American Slang

Perhaps one day in class you noticed your teacher pointing out the difference between certain words spoken in England…

Perhaps one day in class you noticed your teacher pointing out the difference between certain words spoken in England and how those words might be spelled or spoken differently in America. Language grows and changes, and it changes because of location. The same language can be very different in different places.
One of the ways that language changes is due to regional slang. ‘Regional’ is an adjective that identifies something as being related to a certain place or region. You might cheer for your favorite regional football team, or enjoy regional food.
Slang” is a word that describes words or phrases that were invented by people, they don’t come from the dictionary. Slang words could also be a new definition of an existing word. For example, in English, African-Americans from the 1950s redefined the word ‘cool’ (meaning weather of medium to low temperature) to mean good, or something that you liked. A band could be cool, that person could be cool, your new hairstyle is cool. This is a word that started out as slang but it’s now an accepted definition.

Usually, these slang words come from a certain place, which is why we call it regional slang. Here in America, most of the popular new terms come from certain areas. For many reasons, New York is considered to be America’s most important city; much of our culture comes from there. It’s also the birthplace of Rap music. Rap has given us so many new slang words that it’s hard to focus on just one. ‘Dis’ is short for ‘disrespect’, and it means to insult someone (usually another rapper) in a rap song. Rap has a lot of words and phrases that mean ‘good’, such as ‘def’, ‘ill’,‘dope’, and ‘off the hook’. The opposite of those words is ‘wack’, meaning to be bad or UNcool. If you’re ‘fly’, that means you’re good looking or fashionable. There are whole dictionaries on the internet of slang words used in rap; look those up if you want to ‘rock the mic’ (be a rapper).

Texas is the home of cowboy culture. There they love to celebrate horses, big hats, and the old west. California is where beach and surf culture in America is popular. A whole community of people are joined by a shared love of surfing and other sports that come from the beach. I mention those two places together because they share a slang word, but they two have very different meanings for it: dude.

In Texas, being called a dude is an insult; it means someone who can’t ride a horse. A cowboy might be referring to someone from the city when he says “there’s a real dude outside who looks scared to come anywhere near the stable.” In California, a dude is just a general term for a guy, a boy or a man. People refer to their friends as dude, and the word has become so common that it can also be used as an exclamation – someone seeing something unusual or incredible might just say “duuuuuuuude” the way we might once have said “wow”.

Other parts of the country have their own way of saying things. In Maine, ‘wicked’ has become an adverb – “That was wicked good!” In the Northern California city of Oakland, ‘hella’ serves the same purpose, such as in the sentence “I was hella mad at him.”

The internet has changed the world of slang. First, it spreads much faster these days; a word or phrase that comes from Florida could be on the internet and be used by people in Washington in no time at all. Because of the internet, slang is becoming less regional and more universal. What’s more, the internet has its own slang words, such as ‘noob’ or ‘n00b”, short for ‘newbie’, meaning someone who is an amateur or new at something, or acronyms such as ‘lol’, short for ‘laughing out loud’, or ‘imho’, for ‘in my humble opinion”.

This is the way language changes. Many words that were once slang are now in the dictionary, including ‘okay’, perhaps the most spoken word in the world. The speed at which language changes and evolves is faster than ever, and the creation of new words that start as slang is one of the reasons why.

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