Slang: Fun Games For Your Brain

If you’ve ever claimed to have invented a word, only to find it on Urban Dictionary (damn you, nonversation!), you may benefit from Michael Adams‘s new book, Slang: The People’s Poetry.

Reviewed in Salon, the book calls slang “a casual language of being.” It can make speech more exciting — when readers encounter Shakespeare’s wordplay, their brain activity jumps, as though “awakened from linguistic boredom.” It can identify the speaker as hip or young. And it can be a simple source of fun. One of Adams’s star slangsters is Homer Simpson. He writes,

Saxamaphone [is] Homer’s loving wordplay with his daughter, Lisa, and ‘pantomamime’ and ‘macamadamia’ are examples of fun words made more fun to say because the infix [here, the added syllable ‘ma’] also duplicates the preceding syllable — which is to say that it constructs a sort of rhyme within those words. There’s plenty of phonetic pleasure in saying these words, and the pleasure is in the poetry.

Of course, slang can also be exclusive, marking out a select group with its own special language. If you’re not in the group, that language can be pretty annoying. But it can also be contagious. When I moved to Northern California from Los Angeles, I swore I’d never say “hella.” Within six months, I was dropping the h-bomb basically every other word. What modern slang terms do you wish would die? And what old ones would you like to see resumarrected?

Watch your language! [Salon]

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