Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Idioms, Wikipedia.


vernacular vocabulary not generally acceptable in formal usage. It is notable for its liveliness, humor, emphasis, brevity, novelty, and exaggeration. Most slang is faddish and ephemeral, but some words are retained for long periods and eventually become part of the standard language (e.g., phony, blizzard, movie). On the scale used to indicate a word's status in the language, slang ranks third behind standard and colloquial (or informal) and before cant. Slang often conveys an acerbic, even offensive, no-nonsense attitude and lends itself to poking fun at pretentiousness. Frequently grotesque and fantastic, it is usually spoken with intent to produce a startling or original effect. It is especially well developed in the speaking vocabularies of cultured, sophisticated, linguistically rich languages. The first dictionary of English slang is said to be Thomas Harman's A Caveat or Warening for Commen Cursetors, published in 1567.

Characteristically individual, slang often incorporates elements of the jargons of special-interest groups (e.g., professional, sport, regional, criminal, drug, and sexual subcultures). Slang words often come from foreign languages or are of a regional nature. Slang is very old, and the reasons for its development have been much investigated. The following is a small sample of American slang descriptive of a broad range of subjects: of madness—loony, nuts, psycho; of crime—heist, gat, hit, heat, grifter; of women—babe, chick, squeeze, skirt; of men—dude, hombre, hunk; of drunkenness—sloshed, plastered, stewed, looped, trashed, smashed; of drugs—horse, high, stoned, tripping; of caressing—neck, fool around, make out; of states of mind—uptight, wired, mellow, laid back; the verb to go—scram, split, scoot, tip; miscellaneous phrases—you push his buttons, get it together, chill, she does her number, he does his thing, what's her story, I'm not into that.


See H. L. Mencken, The American Language (3 vol., 1936–48); P. Farb, Word Play (1973); J. Green, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (1985) and Green's Dictionary of Slang (3 vol., 2011); R. Chapman, Thesaurus of American Slang (1989); E. Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1990); J. E. Lighter, ed., Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (A–G, 1994, H–O, 1997); Bodleian Library, ed., The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699 (2010); J. Coleman, The Life of Slang (2012).



expressively and emotionally colored vocabulary used in colloquial speech and deviating from the accepted norm of the literary language. The Russian word sleng, which is taken from the English word “slang,” is most often applied to the English language as spoken in England and the USA.

Slang is used chiefly by students, military personnel, and young workers. Because slang undergoes frequent changes, whole generations can be identified by the slang that they use. Slang is easily incorporated into the literary language and can be used in literature as a way of describing characters and establishing a distinct voice for the author. This can be seen in Soviet literature in works by F. I. Panferov, F. V. Gladkov, I. E. Babel’, I. Il’f and E. Petrov, and V. Aksenov and in works by C. Dickens, W. Thackeray, J. Galsworthy, T. Dreiser, J. D. Salinger, and other British and American writers. The word “slang” is a partial synonym for the terms “argot” and “jargon.”


Gal’perin, I. R. “O termine ‘sleng.’” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1956, no. 6. (Bibliography.)
Shveitser, A. D. “Nekotorye aktual’nye problemy sotsiolingvistiki.” Inostrannye iazyki v shkole, 1969, no. 3. (Bibliography.)
Skvortsov, L. I. “Ob otsenkakh iazyka molodezhi.” Voprosy kul’tury rechi, 1964, issue 5. (Bibliography.)



R.A. Sibley. CACM 4(1):75-84 (Jan 1961).


Set LANGuage. Jastrzebowski, ca 1990. C extension with set-theoretic data types and garbage collection. "The SLANG Programming Language Reference Manual, Version 3.3", W. Jastrzebowski <>, 1990.


Structured LANGuage. Michael Kessler, IBM. A language based on structured programming macros for IBM 370 assembly language. "Project RMAG: SLANG (Structured Language) Compiler", R.A. Magnuson, NIH-DCRT-DMB-SSS-UG105, NIH, DHEW, Bethesda, MD 20205 (1980).


"SLANG: A Problem Solving Language for Continuous-Model Simulation and Optimisation", J.M. Thames, Proc 24th ACM Natl Conf 1969.
References in classic literature ?
He means all right, but he's picked up so much slang here that he's about forgotten how to talk English, and it's nigh on to four years since he's met a young lady.
The slang men, not a very musical race, still clung to the goat's horn trumpet and the Gothic rubebbe of the twelfth century.
Only, Clara is so down on me if I am not positively reeking with the latest slang.
Philander, if you insist upon employing slang in your discourse, a `lion.
I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays.
Everybody on Patterson Street uses slang -- that is to say, metaphorical language -- and if I didn't they would think me insufferably proud and stuck up.
He was at home here, and he held his own royally in the badinage, bristling with slang and sharpness, that was always the preliminary to getting acquainted in these swift-moving affairs.
He was a natural linguist, and he kept notebooks, making a scientific study of the workers' slang or argot, until he could talk quite intelligibly.
She would not say she was charmed to meet Miss Pink--the ordinary slang of society was not for Miss Pink's ears--she would say she felt this introduction as a privilege.
At first, Polly thought she had got into fairy-land, and saw only the sparkling creatures who danced and sung in a world of light and beauty; but, presently, she began to listen to the songs and conversation, and then the illusion vanished; for the lovely phantoms sang negro melodies, talked slang, and were a disgrace to the good old-fashioned elves whom she knew and loved so well.
to sweet, sense to sentiment, wit to humor and clean English to slang.
You have just shown us one of the chief evils, and that is slang," answered their mother quickly.