1. The term slang is first recorded in the 1750s, but it was not used by Dr Johnson in his Dictionary of 1755 nor entered in it as a headword (he used the term low word, with implications of disapproval). Nonetheless, the notion of highly informal words or of words associated with a particular class or occupation is very old, and this type of vocabulary has been commented on, usually with disfavour, for centuries. More recently, the development of modern linguistic science has led to a more objective assessment in which slang is seen as having a useful purpose when used in the right context.
2. Drawing the line between colloquial language and slang is not always easy; slang is at the extreme end of informality and usually has the capacity to shock. In English slang often has associations of class or occupation, so that many slang words have their origins in cant (the jargon of a particular profession, e.g. bogus, flog, prig, rogue), criminal slang (broad = female companion, drag = inhalation of tobacco smoke, nick = to steal), racing slang (dark horse, no-hoper, hot favourite), military slang (bonkers = crazy, clobber = beat or defeat, ginormous = huge), and most recently computing slang (hacking = breaking into networks, surfing = browsing on the Internet). Other words stay largely within their original domain of usage, such as drugs slang (flash = pleasant sensation from a narcotic drug, juice = a drug or drugs) and youth slang (blatantly = definitely, wicked = excellent).
3. Slang words are formed by a variety of processes, of which the following are the main ones:
a) established words used in extended or special meanings: flash and juice in the previous paragraph, awesome = excellent, hooter = nose, take out = kill.
b) words made by abbreviation or shortening: fab from fabulous, pro from professional, snafu (= situation normal: all fouled up).
c) rhyming slang: Adam and Eve = believe, butcher's (hook) = look.
d) words formed by compounding: airhead = stupid person, couch potato = person who lazes around watching television, snail mail = ordinary mail as opposed to email.
e) merging of two words: ‘portmanteau’ words such as ditsy = dotty + dizzy, ginormous = gigantic + enormous.
f) backslang, in which the spelling or sound of other words are reversed: yob from boy, slop from police.
g) reduplications and fanciful formations: heebie-jeebies, okey-doke.
h) words based on phrases or idioms: bad-mouth = to abuse, feel-good as in feel-good factor, in-your-face = aggressive, drop-dead = extremely (beautiful etc.), must-have = essential, one-night stand = brief sexual encounter.
i) loanwords from other languages: gazump, nosh, shemozzle from Yiddish, kaput from German, bimbo from Italian (= little child).
j) words taken from dialect or regional varieties: manky = dirty, from Scottish; dinkum = genuine, right, Australian and New Zealand.
4. Slang uses are especially prevalent in areas in which direct language is regarded as taboo or unsocial, such as death (to kick the bucket, to hand in one's nosebag, to snuff it), sexual functions (to have it off, to screw), and excretion (to dump, to sit on the throne).
5. Slang is by its nature ephemeral, and relatively few words and uses pass into standard use. Examples of these include bogus, clever, joke, and snob (all classed by Dr Johnson as ‘low words’). Conversely some words that were once standard have passed into slang (e.g. arse, shit, tit).
6. The first work to record English slang was published as B.E.'s Dictionary of the Canting Crew in 1699. Modern works include Eric Partridge's famous Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937; most recently edited by Paul Beale, 2002), The Oxford Dictionary of Slang (edited by John Ayto, 1998), The Slang Thesaurus (2nd edition, edited by Jonathon Green, 1999), and the Cassell Dictionary of Slang (also edited by Jonathon Green, 2000).

Modern English usage. 2014.

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