liverpool), Neil Roberts (a professor in Liverpool’s Mag-
activity was positive: it wasn’t as if the brains were confused, exactly, but rather
as if they had been awakened from linguistic boredom. The conclusion was obvi-
ous: reading Shakespeare, or any author who pushes the linguistic envelope a bit,
it’s all in your head
performs. The jargon isn’t just in
ditive, mildly nonstandard structure of the sentence.
Nowhere is the slanginess of word formative processes more evident than
xing and interposing. These aren’t historically in
ectional processes in
results of these processes inevitably surprise our brains. That is, when
irremededially
( both of which observe rules about which sounds can occur
among what others, and more rules about stress patterns in word structure),
xes can have lexical meaning, e
tively doubling the semantic content of any in
xed form),
it’s all in your head
xes like -
) is used to slangy e
ect, it works not only because of the speci
c lexical
content, but because su
xing as a process plays a role in slang, especially su
x-
ing at unlikely frequencies or su
xing in unlikely contexts.
y the Vampire Slayer
provided an unlikely
ctional context for -
suf-
xing and gave us items like
upper lippy
(as opposed to coming
the keyboard for exactly one hour, typing conjectural forms into the search
up. Often whatever appeared in the
rst few hits would sug-
gest later searches. After a while I realized that I couldn’t make much up: as hard
as I tried, most of my attempts at lexifabricography proved that I wasn’t fabricat-
ing anything. For example, at 11:00 a.m. on January 22, 2005, I started with
but then went on to discover the following:
, as in “Frankly, I don’t understand the topic, but I got the gist that it’s about
, as in “Orthodox Christianity 101 — Studies in the Faithy”
ngery
, as in “desperate
ngery climbing in the edges low down”
climby-thing
, as in “Most will post journaly stu
here”
magaziney
, as in “Most of my old British mates are, sadly, still magaziney
cey
, as in “I follow him into our new $40,000 o
ce space and he reveals a nice
new area with computer, desk, chair, and all that other o
cey crap”
, as in “Murphy Brown’s baby? I think I switched o
about that stage, it was
it’s all in your head
, as in “Damn him and his mixed signally ways!”
170
On
Grey’s Anatomy
(February 15, 2007) Alex asks, “Dramatic much?” — an example
tion of social power like those illustrated in chapter 2.
On
Heroes
(November 19, 2007), Elle (superpowered assassin) objects to her father
(who is also her control), “Overprotective much?”
On the
Missbehave
Web site, Emilia Perez blogs “Bitter Much?” (May 1, 2008), an
entry about “Ask
Missbehave
who “never will (nor will ever bother to) understand dudes’ uber-complicated
psyches” with an opportunity to discuss “their boy-related problems.”
On The Super
cial, an entertainment gossip Web site, someone asks of some
celeb’s current appearance, “Tan much?” (11:02 a.m., March 5, 2007), and someone
else speculates, “Fake tan much?” (11:10 a.m., March 5, 2007). Whereas both
is more likely a noun, which casts some doubt
, too.
cial, someone comments on an article titled “Rose McGowan
it’s all in your head
and the sentence expressed is natural and clear. The ellipsis in
172
‘by the way’,
ROTFLMAO
oor laughing my ass o
’. I’ve heard the
rst and third in casual con-
versation, and, admittedly, the
rst and second are a bit like
RSVP.
used in conversation or in Web texts, functions partly as a discourse marker,
like
in “So, I went to the Irish Pub last night and there were all these cute guys
there.” The second is a little di
the context of posts in which they appeared. I managed, after having seen it
repeat edly, to
gure out
ROTFLMAO
oor laugh-
at my own cleverness. A few months later I discovered the FAQ
page of the site on which my epiphany had occurred. After some consideration,
I reckoned that
FAQ
means ‘frequently asked questions’, and, of course, new
users of the posting board frequently asked questions about the initialisms used
there; indeed, all of the initialisms I had worked out on my own were de
there. I receded, rather quickly, back into the out-group, where I belonged.
