The 3 main F's of American Slang: Factors, Features, & Function

The 3 main F's of American Slang: Factors, Features, & Function

Published on: 7. 11. 2023 Author: Margarita M.

A: "I like ya cut, G."

B: "Fo' real?"

A: "Yeah, bro"

B: "Aight, bet!"*

    These are examples of colloquial slang primarily used in the United States of America. The main idea embedded in this conversation is that speaker A likes speaker B's haircut and a mutual agreement is established.

    Growing up in Los Angeles, you get people from all walks of life. I was raised in a community that consisted mainly of Mexicans, other Hispanics, and Blacks. My neighborhood has Mexican taco stands at every corner of every boulevard (cash only, of course), the sweet aroma of freshly grilled meat, grilled onions, and fresh guacamole is infused with the exhaust from the massive V-8 engines that fill the streets of LA. As you walk past the projects, you see Mexican murals and the smell of freshly-baked pan dulce fills your nostrils. The sun is shining, kissing your skin and the air is saturated with the warmth of the heated concrete under your feet. As you walk, you overhear conversations in Spanglish "Nah, foo. I told him: "No mames, bro". Just as the heat of the sun saturates the air, so does slang.  It's hard to divide which vernacular is used in "the hood", all over Los Angeles county, or the U.S. for that matter, but slang is used everywhere around the nation and the world. I want to discuss what slang is specifically in regards to the factors that influence it, its features, and go in further depth into its function i.e. why we use it.

    The biggest factors influencing the use of slang are as follows: Gender, Occupation, and Age. In, "A Sociolinguistic Study of American Slang", Zhou and Fan mention that every person has their own individual and unique idiolect. An idiolect is a personal dialect that each person possesses that is/was influenced by their background which includes the environment they grew up in and personal characteristics like age and gender. 


    Zhou and Fan mention that males generate most of the American slang that is spoken and that the way women and men use it, differs greatly. It is less socially acceptable for women to use slang in the way that men use it. In terms of occupation, "the higher the training and education required for the position, the lower the tolerance for slang" (p. 2210). As far as age is concerned, the American youth are the biggest users of slang. They are creative language innovators. They set trends, they reuse old slang, they attempt to create new words to "catch on". Older adults tend to use slang less frequently but use it more prevalently when in informal situations. 


​    It is commonly known that slang is used mainly in informal settings but it is interesting to note that its much deeper than that. Slang is used amongst those who don't fit in to the "cookie-cutter" world. Kemmer explains that slang is most commonly used by "criminals; poorer groups; minority ethnic groups; drug addicts; hobos, [etc.]". Her explanation states that slang saturates the taboo world. Many slang-users tend to incorporate taboo subjects like alcohol, body parts associated with sex, and bodily waste (poop and piss). I can add that slang-users also like to include words that include "mothers". If you take a look at Mexican Spanish, "mother" is used for all of the most striking curse words. Slang also has a humorous effect; it provides the speaker and listener with the opportunity to remember it more vividly and in turn, use it more effectively.


    The most important question we can all ask is "Why?". It is fair to ask "why do we use slang?" Slang is ever-present and as long as we can speak, we will produce creative words outside of the formality of language. Because of our propensity to create, we create often, and that in turn, causes new slang words to become old slang words quickly. Back to the age old question: "Why?". We use slang because it drives us to integrate into a community. When we use specific words to self-identify with a group with the same mentality and same social setting to allow ourselves to blend in with that group. (p. 2212) The final reason why we use it is because of the emotive feeling. In order to express our strong emotions, we are given the creativity of language to vent our feelings or as Zhou and Fan put it: "the emotive function help us get rid of our nervous energy when we are under stress." Language is naturally emotive because I believe language is just a means of expressing what is in our minds and hearts. Slang allows our creativity to flourish and express our true emotions through the wonderful class of language.

    All in all, slang will be used by specific communities all over the world. Everyone's idiolect is truly unique but we can find common ground in slang. It allows us to be established in social communities, it unifies people with similar mentalities. Slang is a multi-faceted function that is used every moment of everyday. What does slang mean to you and how important is it for you?


*"I like ya cut, G"- I like your haircut, gangster (aka cool guy)

*"Fo' real?"- For real? (Actually?)

*"Aight, bet!"- Alright, (strongly agreeing)