Slang: A Brief History

Posted by Lindsay Geoffroy


Slang (which is, essentially, “shortened language”) is a type of language which employs very informal words and phrases and is typically more common in speech than in writing. The word “slang” was first used in 1756 to describe the speech of “low” peoples. Today, slang is not considered as harshly, and is more in line with “jargon” or “colloquialisms.”

Today, with the advent of the internet, slang is everywhere. There are countless websites dedicated to types of online or text slang, such as Urban or Let’s learn some more about types of slang and how it applies to the translation industry!


Famous Types of Slang

American Slang: Very simply, American slang is slang that is common to America. There are a few different types of American slang. One type of American slang which has produced many new lexical items is Navy slang (obviously, slang used by members of the U.S. Navy). Navy slang is sometimes referred to as NAVSpeak and is famous for giving nicknames to or abbreviating most things. Some examples include: “Aye, Aye,” (“I understand and I will comply”), “Benny,” (“benefit,”), “FOD” (“Foreign Object Damage”). To learn more of the many Navy slang phrases, visit this site.

Cockney Rhyming Slang: Cockney rhyming slang is a twist on the English (UK) language from the East End of London. Although the origins of Cockney rhyming slang are not exactly known, there are a few theories as to how it came about, including: a method for criminals to hide illegal master plans from police; or, as a way for locals to confuse non-locals when speaking. Cockney rhyming slang involves replacing a word with a rhyming phrase of two to three words and then, in most cases, omitting the secondary rhyming word. For example, “bacon and eggs” means “legs.” The typical phrase would be “She has very long bacons.” For a tutorial on Cockney rhyming slang, you can watch this video.

Pig Latin: Pig Latin is not, in fact, a form of Latin, but a form of English. Many people may be familiar with the Pig Latin construct – for words that begin with a consonant, the consonant is moved to the end of the word and “ay” is tacked on. For example: “pig” becomes “igpay” and “nix” becomes “ixnay.” The origins of Pig Latin are not known, but it is thought to have originated as a language game to conceal the meaning of words from those who are not familiar with how Pig Latin works. You can learn how to speak Pig Latin by visiting this website.

What Does This Have to do with Translation and Localization?

Slang words exist to replace more proper word forms in a given language. For example: “to hang out” means, in English, to consort with a group of friends in a social manner. Or, to be “busted” for something means, in English, to get caught doing something improper or illegal by an authority figure. These terms may make sense to those who understand the colloquialism, but the term may not translate well into another language. The meaning of the slang word or phrase may get lost in translation if the translator does not take care to properly localize the translated material. This is why localization is so important.

Do you have slang-heavy marketing material that you need translated and localized? If so, Lionbridge can help you. Visit our website here.