Oh, how I love slang. It’s fun, it’s inventive and interesting. Used in your fiction, it helps set a milieu or a characterization and is a source of incredible imagery. I love it as parts of speech and as syntax (because … amusing). See?
So I enjoyed this piece from the New York Times, in which the origins—and current usage—of some slang words you may know are discussed. (Including swag. There are several definitions here, none of them the one I know, which is “the freebies given to attendees at trade shows, conventions, and other events, usually donated by large corporations as a marketing ploy.” This sort of swag often comes in a reusable briefcase or bag, which I’ve heard called a swag bag.)
It’s an interesting article, showing how even slang morphs from one generation to the next.
Slang often falls prey to what linguists call the “recency illusion”: I don’t remember using or hearing this word before, therefore this word is new (often followed by the Groucho Marx sentiment: “Whatever it is, I’m against it”). At the heart of the illusion lies a misbegotten belief that English is a static and uniform language, a mighty mountain of lexical stability. Upon this monument, slang falls like acid rain, eroding and degrading the linguistic landscape.
It’s the wrong metaphor. English is fluid and enduring: not a mountain, but an ocean. A word may drift down through time from one current of English (say, the language of World War II soldiers) to another (the slang of computer programmers).
We’ll come back to that acid-rain metaphor in a few weeks. For now, check this out and have a good laugh.
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