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Today’s Slang: Words Without Definition?

In August, I wrote a blog about hippie-era slang that coincided with the 40th anniversary of Woodstock . I explained how speech has always been a principle medium for cultures to define and differentiate themselves. Today, it is clear to linguists and laymen alike that people are incorporating language that reflects their online activity into offline speech. For example, “LOL” or “BRB” have been commonplace in everyday speech for years due to instant and text messaging. Then, social networking officially transformed the word “friend” into a verb. And phrases like, “It was nice to meet you,” are now synonymous with, “I’ll Facebook you.”

With the mass integration of technology into daily communication and omnipresence of the internet, I believe that there is now an inability for this younger generation to truly define their culture via speech.


Slang words that could once define specific geographic origins and subcultures can now find their way to foreign and multigenerational ears and mouths because the internet knows no bounds. Websites such as propagates slang to anyone with an internet connection. For instance, surfer-speak like, “stoked” or “gnarly,” can now be heard regularly in land locked areas like Kansas and New Mexico. 


The world is certainly moving towards an English speaking homogeny, but could it be moving towards a singular English slang as well?

December 4th, 2009 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

2 Responses to Today’s Slang: Words Without Definition?

  1. Heide Ruplinger

    This is an interesting observation. I think you are right in your assumption that slang, at least internet slang, will not identify individuals as to their location on the planet Earth. Cyberspace is definitely its own realm, one that can’t be put on a map.

    Working in the translation industry, I am also thinking about the effects of this phenomenon on translation. Slang has always been difficult to translate because the make up and associations of slang expressions differ from culture to culture. In this case, a universal slang would make the translator’s job easier.

  2. Angela DeFinis

    Thanks so much for your additional insight, Heidi. In my experience with translation and the web, I’ve always found automated translation sites interesting. On one hand, the web provides a great way for the world to speak to each other regardless of language. But whenever I use translation websites, I always run up against the imperfections that you highlighted. Since slang is so rapidly evolving, I’m not sure that this issue will ever be resolved; The human translator will always have the advantage.

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