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Sociolinguistic Aspects of Slang

A directed graph is strongly connected if there is a path from a to b and from b to a whenever a and b are vertices in the graph. A directed graph is weakly connected if there is a path between any two vertices in the underlying undirected graph. That is, a directed graph is weakly connected iff there is always a path between two vertices when the directions of the edges are disregarded. Clearly, any strongly connected directed graph is also weakly connected.

Example. Are the directed graphs G and H strongly connected? Are they weakly connected?

Solution: G is strongly connected because there is a path between any two vertices. The graph H is not strongly connected. There is no directed path from a to b in this graph. However, H is weakly connected, since there is a path between any two vertices in the underlying undirected graph of H.


Sociolinguistic Aspects of Slang


In linguistics, where definitions at best are often imprecise and leaky, that of slang is especially notorious. The problem is one of complexity, such that a definition satisfying to one person or authority would seem inadequate to another because the prime focus is different. Like the proverbial blind men describing an elephant, all correctly, none sufficiently, we tend to stress one aspect or another of slang. Our stress will be on the individual psychology of slang speakers.

The external and quantitative aspects of slang, its sociolinguistics, have been very satisfactorily treated, nowhere, more so than in Stuart Berg Flexner’s masterful preface to the Dictionary of American Slang.

Recorded slang emerged, as the sketch of dictionaries has shown, from the special languages of subcultures, or perhaps we should call the more despised of them “undercultures”. The group of those people most persistently has been the criminal underworld itself, including the prison population, whose “cant” or “argot” still provides a respectable number of unrespectable terms. Other undercultures contributing heavily are those of:

· Hoboes and gypsies:

gimp — (hoboes and underworld) 1. A limp; 2. v: The old guy was gimping across the street; 3. A lame person: He’d just kick a gimp in the good leg and leave him lay (J.K. Winkler);

glom or glaum or glahm — (hoboes and underworld) 1. A hand, regarded as a grabbing tool; 2. To grasp, seize: She glommed the kid and held on tight; 3. To steal: “Where’d you glahm ‘em?” I asked (Jack London); … under the pretext of glomming a diamond from the strongbox (S. J. Perelman); 5. To be arrested; 6. To look at, seize with the eyes; = ganger, glim: …or walk around the corner to glom old smack heads, woozy winos and degenerates (New York Times); 7. n: Have a glom at that leg, won’t you?

· soldiers and sailors:

buddy-buddy — a close friend;

buck general — a brigadier general;

brass hat — 1. A high-ranking officer in the military or other uniformed services; 2. Any high-ranking official; manager; chief; = boss;

farm — to be killed in action; die in the armed services; = buy the farm: Just about my whole company farmed that day;

goof-off — (WW2 armed forces) a person who regularly or chronically avoids work; = fuck off: …getting kicked out of seminary as a goof-off (inside Sports); 2. A period of relaxation, respite: A little goof-off will do you good.

· the police:

blotter — 1. (police) the daily record of arrests at a police station; 2. drunkard; 3. (college students) LSD; (also blotter acid) a sheet of absorbent paper to which liquid LSD has been applied and then allowed to dry;

feeb or feebie — an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation: the agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whom they call “Feebs” (Shapiro); …our heroes, the feebs, however (Village Voice); …make sure the Feebies didn’t get any credit for it (Patrick Mann);

· narcotics users:

get off — 1. (narcotics) to get relief and pleasure from a dose of narcotics: How we s’posed to get off with no water to mix the stuff with? (Philadelphia Bulletin); 2. (sex) to do the sex act; to have an orgasm: It is led by trendy bisexual types, who love to get off amidst the chic accouterments of a big smack-and-coke party (Albert Goldman); 3. (musicians) to play an improvised solo, to avoid the consequences of, get away with something: He thinks he can get off with charging $150 for this junk.

· - gamblers:

Hedge or hedge off — (gambling) To transfer part of one’s bets to another bookmaker as a means of reducing possible losses if too many of one’s clients were to win; 2. Something that offsets expected losses: People were buying gold as a hedge against inflation.

