Two Excerpts about the Uniting Possibilities of Slang and Language
1. Slang Helps People Navigate Society by Giving Them a Place to Belong (Excerpt)
Although it’s often dismissed as unprofessional and inappropriate language, the fun and sometimes confusing lingo plays an important role in uniting — and dividing.
If there’s one thing Generation Z is known for, it’s their flamboyant and often confusing slang. Words like “deadass,” “lowkey” and “sus” are just a few words that have become mainstays for 16-to-24-year-olds today, and millennials and older generations often gaze in confusion upon hearing such phrases.
However, slang is more than just funny words that young people use to make fun of their elders. It is a symbol of being part of a group and a demonstration of identity.
While some people gawk at the seemingly nonsensical phrases, their effect on the people using them is undeniable. For centuries, slang has been a powerful tool to help unite, divide and reconnect people across the country and the world.
The Symptoms of Sundry Slang
The term “slang” was first coined in the 18th century, but the concept is not exactly new. Nowadays, the word generally refers to informal phrases that are indicative of a certain group. Different age groups, countries and even towns have unique vocabularies — some more apparent than others.
The extreme subjectiveness of slang is what makes it a topic that both unites and divides people. Using the same terminology as your friend, colleague or peer makes you feel like you’re part of something — like you belong. Alternatively, if you don’t know a group’s vocabulary, you may feel isolated, as you’re not able to fully follow the conversation full of foreign terms.
To put it simply: Slang is a powerful tool.
An interesting trait of “higher” institutions is their complete revulsion for slang. Regardless of the group a person falls in and the vocabulary that comes with it, a person operating within regular social constructs will not use slang in, say, a job interview. It has essentially been branded as an informal, non-professional set of terms that do not belong in boardrooms, classrooms or various other rooms that rely heavily on a set of social and cultural rules.
This classification can be attributed to two things: the personal, non-inclusive nature of slang, and its inability to be standardized. Author Tom Dalzell explained this in his essay “The Power Of Slang.”
“The type of slang spoken varies with the community of the speaker, a person’s neighborhood, social setting, and income,” he wrote. “These many stratifications create a barrier to the creation of a standard national form of slang.”
This lack of standardization makes slang unique. The informal phrases people use are a deeply personal and ever-changing subsect of language that never stays in one place. As such, it’s ripe for reactivity and allows groups to create slang on the fly to combat what they deem as opposing groups, as well as introduce new terms of endearment for those included in their own.
Coronavirus has led to an explosion of new words and phrases – and that helps us cope
By RL (Link to Full Text)
As the world comes to grips with the “new normal” coronavirus has wrought on our towns, cities and communities, society faces the challenge of figuring out how to talk about the impact the virus is having on our everyday lives.
Coronavirus has led to an explosion of new words and phrases, both in English and in other languages. This new vocabulary helps us make sense of the changes that have suddenly become part of our everyday lives.
Established terms such as “self-isolating”, “pandemic”, “quarantine”, “lockdown” and “key workers” have increased in use, while coronavirus/COVID-19 neologisms are being coined quicker than ever.
These include “covidiot” (someone ignoring public health advice), “covideo party”(online parties via Zoom or Skype), and “covexit” (the strategy for exiting lockdown), while coronavirus has acquired new descriptors – including “the ‘rona” and “Miley Cyrus” (Cockney rhyming slang).
How The Conversation is different: We explain without oversimplifying.
Other terms deal with the material changes in our everyday lives, from “Blursday” (an unspecified day because of lockdown’s disorientating effect on time), to “zoombombing” (hijacking a Zoom videocall). “WFH” (working from home) and “quaranteams” (online teams created during lockdown) are helping people deal with changing work circumstances.
This is to say nothing of the metaphors people are using to talk about our response to Coronavirus, from war metaphors – for example, Boris Johnson’s briefing where he stated that: “This enemy can be deadly, but it is also beatable” – to sports, storms, monsters, natural disasters, and more.
Linguists are already starting to analyse these metaphors, while Veronika Koller of Lancaster University is crowdsourcing the non-war metaphors that people use (readers can contribute to this repository via Twitter using the #ReframeCovid hashtag).
Attention has also been paid to how effective different metaphors are in encouraging compliance with public health advice, as well as issues of translation, interpretation and access to healthcare.
The language of social crises
While the scope of lexical innovation in relation to coronavirus is unprecedented, we only need to look to other periods of history to see how such linguistic creativity manifests itself in times of serious social crisis.
World War II gave us “radar” (RAdio Detection And Ranging) as well as “fubar” (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition), “snafu” (Status Nominal: All Fucked Up, although Situation Normal All Fucked Up is also a common interpretation).
From Vietnam we got both “clusterfuck” (a mishandled or disorganised situation) and “fragging” (the deliberate killing of an unpopular member of one’s own fighting unit, from the shortening of fragmentation grenade).
More recently, the UK’s departure from the EU (colloquially known as “Brexit”) gave us a variety of terms including “brexiteers”, “remoaners”, and “regrexit” – while conversations were dominated by new concepts such as “backstops”, “hard borders”, and “cliff edges”.
For major health pandemics, the lasting effect on language is usually that the name of the disease enters common parlance, as happened with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Spanish Flu (1918-1920), SARS (2002-2004), Swine Flu (2009) and others. But coronavirus has flipped the script and appears to be influencing public discourse beyond simply adding a new disease to the dictionary.
Given this process of lexical innovation, there are two questions worth asking: why are new coronavirus-inspired terms coined in the first place? And why have these terms found purchase in our lives so quickly? After all, new words are introduced all the time, but few of them enter the wider public consciousness in the way we’ve seen with coronavirus terminology.
In his widely cited article on linguistic creativity, Ronald Carter, former Professor of modern English language at the University of Nottingham, makes the point that “verbal play is often undertaken for humorous purposes, serving in part to bring people closer together”, as well as challenging the “normal” view of things. Carter goes on to argue that inventive language is not just ornamental, but practical.
In a mere three months, coronavirus has fundamentally changed our ways of living. It has closed businesses and transformed our working patterns. This new vocabulary has come to be a utilitarian shorthand for talking about coronavirus-related issues – from the impact the virus has had on our working lives, to the influence of the lockdown measures – or even just a way to poke fun and laugh at the world around us. The outpouring of metaphors, neologisms and lexical innovations we have seen in the past few months points to the fact that linguistic creativity is a key part of language, reshaping our ways of engaging with the world.
It won’t be long until the dictionary is full of such words. Feng Yu via Shutterstock
This new vocabulary also helps people articulate their worries about the biggest health crisis we have seen in generations. It brings people together around a set of collective cultural reference points – a kind of lexical “social glue”. In the absence of the regular social contact, shared talk is an important part of helping people feel connected to one another.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors in the spread of coronavirus terminology is the fact that we’re more digitally connected than ever before – in a way we weren’t during the SARS outbreak in 2002 or the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009. Instant access social media is now an integral part of our lives – and we share content with friends and family through a variety of social media outlets. The scale of our online connections means that there are now far more opportunities for individuals to coin a new term and share it beyond their immediate local communities.
In times of significant social or civic change, linguistic creativity not only reflects the major preoccupations of the time, but also shows how people gather to talk about new challenges and contexts. As coronavirus rages on, understanding the language surrounding it will be ever more important.
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