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What Is Slang? Definition and Examples

Updated on May 2, 2024Writing Tips

The English language is full of weird words. But that’s not the only idiosyncrasy that can confuse people, even for those whom English is their primary language. Slang, or informal words or phrases, reflect the ever-evolving nature of communication—and may cause confusion if you’re not familiar with the language used in a certain region or community.

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What is slang?

Slang is informal language that can be regional or develop from communities and subcultures. It can take the form of a single word or a phrase.

The slang form of “lit” is American slang that conveys something exciting, high-energy, or amazing. In the UK, “chuffed” is slang for delight. Similarly, internet culture created the slang term “meme” to describe a (typically funny) image, text, or video that follows a particular format and is shared on social media.

Slang can either be a clipped version of an existing word, like saying or writing “tix” instead of “tickets” or “pic” instead of “picture.” It can also be a portmanteau, which is two words combined, like “frenemy” (friend + enemy) to describe a friend with whom you share a competitive spirit.

Slang doesn’t always alter the spelling of a word; it can also give an existing word a new meaning. For example, the word “ghost” describes the apparition or spirit of a deceased person, and is typically depicted as being transparent. The slang version of “ghosting” or “ghosted” describes someone in your life who unexpectedly cuts off communication with you.

Slang terms go in and out of fashion quickly. Some slang words that were once popular decades ago, like “tubular” (’80s surf-culture slang for fantastic or cool) and “fo shizzle” (“for sure” from the 2000s) are now widely considered to be outdated.

When to use slang

Due to its fluid nature, slang is typically reserved for informal conversation, though sometimes it’s used strategically in writing or speeches. Before using slang, consider whether your communication is formal or informal and if your audience is familiar with the term.

A general rule of thumb is to avoid using slang in formal situations. For example, slang is typically not suitable for work communication, legal court filings, and academic papers (unless the use of slang is relevant to the topic). Slang isn’t always received as professional language, and can result in misinterpretation or miscommunication in the workplace.

However, in informal settings and writing, it might be fitting to use slang if its intent is clear among all participants in a conversation. For example, you might use slang among coworkers during a casual lunch that isn’t work-sponsored. It can be used as a refreshing break from office jargon when appropriate.

Conversely, using slang in a professional setting depends on your company’s culture and the message’s recipient. Including slang in your writing might lead to workplace miscommunication if the person on the receiving end isn’t familiar with the slang word or its context.

What is the purpose of slang?

The purpose of slang is to convey a sense of identity and belonging within a culture. Thanks to its specificity, slang can also be a more expressive way to communicate an idea. The tone in which you speak slang also adds emphasis to your meaning.

Slang words invite creativity and playfulness into our everyday language. Since it’s constantly changing, it can help speakers—and, in some cases, writers—depict an experience of a particular place and time.

Slang examples in literature

Below are a few examples of how authors have incorporated slang into their work.


The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, uses slang throughout the novel, both in the characters’ dialogue and narration. The following example uses the American slang word “slayed” to describe the partygoers’ hairstyles as cool or amazing. In terms of their style, the girls “killed it,” or “slayed.”

Thomas also includes the slang word “basic” in the following sentence. This word carries negative associations in that it describes someone who adheres to mainstream characteristics or interests so much that they lack originality.

“… Girls wear their hair colored, curled, laid, and slayed. Got me feeling basic as hell with my ponytail.” (Thomas 4)

“Bucks”/“A pop”

In Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, an exclusive group of college students use various slang words. Below, Bunny Corcoran, one of the central characters in the novel, uses the slang word “a pop” to describe the “per-piece” cost of a luxury-brand pen. Also, Tartt chooses the slang word “bucks” instead of “dollars” as a casual reference to currency.

“How much are those things worth, anyway?” said Bunny.

No answer.

“Come on. How much? Three hundred bucks a pop?” (Tartt 34)


Bret Easton Ellis uses the American slang word “bummer” throughout Less Than Zero. It’s used to convey disappointment or something that’s disagreeable.

“Don’t you have money?” I ask.

Julian looks at me quickly and says, “Um, not now. But I will and, oh, by then it’ll be, like, too late, you know? And I don’t want to have to sell the Porsche. I mean that would be a bummer.” (Ellis 92)

Slang FAQs

What is slang?

Slang is an informal phrase or word used in popular culture or within a group or community. Slang words convey a specific context, and the word is typically derived from a transformation of an existing word, either by shortening it or associating a new meaning with an existing word.

When should you avoid using slang?

Avoid using slang in formal situations, such as at work or in legal contexts. This rule applies to both verbal and written communication.

What are examples of slang?

Examples of slang include “word” (an acknowledgment), “sus” (short for suspicious), and “SMH” (internet slang for “shaking my head”). Slang words are constantly changing, with new words and phrases being coined regularly.

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