The Importance of Slang in a language

By Grace Duffy / May 27, 2021
importance of slang

*Warning: cringe-worthy slang words ahead!

“Would you just feck off! Whatever”. Ahh, the beautiful words of slang, where would we be without them? For some reason, slang just feels right. It’s casual, it’s quick and when you’re feeling angry, it erupts in a passionate display of grammatically incorrect phrases. Putting it bluntly, slang is fab, the bomb diggity even, but just how important is it in a language? Aiight let’s find out!

As you’re no doubt aware, all over the world today, no matter what language they speak, people are using slang. Take Ireland for example, 32 counties but with more than double the amount of accents, dialects and phrases, it can be hard to tell where slang ends and grammatical accuracy begins. Given the vast array of words at our disposal in Ireland it can be hard to pin down all of them, so, for now, we’ll just look at the basics. The most common slang words found in Ireland are: feck, eejit, saunter, wee, craic and shite. If you wanted to get colourful, you could mix and match these and call someone a “wee shite” or a “feckin eejit” or how about, “would you look at that wee eejit, fecking sauntering about, chatting shite”. The sky’s the limit!

rsz moolah
But why do we use slang?

Slang has been a part of most languages for as long as there have been languages to speak. However, English slang first came into being around the 16th and 17th centuries, when it was used by criminal gangs and considered something of a taboo. From then on, it found its way into pop culture and has been evolving ever since.

Expression – Do you even lift, Bruh?

For the most part, our use of slang stems from a desire for expression. It keeps the language fresh as there are words that were slang in their heyday but now have become obsolete, such as the cat’s pajamas and tickety-boo. It also helps to add flavour to our insults, for example, telling someone to “have coitus with thyself” just doesn’t pack quite the same punch as saying “go f**k yourself”. Granted, not all slang words are curse words, but it is an important component of slang and one that changes from country to country. 

ResistanceIt’s not a phase mom!

Slang also allows young people to have their own identity as they grow up. It can be a subtle form of resistance, with the phrase “okay, boomer” now being one of the most common sayings circulating on the internet. Not to mention the phrase “whatever, Karen” which epitomises that annoying middle-aged woman who could suck the fun out of any situation. Yes, slang may be confusing at times for the older generations as it can leave many feeling at a loss as to what their kids and grandkids are actually saying, but it’s also a necessary part of growing up. For example, in the 1950s in America, the phrases “cruisin’ for a bruisin” and “knuckle sandwich” were used by the youth as a way of asserting themselves. So, don’t feel too bad for your grandparents because they used slang as well. 

Identity It’s a vibe

As already mentioned, slang is used for expression and resistance but it can also be essential to a person’s culture and identity. In Ireland, when someone uses a term like “jaysus”, it sails right over your head because you hear it all the time. However, when you are on holiday or have just moved to a new country, slang can be a comfort. It’s happened to us all: you’re on holiday and you overhear another group of tourists talking and you hear that slang word that is so familiar and suddenly you feel at home. Slang can also be an identifier. For example, the word “awesome” makes you think of Americans much the same way that “crikey” or “G’day mate” might make you think of an Aussie. 

rsz awesome

The Benefits 
Inclusion – Can you dig it? 

It is essential for language learners if they want to simply communicate and feel at home. It comes as no surprise that what you learn in your language classes is not what is spoken on the streets and it can make adjusting to a new country a bit harder. Take, for example, a newcomer to the English language who has only learned the word “money”. They will soon find themselves very confused when confronted with the enormous selection of slang words for this simple term, such as quid, buck, cheese, cash, cash money, paper and moolah, the list goes on and on.

Therefore, slang represents the real version of a language, the lived version, and is a relaxed form of communication that helps to break down language and cultural barriers. Moreover, slang is important and you can be stoked with the knowledge that you can tell people what you really think in a foreign language, even if all you’re saying is “Get lost”.

Faux pasMy bad

Slang also helps you to avoid certain faux pas and stops a native speaker from going ballistic at you because you accidentally insulted their mother. This is especially important for language learners and, yes, it can be somewhat of a bummer feeling like the outsider and having extra words to memorise, but let’s be honest, when you learn a new slang word, you feel pretty rad. Either way, these words make it easier to meet new friends and can help you sound cool! Okay, I’ll stop now. 

rsz jaysus

The Downsides 
Degradation I’m not living for it

However, there are some downsides to slang, like the degradation of the language and the introduction of incorrect grammar. I mean, do you even speak Instagram? Take, for example, the following words and phrases that are currently spoken by celebrities and social media darlings: Shooketh, lit, spill the tea, snatched, extra, okurr (you can blame Cardi B for that one) and “it’s a mood”. Online slang has evolved almost into a dialect of its own and is awash with inaccuracies and double negatives which oftentimes can have an awful effect on young people and their level of grammar. 

DilutionI heard that

In addition to the grammar mistakes, the online repertoire that we have all become accustomed to could dilute unique cultural slang. Tell me if this sounds familiar:

“Hey, guys! I am super excited because I’m about to share my new workout with you on how to get that snatched waist. It’s so amazing, you guys, like I can’t even. Although, I have to say, I am not living for this lighting because last time I used it I looked awful and your girl was shook.” 

This could have been said by any YouTuber in the English speaking world which is both sad and impressive. It shows how the internet has changed modern day slang and, as a result, American slang has been absorbed into the online language of other nationalities. Moreover,  slang is supposed to be fun and expressive, but, if we’re all using the same generic words, how does that make you stand out? I personally think we should bring back “Afternoonified” from the 1800s which means smart or dapper. 

That being said, despite all the pros and cons, slang is the special sauce that adds extra flavour to a language. It may be incorrect at times, but they’re our incorrect words and anyone who says otherwise needs to be kicked to the curb. 

So, peace out and I’ll catch you on the flip-side! 

 

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About the author

Grace Duffy

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