Those hip to such linguistic stylin’ are likely to experience increased brain
activity when they encounter less usual
patterns. Such forms are wholly
experimental and belong wholly to their contexts; they aren’t abstracted from
those contexts into general use, and they won’t end up in dictionaries. The same is
xings, interposings, and many -
xed forms, though such su
it’s all in your head
may be less jarring to the linguistically savvy brain because the opportunities
xing have developed over centuries. Texting has established
xtures in the vocabulary, but you’ve got
to be in the in-group of texters to recognize them without alarm. (Many “speak-
ers,” including Microsoft Word, are in the out-group. I can’t help but think that,
for Microsoft, that’s embarrassing, though no surprise to Apple partisans.)
In other words, in all of these cases, shifting, in
xing and interposing, -
xing, collocations with
, and initialisms — and, of course, many other
cases not considered here — slang is less a matter of words stored in our cra-
nial dictionaries, more a matter of structure. As mentioned in chapter 1, Wil-
liam Labov suggests that, in the context of language change, “slang is merely
the paint on the hood of the car.” Were slang items just synonyms for other
words, he might be right; in fact, some slang items serve just this synonymic
purpose and no more. But slang is also implicated in the processes by which
words and sentences are formed, and this structural implication isn’t charac-
teristic of English alone: all languages have at least a little slang. All right, slang
isn’t the engine of language, nor a piston, nor the timing belt. But slang may be
the springs that allow the hood to open and shut, or the latch that holds it shut.
Slang, in fact, may be important to language without being quite fundamental.
You don’t need paint on the hood of your car, nor a hood, nor a body at all, but
cars as we know them today, as they’ve developed, in some cases necessarily, in
some cases contingently, generally have bodies, hoods, springs, latches, paint,
and much more. It’s unwise to be reductive about cars or, for that matter,
William J. Frawley, one of America’s preeminent cognitive linguists, argued
recently in a lecture at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention
all questions about language ultimately will be answered by understanding the
brain. We might learn more about language by studying the brain more and lan-
guage less. Some linguists are less cognitive than others and locate linguistic
phenomena in social behavior rather than the brain. We know that develop-
ment of the human brain occurred not in a vat, but in response to social engage-
174
SLANG AND LANGUAGE PLAY
Slang’s role in cognition isn’t limited to giving our brains lexical thrills. That it
it’s all in your head
175
Chomsky and so many other linguists mean the term, isn’t the language we
encounter in the social world; rather,
. Thus Steven Pinker points out
The Language Instinct
(1994) that because “language is so tightly woven into
human experience that it is scarcely possible to imagine life without it,” we mis-
takenly attribute language to experience: “Thinking of language as an instinct
of the humanities and social sciences,” from one or more of which you, like the
author of this book, probably graduated. “The real engine of verbal commu-
nication,” Pinker writes (though “writing is clearly an optional accessory” of
language), “is the spoken language we acquired as children.” If you think that
language is a product of culture, well, Pinker advises, think again: “Language is
One may accept the bulk of the Chomskyan view of language and still have
reservations. As Guy Cook argues in
nition of ‘language’ . . . e
ectively con
nes ac-
quisition studies to the development of the formal linguistic system in a
that stage. In our teens, we aren’t learning how to speak a meaningful stream of
guring out how to structure arguments or narratives. By
then, we’ve been arguing with authority and entertaining our friends with sto-
ries for years. In those later years, acquisition also slows: there’s just less of it
soon became language games you could play for fun, like anagrams or Scrabble.
In Argentina’s version of back slang, called
al revés
. You can use
to cover your tracks in conversation with the hip among the unhip, but
isn’t all about concealing illicit activity. A simple enough word, like
bepi
bepi
goes into this
it’s all in your head
all fucked up — which is appropriate, because
‘fucked-up situation.’ Sherzer explains that similarly
French o
178
it’s all in your head
‘insults.’ Played for fun or viciousness — and it can be either — the Dozens is a
communication particularly, since the television show made it familiar. Many of
it’s all in your head
182
it’s all in your head
They are there to be exploited to our advantage in many areas of human activity,
including language learning.” Slang and language play so easily converge; it’s dif-
cult to accept that convergence as mere coincidence. Once we’ve learned all we
184
about prepositions, for instance: if I’m in a tizzy, am I in it like the seed is in the
apple, or like plenty of other
sh are in the sea? Yes. And no. It’s got to be both:
it’s all in your head
social relations.
