It is widely acknowledged that slang is considered an alternative register of
English which negates all that is polite, pious and noble, that it is bawdy,
crass, cruel, racist and sexist and yet brims with humor, color and
vibrancy. The existence of this type of lexis is possibly as old as language
itself, for slang appears to be part of the everyday interaction within a community with distinct and
identifiable groups or subgroups.
Nevertheless, within the practice of dictionary making, slang still poses quite a challenge. Slang
terms often tend to confound the category labels used by lexicographers. For example, in his
article (American Lexicology, 1942-1973. 146) James B. McMillan identifies the fundamental
problem of slang lexicology as a problem of definition, and I quote: “Until slang can be objectively
identified and segregated (so that dictionaries will not vary widely in labeling particular lexemes
and idioms) or until more precise subcategories replace the catchall label SLANG, little can be
done to analyze linguistically this kind of lexis, or to study its historical change, or to account for it
in sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic contexts”
It must be pointed out however, that lexicographers are not solely responsible for the lack of an
adequate definition of slang. After all, slang terms are largely ephemeral, elusive, and simply
characteristic of marginalized groups and subgroups. Consequently, the sociolinguistic and
psycholinguistic contexts in which slang is embedded cannot be readily identified or captured by
any system of distinct categories.
In my view, one of the major stumbling blocks is the assumption among many linguists that
thanks to their elusive nature which is characteristic of subcultures, being mostly oral and shortlived,
slang terms are considered peripheral to language. To these linguists and scholars, slang is
nothing more than a quirk, a linguistic deviancy substituted for what is regarded as ‘standard’ and
therefore can not be neatly classified by a system of discrete labels.
Quite often, slang emanates from conflicts in fundamental socio-psychological values. When an
individual applies language in a new and novel way to express opposition, ridicule, or contempt,
often tinged with sharp wit and humor, he or she may be an unconscious creator of a slang item.
If the speaker happens to belong to a group then the expression will gain currency based upon
the unanimity of attitude within the group.