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The Fashion of Language: Slang As A Form Of Self-Expression

By Bridget Griffin


Millennial and Generation Z slang seems to have taken the world by storm. With words like “lit”, “fam”, and “shade” infiltrate our vocabulary, it’s evident that the younger generations have created what seems to be an entirely new dialect.


The act of creating such terms is nothing new. Slang has held an important place in the English language for centuries. From the term “Ok”, which was most likely popularized by a newspaper in the 19th century, to the expression “You’re toast,” which is believed to have been first used by Bill Murray’s character in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, it isn’t uncommon for such words and expressions to be popularized by various forms of media. Nowadays, through the heavy use of social media, it’s only logical that we’ve been met with a similarly large onslaught of new jargon.


Mari Heywood, a Humanities teacher who teaches Media Knowledge at Dawson, credits the many micro-communities created online with coming up with a lot of these slang terms.


“Everyone can [...] control their own worlds,” Heywood states in reference to these micro-communities, “by subscribing to, or deciding to watch one form of [media], we almost create these bubbles around ourselves”.


One of these groups with terms specific to their community is, of course, young people. Dawson student Kathleen Collins cites the term “tea”, which means gossip, as being her favourite current slang term: “I started using it to be in tune with the younger generation,” she explains, “I was trying to get on their level, so I started using ‘tea’”.


Certain communities saw social media as the chance to popularize their own jargon. Various fandoms, ethnic groups, and members of the LGBT community have finally been able to share their personal dialects.


“If you hear someone say [words from your community],” explains Dawson student Devyn Sherry, “you can pick them out of a crowd and be like ‘Okay. I know where you're coming from’”.


Besides using jargon as an indicator for the types of communities you might be a part of, many use jargon because it’s simpler, claims student Tyshawna Morgan. Morgan explains that full sentences can now be shortened to one word statements as “It's a faster and easier way to communicate with people of your age”.


Our language, however, still hasn’t been permanently modified. Many slang terms are typically used only in specific situations. “There are certain things that you would say to your friends on text that you wouldn't necessarily say to your mother,” explains Mari Heywood.


The way in which we should deal with these developments in our common vernacular, she also says, remains undecided among linguists. “There's some people who look at what's called a descriptive form of linguistics,” Heywood explains, “which says that, yes, all of those [slang terms] produced in new communities are legitimate, and we should be documenting them, and we should be encouraging them”. Others, on the other hand, aren’t so encouraging: “There are other people who are very prescriptive about it and say that only what's in the encyclopedia, and only what's in the dictionary is something that is legitimate and should be legitimate”.


Heywood herself tends to lean towards the descriptivist way of thinking: “I'm interested in the inventive ways in which people use language, and the fact that the language can then bring people together in communities, [allowing them to] share an experience in a way that they might not have shared before if they had a very purified language”.


However, the effects of creating such communities, Heywood admits, aren’t always positive. “When we are living inside a bubble, it becomes possible to forget the people who are outside of that bubble and not necessarily check in with them and understand their realities”. She continues by claiming that this “... can lead to representations which could incite a certain type of discrimination, and eventually some sort of hatred, or even violence”.


Despite the potential negative effects of the creation of these groups, it seems that the jargon invented within them still serves the main purpose of self-expression. “Slang is like the fashion of language,” claims Devyn Sherry, “you decorate your language in order to represent your individuality or your belonging to a group”.



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