ction, and the language of its text may not perfectly
ciolinguistic negotiation that occur every day among all of us. Slang depends on
Weinrich’s principles for its value as currency in such negotiations, as a cursory
glance over a list of slang items suggests:
‘excellent’,
‘excellent’,
on the down low
it’s all in your head
tting in with a group partly on the basis
of lexical choices (or, as Lighter would have it, thoughtless lexical habits), to se-
is just another way to say
: “Oh, you were ahead of me
in line? My bad”; “Oh my God, I did your line? My bad”; “Oh my God, you’re preg-
nant? My bad.” In every case, in the case of every speech act, the perlocutionary
act is what the person addressed understands the utterance to mean. In all of
it’s all in your head
Aitchison points out, many animals are capable of deception but humans have “a
propensity for lying,” and lying is not mere deception but “tactical deception.”
Lying is inherently problematic: a lie is open to exposure because the truth
will out, and that leads to serious social consequences. People shun liars, not
always to the greatest possible degree, but to some degree. Lying carries a lot
190
it’s all in your head
Human beings turn into interlocutors for a
fth of their waking lives because they
are in a game which, when played under nature’s conditions, is essential to their sur-
vival and procreation. The aim of the game is to discover whom to choose as allies
Well, we can and we can’t: we can and must because we have evolved into social
beings, and social relations (as Dessalles admits) promote “everyone’s” evolu-
it’s all in your head
c ways ( loss of syntactic capacity in the case
of Broca’s area, loss of lexical capacity in the case of Wernicke’s). But we also
happens in the right hemisphere, too. And the language
“organ” apparently cooperates with other complex cognitive functions, such as
gesture, memory, and computation. When slang surprises it, points light up in
laboratory images of the unsuspecting brain — but those points aren’t slang cen-
ters. When we talk of language as a cognitive function and of slang as therefore
cognitively based, we aren’t saying that we know where or how slang happens. It
will be a long time before we can say anything much on the subject.
We also cannot say that slang functions like syntax or other linguistic ele-
ments absolutely essential to language. Because syntax is in some sense fun-
damental (Chomsky would say it is the
nally important sense), it must be an
inextricably cognitive element. In the twenty-
rst century language is what it is:
we can’t (and shouldn’t) imagine historical language without slang. Importantly,
imagine an I-language without slang, indeed, one can even
imagine an E-language ( language external to the brain) without slang, whereas
Consider, though: Can one imagine language without indirection, that is,
because no one heard it. Unless language makes a sound, so to speak, unless it is
manifest in practice, it’s irrelevant, much as the code DNA is irrelevant until it is
expressed in living organisms.
But surely the very existence of I-language can’t depend on our knowing
about it. Surely the whole point of identifying I-language is that we “know” it
it’s all in your head
proof constructs truth and existence. There may be some code in the brain we
call I-language ( I don’t mean to sound glib; it’s a very powerful code, and the
guage of everyday use allows us to prove that it must exist for language to occur
on the terms it does.
Slang is a show or a performance; it’s language on the edge of acceptability.
direction, rhyme, a pragmatics of nonsentences ( like “Broken record much” or
uity: it’s always language we don’t
“need” in the narrowest sense. We don’t “need” both
excellent
Pa-
It’s not clear that we need slang to challenge conventions and rules in order to
reassure us that we know about language or to certify that language is what it is.
Linguists already know that and what language is by describing and reconstruct-
ing it, from dialect to I-language. If we want to know about language, if we want
rmation that language is such and such a thing with this and that character-
istic, all we need to do is ask a linguist. You know, though, there’s never a linguist
around when you need one. Everyday people, especially teens, who are naturally
and rightly skeptical of authority, linguistic and otherwise, test the ontology of
language as they use it by means of slang, among other aspects of language. Slang
is part of the people’s linguistics.
Most language is automatic; remember that Steven Pinker calls what
prompts it “the language instinct.” One di
erence of too many to count be-
tween I-language and slang is that I-language must be unconscious. How many
linguists does it take to unscrew an I-language? So far it has taken thousands of
fty years ( including weekends) to work out some of what it is,
rming the existence of I-language and describ-
ing it properly is organized science — to the extent that linguists, psychologists,
evolutionary biologists, cognitive scientists, philosophers, and the like can be
organized. Much E-language, the external-to-the-brain language we use to com-
municate, comes so freely or automatically that it must operate below the level
of consciousness, too.