· - cowboys:

belly up — to die;

· - all sorts of students:

blind date — an arranged appointment for a show, dance, etc., where one’s partner is a previously unknown person, usually the friend of a friend;

blitzed – (college students) drunk: …really blitzed. Six beers on an empty stomach (Cameron Crowe);

· - show-business workers:

mugger — an actor or comedian, who makes exaggerated faces, grimaces, etc., for humorous effect: …where this trivial mugger is performing…(Gene Fowler);

never follow a dog act — be very careful about whom you are to be immediately compared with (Often a rueful comment after one has been outshone);

· - jazz musicians and devotees:

blow — to play a musical instrument, especially in jazz style and not necessarily a wind instrument: There will be three kids blowing guitar, banjo, and wash-board (Ed McBain);

blow up a storm — to play, especially jazz trumpet, cornet, clarinet, etc., with great skill and verve: I first heard Buddy Bolden play… He was blowing up a storm (Louis Armstrong);

· - athletes and their fans:

actor – (sports) an athlete who is good at pretending he has been hurt or fouled, especially a baseball player who very convincingly mimes the pain of being hit by a pitch.

· railroad and other transportation workers:

buggy — 1. (railroad) A caboose; 2. A car, especially an old rickety one; = heap, jalopy: I wouldn’t exactly call my Maserati a buggy.

· immigrant or ethnic populations cutting across these other subcultures:

kike — 1. a Jew (Sometimes used by Jews of other Jews they regard with contempt); 2. adj: kike neighborhood [origin unknown and much speculated upon; perhaps from Yiddish kikel “circle” because Jews who could not sign their names would make a circle; perhaps an alternation of Ike “Isaac”; perhaps because so many Jewish immigrant names ended in –ky or ki; perhaps from British dialect keek “peep”, used for a spy on a rival’s designs in the closing business].

In the 1980s some of these traditional spawning grounds for slang have lost their productivity, and that other subcultures have emerged to replace them. For example, general adoption of terms from hoboes, from railroad workers, from gypsies, and from cowboys has very nearly ceased, although the contributions of all these persist in the substrata of current slang. Criminals and police (cops and robbers) still make their often identical contributions, and gamblers continue to give us zesty coinages:

fish — 1. (prison) a new inmate: As a “fish” in Charlestown, I was physically miserable (Malcolm X); 2. (street gang) a nonmember of a street gang; a person regarded as inimical and distasteful by a street gang; 3. A stupid person, especially one easily victimized; = patsy, sucker: Why should he be the fish for the big guys? (Ira Wolfert); 4. A person, especially a criminal, thought of as being caught like a fish: The cops catch a lot of very interesting fish (Life); 5. (homosexuals) A heterosexual woman; 6. (students) A promiscuous woman; 7. (sports) A weak opponent: The superteams get stronger. They can pad their schedules with the occasional fish (Sports Illustrated); 8. A dollar: The job paid only fifty fish (Lionel Stander); 9. To seek information, especially by a legal or quasi-legal process having a very general aim; = go fishing; 10. To ask for something, usually a compliment, especially in an indirect and apparently modest way.

Teenagers and students can still be counted on for innovation and effrontery. Show business workers, although they have largely shed the raffish image of their roving and carnival past, are still a fertile source of slang. But several centers of gravity have shifted greatly during the past fifty or so years.

For example, the adoption of military, naval, and merchant marine slang has slowed to a relative trickle, not surprisingly. World Wars I and II probably gave the American people more general slang than any other events in history but they are now history, and the Korean and Vietnam wars have had in comparison a meager effect. Railroad slang has been replaced, though on a lesser scale, by the usage of airline workers and truck drivers:

grandma — (truckers) The lowest and slowest gear of a truck.

The jazz world, formerly so richly involved with drug use, prostitution, booze, and gutter life, is no longer so contributory, nor has rock and roll quite made up the loss, but taken as a whole, popular music — rock, blues, funk, rap, reggae, etc., - are making inroads.

Terms from “the drug scene” have multiplied astronomically, and a specialized book could easily be made from them alone:

bud — (teenagers) marijuana;

fall out — 1. To go to sleep or into a stuporous condition from narcotic intoxication: Only those who are uptight fall out (Saturday Review); If you resist falling out and pass the barrier, the curve is up to a mellow stupor (New York);

2. To become helpless with laughter or emotion; = crack up: I tried double tempo and everybody fell out laughing (Charlie Parker.

