A USA Today article says, "...Take words already in use, imbue them with new connotations that have meaning for you and a circle of like-minded or like-aged acquaintances, and you have codes that signal you are part of a group."

„Slang is a complex and lively form of language, interesting to linguists not only for its forms but for the reactions people have in both embracing and rejecting slang. Slang often arises as a form of in-group communication, and attempt to identify with one‘s friends, family, social class, occupation, ethnic group, or age mates. It can be a kind of private language, devised to keep out the uninitiated or to test just who is a member of a particular group. It can also be a kind of shorthand, an informal style of speaking (or writing) that evokes a feeling about how things are being said. Most slang is short-lived. As a term makes its way into the larger language, it loses its special slang flavor and may be replaced by a new term. But a few slang terms may persist for generations, though not in the original group. Boss is slang today only for very few speakers, booze for many more. Dennis Baron, in Ask a Linguist (, 7/97

„(The word slang ) refers to words and phrases peculiar to a particular group and often regarded as non-standard and inferior.“ Todd&Hancock, International English Usage, 1986

I find it incredibly ironic that parents in the 90‘s (who grew up in the 60‘s) would be complaining about the slang that kids speak nowadays, and that it is just another sign that their values are deteriorating. Ironic, since the parents of the teenagers in the 60‘s said exactly the same thing. John O‘Neil, Harvard on Ask a Linguist, 7/97

Although the phenomenon has frequently been discussed, the term SLANG has rarely been defined in a way that is useful to linguists. Annoyance and frustration await anyone who searches the professional literature for a definition or even a conception of SLANG that can stand up to scrutiny. Instead one finds impressionism, much of it of a dismaying kind. Dumas, Bethany K. and J. Lighter, „Is Slang a Word for Linguists?“, American Speech, 1978, 1-2: 5

Slang "consists basically of unconventional words and phrases that express either something new or something old in a new way." Encyclopedia Britannica

The Importance of Informal Language and Slang in TESOL: A Survey of Thanet.

Over a four year period the researcher became increasingly aware that many EFL students who were reasonably proficient in English and who had been studying in the UK for three months or more strangely seemed to have little understanding of may common items of everyday informal language. This in itself was an interesting phenomenon, but there were other implications, namely that acquisition of informal language was not taking place, perhaps due to a lack of interaction with native speakers. The researcher socialised regularly with many students over an eighteen-month period and found that students invariably socialised with their peers rather than with native speakers. Given that informal language is invariably acquired rather than learned, this seemed particularly significant. Initial enquiries revealed an apparent absence of previously documented research on the acquisition of informal language, which highlights the novelty of the subject. The extent of students' knowledge of informal language was tested using data obtained by means of questionnaires to native speakers living in the Thanet area (Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate). Local EFL teachers were also asked to complete a questionnaire relating to informal language, as were the students themselves. The most significant factors revealed were a distinct lack of interaction between students and native speakers, which may be a contributory factor to the lack of acquisition, and the relative unimportance attached to slang by the students. More than half had "neutral" feelings about it. Furthermore, the fact that the mean score on the test was 48% is particularly significant. It is important to stress that this research was intended to be open-ended. Beyond the initial supposition that in general informal language was not acquired by students, it was very much a grey area. Hopefully, this research has gone some way towards making the whole issue a great deal clearer.

Questions on Slang

Is it true that the slang that kids speak nowadays is just another sign that their values are deteriorating?

Of course not. It's an example of false reasoning. Parents assume that kid's values are deteriorating (whether or not it's true isn't important), and we can hear kids using words parents don't know (which, parents assume, shows language deterioration). Therefore, their values and their language must be connected in this supposed "deterioration."

I read somewhere that parents and teachers are trying to find a cure for slang--evidently to keep their kids from talking in a language other than what they can under- stand. Is there really a "cure" for it?

No -- language changes, and people have been bemoaning the fact probably since people evolved to use language. Certainly the Sumerians complained about it in the first written documents five thousand years ago. It's like the weather -- people complain bitterly about language change, but no one has ever been able to do anything about it.

I find it incredibly ironic that parents in the 90's (who grew up in the 60's) would be complaining about "the slang that kids speak nowadays," and that it is "just another sign that their values are deteriorating." Ironic, since the parents of teenagers in the 60's said exactly the same thing.

John O'Neil

Slang research

A pump and a quiver, ace, aggro, airhead, airtight, all (as in be all, be all like etc.) and all-nighter.

Are you down with that? Because these are the first seven words found in "U.C.L.A. Slang 2 ," a dictionary written by 25 students from UCLA. But it's OK if you don't understand, the book was published in 1993, and, like, for sure, the slang has changed since then.

UCLA Professor of Linguistics Pamela Munro is familiar with the ephemeral-nature of today's college slang - she teaches Linguistics 88A, a lower division seminar dedicated to the study of slang. She has taught the course twice before, once in 1988 and also in 1992, which resulted in dictionaries with full entries of slang words, including parts of speech, and many even with an example of its use in a sentence.

