Column: Slang ain’t square, y’all


Have you ever thought about how many ways people communicate? There are so many ways to say “hello.” You can do the hard-guy nod where you twitch your head up and under your breath give a “wassup.” Or slap hands and give a half hug. But language does more than say “hello.” Look at how it evolves through the vernacular.

Chinese has many dialects in which a word may be pronounced several ways. Those pronunciations each have a distinct meaning. English is nowhere near that level, but it is on the upswing. I know the Greeks have three words for “love” and two that mean “know.” English only has “love” and “know,” which makes translation extremely tough and awkward with the ladies. When we limit our vocabulary, we stress tonal connotations to get difference in meaning. Anyway, English is on the upswing because we are reaching that tonal level within our language. Concerning our developments, let us look simply at two words: “like” and “bad.”

Traditionally, we know “bad” means evil, no good, etc. Now, tonal differences render “bad” as its opposite meaning, “good.” When I lengthen the long “a” sound in bad, I no longer mean “detrimental.” Instead, it has a positive connotation. For instance, I go to a monster-truck rally, and it is a good time. When I tell my friends about it, I say, “The monster truck rally was ba-d.” If the rally stunk, then I say bad normally.

These tonal differences will diminish the need for some words all together. With the word “like,” there is the age-old question of “do you like that person, or do you li-ke that person?” With additional stress placed on the first half of “like,” another meaning is inferred. The first “like” is normal and indicates friendship. But with extra stress comes extra feeling so the meaning of the second “like” is desire or love. As stated previously, we overcome our limitations in vocabulary by manipulating the traditional punctuation to generate an alternate definition. Also, our vernacular languages within the States are becoming distinct and recognizable

We compact our language with sayings like “ain’t” and “wassup.” Sometimes these words distinguish an individual as to where he is from. If I answer a question with “yut,” then I might be from the Northeast. However, if you shorten words like “whatever” to “whatevs,” then you could be from California. Additionally, we can speculate on the social environment in which a person grew up by his language. If I hear “howdy” or “jeezum crow,” then I might believe that person grew up in rural America. When Mr. T exclaims, “I pity the foo so stay in schoo,” I am pretty sure he was raised in an urban setting.

Language constantly changes. Some try to relate these changes to an erosion of society, but I disagree. It is not as if today’s English is lickety-donkey hong nonsense like something from a Lewis Carroll poem. We are simply loosening the ropes that bind up to have fun with the words. If we tighten constrictions on verbal freedom, then that natural energy towards liberty will be expended in other facets of society like marijuana and E-Z bake ovens. A balance must be struck between traditional English and nonsense, and within that balance, we will find our longest lasting language. And this ain’t no jibba-jabba.

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