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Slang: Totes Legit
April 19, 2012
This video, produced by Natalie Condon, originally appeared in LSA Today, where you can find more videos, including an archive of Anne Curzan's discussions of language.
Slang plays with words. It's part of what makes us rebellious. It's also part of what makes it very fun.
So we can say, "I'm gonna go spend time with the fam so I can hang out with the rents." Or we can go get some za because maybe it's delish. Or read zines, but maybe we think zines are ridic. Or you can go get a mani or pedi because you're taking good care of your bod.
Linguists call these clippings. And we can shorten words by clipping something off the front, as in rents from parents. Or we can clip off the end of a word: fam for family.
I'm very interested in a set of very slangy clippings right now where young people are clipping off the end and then adding an "s." So whatever becomes whatevs; totally becomes totes; probably becomes probs; and then we have haps, which may come from happenings, so there's already an "s" on it, and we get the expression, "What's the haps?"
Now, while many of these slang words are new, the process of clipping is not new. And some of you may have been thinking that when I used the word bod, and you may have been thinking, "That's been around for a while," which it has. It's been around since at least the 1940s. And, in fact, there are clippings that are no longer slangy or colloquial to us. They've become standard. So if you think about clippings like phone from telephone; gym from gymnasium; exam from examination; mic from microphone; and limo from limousine—all of these are clippings, but most of them now don't feel like slang. In fact, I can't remember the last time I said I was going to buy gasoline as opposed to getting gas.
It's important to remember we are using clippings in the language all the time.
Some of these slangy clippings will stick. Many will of them will not. But some of them will become unnoticed in the language the same way we now have the flu and the phone and the deli.
is Professor of English Language and Literature and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. She also has faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.