Community Columns

The ABCs of slang


We all know what that means; it’s one of many capital-letter groupings that have instant recognition. They’re part of our language that’s classified as slang — words, phrases and expressions that add spice and variety to more formal conversation. The Random House dictionary calls it “informal usage characteristically more metaphysical, elliptical and ephemeral than ordinary language.” Well lah-di-dah, Randy. WYSIWYG.

Lots of slang expressions come from sports. Life may throw me a curve that puts me behind the eight ball, but I’ll man up, go for it, pound down the back stretch and come through with a slam dunk. I’ll only play one game at a time (I do not know the alternative to playing one game at a time), I’ll take one for the team and I’ll just do it. PDQ.

Does anybody out there remember 23 Skidoo; Oh, you kid; or So’s your old man? These phrases now sound 1,000 years old; slang definitely arrives and departs with each new generation. I’m more from the hubba-hubba/okie-dokie era — expressions I haven’t used since I realized I’d be cool if I said “sweet” and “dude” more often. The slang graveyard is home to spiffy, right on, run it up the flagpole, take a hike and heavens to Betsy. All DOA. Let’s, though, drink a toast to Kilroy, who isn’t anywhere anymore. BYOB.

Saying goodbye? What an abundance of choices! Toodle-oo; See ya later, alligator; I’m history; Bye-bye now; Adios; I’m outta here; Ciao (for the true sophisticates); and the ultimate in effort reduction: Later. We are getting lazier and lazier, as can be seen in the three sisters, SOB, SOL and SRO.

Many catch phrases come from radio, TV and movies. They quickly pervade everyday conversation, just as quickly lose favor and disappear. Don Adams’ “Sorry about that, Chief” is a good example, or Jack Webb’s “Just the facts, ma’am.” Flip Wilson’s “Here come the judge” comes to mind, as do Gleason’s “And away we go” and Bob and Ray’s “Write if you get work.” Are those RIP or just AWOL?

Certain movie lines seem to hang around as part of the language. I’m thinking of “Here’s looking at you, kid” (Bogart, 1942), “Make him an offer he can’t refuse” (Brando, 1972) and “Show me the money” (Cuba Gooding, 1996). All these are A-OK.

My teenage sources inform me that “What’s up?” — which became “Whazzup” — is currently “What’s good?” This gave birth to “It’s all good” — I’m awaiting clarification on that. “Sorry, that was my fault” has drifted into “My bad,” which I like, although the apology seems veiled. Whatever. It is what it is. Fo shizzle. LOL.

A lot of slang phrases share the same base word but have completely different meanings. You could cut yourself some slack, cut to the chase and cut a deal, only to cut your own throat because you cut some corners. This might leave you dead in the water, up to your knees in dead soldiers, dead drunk and dead broke, totally out of dead presidents. SNAFU.

Jazz musicians have certainly brought …

OMG! I’m running out of space! TGIF! SWAK!

Editor’s note: In case you’re unfamiliar with some of these terms, and some definitions are not printable in this newspaper, we suggest you head for your computer or a dictionary for their meanings.

Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press and a former member of Southold Free Library’s board of trustees. He can be reached at [email protected]

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