Jonathan Lighter, you’ll recall, argues that slang tends to “short circuit re-
ection and exalt snap judgments and habitual attitudes among social
peers” —
literally thoughtless language. But as I’ve suggested throughout this
is not only hip but hip to itself: it’s as often conscious, purposeful
merely
habitual. Slang often resists the automatic for social or
it’s all in your head
to which they refer is a late social development, and so an artifact of human
culture, or, like language play and indirection, a product of evolutionary forces.
That’s not to say, by the way, that language play and indirection may themselves
discoverable or worth going into. Chomsky, for instance, held out against view-
ing language in evolutionary terms for most of his career. In the past few years,
his previously hard line has softened, but not much. Recently language ori-
gin has been the focus of lively debate. In 2005 Marc D. Hauser, Chomsky, and
W. Tecumseh Fitch published an article titled “The Faculty of Language: What Is
It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?” in the journal
Science
. Steven Pinker and
Ray Jackendo
, directly in response to this article, more aggressively proposed
gland. Remember that the language Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky have in mind is
it’s all in your head
in the event, however, it much more likely accompanied or enabled spatial recur-
Thomas Eisner, the Schurman professor of chemical ecology at Cornell Univer-
sity, in a special issue of the
Virginia Quarterly Review
Why Darwin Is Still
(2006), explains how he began to study the scales on butter
y wings: “As a
budding evolutionist, I was certain that lepidopteran scales had ‘survival value.’
As products of natural selection, I thought, they had to have a function. But
what might that function be? . . . One hypothesis that I liked was that the scales
served to trap a layer of ‘dead air’ next to the wing surface, thereby providing the
airborne insect with added lift.”
But in the end, Eisner discovered, there’s a lot more about butter
y wings
it’s all in your head
Michael Ruse contributed “Flawed Intelligence, Flawed Design” to the same
Virginia Quarterly Review
that contains Eisner’s article. His essay
is into intelligent design, but I was surprised to hear the similarity. I wonder if Pinker and
Jackendo
heard it, too.
development. They are “evolutionary,” but in a soft sense, not in terms canon-
ized by the post-Darwin generation of Darwinian evolutionists; in other words,
they aren’t products of an inexorable and biologically central emphasis on the
survival of species. As Gould and Lewontin put it, natural selection is assumed
to be an “optimizing agent,” but optimizing may occur as a result of various,
uences. ( This, in other words, is where Des-
salles goes wrong.)
To illustrate their position, Gould and Lewontin turn to analogy, comparing
the biological phenomenon to architectural spandrels. As they explain, span-
drels are “the tapering triangular spaces formed by the intersection of two
rounded ar
ches at right angles” that are “necessary architectural byproducts of
an analogy, I realize, but we can conceive of slang as a space constructed at
the limits of more fundamental linguistic traits for no other reason than to be
it’s all in your head
colorful enough; the more characteristics a word or practice admits into its
pattern, the gaudier it is, and the more exotic, given the linguistic norm. If by
204
Chomsky and those like-minded are interested in what’s universal to lan-
it’s all in your head
uenced American linguistics, thought of linguistics as
an encyclopedic science, ranging across all human expression, from everyday
Phonology, the sound system of language, is basic to language and figures
it’s all in your head
Of course, Jakobson, Cook, Sherzer, Whitman, and I could be wrong. For in-
physical sciences.” No wonder Chomsky is critical of evolutionary biology’s im-
it’s all in your head
Bateman and Ellen Page. Elle Bishop, played by Kristen Bell, asks her
Heroes
titled “Cautionary Tales” (November 19, 2007), written by Joe
Pokaski and directed by Greg Yaitanes.