The “counterculture” helped disseminate many drug terms that might otherwise have remained part of a special vocabulary. Sports also make a much larger contribution, with football and even basketball not challenging but beginning to match baseball as prime producers:

bring it — (baseball) to throw a baseball fast;

grapefruit league — (baseball) The association of major league teams as they play each other in preseason training (most spring training camps are held in citrus-growing regions);

grass-cutter — (baseball) A very low and hard line drive.

Among the immigrant-ethnic bestowals, the influx from Yiddish continues strong in spite of the sociological shifting of the Jewish population:

haimish or heimish — friendly and informal; unpretentious; cozy: No one in his right mind would ever call Generals de Gaulle or MacArthur haimish (Leo Rosten) (from Yiddish, with root of haim “home”).

The old Dutch and German sources have dried up. The Italian carries on in modest proportion. The Hispanic has been surprisingly influential, although a heavier contribution is surely predictable.

All these are far outstripped by increased borrowing from black America, and this from the urban ghetto rather than the old Southern heartland. Close analysis would probably show that, what with the prominence of black people in the armed forces, in music, in the entertainment world, and in street and ghetto life, the black influence on American slang has been more pervasive in recent times than that of any other ethnic group in history. This can be conjectured, of course, without any implication that black Americans constitute a homogeneous culture:

bro’ — 1. brother;

2. a black person: the slick-speaking bro who scores points off the ofay (Time);

3. (motorcyclists) a motorcyclist = biker: the pack of twenty-seven bros jamming along the freeway (Easyriders).

Some sources of the slang are entirely or relatively new. Examples of this are the computer milieu and the hospital-medical-nursing complex:

GIGO or gigo — (computer) The output is no better than the input (from: garbage in, garbage out);

gork — (hospital) 1. A stuporous or imbecilic patient; patient, who has lost brain function: The gork in that room has the “O” sign, did you notice? (Elizabeth Morgan); 2. To sedate a patient heavily.

In the first case an exciting technological inundation is at the base, and in the other, as in so many other trends of our era, the reason is television.

In the matter of sex, our period has witnessed a great increase in the number of terms taken over from homosexuals, especially male homosexuals. And it would be wrong to restrict the range of their contribution to sex terms alone, since the gay population merges with so many others that are educated, witty, observant, acerbic, and modish:

faggot — a male homosexual: Hot faggot queens bump up against chilly Jewish matrons (Albert Goldman); …an amazing job of controlling the faggots (Tennessee Williams);

fag hag or faggot’s moll — a heterosexual woman who seeks or prefers the company of homosexual men: Zeffirelli seems to have created a sort of limp-wrist commune, with Clare as the fag-hag (Judith Crist); Michael once referred to her…as “the fag hag of the bourgeoisie” (Armistead Maupin);

fairy godmother — a male homosexual’s homosexual initiator and tutor;

fairy lady — a lesbian who takes a passive role in sex;

girl — a male homosexual; 2. (narcotics) cocaine: They call cocaine girl because it gives ‘em a sexual job when they take a shot (C. cooper); 3. a queen of playing cards.

The “growth sector” hardest to characterize just now is in linear descent from the people old Captain Francis Grose, and Ben Jonson and others before him, called “university wits”. Today, trying to mark off this most fecund assemblage, we need a clumsy compound like “the Washington-Los Angeles-Houston-Wall Street-Madison Avenue nexus”. The American culture occupies these centers, and they occupy the culture through pervasive and unifying communications media. They give us the slang of the brass, of the execs, of middle management, of dwellers in bureaucracies, of yuppies, and of the talk shows and the “people” sort of columns and magazines. Bright, expressive, sophisticated people, moving and prospering with American lively popular culture, and not entirely buying it. They are the trend-setters and source of the slang that seems to come from everywhere and not to be susceptible of labeling. We will need more historical perspective before we can be usefully analytic about them, but they, whoever they are, clearly make up the wave of the present.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1086

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