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Main Features in Functioning of American College Slang

Moscow Region State University


(by the example of College Slang)

Moscow 2009


1) Introduction: Main Characteristics of Slang

2) The Main Part:

- History of College Slang Studying in American Linguistics

- Main Features in Functioning of American College Slang

3) Conclusion

4) References

Main Characteristics of Slang

The main function of language – communication - could be realized not only by codified literature language, but also with help of colloquial forms of speech, one of which is slang.

Etymology of word “slang” hasn’t an exact definition, but there’s a supposition that it came from spoken language. The first time it was published in XVIII and meant “offence”.

Still definition of notion “slang” is a subject of much controversy, but from linguistics point of view slang is nonstandard vocabulary composed of words or senses characterized primarily by connotations of extreme informality and usually by a currency not limited to a particular region. It is composed typically of coinages or arbitrarily changed words, clipped or shortened forms, extravagant, forced, or facetious figures of speech, or verbal novelties. Slang consists of the words and expressions that escape from the cant, jargon, and argot (and to the lesser extent from dialectal, nonstandard, and taboo speech) of specific subgroups of society so that they are known and used by an appreciable percentage of the general population, even though the words and expressions often retain some associations with the subgroups that originally used and popularized them. Thus, slang is a middle ground for words and expressions that have become too popular to be any longer considered as part of the more restricted categories, but that are not yet (and may never become) acceptable or popular enough to be considered informal or standard.

History of College Slang Studying in American Linguistics

It is paid a lot of attention to studying of slang in American linguistics. More important works in XX are monograph “Slang today and yesterday” by partridge and chapter “American Slang” in “American Language” by Mencken.

Introductory articles in slang dictionaries set standards for slang analyzing. Famous slang dictionaries are Dictionary of American Slang by Flexner and random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

First printed evidence of using slang by American students appeared only in the middle of XIX.

American literature shows two sources of studying College Slang: College Words and Customs by Hall 1856 and Four Years of Yale by Lim Bag 1871.

At the end of 19th century, after extensive slang studying in 90 Universities U. Babbit publishes the list of 100 words and phrases, named “College Slang and Phrases”. His work is foundational for historical learning of students’ slang, which is used in universities of the USA.

Babbitt’s list includes exactly third part of words and phrases, connected with people, places, rituals, difficulties, with which students have to face in their routine life.

For example, the metaphor “horse” (использование шпоры) from the list – transferred into animal (животное), beast (зверь), wheel (транспортное средство). Students’ gathering for making cribs named race course (гоночные курсы), and word “racetrack” (гоночный трек) they used to define word «сборищ».

This list practically doesn’t consist of vulgar and rude words, which is up to cultural traditions of 19th century.

At 60th - 70th of the 20th century interest to slang research is growing. The most appreciable studying of slang at that period was Gary Anderwood’s research, which he made at the Arkansas University. In Menken’s famous work just a little part devoted to American College Slang.

American journalists played an important part in the recording of College Slang: since 1925 year American Speech magazine has been publishing short lists of words, collected from different Universities. Current slang journal published the results of slang research, which were carried out at the faculty of English languages at the University of South Dakota (1966-1971). This research drew attention to unexpectable rising of words and phrases of Afro-American dialect in the lexis of American students.

Changes in social relationship in American culture caused the apparition of new taboo words in College Slang. For example, the word «целовать» had different ways of translation: to mug – (гримасничать), to muzzle (обнюхивать), to smooch (чмокать).The biggest part of Slang research at the end of the 20th century the beginning of the 21st century is carried out as small projects at the linguistics courses at the format “participant - observer”.

Development of the Internet considers as promotion for intensive learning of modern College Slang.

Main Features in Functioning of American College Slang

American College Slang causes difficulties in understanding. This fact can be explained by the following:

- wish of communicants to have an easy informal sympathetic understanding; orientation on spoken communication (familiarity, intimacy etc.); spontaneity, absence of preparation.

- inappropriate way of studying languages, because standard textbooks and exercises, as a rule, are based on idealized, artificially made language. It causes difficulties when students are not able to understand native-speakers, in our case, with Americans.

- decreasing of influence of American Standard English and increasing of using dialects, including slang.

Students’ slang is a group jargon. In English lexicographic literature this linguistic unit is included in special slang, set against common slang.

Orientation on spoken communication, easiness encourage to get into youth speech those words, which do not disturb informal atmosphere.

