Slang and Grammar

Slang is the use of words in a non-standard way of a particular social group and sometimes the creation of new words or importation of words from another language (Slang pp). The use of slang is a way to recognize members of a group and to distinguish that group from the rest of society (Slang pp).

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Slang adds new words and meanings to a language and also produces new grammatical relationships among words (Grammar pp).

Language is the systematic communication by vocal symbols that is a universal characteristic of the human species, and although nothing is known of its origin, scientists have identified a gene that contributes to the ability to use language (Language pp). Language is a cultural system and thus, individual language my classify objects and ideas in different fashion, such as the sex or age of the speaker may determine the use of grammatical forms or the avoidance of taboo words (Language pp). Also, terms of address may vary depending on the age, sex and status of the speaker and audience (Language pp). Each person belongs to a speech community, a group of people who speak the same language, and according to estimates, there are between 3,000 and 6,500 speech communities in existence (Language pp).

Grammar is the description of the structure of language, consisting of the sounds and their meaningful combinations of sounds into words, called morphemes, that are arranged into phrases and sentences, called syntax (Grammar pp). Semantics is the study of the relationship between words and meanings and has three basic concerns: “the relations of words to the objects denoted by them, the relations of words to the interpreters of them, and, in symbolic logic, the formal relations of signs to one another” (Semantics pp).

The main distinction of slang is the presence of new words and new uses of old words (Grammar pp). Some new words and some old words with new meanings do not behave like any of the parts of speech concerning ordinary grammar (Grammar pp).

The word “like” presents the most complex picture regarding slang grammar because it is the one with the most slang uses (Grammar pp). Originally from the 1950’s era of the beatniks, its use declined and then resurfaced with new life by the “valley girls” and has continued to flourish (Grammar pp). Its most common use today is as a “filler,” a word added to a sentence without affecting its meaning, such as “she like slapped me,” or “it’s like around the corner,” or “it’s like huge” (Grammar pp).

Grammatically, the word “like” modifies a verb in a noun, an adjective, the whole sentence and a prepositional phrase; and is also an adverb in an adjective, a secondary modifier, a sentence modifier, and a phrase modifier (Grammar pp).

Like” is an intensifier and functions as a secondary modifier much the same way as “very,” such as, “I was like stoked,” yet in “It was like the bomb,” it also intensifies but does so as an adjective (Grammar pp). “Like” can also be inserted to soften the tone, as in “Can you like lend me your car,” which grammatically modifies a verb, or it can mean “approximately,” as in “They cost like ten dollar,” which grammatically modifies the noun (Grammar pp). When used as an adjective, as in “She bought like a van,” it could mean that she bought something that was not exactly a van but resembled a van (Grammar pp). When used as an adverb, as in “He like punched me,” could mean he almost punched me or did something similar (Grammar pp). Therefore, “like” cannot function as an adjective or adverb in standard or even informal English, thus, in these instances, it is being used with its normal meaning, but with “slang grammar” (Grammar pp). Moreover, one sentence can also be two grammatically different sentences with the same meaning by overlapping standard and slang usage that makes it impossible to distinguish them in certain cases (Grammar pp). For example, the “like” in “She bought like a van,” is an adjective, but in “This is like a van,” although the intended meaning is that is resembles a van, the grammar remains uncertain, it could be standard grammar, with “like” as a preposition or it could be slang grammar with “like” as an adjective the same as in “She bought like a van” (Grammar pp).

The introductory “like” is placed before a sentence, such as “Like, how are you,” “Like, sit down,” or ‘Like, it’s cold in here,” and then there is the introductory “it’s like” such as “It’s like, she should mind her own business” (Grammar pp). The introductory “like” is generally a filler and does not affect the meaning, while the introductory “it’s like” is usually an intensifier and gives emphasis to the sentence (Grammar pp).

Slang is also used in present for past, as in “I’m at the mall, and I see this cool shirt, and I buy it,” here, present-tense verbs are being used with past-tense meaning (Grammar pp).

Another filler word is “stuff,” as in “They sell hot dogs and stuff,” or “They dance and stuff” (Grammar pp). Almost any kind or word or phrase can be followed by “and stuff,” which can mean “and so on” or it can mean nothing at all (Grammar pp). The word “whatever” is used in similar ways, such as “or whatever” replacing “and stuff” or someone may say “I’ll eat whatever” (Grammar pp). A slot has been created that need to be filled by a noun or by some other kind of word, so often it is filled with “stuff” or “whatever,” thereby making the sentence grammatically complete without using any particular idea to fill the slot (Grammar pp). “Whatever” also serves as a one-word reply to anything, such as “Whatever!” (Grammar pp). Other reply words include, “No way, Gross, Dude, Totally, *****in, Awesome, Way, Sweet, Tits, for sure, Fine, and Yeah-right” (Grammar pp).

Hella” as in “a hella good time” is presumably a shortening of “hell of a,” but it is also used predicatively, as in “Their house is hella big” (Grammar pp). This is not a new part of speech, but rather is still a secondary modifier and acts as an example of how grammatical evolution occurs as part of slang (Grammar pp).

Tits,” even in its literal meaning, boobs, is considered slang, however, lately it has been used as another synonym for “good,” along with “awesome, wicked, cool, etc., such as in “This lunchbox is so tits” (Grammar pp). It can be a one-word reply expressing approval or satisfaction, yet, even when used in a complete sentence, it is an adjective in a new sense, while in its literal sense it is a noun (Grammar pp).

The word “rule” is also a verb meaning to be excellent or superior, as in “That TV show rules” (Grammar pp). The literal meaning of the word in not involved, just as with the word “rock” as in “That class rocks” has no reference to rock music (Grammar pp). These words are equivalent to the verb “to be” plus an adjective (Grammar pp). “Kick” as in ‘kicks ass” means the same thing as rocks and rules, however, “suck” is in effect the opposite of “kick” when used in the same way, such as “His car sucks” (Grammar pp). “Majorly” is a recently coined adverb form of “major” and is used as another intensifier, like ‘very’ but with a full range of modifying functions, and most commonly it modifies a verb, as in “I majorly screwed up that homework” (Grammar pp).

The purpose of language is communication, and thus, the rules of English or any language is in constant change (Grammar pp). Slang unites particular groups of people, and certain slang terms may be transient or they may last through generations and become part of the common language (Grammar pp).

Works Cited

The Grammar of Slang.”


Semantics.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; 2/24/2005; pp.

Language.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; 2/24/2005; pp.

Grammar.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition; 2/24/2005; pp.