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On English Slang

By Deborah Gardner,2014-09-12 14:05
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On English Slang

    On English Slang

    Abstract: Once slang was defined as “vulgar” or “illegitimate language,

    because it was the language mainly employed by people of low social status. But today, it has not only accepted by all kinds of people, but also has become an indispensable part of modern English. Slang mostly comes from sub-culture. It reflects all facets of modern life, and it is widely used by various people in society. Slang is a complex language phenomenon, and it is different from the standard language. It is a concise, vivid, lively, humorous and free style, so it is widely used in most western countries. This paper is intended to make a study on the definition and origin of slang. Meanwhile, it analyzes the four basic characteristics of slang. These characteristics are useful for people to understand more about slang, and know the culture and background of western countries.

    Key words: Slang, characteristics, humor, change

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     要,曾经被视为“粗俗低级”或是“登不了大雅之堂”的俚语!如今不仅仅渐渐被人接受!而且已经成为现代英语不可缺少的部分。它来自社会的各种亚文化!反映出现代生活的各个方面!在各阶层都被人民广泛使用。俚语作为一种复杂的语言现象!有着与标准语不同的语言特点!已经成为通用口语的一部分。它的生动活泼!形象简洁!幽默和自由化的特征!使俚语在大部分西方国家被发扬光大。本文就俚语的定义、起源、功能、地位进行简单的论述!同时重点阐述了俚语的四大基本特征,口语性、同义性、短暂性以及转升性!使读者进一步知道何谓俚语。

    关键词,俚语(特征(幽默(变化

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    Contents

    Abstract ………………………………………………………….…………..i 摘要…………………………………………………………….…………..i Contents…………………………………………………………..………..iii Introduction………………………………………………………………..1 1 The origin of slang……………………………………………………..…1 1.1 The definition of slang……………………………………………..…1 1.2 Three attitudes towards slang in the different periods ………………2 2 The functions of slang …………………...……………..…...…..5 2.1 Expressing strong feelings…………………...………………..….....5 2.2 Expressing euphemism…………………..…..…………………..….....6 3 Characteristics of English slang…………………..………………..…...7 3.1 Being highly colloquial ………….. …………………..…...…..…...7 3.2 Being abundant of synonyms…………...…..…………………….9 3.3 Being transient…………...…..………….………..….……..…....10 3.4 Having the possibility to rise into standard language………….....11 Conclusion……………………………………………………….…...…....12 Bibliography………………………………………….….……...…...…....13 Acknowledgement…………………………………….….……...…...…....14

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Introduction

    Slang has become an indispensable part of modern English. The early lexicographers mostly took a sheer negative attitude towards slang.Dr.Johnson, the compiler of the first English dictionary held that slang was the language which “ought to admitted into legitimate language.” Noah Webster, the

    famous lexicographer shared a similar point of view about slang and he thought slang was low, vulgar and unmeaning language. But today it has become an important part in oral English, and usually appears in film works and literature books. Although slang is very common and simple, it is very humorous and free style. It reflects the wisdom of working people and their elegant language art.

1 The origin of slang

    1.1 The definition of slang

    There is not any exact definition given to slang. However, the brief definition from OXFORD DICTIONARY (Oxford University Press 1933) can throw some light on the understanding of it, that is: slang is language of a

    highly colloquial type, considered as below the level of standard educated speech and consisting either of new words or current words employed in some special sense. The origin of the word “slang” itself is obscure. Many

    etymologists believe that it is related to the standard word “sling” as used in

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the picturesque archaic expression such as “to sling one's Jam.” meaning to

    speak rowdily or insultingly. A quite different opinion is that the word is a corruption of the French word for language”. The word “slang” first appeared

    in print around in 1800, applied to the speech of disreputable and criminal classes in London. The term, however, was probably used much earlier. To define slang is not easy as its connotation varies in time. Ever since the publication of the first English dictionary compiled by Dr.Johnson, the definition of slang has undergo dramatic transformation. These definitions reflect the lexicographers’ attitude towards slang.

    1.2 Three attitudes towards slang in the different periods

    The lexicographers in English-speaking countries hold three different attitudes towards slang in different historical periods :(1) the sheer negative attitude. (2) The sheer negative attitude going side by side with the strong affirmative one. (3) The objective attitude. The early lexicographers mostly took a sheer negative attitude towards slang.Dr.Johnson, the compiler of the first English dictionary held that slang was the language which ought not to

    admitted into legitimate language.” Noah Webster, the famous lexicographers shared a similar point of view about slang and he thought slang was low, vulgar and unmeaning language. Some critics even took a scornful attitude towards slang. J.P.Thomas (a British critic in the 19th century) inveighed: The language of slang is the conversation of fools, men of discretion will not pervert language to the unprofitable purposes of conversational mimicry