They are not suitable for formal communication. It is words such as roaddog, dude, boogerhead = chap, pal, fellow, bud(dy), guy, chum, mate, friend, associate – «товарищ, приятель, друг, компаньон» etc and they are that slang words.

Most attention should be drawn to that part of College Slang which represents emotionally coloured lexis, mostly used with ironical, mocking connotation.

For example, argotic bacon и police – полицейские; beef и problem – разногласие, проблема; buffalo chick и fat female – толстая женщина, mule with a broom и a very ugly girl – очень некрасивая девушка; business class и fat, too large to fit in a normal–sized seat – слишком толстый, чтобы разместиться на обычном сидении; dark side и the student neighborhood – студенческий район, seed и offspring, child – отпрыск, ребенок; dome и one’s head, skull – голова; fruit и a looser, stupid person – дурак.

Students take their innovations in lexis of popular social groups, which are their models of behaviour. This way a lot of argotic expressions were taken from lexicon of drug takers: hooch, tree, buddak, cripps, doobie, hronik, smokey treat – marijuana; one’s johny, blaze(on), burn, pull tubes, play monopoly – to smoke marijuana; hyper tweaked – cocaine addict.

Large part of students’ slang contents of lexis, connected with drinking alcohol and parties: chill – relax; have arms, chizzil – give a party; raize da roof – have a good time.

How you can see from abovementioned examples, that negative connotations are common for College Slang, as for any other kind of slang.

It makes sense to examine different kinds of shortening – abbreviation, cut forms, which are widely used in students’ slang.

Some of them are used in conspiration function (when taboo words are used): В.D.S.< Big Dick Syndrome «self-confident». Sometimes they are used with intention of language economy: ID Independence Day.

A lot of slang words are formed by cutting, for example: fam < family, fundas < fundamentals, basics < basic subjets, rony < pepperoni.

Special place in linguistic units rather large group of argotic words takes. It is represented by exclamations, which gives emotional colour and helps to express feelings. More often they represent short outcries and express various degrees of surprise: bonk!, chyaa!, eesh!, flip mode!, oh my goshness!, shnikies, agreement bet! dude! shoots for real!, ah… ja!, disagreement bet! dude!, negotary! ta huh!, approval dig that! cool! score! damm right!, embarrassment sqeebs!, erf!, joy woopty-woo!

Students’ slang confirms that languages structure shows heterogeneity of society. Also students’ slang is a source of enriching lexis of American literature language and an element of American culture.


One of the most important origins of slang is students’ cultural self-identification, thus the grounds of the subdivision of slang words and expressions were personal characteristics confirming this specificity and related to it.

Changes in slang during the last century reveal it as a cultural phenomenon, limited by a temporary social position of a person (“being a student”), and connected with the general cultural situation, contemporary morals and social “censorship”.

Nevertheless, the culturological role of slang consists not only in filling in lexical lacunae, but also in determining and self-confirmation of the cultural and social identity.

Perhaps slang is the most mobile part of the language reflecting the constantly produced cultural changes in society in a most subjective way (i.e. the attitude of students to cultural phenomena in most cases contains evaluation which is often ironically negative).

Another important culturological role of slang – not only American – is in adapting the speaker to some new cultural phenomena. It is visibly demonstrated by a wide use of computers in the learning process, acquiring and exchanging knowledge; and the “taming” of computer terms most often takes place in college slang. Slang words of other thematic groups work in the same way.

Of course, from the point of view of culturological studies a natural, playful character of slang is also important. Slang is often a sphere of humorous creative activity, which follows the laws of language consciousness and at the same time can indicate the ways for its further development. For example, a rich synonym row for one of the slang words shows on the one hand a humorous or ironical and contemptuous appreciation of a negative fact, which is refuted by the American youth from the point of view of their values; on the other hand it reveals the richness of language possibilities and rapid word creation in American college slang.

Upon the whole, slang reveals a dynamic character of expression, ironic features of contemporary youth culture. In addition it exhibits a tendency to escape from the power of false values, social insincerity, to pose itself as a positive social group, connected with the future of the cultural community, by means of language – comic/satiric metaphoric figurativeness, ironic parodying of traditional phrases and clichés, mockery at obsolete or contrary to the students’ tastes cultural phenomena.

Thus, materials about American college slang undertaken here permits to confirm the regularities of functioning of slang words and expressions and to discover new ones. Which are only becoming a part of the language cultural and request further examination.


1) М.А. Кочеткова «Культурологические аспекты сленга: сленг американских студентов» Нижний Новгород, издательство НГЛУ, 2008

2) The Online Slang Dictionary