"It could be as much as one week that a slang word is used, up to a hundred years," said Munro, a graduate of Stanford University and UCSD. "Some say they change really fast, and some words people were using before your parents were your age."

Using the slang word "cool" as an example, Munro says it is still used today, despite it's fluctuating popularity. It began as a common slang term in the 1950s.

Munro isn't all slang however. She spends much of her time concentrating on American Indian languages. Her mentor is Edward Sapir, who she says is one of the greatest American linguists of the 20th century.

An enlarged black-and-white photo of Sapir hangs in Munro's office. Her faculty advisor in college was one of Sapir's students.

"Linguistics is a weird, in-groupy field," Munro said. "We like to trace our ancestry, he's like my great-grandfather."

Munro began her interest in studying slang when she met Connie Eble, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at a linguistics conference. Eble publishes a new paper almost every year, discussing slang used by students at U.N.C.

Eble's work interested Munro, and from there, she began a project in which she asks students in Linguistics 110A to submit slang expressions. The first time she intensively looked at the words was in 1988.

"We pushed at finding a good, exact definition," she said. "You get a clearer definition of the word if you talk about it," she said. Her Linguistics 88A seminar has only met twice so far this quarter, and yesterday, students submitted four or five slang expressions to discuss later in class.

"Most of the definitions of the words will change (when they talk about it)," she said. "Other people have different things to contribute."

Munro makes note of the backgrounds of the students in her class, since each student has a different angle to offer.

"Slang is so neat because people use slang expressions to define who they are ... how they feel about themselves."

One of the obstacles Munro has faced in approaching a subject like slang is that often the words used in class discussions are offensive. She makes the first move in helping students to open up.

Today, she brought up the slang term "bitch," a word that many people are offended by and disagree upon its meaning.

"I brought it up, and I knew it would get people talking ... It happens naturally, eventually people will want to talk about (controversial words)," she said.

The actual definition of slang, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica is, "consisting basically of unconventional words and phrases that express either something new or something old in a new way." However, Munro says that everyone has an idea of what slang is, but still it is difficult to define. She didn't want to reveal her definition, since that will be a future assignment for her students to discover on their own. New words come about in various ways, says Case Western Reserve University's Associate Professor Emeritus of English Prosanta Saha. There are a "dozen ways" slang words originate, he said. In the dictionary "Slang and Euphemism," by Northwestern University Associate Professor of Linguistics Richard A. Spears, he describes the increase of slang use as a product of the 60s free speech movement. But Munro is emphatic that slang use is not increasing. "Everybody always feels there is more slang," she said. "If that were the case, nobody would be using the standard English language now." In the first study done by her and her students in 1988, the terms that generated the most slang terms were the actions of throwing up, being drunk, and having sex. "Barfing, boozing and boffing," respectively, was what the media then referred to as the lifestyle of UCLA students after the first publication of UCLA Slang , which was then turned into a commercial publication called "Slang U." The publication received media attention from Rolling Stone, Newsweek and USA Today. Despite some individual's sensitivity to slang, Munro thinks slang is only rude when hoarded to oneself. "It may be rude if it excludes the other person," she said. "If you were using terms that they couldn't understand, then it might be inappropriate."

back to Slanguistics:

About the College Slang Research Project About the College Slang

Research Project

The Nature of the Project:

The College Slang Research Project centers around the use of slang as a communication means by college students. The project considers the nature of slang, its usage and the effects of its usage. The project is directed by: Judi Sanders, Department of Communication, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. .

Project History:
How did this all get started? I'm not completely certain . . . but I think that what happened was this: One day I was listening to speeches in class and a student was talking about someone bagging on her and I wasn't quite certain what that meant. I thought I knew from the context, but I had some doubt. Then the obvious dawned on me: I was no longer hip enough to speak the lingua franca of the pancake steps even though I spent much of my time talking with college students. Suddenly I felt like an outsider; I experienced the boundary of a speech community. I'd had similar experiences before but this one seemed like it might give rise to interesting teaching and learning possibilities because college students experience this (and a kind of bilingualism) everyday. Thus, slang could serve as a site to study the relationship between communication and culture and be relevant to the experiences of students. As a result, the examination of slang became a project in my intercultural communication classes.
Students in my intercultural communication classes at Cal Poly Pomona have been collecting and recording college slang since 1990. Slang terms are collected by having college students listen to other college students speak in natural environments. Thus, the terms recorded are those that are currently in use by college students. We have produced dictionary collections of this slang in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1997. I also spent a term at Iowa State University in 1994 where another dictionary was produced.

The project has now expanded to seek submission of slang from college and university campuses worldwide through this web site. Data collected here are archived to a database and the edited collection appears here. Data are also used as one means of teaching some forms of social science research.

The Cal Poly Dictionaries:

The current dictionary, Da Bomb. Dis is Dope, Dude. Dig it! was compiled during Winter Quarter 1997. It contains over 800 terms. Due to good fortune, we were also able to produce a Summer Supplement to Da Bomb with data gathered during Summer Quarter 1997 (including over 300 terms).  You may obtain a copy of the dictionary and the supplement by sending $4.00 (for shipping and handling) with a note of request to:
Department of Communication
Slang Dictionary
Cal Poly Pomona
3801 West Temple Blvd.
Pomona, CA 91768
You may also request these by telephone at:  (909) 869-3522.  Or you may print out and mail a  written order form .