Missbehave
’s Web site is just as cool as the
magazine, well worth visiting at www.missbehavemag.com. It’s easy to
nd The
cial, at www.super
cial.com. “Broken record much” comes from the
y the Vampire Slayer
episode “No Place Like Home” (October 24, 2000), writ-
, edited by Jon Aske, Natasha Beery, Laura Michaelis, and
it’s all in your head
works by Oliver Sacks; Pinker discusses those mentioned here in
Language Instinct
, 307–314, as do Anne Curzan and Michael Adams in
How
English Works: A Linguistic Introduction
, 2nd edition (New York: Pearson Longman,
–348. My treatment of realism and antirealism is necessarily cursory
to
Narratologies: New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis
, edited by him (Colum-
bus: Ohio State University Press, 1999), 21. John E. Joseph characterizes the
From Whitney to Chomsky: Essays in the History of American Lin-
(Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002), 57. Jakobson paraphrased a famous
Page numbers in italics indicate references within the end-of-chapter “References” sections.
Even when it seems awkward, initial articles are omitted from titles, so
ce
The
ce
, and so on. All meanings of a word (and words with the same spelling) are included under
, 123 – 124
Abate, Frank,
, xii, 68, 120 –121, 127,
, 130 – 133, 136 – 137, 142,
accipurpodentally
, xii, 143 – 144
, 68, 70, 105
Ackroyd, Dan, 133,
acquisition, 89, 175 – 176, 181 – 182, 194, 205
Acta Linguistica Hafniensa
(journal),
, 38, 43, 46
Adams, Jennifer Westerhaus, xv,
adaptation, xiii, 197 – 202
adolescence, 85 – 87, 89 – 91, 175 – 176
Aiello, Leslie C., 188, 191,
airwavey
Aitchison, Jean, 188,
“Alcohawk” (Allin),
Alcott, Louisa May, 69, 78, 80,
Algeo, John,
Allen, Keith, 130,
alliteration, 46, 118 – 119, 122, 149
“Alone Again, Natura-diddly” (
al revés
alternative-fuel vehicle
, 176 – 177,
amateur diner
, 17 – 18
ambiguity, 185 – 186
America in So Many Words
Ballad of Peckham Rye
(Spark), 116,
, 147, 149
, 149
y the Vampire Slayer
, 59, 83
(Prokem), 177
Barnby, John,
Barnhart, David K., 2 – 3,
Barnhart Dictionary Companion
boarder
, 21 – 22
(Prokem), 177
(Argentinian
Bolton, W. F.,
, 14 – 15, 68
, 1 – 2
Book of the Courtier
(Castiglione), 156 – 157
, 154
, xii, 86, 154
Boreanaz, David,
Star Trek
), 60 – 61
Botha, Ted, 5,
, 154
, 149
, 147
“Boys Want Sex in the Morning” (Uncle
Bucholtz, Mary, 88,
buenos ding dong diddly dias
y-comicverse
, 140 – 142,
y-pencil
y the Vampire Slayer
, vii, xii, 79 – 80,
, 128, 135, 140 – 142,
167, 169, 171, 185 – 186,
y the Vampire Slayer #43
yverse
, 140 – 141,
Burridge, Kate, 130,
busser
ers, Ronald R., xiv, 11,
, 154
by-pass smalls
Cabellerial
Caballero, Steve, 24
Calendar, Jenny (
y the Vampire Slayer
, 38 – 39
Cameron Crazie
camper
Camp Snoopy, 131
“Camp Snoopy” (Peppermint Pat Eye),
Canterbury Tales
(Chaucer), 71
Cantonese slang, 85
Carell, Steve, 58,
Carpenter, Charisma,
Carpenter, Jeannine, xiv
coke burger
Colbert Report
Colbert, Stephen, 143,
Coleman, Julie, ix, xiv, 8,
Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
Collectors Club of Chicago, 20
Collins, James T.,
, 167, 187
(French), 123
, 82 – 83, 102 – 103
Dean, James, 179
decadence
“Deconstructing the Tindy” (Daniele),
nitions of slang, vii-viii, xiii, 7 – 8, 203
degerredation
(German), 104
Delpit, Lisa,
democra(caveat emptor)cy
De Niro, Robert, 134
Dennis the Menace
, x, 38, 41 – 42
dent de lion
Dent, Susie, 84,
Descartes, René, 192,
Des Hotel, Rob,
Dessalles, Jean-Louis, 189 – 192,
deuce
Dexedrine
Dialects and American English
(Wolfram),
diamond turd cutter
, 147 – 148, 156
Dickens, Charles, 35, 48
dictionaries of slang, ix, 47
Dictionary of Afro-American Slang
Dictionary of American Slang
(Chapman), 47
Dictionary of American Slang
(Wentworth
and Flexner), 47
Dictionary of Australian Underworld Slang
(Simes), 47
Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional
(Partridge), 47
Dictionary of the Underworld
(Partridge), 47
Duke University jargon (or slang), 30 – 31
Fanboys and Overdogs
(Dent), 84,
FAQ
Farmer, John Stephen, 47
“Farmer went trotting,” 124
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(Heckerling
Feeling frail, nightingale?
