A Level English Language Website
Why do people use slang, and how are slang terms created?
By Paul Baker
Slang is one of the most creative forms of language in existence. Many slang terms originate within small social groups of speakers and gradually spread out to the wider population. Many innovative slang terms are created by young people, and are connected to various fashions or interests that are shared by social groups. The media (newspapers, television and the internet) help to spread slang terms. However, once a slang term is known to lots of people, it has usually lost the qualities that made it so attractive in the first place - its exclusivity and way of marking its users as different from everyone else. Therefore, slang words have a very high turn-over - groups of slang users constantly need to invent slang terms as the old ones are discovered and appropriated by a wider audience. Slang is very similar to fashion.
Successful slang words usually have something unusual about them, which will make people notice, remember and reuse it. Rhyming phrases such as easy-peasy and hells-bells are popular because they are easy to remember. While rhymes are one of the most common forms found in slang, there are many others, pararhymes: (flip-flop), repetitions (fifty-fifty, yoyo) and blends (which combine the meanings or sounds from two words together: ginormous, fantabulous). Alliterations are phrases which begin with the same letter of the alphabet: face-fungus, silly sausage, while consonances contain the repetition towards the end of each word in the phrase: happy bunny, hunky-dory. Assonances employ a repetition of the central vowel sound: hen-pecked, hit-list and reverse rhymes have an identical initial consonant and vowel sound: muscle muffin, yum-yuk.
Another popular method of creating slang terms involves truncating the word to a single syllable (tats, tache), or by using an abbreviation format (TTFN, TV). The success of such forms of slang can be partly explained by Zipf's Law which states that the shorter a word or phrase, the more likely it is to be found in verbal discourse. Short items are easier to remember than long items, and the process of chunking, by reducing longer items to memorable chunks allows them to be retained more easily in memory.