§ 12.6 SLANG - Арнольд И. В. А 84 Лексикология современного английского языка: Учеб для ин-тов и фак иностр яз....

§ 12.6 SLANG

Slang words are identified and distinguished by contrasting them to standard literary vocabulary. They are expressive, mostly ironical words serving to create fresh names for some things that are frequent topics of discourse. For the most part they sound somewhat vulgar, cynical and harsh, aiming to show the object of speech in the light of an off-hand contemptuous ridicule. Vivid examples can be furnished by various slang words for money, such as beans, brass, dibs, dough, chink, oof, wads; the slang synonyms for word head are attic, brain-pan, hat peg, nut, upper storey, compare also various synonyms for the adjective drunk: boozy, cock-eyed, high, soaked, tight and many more. Notions that for some reason or other are apt to excite an emotional reaction attract as a rule many synonyms: there are many slang words for food, alcohol drinks, stealing and other violations of the law, for jail, death, madness, drug use, etc.

Slang has often attracted the attention of lexicographers. The best-known English slang dictionary is compiled by E. Partridge.

The subject of slang has caused much controversy for many years. Very different opinions have been expressed concerning its nature, its boundaries and the attitude that should be adopted towards it. The question whether it should be considered a healthful source of vocabulary development or a manifestation of vocabulary decay has been often discussed.

It has been repeatedly stated by many authors that after a slang word has been used in speech for a certain period of time, people get accustomed to it and it ceases to produce that shocking effect for the sake of which it has been originally coined. The most vital among slang words are then accepted into literary vocabulary. The examples are bet, bore, chap, donkey, fun, humbug, mob, odd, pinch, shabby, sham, snob, trip, also some words from the American slang: graft, hitch-hiker, sawbones, etc.

These words were originally slang words but have now become part of literary vocabulary. The most prominent place among them is occupied by words or expressions having no synonyms and serving as expressive names for some specific notions. The word teenager, so very frequent now, is a good example. Also blurb — a publisher’s eulogy of a book printed on its jacket or in advertisements elsewhere, which is originally American slang word.

The communicative value of these words ensures their stability. But they are rather the exception. The bulk of slang is formed by shortlived words. E. Partridge, one of the best known specialists in English


slang, gives as an example a series of vogue words designating a man of fashion that superseded one another in English slang. They are: blood (1550-1660), macaroni (1760), buck (1720-1840), swell (1811), dandy (1820-1870), toff (1851)1.

It is convenient to group slang words according to their place in the vocabulary system, and more precisely, in the semantic system of the vocabulary. If they denote a new and necessary notion, they may prove an enrichment of the vocabulary and be accepted into standard English. If, on the other hand, they make just another addition to a cluster of synonyms, and have nothing but novelty to back them, they die out very quickly, constituting the most changeable part of the vocabulary.

Another type of classification suggests subdivision according to the sphere of usage, into general slang and special slang. General slang includes words that are not specific for any social or professional group, whereas special slang is peculiar for some such group: teenager slang, university slang, public school slang, Air Force slang, football slang, sea slang, and so on. This second group is heterogeneous. Some authors, A.D. Schweitzer for instance, consider argot to belong here. It seems, however, more logical to differentiate slang and argot. The essential difference between them results from the fact that the first has an expressive function, whereas the second is primarily concerned with secrecy. Slang words are clearly motivated, сf. cradle-snatcher ‘an old man who marries or courts a much younger woman’; belly-robber ‘the head of a military canteen’; window-shopping ‘feasting one’s eyes on the goods displaced in the shops, without buying anything’. Argot words on the contrary do not show their motivation, сf. rap ‘kill’, shin ‘knife’, book ‘a life sentence’.

Regarding professional words that are used by representatives of various trades in oral intercourse, it should be observed that when the word is the only name for some special notion it belongs not to slang but to terminology. If, on the other hand, it is a jocular name for something that can be described in some other way, it is slang.

There are cases, of course, when words originating as professional slang later on assume the dignity of special terms or pass on into general slang. The borderlines are not always sharp and distinct.

For example, the expression be on the beam was first used by pilots about the beam of the radio beacon indicating the proper course for the aircraft to follow. Then figuratively be on the beam came to mean ‘to be right’, whereas be off the beam came to mean ‘to be wrong’ or ‘to be at a loss’.