Female Chauvinist Pigs
(Levy), 146,
femur
, 121, 126, 128, 130 – 132, 135, 137,
142, 180 – 181
, 129 – 131, 135 – 136
, 180 – 181
Fulk, Rob, xiv
group identity, xi, 41, 55 – 61, 67 – 68, 70 – 71,
73 – 75, 83 – 85, 89 – 91, 95, 99 – 100,
104 – 106, 111
grow up
, 38 – 39, 41
gymcrockery
, 127,
, 21 – 23
Halle, Morris, 207
, 147
hammered
, 14 – 15
hammered down
Ho Ho
, 23 – 24
holster
homeboys
, 75
Homeric
xing, 177, 179,
Hominum
(Latin), 132
Hopkins, Gerard Manly, 129, 142, 206
Hornstein, Norbert, 174,
, 59, 82 – 83, 186
House
Howard, David, 67,
How are you?
How English Works
(Curzan and Adams),
How’s it goin’, protozoan?
xii, 115, 117, 119,
155, 176, 192, 206
th, 66
hung like a cashew
Hurston, Zora Neale, 71,
“Hush-a-bye, baby,” 123
Hutchison, Earl Ofari, 77
identity politics
Iesus Hominum Salvator
Jablonski, Nina G.,
Jackendo
, Ray, 197, 199, 201,
Jackson, Randy, 70,
Jakobson, Roman, 204 – 208,
“Jakobsonian Ideas in Generative
Grammar” (McCawley),
, 14 – 15, 186
(magazine), 81, 83 – 86, 88 – 89, 91 – 92,
, viii, 8 – 9, 182
jargon, vii, x, 4 – 6, 8, 16 – 31
Jawbreaker
(Stein), 136 – 137,
Jeepney, 92
“Jeepney Clothing” (Moeller),
Jennyanydots (
Old Possum’s Book of
Practical Cats
jerk the gherkin
jerk your jewels
Jesus
Jesus Christ
, 132 – 133
Jesus Harold Christ
Jesus H. Christ
, 132 – 134
Jesus Hebe Christ
Jesus Hebrew Christ
Jesus Henry Christ
Jesus Holy Christ
Jesus H. Particular Christ
Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ
Jesusy
, 168 – 169
Lamarr, Phil, 57
LaMorte, Robia,
Landis, James, 133,
language, 174 – 176
Language and Lore of Schoolchildren
(Opie),
ludlings, 178 – 179,
(Latin), 178
Lunkers, 55
lying, xiii, 188 – 193
Lynskey, Dorian,
, 38 – 39, 43
, 121 – 123
, 122 – 123
Macavity, the Mystery Cat (
Old Possum’s
Book of Practical Cats
Mach 5
, 62 – 63
mackerel
Mad TV
(television show), 57,
magaziney
Magnus Merriman
(Linklater), 122,
“Mags Shift from Laddies to Ladies”
(Sass), 91,
Mailer, Norman, 152
Major, Clarence, 47, 64 – 65, 68, 72 – 73,
Making of McPaper
Malcolm X
Mambuca, Dr. (“Slang Gang”), 57, 65, 71, 153
, 70 – 71, 200
Manchester Guardian Weekly
, 147 – 148
Man over Forty
(Linklater), 163,
, xii, 147 – 148
maquerel
Little Women
), 69, 78 – 79,
March, Jo (
Little Women
), 78 – 79
March, Meg (
Little Women
), 79, 97, 122
Marcia
Marcia fucking Brady
, 135 – 136, 137, 163
Mencken, H. L., 45, 48,
-ment
Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary
, 117, 136
, 14 – 15, 38
New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and
Unconventional English
(Dalzell and
Victor), ix, 3, 32, 38, 40, 44, 47, 49, 92,
114, 149 – 150,
New Yorker
New Yorker
(magazine), 5 – 6,
, 55, 77
New York Observer
New York Times
New York Times Magazine
, 147 – 148
Nigger: The Strange History of a Troublesome
Word
(Kennedy), 67,
y the Vampire
Slayer
Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes
(Opie),
Oxford Dictionary of Rhyming Slang
(Ayto),
Oxford Dictionary of Slang
(Ayto), 4, 34, 47,
Oxford English Dictionary
, 115, 158, 167,
(Mexican Spanish), 73
Page, Ellen,
, 122 – 123
Paradise Lost
(Milton), 43
Parco, Wong Tat Man, 85,
parler á l’envers
(French), 177
Pokaski, Joe,
, 1 – 2
pop her cherry
Posey, Stephen,
poverty of stimulus, 174
powder
power pill
pragmatics, 121, 126, 128 – 131, 133 – 136, 139,
Prague School, 204 – 205,
preman
Preminger, Alex,
232
See you later, alligator
, 114 – 115, 117, 119
, 154
Selected Poems
(Williams),
Semel, David,
semitumescent
senders
Seneca College (Toronto), 104
serious as a heart attack
, 74
“Server’s Lexicon” (Adams),
, 14 – 15, 68
, xii, 147, 150
smiley
Smiley, Tavis, 70
Smith, Roger, 132,
Smitherman, Geneva, 72, 74, 76 – 77, 93,
151 – 152, 154,
snockered
, 14 – 15
Snoop Dogg, 126
snow
snowball
Snowboarder
SnowboarderGirl
snowboarding jargon, 21 – 25
Snowboarding Know-How
(Weiss),
Snowboarding Life
Snowboarding to the Extreme
(Gutman),
snowheart
snowy
Adolescents” (Labov, T.),
social negotiation, vii, 93 – 104, 189 – 192
(Masters), 142,
stubby
, 3 – 4
stunt words, 143 – 144, 157
style, xi-xii, 81 – 104, 144 – 158
(Sebeok),
xing, 166 – 169, 173
Sullivan, Arthur, 37
y (
y the Vampire
Slayer
), 95 – 103,
Summers, Dawn (
y the Vampire Slayer
Summers, Joyce (
y the Vampire Slayer
Super
(celebrity-focused blog),
170,
superman
Super Mario
super-protecty
Sweeney
Sweeney Todd
, x, 36 – 7, 118
Swyden, Thomas A.,
Synonymic Fallacy, 93 – 94
synonymy, 15 – 16, 114, 165, 173, 186, 195
syntax, 165 – 166, 169 – 173, 193, 198
Toronto Star
Tower of Power, 156
Trachtenberg, Michelle,
track down
, xii, 148 – 150
, 148 – 149
Transworld Snowboarding
, 14 – 15
Travolta, John, 179
Treatise of Buggs
(Southall), 66
Treatise on Man
(Descartes),
Trends in Teenage Talk
(Stenström and
, 21 – 23
triple crown
, 18 – 19
Troilus and Cressida
(Shakespeare), 139
, 55
Warnke, Frank J.,
Washington, George, 66
Watcha doin’ pruin, stewin’?
Waters, Daniel,
Waters, Mark,
Waugh, Linda R., 205,
Way We Talk Now
WBUR (National Public Radio, Boston),
“ ‘We didn’t realize that lite beer was
supposed to suck’: The Putative
Vulgarity of ‘X Sucks’ ” (Butters),
Weiner, E. S. C.,
Weinrich, Harald, 185 – 186,
Weiss, Christof,
Welby, Earle, 45,
“Welcome to the Hellmouth” (
y the
Vampire Slayer
Wentworth, Harold, 47
Wernicke’s area, 192 – 193
West—by God—Virginia
West, Cornel, 70,
X-Files E
XTC
, 65, 120, 166 – 169, 172 – 173,
187,
Yaitanes, Greg,
, 82 – 84, 87, 200
, 155
Yo, dawg, check it
, 70
, 39 – 40
you know
youth, xi, 85 – 93
Yo, wassup?
Yu, Alan C. L., 122,
, 177 – 179,
zebraey
Zeki, Semir, 185,
Zimmer, Ben, xiv
zoot-suiters
Zutty
Zwicky, Arnold, 136,
Zwinky, 65

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