The Evolution of English Slang in 2024

Hello everyone,

Slang is a type of informal language that is popular with certain groups of people. It includes made-up words, phrases with new meanings, and existing words used in creative ways.

Slang can be fun to use, but it can also be hard to understand for those outside the group. It helps people connect as an “in-group.”

The English language is always evolving and changing.

New slang words and phrases appear all the time as different groups find clever new ways to communicate.

Looking at the history of slang gives us a window into how English has evolved over the centuries.

Origins of Slang

The very earliest slang can be traced back to around the 16th century. Some of the first recorded examples come from the Thieves’ Cant or Rogues’ Cant used by criminals, beggars, and hustlers of that era.

Words like “bung” (a purse or money), “rig” (a criminal operation), and “nab” (to steal) entered English from this underground jargon.

During the late 1600s and 1700s, more slang terms emerged from the vocabulary of sailors, travelers, and colonists exploring new parts of the world.

Words like “hogwash” (nonsense), “paltry” (weak or worthless), and “bamboozle” (to trick or deceive) have their roots in this period.

In the 1800s, slang usage increased dramatically as cities rapidly grew. Different urban subcultures developed their own argot or cant vocabularies.

Some lasted for decades, like the slang of London’s East End rhyming slang (such as “apples and pears” for stairs). Regional slang from places like New York also made a big impact during this century.

As the 20th century dawned, new technologies like radio, movies, sports, and eventually television beamed slang into people’s homes across the English-speaking world.

Rebellious youth culture embraced and popularized slang more than ever before.

Modern Slang Evolution

Today, slang evolves at breakneck speed compared to past eras.

Music, memes, social media, internet culture, and evolving technology all churn out new vocabulary at an extraordinary rate.

For example, the word “sick” has gone from meaning ill or unwell to indicating that something is excellent or amazing (as in “That movie was sick!”).

Likewise, “bad” has developed a contradictory slang meaning of good (“She’s a bad rapper”). Going back a few decades, “cool” transformed from a temperature descriptor to the epitome of stylish.

The tech realm and gaming communities generate huge volumes of modern slang.

Gamers use acronyms like “GG” (good game), “DPS” (damage per second), or “frag” (kill an opponent’s character).

From the tech world we get terms like “trolling” (intentionally provoking people online), “noob” (an inexperienced newbie), and “FOMO” (fear of missing out).

Social media has its own lingo:

“TBT” (Throwback Thursday), “ICYMI” (in case you missed it), “IRL” (in real life), and “LIT” (amazing or exciting). Short-lived trendy slang terms appear almost weekly thanks to memes and platforms like TikTok.

Slang and Social Groups

In-group identity and exclusion are strong drivers of slang formation and evolution. Using unique vocabulary helps solidify a group’s solidarity while creating distance from other groups. It distinguishes who belongs as an insider versus an outsider.

Throughout history, ethnic minorities have maintained their own slang vocabularies as part of cultural cohesion and resistance to the mainstream.

For instance, African American slang evolved from earlier Black English Vernacular with roots going back to the 17th century. Words like “crib” (home), “diss” (insult), and “on fleek” (referring to perfect grooming) spread widely from these origins.

LGBTQ+ communities have their own rich history of slang encompassing coded language, feminine speech patterns, and general campiness.

Terms like “drag” (dressing in clothing of the opposite sex), “throwing shade” (subtly insulting someone), and “yass” (expressing affirmation or approval) originate from LGBTQ+ culture.

Occupational groups develop cant vocabularies known only to insiders in their line of work.

Some examples: “barn” (prison) and “slum” (a bad area) used by police; medical staff using “coding” (suffering cardiac arrest) or “circling the drain” (nearing death); and the “FNG” (“friggin’ new guy”) slang of the military.

Youth cultures generate immense slang contributions that often enter the mainstream. Hippie counterculture (“groovy,” “far out”), surfers (“dude,” “awesome,” “hang ten”), and hip hop (“fly,” “chill,” “dope”) are just a few examples.

Slang and Taboos

Slang provides coded ways to express taboo subjects surrounding sex, bodily functions, violence, and other sensitive topics. Society often deems words for these topics as obscene or profane, so they get replaced with slang euphemisms.

Some common bodily slang:

“Go potty” instead of using the bathroom, calling vomiting “blow chunks” or diarrhea as “the runs,” and referring to sex as “hooking up” or “doing the nasty.”

The English language contains volumes of sexual slang both ancient (“bonk”) and modern (“smash”). Violent slang makes brutal things sound milder, as with calling murder “whacking” or “icing” someone.

Regional, ethnic, and demographic groups often develop their own slang on such subjects.

Slang as Linguistic Evolution

At its core, slang represents the creativity of human language evolution. Groups innovate new vocabulary to enhance communication through metaphors, coded meanings, brevity, emphasis, humor, and a general spirit of playful fun.

Over many generations, slang terms often lose their original meanings through semantic drift. What starts as in-group jargon eventually bleeds into wider acceptance.

Some expressions seem quaint in retrospect (“the bee’s knees,” “groovy,” “rad”) while others graduate to standard colloquial vocabulary (“scam,” “dude,” “buzz off”).

So while modern slang evolves faster than ever before, the process of slang formation is really just the natural cycle of linguistic evolution accelerated in the internet age.

Languages reinvent themselves through the cultural contributions of every new era and community.

As long as humans communicate, creative new slang will constantly emerge and reshape the boundaries of language. Slang represents the cutting edge of linguistic evolution in action!

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