When you see slang words in business communications, do you cringe? The English language is constantly evolving so the use of particular phrases (especially ‘street’ words) is very subjective.

Slang is the language of rebellion. It originates in the street and resists the niceties of the respectable. It doesn’t play by the rules.

You can trace most slang back to criminal gangs or marginal and persecuted parts of society. That’s why it was often censored or ignored or both. Slang is like a subset of the English language. One that exists outside of the Oxford English dictionary until a word becomes acceptable and mainstream enough to be included.

Jonathon Green is a chap who’s thought about slang an awful lot. He’s the leading slang lexicographer of our time and a bit of a hero for word lovers. There are three volumes of Green’s Dictionary of Slang, showing the sheer scope of a lifetime of research. There are over 100,000 words and phrases with their origins, covering slang from the past five centuries right up to the present day. Every word and phrase is authenticated by genuine and fully-referenced citations of its use.

After working on his university newspaper, Jonathan Green joined the London ‘underground press’ in 1969, working for legendary titles such as Friends, IT and Oz. Perhaps that involvement with the Sixties counterculture was the spark for his love of language that messes with the mainstream.

Three quick examples of slang speak

Groovy: Like ‘cool’, ‘dope’ and ‘heavy’, ‘groovy’ was one of hippiedom’s key words that came, unaltered, from an American black vocabulary. It began life meaning conservative (“stuck in a groove”) and then mutated to the opposite.

Booze: It was there in the first ever glossary of slang, the collection of criminal jargon published in 1532, and it’s still going strong. The word came from Dutch buizen, to drink to excess (and beyond that buise, a large drinking vessel) and the first examples were spelt “bouse”.

Dosh: First heard around 1850, may come from a mix of “dollar” and “cash” but the root lies more likely in Latin’s dorsus, the back, on which you rest. Dosh was the money required to get that necessity.

What kind of slang do you think is acceptable? And what isn’t? Let us know…