1 To this list the 20th century words masher and teddy-boy could be added. There seems to be no new equivalent in today’s English because such words as mod and rocker (like beat and beatnik) or hippy and punk imply not only, and not so much a certain way of dressing but other tastes and mental make-up as well. Mods (admirers of modern jazz music) and more sportive rockers were two groups of English youth inimical to one another. The words are formed by abbreviation and ellipsis: mod< modern jazz; rocker < rock’n roll; beat, beatnik < beat generation’, punk


A great deal of slang comes from the USA: corny, cute, fuss-pot, teenager, swell, etc. It would be, however, erroneous to suppose that slang is always American in its origin. On the contrary, American slang also contains elements coming from Great Britain, such as cheerio ‘goodbye’, right-o ‘yes’ > Gerry for ‘a German soldier’, and some, though not many, others.

Slang is a difficult problem and much yet remains to be done in elucidating it, but a more complete treatment of this layer of vocabulary would result in an undue swelling of the chapter. Therefore in concluding the discussion of slang we shall only emphasise that the most important peculiarities of slang concern not form but content. The lexical meaning of a slang word contains not only the denotational component but also an emotive component (most often it expresses irony) and all the other possible types of connotation — it is expressive, evaluative and stylistically coloured and is the marked member of a stylistic opposition. .

tions, the salesmen of these were stationers and what they sold — stationery (with the noun suffix -ery as in grocery or bakery).

Not all doublets come in pairs. Examples of groups are: appreciate, appraise, apprise; astound, astonish, stun; kennel, channel, canal.

The Latin word discus is the origin of a whole group of doublets:

Other doublets that for the most part justify their names by coming in pairs show in their various ways the influence of the language or dialect systems which they passed before entering the English vocabulary.

Compare words borrowed in Middle English from Parisian French: chase, chieftain, chattels, guard, gage with their doublets of Norman French origin: catch, captain, cattle, ward, wage.


As the process of borrowing is mostly connected with the appearance of new notions which the loan words serve to express, it is natural that the borrowing is seldom limited to one language. Words of identical origin that occur in several languages as a result of simultaneous or successive borrowings from one ultimate source are called international words.

Expanding global contacts result in the considerable growth of international vocabulary. All languages depend for their changes upon the cultural and social matrix in which they operate and various contacts between nations are part of this matrix reflected in vocabulary.

International words play an especially prominent part in various terminological systems including the vocabulary of science, industry and art. The etymological sources of this vocabulary reflect the history of world culture. Thus, for example, the mankind’s cultural debt to Italy is reflected in the great number of Italian words connected with architecture, painting and especially music that are borrowed into most European languages: allegro, andante, aria, arioso, barcarole, baritone (and other names for voices), concert, duet, opera (and other names for pieces of music), piano and many many more.

The rate of change in technology, political, social and artistic life has been greatly accelerated in the 20th century and so has the rate of growth of international wordstock. A few examples of comparatively new words due to the progress of science will suffice to illustrate the importance of international vocabulary: algorithm, antenna, antibiotic, automation, bionics, cybernetics, entropy, gene, genetic code, graph, microelectronics, microminiaturisation, quant, quasars, pulsars, ribosome, etc. All these show sufficient likeness in English, French, Russian and several other languages.

The international wordstock is also growing due to the influx of exotic borrowed words like anaconda, bungalow, kraal, orang-outang, sari, etc. These come from many different sources.


International words should not be mixed with words of the common Indo-European stock that also comprise a sort of common fund of the European languages.

This layer is of great importance for the foreign language teacher not only because many words denoting abstract notions are international but also because he must know the most efficient ways of showing the points of similarity and difference between such words as control : : контроль; general : : генерал; industry : : индустрия or magazine : : магазин, etc. usually called ‘translator’s false friends’.

The treatment of international words at English lessons would be one-sided if the teacher did not draw his pupils’ attention to the spread of the English vocabulary into other languages. We find numerous English words in the field of sport: football, out, match, tennis, time. A large number of English words are to be found in the vocabulary pertaining to clothes: jersey, pullover, sweater, nylon, tweed, etc. Cinema and different forms of entertainment are also a source of many international words of English origin: film, club, cocktail, jazz.

At least some of the Russian words borrowed into English and many other languages and thus international should also be mentioned: balalaika, bolshevik, cosmonaut, czar, intelligentsia, Kremlin, mammoth, rouble, sambo, soviet, sputnik, steppe, vodka.

To sum up this brief treatment of loan words it is necessary to stress that in studying loan words a linguist cannot be content with establishing the source, the date of penetration, the semantic sphere to which the word belonged and the circumstances of the process of borrowing. All these are very important, but one should also be concerned with the changes the new language system into which the loan word penetrates causes in the word itself, and, on the other hand, look for the changes occasioned by the newcomer in the English vocabulary, when in finding its way into the new language it pushed some of its lexical neighbours aside. In the discussion above we have tried to show the importance of the problem of conformity with the patterns typical of the receiving language and its semantic needs.

