Slang: What is Slang? Understanding its Usage in English (Examples)

By Carly Forsaith, updated on September 7, 2023

If you want to learn more about slang, you've come to the right place. In this article, you'll learn everything you need to know to understand what it is and when you can use it.

In short:

  • Slang is a form of speech employed in casual settings and within specific groups. Slang words aren't usually found in the dictionary and tend to be used only temporarily. 

This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.

What Is Slang?

Slang constitutes words or phrases that form part of informal language. You tend to find it more often in speech than in writing, and it can be challenging to keep up with, as it changes frequently. In other words, it's very trendy; most slang words currently being used weren't used just a few years ago, and they will no longer be used in another few years.

Here are some examples of slang you rarely hear anymore or would be considered "uncool" or "dad joke":

  • groovy
  • bummer
  • Can you dig it?
  • hang loose
  • catch ya on the flip side

Slang has a certain exclusivity to it as it is often specific to certain groups of people. Depending on your age group, ethnic background, or social class, you might use different words.

As stated by the Encyclopedia Britannica:

A new slang term is usually widely used in a subculture before it appears in the dominant culture.

Social media has played a big part in popularizing this type of language in recent years, and it's mostly used in oral communication because it's considered informal. That's not to say that you won't ever come across it in literature, however, since many authors will use slang to help establish their characters' culture or personality. You'll rarely find it in academic writing.

Examples of Slang

Let's take a look at some examples of slang words or phrases that have been used widely over the years.

Have you seen Ben's new ride? (car)

He really screwed us over on that one. (cheat/betray)

Nah, I'm not really into gardening. (no)

I don't see why you're getting so upset; it's just a bit of banter. (affectionate jokes)

That's a lil' too close for my liking. (little)

Don't talk to Jude right now, she's hangry. (hungry/angry)

She's getting so much work done right now; she's in the zone. (concentrating/performing well)

I've booked a weekend spa retreat; I'm so bougie. (bourgeois)

This place is dope! (cool)

I'm all ears; tell me everything. (listening)

Slang vs Colloquialism vs Jargon

There are other types of words that are either considered informal, or that tend to circulate only in specific circles. Two of those are colloquialisms and jargon. So, what do these terms mean?

Colloquialisms are also a type of informal speech used and understood by specific subgroups and used in casual conversation. But the difference with slang is that colloquial language, on the other hand, is considered standard English, so it's here to stay. What's more, it's bound by the usual grammar and syntax conventions.

Here are some examples of common colloquialisms:

  • memaw (grandmother)
  • Boo or bae (significant other)
  • bite the bullet (do something unpleasant)
  • wicked (very)
  • fixing to (preparing to)

Jargon refers to technical terminology that's specific to a particular industry. In theory, only those working in that industry can understand the jargon unless you're particularly knowledgeable for whatever reason. You can find jargon in almost every industry.

Here are some examples of computing jargon:

  • Cache: a place for short-term memory storage
  • Phishing: email scams to obtain your personal information.
  • Cookies: data stored on your computer about internet sites you have visited
  • SaaS: Software as a Service, delivering apps and software via the internet
  • OS: Operating Systems (Linux, Apple Mac, Microsoft Windows)

Concluding Thoughts

That concludes this article on slang. I hope you found it helpful.

Let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Slang is a type of informal speech.
  • You'll mostly use it in oral communication but may occasionally come across it in novels and movies when the writer wants to use it as a way to show their characters' culture. 
  • Slang words aren't usually in the dictionary unless they stick and become commonly used for a long period of time.
  • Slang is different from colloquialisms and jargon.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our Grammar Book. It's a free online database of grammar articles just like this one.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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