Slang is an Integral Part of Any Language – This is Also True for English.

Words are vehicles for the conveyance or expression of thoughts and ideas, and they only mean what we choose to make them mean. Thus we have babu English , slum English , slang English etc.  Now let's locate what slang are.

The slang words as it is defined by The Oxford English Dictionary as language of a highly colloquial type, considered as below the level of educated standard speech and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense. Slang is mainly the creation of those who despite or disregard convention and hanker after novelty of expression in the belief that it shows independence and originality.
Slang terms, with the lapse of time, come to be accepted into the literary vocabulary as ‘good English’. The reflection that many words which today are no longer regarded as vulgar or low, and are even indispensable if we are to express ourselves fluently and with ease, were at one time outside the pale of the literary or ‘polite’ language, must be a matter of great consolation to those who are not quite sure whether a particular term is permissible or whether it is still to be branded as slang. Until the beginning of the eighteenth century it was ignored by lexicographers and students of language alike but from the opening of Queen Anne’s reign, for the next three – quarters of a century, there was an awakening of interest in low life, and a number of dictionaries of slang were published, the chief of them being A Dictionary of the Canting Crew A New Canting Dictionary and the most important of them all, Francis Gorse’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

By the close study of words, as it is classified by the scholarly works mentioned above, we find the origin of a number of words which today are perfectly good and respectable English were slang before. It was a slang to take a ‘trip’ (a short voyage), live in shabby dwelling (in poor or sorry rig) or to ‘fun’ (a slippery trick) with friends. The words like ‘bet’ (a wager), love (man, fellow, rogue), chap (a dealer in stolen goods), blackguard (a shabby, dirty fellow), kidnap were once slang and now no more. Dr Johnson finds ‘to coax somebody’ a low word, Gorse finds ‘donkey’ uncivil but now they have become ‘good English’. The list can be enlarged easily.

It is, however, very difficult to say at what point of time the slang terms of doubtful characters journey to words of respectable standing. Many a word has probably been current in popular speech for some years before the more fastidious academic mind consents to recognize it.

We have seen already how slang words have, in the course of time, attained to respectability and been admitted to the language. But in a few cases there has been a movement the other way, and a word which at one time was quite ‘good English’ has fallen into dispute and finally came to be regarded as what Dr. Johnson would have called low. The modern ‘shove’ is vulgar tough it was a regular use in old English or in Middle English. Another interesting word which has suffered a similar declension is the Anglo Saxon ‘Lacan’ (To play). Again ‘Golliwog’ toys were as loved as teddy bears in Britain once. The golliwog was originally a character in children literature created by Florence Kate Upton in the late 19th century. Emid Blyton also wrote a popular book, The Three Golliwogs. However, since the golliwog’s hair resembled an Afro style, it fell out of favour. Now it is considered a term of racist slang – as is ‘wog’ (Worthy Oriental gentleman), an insulting reference to an Asian. Examples can be easily added further.

Studying on the nature of ‘slang’ usage, it is found that many a new words formed and many existing words are used in special sense. The slang ‘Tommy’ for a British soldier comes from Thomas Atkins, the name in the model form; it is ‘trouble and strife’ for wife, artful dodger’ for lodger. The ‘delodiam’ stands for old men, ‘elrig’ for girl, ‘emag’ for game. They are all mispronunciation of the word which is called backward pronunciation with vowel inserting to facilitate pronunciation. Again we find ‘slam dog’ an American slang for slum dweller or ‘Golliwog’ a racist slang for Afro Asian.

The English which look polished and refined are in the danger of loosing dignity if a social-cum-psychological interest has undergone a degeneration of meaning. It is the evolution of language. Possibly many others which now are regarded as slang or, at best, Americanisms or Indianism or so, in twenty five or thirty years, time will find their way into the vocabulary of the most correct authors and the most fastidious speakers.


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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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