Everything you need to know about slang words’ origins
Published on October 11, 2022 / Updated on January 5, 2024
Do you use slang?
Chances are, if you’re a person living in the world, you probably do.
Slang words have been around for hundreds of years, and they take all different forms. Because they’re so ingrained in language, you might not even realize that many of the words you use are actually slang.
If you’ve ever wanted to know about the meaning of the word “slang,” what its origins are and how slang words are formed, you’ll want to keep reading. We’ve got a few interesting tidbits to share!
Slang is a type of language that typically consists of very informal words. Slang is often humorous, a little rude or very obscene, though this isn’t always the case. Slang words are more often spoken than written—though written slang definitely does exist, especially on social media.
You can often identify cultural, social and even age groups based on the slang that they use. In other words, the slang you use will differ depending on where you live, who your friends are, your culture, the era in which you grew up, etc.
These days, however, it’s pretty common for slang words to gain popularity outside a particular cultural or geographic group (thanks to movies, music and, of course, the internet) and become part of the general population’s vocabulary. If its usage becomes widespread and frequent enough, slang will make its way into the dictionary and stick around for decades to come.
When it comes to the word “slang,” there are varying opinions about its etymology. For instance, some scholars say the word has Scandinavian origins, while others believe the term appeared in the English language first. Yet others think the term is rooted in French.
While slang’s etymology isn’t completely clear, we do know that the use of slang has been around for centuries. According to one source, the use of English slang was first apparent in the different pronunciations and dialects of writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and William Caxton in the 14th and 15th centuries.
As far as the idea of slang that’s more similar to what we know today, one of the earliest-recorded types was called as “Thieves’ Cant,” a style of English used by British criminals in Elizabethan times to secretly plan their crimes without being understood (much like the Cockney rhyming slang of the 1800s). In 1699, the use of this early slang was widespread enough that “The First English Dictionary of Slang” was published.
The way slang words are created is just as varied as slang vocabulary itself. The following are a few of the most common ways slang words are made:
The process of clipping involves dropping the first or last letter of a word. There are three types: fore clipping, in which the beginning of the word is dropped; back clipping, where the end of the word is dropped; and compound clipping, where a compound word is shortened.
Blended words are formed by combining two or more words to create one new one.
Alphabetisms are words formed by forming a new word from the initials of several other words. The two types of alphabetisms are acronyms, in which the new word is pronounced as a word, and initialisms, where each letter of the new word is read separately.
Coinage refers to coining, or inventing, completely new words.
Hopefully, we’ve shed some light on what slang is, where it comes from and how new words work their way into our everyday lives. Next time you’ve got some time on your hands, why not have a little fun by trying to create your own slang words? Who knows—maybe they’ll catch on!