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Slang

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About slang

Slang is a type of language consisting of words and phrases that are:
  • considered to be very informal
  • more common in speech than in writing
  • typically restricted to a particular context or group of people
slang

Slang may be all things to all people. According to the American poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), slang is "language which takes off its coat, spits on its hands - and goes to work." The Concise Oxford Dictionary is more prosaic: "words, phrases, and uses that are regarded as very informal and are often restricted to special contexts or are peculiar to a specified profession, class, etc (racing slang; schoolboy slang)."

The problem for learners of English is to know when or when not to use slang. Many people condemn slang, but in fact we all use it. The trick is to use slang in the right context. For the learner, perhaps the first thing to remember is that slang is normally spoken, not written. The second thing is that you may wish to learn slang so that you can understand it when you hear it, but not necessarily to use it.

The origin of the word "slang" is unknown.

Slang register

Offensive slangOffensive slang
These words should be used with care. Although they are not particularly "hot", they can be offensive to the person they are applied to. For example, if you call somebody an "airhead", that person could be insulted although anybody listening would not be shocked.

Vulgar slangVulgar slang
Vulgar slang words should be used with extreme care. In general we recommend that non-native speakers do not use this language. If used inappropriately, you could easily shock both the person you are talking to and anyone listening. You could cause resentment and anger.

Taboo slangTaboo slang
In general, taboo words are the most shocking in the language and should be avoided. We recommend that non-native speakers do not use this language. As with vulgar slang, you could easily shock both the person you are talking to and anyone listening. You could cause extreme resentment and anger, with unpredictable results.

Quick searches:

Offensive slang Offensive slang
Vulgar slang Vulgar slang
Taboo slang Taboo slang

Contributor: Matt Errey