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Writing: Word Choice

Slang Dictionary


Today's Snack: Many families and groups of friends develop nicknames, or slang terms, for certain foods. Often, this dates back to words that toddlers and young children had trouble pronouncing. A "banana" is called a "nanner," for example. Spaghetti may be nicknamed "sketti." Can you think of a food item that you don't call by its real name, but instead use a slang term? If so, there's your snack for the day, with a nice glass of that white stuff we call "milk."




Dictionary | paper or notebook | colored pencils

Access to a search engine or slang dictionary would be helpful



            "Slang" is informal language that we use when we want to be relaxed, playful and up-to-date. All of the words in the dictionary were probably slang at one time or another, since slang starts off usually as spoken words, not written ones.


The English language is changing all the time. New slang terms arise from all different parts of society, eventually becoming common for everybody. Sometimes, it's one new word that you've never heard of before, and other times, it's two or more common words combined for the first time to mean something completely new.


In recent years, new slang words and expressions have frequently arisen from the worlds of music, advertising, technology, politics and sports.


As our nation becomes more diverse, then new words from the urban culture plus global terminology and multicultural phrases have spiced up traditional English to a large degree.


            It'll help you develop a wider, richer source of words to use in your writing if you would zero in on a set of words - today, slang terms - in order to study where those words came from and what they mean. Good writers have big vocabularies. But a big vocabulary doesn't have to be real formal, stiff and traditional. In fact, you might be a better communicator if you develop a good ear for slang.


            Can you research and put together a slang dictionary for at least 10 slang words? How about 20 words? Fifty? You can work with a partner or split up into teams. When you're finished collecting, pool all the slang terms together, choose the best definitions, and compile them into a slang dictionary that is, as the old folks like to say, "groovy."


            Here's how:


1.      Ask parents, grandparents, teachers and other elders to list some of the slang terms that were popular when they were about your age. Ask them what each term meant, and where they think it came from.


2.      List 10 or more slang words and expressions that are common in your own group of friends. CAUTION: stick with G-rated words and expressions; the first rule of good communication is not to offend or hurt anyone with your words.


3.      Think back to try to pinpoint where you first heard these expressions. Were they song lyrics? From a TV show? Something that urban gangs say? A text-messaging term? Tracing where words come from is called "etymology" (pronounced "etta MOLL uh gee"). If you don't know where a slang term came from, try using a search engine, consult an existing slang dictionary, or ask friends and adults if they know.


4.      Now look at a standard dictionary. Do you see how it splits each word into syllables, tells you how to pronounce the word, tells what part of speech it is (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc.), lists its meanings, tells what language it comes from or other information about its origin, lists synonyms (words that mean the same), uses the word in a sentence, and sometimes even includes an illustration?


5.      Using colored pencils, make listings for your slang terms that are color-coded in a standard dictionary format. So maybe you use the red pencil to list each word in bold and split up in syllables, the blue pencil to tell how to pronounce it, the green pencil to tell what part of speech it is, and so forth. Be sure to list where you think each slang term came from. You can use your computer's "Symbol" menu to find symbols for a standard dictionary listing. For example, the "a" with the line across the top means that it is pronounced with the long form of the vowel "a" - as in "ate" - and not the short form of the "a" as in "cat." Follow this format for each new slang word or term:


ep•ic fail   (ep´ik fāl),  n.  (Japanese arcade game term mistranslated in American version) a really bad, spectacular mistake. I tried to ride my skateboard on a jump in the skate park, but it was an epic fail.


6.      When you're finished, share your slang dictionary with one made by one or more other students. Pick and choose the best ones, and create a slang dictionary you can share with your friends, parents, teachers and anybody else who loves words - including those that are brand new!


By Susan Darst Williams Writing © 2012

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