Chapter 14


Standard English — the official language of Great Britain taught at schools and universities, used by the press, the radio and the television and spoken by educated people may be defined as that form of English which is current and literary, substantially uniform and recognised as acceptable wherever English is spoken or understood. Its vocabulary is contrasted to dialect words or dialecticisms. Local dialeсts are varieties of the English language peculiar to some districts and having no normalised literary form. Regional varieties possessing a literary form are called variants. In Great Britain there are two variants, Scottish English and Irish English, and five main groups of dialects: Northern, Midland, Eastern, Western and Southern. Every group contains several (up to ten) dialects.

One of the best known Southern dialects is Cockney, the regional dialect of London. According to E. Partridge and H.C. Wylde, this dialect exists on two levels. As spoken by the educated lower middle classes it is a regional dialect marked by some deviations in pronunciation but few in vocabulary and syntax. As spoken by the uneducated, Cockney differs from Standard English not only in pronunciation but also in vocabulary, morphology and syntax. G.B. Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” clearly renders this level of Cockney as spoken at the time when the play was written and reveals the handicap Cockney obviously presents in competition with speakers of standard English. Professor Henry Higgins, the main character of the play, speaking about Eliza Doolittie, the flower girl, says: You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir, in three months I could pass this girl off as a duchess ... even get her a place as lady’s maid or shop assistant which requires better English.

“The Encyclopaedia Britannica” treats Cockney as an accent, not acknowledging it the status of dialect.

Cockney has attracted much literary attention, and so we can judge of its past and present on the evidence of literature. As recorded by Ch. Dickens over a century ago, Cockney was phonetically characterised by the interchange of the labial and labio-dental consonants [w] and [v]: wery for very and vell for well. This trait was lost by the end of the 19th century. The voiceless and voiced dental spirants [θ] and [∂] are still replaced — though not very consistently — by [f] and [v] respectively: fing for thing and farver for father (inserting the letter r indicates vowel


length). This variation is not exclusively characteristic of Cockney and may be found in several dialects. Another trait not limited to Cockney is the interchange of the aspirated and non-aspirated initial vowels: hart for art and ‘eart for heart. The most marked feature in vowel sounds is the substitution of the diphthong [ai] for standard [ei] in such words as day, face, rain, way pronounced: [dai], [fais], [rain], [wai].

There are some specifically Cockney words and set expressions such as up the pole ‘drunk’, you’ll get yourself disliked (a remonstrance to a person behaving very badly).

Cockney is lively and witty and its vocabulary imaginative and colourful. Its specific feature not occurring anywhere else is the so-called rhyming slang, in which some words are substituted by other words rhyming with them. ^ Boots, for instance, are called daisy roots, hat is tit for tat, head is sarcastically called loaf of bread, and wife — trouble and strife. It has set expressions of its own. Here is an example of a rather crude euphemistic phrase for being dead: “She may have pulled me through me operation,” said Mrs Fisher, “but ‘streuth I’m not sure I wouldn’t be better off pushing up the daisies, after all.” (M. Dickens)

The study of dialects has been made on the basis of information obtained with the help of special techniques: interviews, questionnaires, recording by phonograph and tape-recorder, etc. Data collected in this way show the territorial distribution of certain key words and pronunciations which vary from region to region.

Dialects are now chiefly preserved in rural communities, in the speech of elderly people. Their boundaries have become less stable than they used to be; the distinctive features are tending to disappear with the shifting of population due to the migration of working-class families in search of employment and the growing influence of urban life over the countryside. Dialects are said to undergo rapid changes under the pressure of Standard English taught at schools and the speech habits cultivated by radio, television and cinema.

For the most part dialect in literature has been limited to speech characterisation of personages in books otherwise composed in Standard English. There are Yorkshire passages in “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë, and Lancashire passages in “Mary Barton” by E. Gaskell. A Southern dialect (that of Dorset) is sometimes introduced by Th. Hardy, A. Tennyson used Lancashire dialect in two of his poems reproducing peasant speech ("Northern Farmer: Old Style” and “Northern Farmer: New Style").

