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The History of Slang

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Vanessa Johnston

on 5 April 2013

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Transcript of The History of Slang

The (brief) History of Slang 14th - 15th Century
aka "The End of the Middle Ages" Chaucer, William Caxton, William of Malmesbury emerged 16th Century 19th - 20th Century Marshall McLuhan
(July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980) The printing press blows up.
Prior to the written word, the monopoly of knowledge was held by the priests.
literacy for the masses was time-consuming.
books written in the different dialects of varying regions were now available to the masses Slang Without Even Knowing It

The 'improper' language of these, and other, texts began a change in the use of the English language.

Push began from scholars and religious groups to create prescriptive language.


In an attempt to slow down the rapid changes that the availability of these texts had pushed forward (became an ‘official’ movement in the 15th century).

Now religious texts were made available to the society for questioning.
- Canadian philosopher of communication theory

- Believed an “alphabetic monopoly" developed from the printing press -

- Words derive meaning from context, so one word can have multiple meanings depending upon its useage. Coined the aphorism.. "The Medium is the Massage" 17th - 18th Century "The Medium is the Message" New Media is created Perceptual Habits Social Interactions
"visual homogenizing of experience" "fosters a mentality that gradually resists all but a... specialist outlook"
stereotyping Criminal Cant emerges on the scene... "language without reason or order"
(Locke, 42) developed in saloons, gambling houses, and prisons
speech used by criminals and thieves Several "Criminal Cant" Dictionaries written;
The Devil's Cabinet Opened
The Canting Academy Included such popular criminal terms as; "swag" - items obtained by the criminal during the course of a crime

"booze" - hard alcohol (the same as it is now). First dictionary of English "slang" which includes non-criminal slang is published 1699 Included criminal cants
alongside words such as...

""duds" - clothes
"dry" - boring or dull So What is Slang? Some quotes on what slang is... "Slang is the poetry of everyday life.' Here's what slang isn't...

Dialect - Language of a subgroup with different pronunciations, grammar, words, etc.
ex. Newfoundland

Jargon - Language of a professional group.
ex. Doctors

Cant/Argot - Words whose meanings have been changed so outsiders will not understand them.

Colloquialisms- informal, relaxed speech used in speech. ex. 'gonna', 'wanna' of 'raining cats and dogs'. S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Action, 1941 "Slang is Language that takes off its coat, spits on its hands and goes to work" Carl Sandberg "Slang, at its worst is stupidly coarse and provocative.

At its best, it makes standard English seem pallid." - J.E. Lighter, Chief Editor of Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang One of the early definitions of slang.... Slang,n. The grunt of the human hog (Pignoramus intolerabilis) with an audible memory - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911 What the dictionary says... "Language of a highly colloquial type, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense." (1818 -) - Oxford English Dictionary One of the most influential dictionaries of all time published: A Dictionary of the English Language by Samual Johnson. Spelling that differed from the dictionary was a sign of low intelligence, poverty or poor education Media as the Body Eyes Predominant Application Writing/Reading Pro's i.e. Printing press Creates Visual Space Scientific-world view
"Power of a second look" Connected, relatedness among the things we view.
Greater focus on the individual vs. multiple.
Objectivity Cons Thinking that things are comprised of parts; use dissection used to understand the whole.
causes thoughts to separate from feeling leading to alienation.
causes tribal society to fragment into individualism. Characteristics connected, linear, serial. i.e. slang via the availability of books. scrap the media (language) of previous cultures

i.e. 'Standard' language being 'soiled' by
slang. Chaucer, etc. Two World Wars, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, fax machines, email, text messaging and iChat... each generation and each decade added more and more terms into accepted vernacular. We've seen (so far)...
Slang and Communication
Yo. What's up with that anyway, bro?
Word. By Vanessa Johnston and Veronica Petrola War slang such as "Fritz" (German solider)
The era of "flappers", "cat's pajamas" and "bee's knees"
the Peace and Love' era with 'groovy', 'Daddy-o',
"cool", "spaz", "what's up?", "epic", f-bomb", "sexting
Next up: 'Yolo', 'Cray-cray', 'Flex'? Period of confusion and alienation Class divisions;
rich vs. poor
literate vs. illiterate. Writing created... Individuals form together in groups based on ideals and beliefs - religious, political, social, etc. New media is created based upon the needs
of the specialist outlook Language is... man's greatest and most complex artifact"
McLuhan. McLuhan describes the "content" of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind

Understanding Media, 1964 McLuhan: Technologies are the messages themselves, not the content of the medium and publication of 'proper' dictionaries
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