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    Friends of literature will never adopt it, as it is actively opposed to pure and grammatical diction.” It is accidental that these people took such an attitude towards slang. Their attitude was decided by the connotation of the word in their time. Before 1850, slang meant all word definitely vulgar language except cant (thieves’ language). From about 1850, slang was the accepted

    term for “illegitimate” colloquial speech. This can be well illustrated with the quotation from the book by Greenburg (in American artistic critic in the 19th century) and Kittredge (an American expert on Shakespeare and Chaucer), who wrote in words and their way in English speech.” Slang is a particular kind of vagabond language, always hanging on the outskirts of legitimate speech, but continually straying or forcing its way into the most respectable company.” As a whole, the educated people, and the lexicographers in particular, took a sheer negative attitude towards slang in the last century this is especially true before the year 1850. For many years after 1850, slang had not yet been accepted with general good grace because in 1873, Hotten (a British critic) was heard protesting the restriction of the term to "these lowest words, only which are used by the dangerous classes and lowest grades of society." This negative attitude continued to prevail towards the end of the 19th century. Nevertheless, those who came to see the positive side of slang. With characteristically epigrammatic force and exaggeration, he said in one of his best essays THE DEFENANT in 1901: All slang is metaphor and all

    metaphor is poetry These two opposite attitudes towards slang were both

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    prevailing at the end of the last century and during the early years of this century they existed side by side for decades. But gradually a third voice was heard that an elective but objective attitude towards slang. This can be represented by a professor of English at Oxford who said: While slang is

    essentially part of familiar and colloquial speech, it is not necessarily either incorrect or vulgar in its proper place”. A similar viewpoint was shared by J.Brander Matthews, who declared in March, 1893 through THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY:” slang is the foe and the friend of the English language .The distinction test of good slang is that it has a real meaning. Bad slang has no meaning; it is simply a succession of sounds, which because they come trippingly from the tongue impose on the ignorant imagination of the reader. Good slang is idiomatically expressive and has a narrow escape sometimes from being poetical.” Those voices argued for themselves and led to the objective attitude of the contemporary people towards slang. Although there are still quite a few conservative people who take extremists' attitude towards slang, the long argumentation as well as the widely use of slang brought linguists, especially the lexicographers to an objective standing point. Having had thorough and serious researches of slang, they have present to us some scientific definitions. In the CONCISE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF

    CURRENT ENGLISH (the 6th edition, clerendon press, Oxford, 1956), we can read such a definition of slang:” words and phrases or particular meaning of these that are in common informal use but generally considered not to from

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    part of standard English and often used deliberately for picturesque ness or novelty or unconventionality; words etc either entirely peculiar to or used in special senses by some class or profession." A more comprehensive definition can be found in (1) language peculiar to a particular group as a: the special and often secret vocabulary used by a class (as thieves, beggars). b: the jargon used by or associated with a particular trade, profession or field of activity. (2) A non-standard vocabulary composed of words and senses characterized primarily by connotations of extreme informality and usually a currency not limited to particular region and composed typically of coinages or arbitrarily changed words, clipped or shortened forms, extravagant, forced or facetious figures of speech or verb; novelties usually experiencing quick popularity and relatively rapid decline into disuse."

2 The function of slang

    2.1 Expressing strong feelings

    During the changing of language, slang is the most elusive and hardest to be understood. Because its source is extensive, the contents is complicated and variety. English is the most complicated and flourish language in the world. Slang is from all kinds of sub-culture. It reflects facets of society of western countries. Slang is mainly used to be expressed strong feelings. During the different communications, it has different model functions. Slang is a tool of language communication. Although it is not very standardized and

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    elegant enough, it fits for expressing strong feelings. In special occasions, it does not mean the literal meaning of phrase, but express the affection or praise of the talkers. For example, “She is the killer.” It means she is pretty

    beautiful. Another example, “You are so cool.” This sentence express the person is very wonderful. Slang, which is very humorous and vivid, makes the language proper. It usually appeared in informal or special situations. It is very colloquial. So the slang is good at expressing the abstract and general concept with the concrete and familiar things. In order to make the passages, sentences or conversations vivid, it is mainly used with parable and exaggeration. Take an example,” fat cat”, it means that person who is rich and powerful. This is a metaphor. Another example,” face lace”, this phrase means the person is very old; he or she is full of grooves on his or her face. These two phrases are very vivid.

    2.2 Expressing euphemism

    In the slang, the proportion, which the euphemism occupies, is biggest. According to the principle of politeness, euphemism is a language which commonly uses the elegant, persuasive and non-irritant language to take place the stiffly, frank, frightened and vulgar language. So it can help the talkers to overcome the psychological barrier and remove all kind association makes the person unpleasant in communication. There are two model functions of euphemism. In the world any kinds of cultures in any society has the language taboo. Generally speaking, the people thought avoiding taboo in certain social

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    occasions is a symbol that weighs the human relations civilization and the progresses of the society. This is why euphemisms widely used in all over the world. In the general taboo language, “The death” is the most typical taboo

    phenomenon. Because the death is one kind of misfortune and disaster, people have to hide this word. There appeared massive euphemism in England. In English slang, the euphemism about death reaches to 80.For example, to kick the bucket, to give him enough rope, to go without a passport, to cash in one's ship, to pay the debt of nature, to go to one's last home, to go to heaven. In daily life or official situation, people involve to the related amphitricha behavior, the reproduction, excretion and the body secret parts. In order to avoid vulgar words, the people are always using implicit and neutral words to take place the vulgar words. For example, pregnant(怀孕)this word has

    something with sexist when people express this concept, most of them use with euphemism. Some of these euphemisms are very interesting. For example, to have a bun in one's oven, to wear the apron high. Euphemism about "restroom" and "go to restroom” in the daily life are very ample. Take an example, Ladies' room, washroom, men's room, WC, toilet. Except these phrases, there are some other expressions: to go and see one's aunt, John or little boy's room.

3 Characteristics of English slang

    3.1Being highly colloquial

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