“The Northern Farmer: Old Style” is the monologue of a dying old man. He knows that his death is near and is resigned to it: “If I must die I must die.” He wants his nurse to bring him ale, although doctor has forbidden it. The last stanza runs as follows: “What atta stannin’ theer for, an’ doesn bring ma the yaäle? Doctor’s a ‘tattier, lass, an a’s hallus V the owd taäle; I weänt break rules for Doctor, a knows now moor nora floy, Git ma my yaäle I tell tha, an gin I тип doy I тип doy.” (Tennyson)

The dialect vocabulary is remarkable for its conservatism: many words that have become obsolete in standard English are still kept in dialects, e. g. to and ‘envy’ < OE andian; barge ‘pig’ < OE berg; bysen ‘blind’ < OE bisene and others.


According to O. Jespersen, however, dialect study suffered from too much attention being concentrated on the “archaic” traits. “Every survival of an old form, every trace of old sounds that have been dropped in standard speech, was greeted with enthusiasm, and the significance of these old characteristics greatly exaggerated, the general impression being that popular dialects were always much more conservative than the speech of educated people. It was reserved for a much later time to prove that this view is completely erroneous, and that popular dialects in spite of many archaic details are on the whole further developed than the various standard languages with their stronger tradition and literary reminiscences."1

The standard work of reference in dialect study is Joseph Wright's “English Dialect Dictionary”.

After this brief review of dialects we shall now proceed to the discussion of variants.

The Scottish Tongue and the Irish English have a special linguistic status as compared with dialects because of the literature composed in them. The name of Robert Burns, the great national poet of Scotland, is known all over the world. There is a whole group of modern poets including Hugh MacDiarmid writing in this variant of the English language.

A few lines from R. Burns’s poem dedicated to his friend James Smith will illustrate the general character of Scottish:

^ To James Smith


Dear Smith, the slee’st, pawkie thief
That e’er attempted stealth or rief!
Ye surely hae some warlock-brief

Owre human hearts;
For ne'er a bosom yet was prief

Against your arts.


For me, I swear by sun and moon,
And every star that blinks aboon,
Ye’ve cost me twenty pair o’shoon

Just gaun to see you;
And ev’ry ither pair that’s done

Mair taen I’m wi’ you...

Here slee’st meant 'slyest’, pawkie ‘cunning’, ‘sly’, rief ‘robbery’, warlock-brief ‘wizard’s contract’ (with the devil), prief ‘proof’, aboon

1 Jespersen O. Language, Its Nature, Development and Origin. London, 1949. P. 68.


‘above’, shoon ‘shoes’. The other dialect words differing only in pronunciation from their English counterparts (owre : : over; mair : : more) are readily understood.

The poetic features of Anglo-Irish may be seen in the plays by J.M. Synge and Sean О’Casey. The latter’s name is worth an explanation in this connection. ^ O’ is Gaelic and means ‘of the clan of’. Cf. Mac — the Gaelic for ‘son’ found in both Scottish and Irish names.1 Sean, also spelled Shawn and pronounced [So:n], is the Irish for John.

Some traits of Anglo-Irish may be observed in the following lines from “The Playboy of the Western World” by J.M. Synge: ^ I’ve told my story no place till this night, Pegeen Mike, and it’s foolish I was here, maybe, to be talking free, but you’re decent people, I'm thinking, and yourself a kindly woman, the way I was not fearing you at all.

Pegeen exemplifies the diminutive suffix found in Standard English only in loan-words. The emphatic personal pronoun yourself appears in a non-appositional construction. Cf. also It was yourself started it (O’Casey). The main peculiarities concern syntax, and they are reflected in some form words. The concrete connective word the way substitutes the abstract conjunction so that. Cf. also the time that, the while for when, and all times for always. E.g.: I’d hear himself snoring out — a loud, lonesome snore he’d be making all times, the while he was sleeping’, and he a man’d be raging all times the while he was waking (Synge). The Anglo-Irish of J.M. Synge, however, should not be taken as a faithful reproduction of real speech, as it is imbued with many romantic poetic archaisms.

Words from dialects and variants may penetrate into Standard English. The Irish English gave, for instance, blarney n ‘flattery’, bog n ‘a spongy, usually peaty ground of marsh’. This word in its turn gave rise to many derivatives and compounds, among them bog-trotter, the ironical nickname for Irishman. Shamrock (a trifoliate plant, the national emblem of Ireland) is a word used quite often, and so is the noun whiskey.

The contribution of the Scottish dialect is very considerable. Some of the most frequently used Scotticisms are: bairn ‘child’, billy ‘chum’, bonny ‘handsome’, brogue ‘a stout shoe’, glamour ‘charm’, laddie, lassie, kilt, raid, slogan, tartan, wee, etc.

A great deal in this process is due to Robert Burns who wrote his poems in Scottish English, and to Walter Scott who introduced many Scottish words into his novels.

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