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Slang

Following on from last week’s blog on Proverbs, I thought I’d take a look at slang, as it’s another important part of the language used by English speakers on a daily basis. If you have no knowledge of it, you may find yourself getting lost very quickly in conversations with native speakers, especially the younger generation.

So what is slang exactly? The definition of slang is words that are used on a regular basis, but are not considered part of the standard language. Rather they are considered acceptable in certain social situations, such as with friends. But, this definition is not set in stone and many people believe that trying to define what is considered slang is impossible. The official definition of slang in the Oxford Dictionary is:

a type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal’ – you would not want to use slang in a formal situation, it may come across as unprofessional

‘are more common in speech than writing’ – you will not see slang being used in business writing. You may see it used by the more informal writers, such as those writing blogs, or in fiction when it’s used as the speech of characters

and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people’ – this means the slang is only spoken amongst your group of friends or peers.

And don’t think that slang words are always new. Take for example slang words for food, such as grub, which dates back to 1659; chow, which dates back to 1886 and nosh, which dates back to 1965. So, many words that are considered slang have been around for many years, in some cases, hundreds of years!

All that explanation may seem a little complicated and, it is! It’s not really necessary for you to know what is and what isn’t officially considered to be slang – you just need to know what, when and how to use it. And do be prepared for hilarious laughter when you do, as there’s nothing more endearing than a non-native speaker using slang!

Some Examples of Commonly used Slang

This is quite a difficult section to write as slang changes so frequently and can change from location to location too! So, I’ll just give you a few examples here and then link you to some pages that contain many more examples for you to learn. Do also bear in mind that a huge amount of slang is used for insults or is considered rude, so if you offend easily, don’t get too involved in using slang.

gutted – disappointed e.g. ‘The concert has been cancelled, I’m gutted.’

chuffed – very happy e.g. ‘I’m chuffed to bits with this new pen.’

whinge – to moan about something e.g. ‘He’s having a right old whinge about it.

tad – a little amount e.g. ‘I’m a tad upset about losing £5.’

quid – a term for money e.g. ‘He wanted three quid for it.

gobsmacked – taken by surprise e.g. ‘I was totally gobsmacked by the results of that exam.’

off his face – extremely intoxicated e.g. ‘He’s completely off his face on wine.’

old fart – an elderly person e.g. ‘He’s acting like a right old fart.’

Other Websites for Learning Slang

If you want to learn more, there are lots of websites stuffed full of slang that people overseas think we use. But, a word of caution first, do be careful when you use these sites, some of the terms are no longer used in everyday speech in the UK. For example, many websites give the word ‘ace’ with the definition of wonderful or brilliant, that’s usually used as an exclamation e.g. ‘That car is just ace!’. Whilst this word was used in this sense when I was young, that’s 20 odd years ago, and it’s not used so much now. Of course, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you used it, it’s just some people might not know what you mean.

A Dictionary of Slang – this is a great website with lots of alphabetised examples.

Anglotopia – this page features what the author feels are the most beautiful of British slang terms, they are also, in my opinion, some of the most commonly used.

The Very Best of British Slang – this is written from an American’s perspective so the explanations and translations are into American English.

If you want some more help, including exercises using slang, eslflow is a great place to start with lots of work sheets for you to complete. International House, Bristol also have some exercises for you to complete. And, the British Library has a great section, with exercises on slang.

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Susan Metcalfe - head of Business Training - discusses business, training and work issues. Come and join in the conversation or just enjoy the read!