May 31, 2013
Is there a linguistic formula for how slang survives? Connie Eble is a linguist at the University of North Carolina who has been collecting slang from her students since the seventies. Eble waited until 1996 to review the entire list of slang submissions, which included over 10,000 terms. Only half of the words were handed in more than once, and only a small percentage lasted more than a decade.
The most popular slang terms fell into the following semantic categories:
- Excellent: sweet, killer, bad, cool, awesome
- Socially inept person: dweeb, geek, turkey
- Drunk: wasted, catch a buzz, trashed
- Relax: chill (out), veg (out)
- Fads: not!, word up
- Disregard: bag, blow off
- Kiss passionately: grub, hook (up)
- Attractive: hot
- Attractive person: fox/foxy
- Have a good time: jam
- Do well: ace
- Insult: diss
- Leave: book
- Eat rapidly: pig out
- Out of touch: clueless
- Worst situation: the pits
The top slang words show that speakers are most concerned with being accepted by others, which makes sense in a place like college. The list is also evenly split between positive and negative words.
For more on Connie Eble’s research, check out her book, Slang and Sociability: In-Group Language Among College Students.
(via PBS & NYT)