Prior dictionary editions are available from the same address at the cost of $5.00 per edition.

1994: Mashing and Munching in Ames
1993: Faced and Faded, Hanging to Hurl
1992: Kickin' Like Chicken with the Couch Commander
1991: Don't Dog My Do, Dude!
1990: The Cal Poly Slang Dictionary

Look for the next dictionary in July, 1998!

Savvy Reading on College Slang:

Get a clue! Not many books have been written about college slang in modern times (though there are several old ones). Here are some recent books that are relevant to understanding college slang:
  • Dalzell, T. (1996). Flappers 2 rappers: American youth slang. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. [Visit their page.]
  • Eble, C. (1996). Slang and sociability: In-group language among college students. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. [Visit their page.]
  • Eble, C. (1989). College slang 101. Georgetown, CT: Spectacle Lane Press.
  • Other college slang dictionary collections include:

  • Munro, P. (1989). Slang u. New York, NY: Harmony Books.
  • Munro, P. (1993). U.C.L.A. slang 2. Westwood, CA: Department of Linguistics, UCLA.
  • Munro, P. (1997). U.C.L.A. slang 3. Westwood, CA: Department of Linguistics, UCLA. [Visit their page.]
  • General slang references include:

  • Chapman, R. (1986).  American Slang.  New York, NY:  HarperPaperbacks.
  • Dickson, P. (1990).  Slang!  New York, NY:  Pocket Books.
  • Lighter, J. (1994).  The Historical Dictionary of American Slang.  Volume 1. A-G.  New York, NY:  Random House.
  • Lighter, J. (1997).  The Historical Dictionary of American Slang.  Volume 2. H-O.  New York, NY:  Random House.
  • Spears, R. (1997).  Slang American Style.  Lincolnwood, IL:  NTC Publishing.
  • Watts, K. (1994).  21st Century Dictionary of Slang.  New York, NY:  Dell.
  • Know some more interesting books? Tell us:


    Surfing for Slang:

    The web is ever-expanding. Some fun places to look for slang are:

    College Slang Sites:

    The CyberDorktionary
    DePauw University Slang
    Hep Cat Central
    Jennifer Doyle's 1989 Usenet College Slang Dictionary
    The Maryland Academic Quiz Team Lexicon
    U.C.L.A. Slang Excerpts
    Williamette University Slang


    General Slang Sites:

    The Alternative Dictionaries
    Chocolate City: Gay Slang Archives
    Cribbage Inc. Cribbage Glossary
    The Devil's Dictionary
    Disco Slang!
    Drug Related Slang
    Emergency Room Slang
    Gay-MART - Queer Slang in the Gay 90's
    IPRC: Drug Street Terms Database
    IRC Slang Dictionary
    Jargon File Resources
    The Jive Page
    Maledicta Links
    Masato Takano's (Japanese) Collection of American Slang
    Matt Lerner's Slang Dictionary
    NetLingo: The Internet Language Dictionary
    The Online Slang Dictionary
    The Totally Unofficial Rap Dictionary
    Truckers' Dictionary of CB Slang
    Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang
    United T's Homeboyz Guide to Street Slang
    Urban slang
    Web Surfing Lingo
    Weird Trucker CB Jargon
    The Word Detective


    Geographically-based sites for U.S. Slang:

    The American·British - British·American Dictionary
    American Slanguages
    AmeriSpeak: expressions of our American ancestors
    Bay Area Slang
    Bayou Slang
    Beach Speak Lexicon
    Las Vegas Lingo
    Louisiana Lingo
    Monk:  How to Talk Portland
    Monk:  How to Talk San Franciscan
    The Old West Slang
    Seattle Lexicon: Lingo from the Far Corner
    Speak 'Scansin
    Steve's Silicon Valley Slang


    Geographically-based sites for International Slang:

    The Alternative Dictionaries
    The American·British - British·American Dictionary
    Aussie Slang Dictionary
    Koala Net's glossary of Australian slang
    London slang: Mad Land Guide To Slang
    Outrageous Aussie Sayings
    Sinhala Slang
    South Pole Lingo
    Swearing in Many Languages
    Ye Olde English Sayings


    Sports Slang sites:

    The Climbing Dictionary
    Dictionary of Mountain Bike Slang
    Dictionary of Roadie Slang
    In-Line Skater: Hockey Lingo 1:2:2
    Waco Wizards hockey lingo

    Know some more interesting sites? Tell us: 


     From here go to:
     Participate in the College Slang Research Project   The College Slang Page 
     The 1998 Top 20 List!   The 1997 Top 20 List 
     Way Cool FAQs About College Slang   College Slang from the Web 
    Search all the entries in Da Bomb  Mini-dictionary from Da Bomb

    If you have comments or suggestions, email me at
    Last updated: May 5, 1998
    Copyright ©1997, 1998, Judi Sanders