English Slang

rich and poor163981439What is English Slang?

You may notice that the English you’ve been taught and heard on the streets may not always be the same. This is because you’ve likely been taught English in an academic or business setting, which works well if you’re planning on speaking English solely in a more formal setting, but what happens if you go outside into more informal settings?

In cases like these, you may soon realize that there are words that you’ve never learned before! English, like any other language, is dripping with slang and informal expressions that native speakers frequently use to interact with one another.

Formal versus Informal Situations

Similar to your own language, formal interactions with professors, business clients, or employers require you to speak formal and polite English. Saying “dude” or “what’s up?” to someone who you should be saying “sir” and “how do you do” is a sure way to offend them. Like other languages, English has a proper and informal set of words that you are sure to learn when you study English overseas.

English Slangs Vary by Region and Country

English slangs are also differentiated by region and country. For example, if you call someone a “mate” in New York City it has a different meaning than if you were to use it to a resident of London. “Mate” in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa is an expression of friendship, similar to “buddy” or “friend.” The most common way to hear someone say “mate” is also with “cheers.” In the United States and Canada, “man” works much the same. “Thanks, man” is appropriate to say if someone buys you a drink in a bar, or if a friend helps you with chores. It is a friendly, informal way of referring to someone.

Where do English Slangs Come From?

English slang words aren’t limited to expressions of friendship, but extend into many different areas of conversation. There are slang words for many ideas and concepts, and the confusing thing is that they’re always changing – just as all languages constantly evolve. Especially in today’s high paced digital savvy world, there are so many different sources for slang. Slangs in English come from everywhere, especially where there is creativity including:

  • Songs
  • Movies
  • Books
  • Viral videos
  • Internet

Yes, Slangs Go Out Of Date

What’s “cool” or interesting one year may no longer be used the following year. Words from other languages have even been adopted by English speakers to become slang words in English. The Spanish word “Amigo” translates into friend in English and in some circles is used as if it were an English word. Other phrases pressed into service from Spanish include “no problemo,” for “no problem” and “adios” for “goodbye.” Spanish phrases are more commonly used in areas closer to Spanish speaking countries in the United States, like Texas and New Mexico, but have been adopted elsewhere as well.

Slangs to Describe People

A great number of English slang words are related to describing other people. In the United States if you think a girl or a guy is attractive, you would say they’re a “hottie” or that they’re “hot.” You could also say that someone is a “babe” or a “fox” to mean the same thing. If you think someone is overly intelligent, you could call them a “nerd” or a “geek.” It’s important to realize that it is unacceptable to say things like this to people you have a professional or formal relationship with.

Slangs in English also include words for your significant other. Popular examples include “baby”, “babe”, “honey,” and “sweetheart.” There are a host of others, so many in fact, that many times you can tell if it’s a slang by the tone and nonverbal queues.

Where Can You Find More Slangs?

All kinds of slang words in English can be found at websites like Urban Dictionary or SlangSite.

Be warned: not all slang is acceptable for polite use, indeed, most of it is impolite. If you are not sure of a word, you may want to ask a friend it’s usage so that you do not have any unintended connotations associated with the words you are using. Many times students of the English language will first listen, and understand the context, before incorporating the word into everyday use.

>> Return to Learning English section