Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Slang Part 1

In one of my posts, I did an exercise from a book, Lateral Thinking, by Edward de Bono. It's a process by which you pick a random word and use it to solve a problem. My problem was the Winter "blahs" and my word was caruncle - an extraneous growth.

The exercise is usually done as a group activity, so I decided to look up caruncle online. In addition to the listing of cysts, tumours and wattles, I found a reference to "slang." Someone had suggested that slang was the Cancer (tumour) of the English language. A counter reference suggested that slang was the more colourful of the two.

It's hard to say which idea I prefer. It's true I don't like needless (read extraneous) pedantic language, however I do like a well placed "bon mot," which often isn't slang, but a proper, perhaps even elevated, word used occasionally in everyday (vernacular) speech - "Idiosyncratic" comes to mind.

I certainly fall into the Canadian category of using the word "sorry" too often. I'll use "gonna" - "going to" and "whatcha"- "what are you.." a lot. However, I will go to great lengths to use the proper extended tense of a verb. "If it were to be done, it would be well to have had it done quickly." - just sayin'  :)

I think this insistence on verb tense accuracy comes from my 5 years of high school Latin. Some languages have no tenses except the present tense. The ancient Romans, however, had a tense structure to rival the most complicated. I guess they occupied England long enough to impart their love of convoluted tense order to the subjugated Anglos, because the imperfect, past perfect and pluperfect tenses are their legacy. It's an understanding of life that is not necessarily on-going, as in the eternal present, but one that could be seen as having been completed to some degree of perfection or not, as the case maybe, in the past.

But I digress. I was actually talking about slang as a more colourful outgrowth of the English language. So words, such as, "blurb" for a written explanation and "burbs" for planned communities outside of the evolved city centre are indeed colourful short forms for what they describe - uninteresting uniformity. They are the onomatopoeic equivalent of a "burp" - rude, bland, but necessary. (Hmmm, thinking aloud, "Did I just give you an example of colourful language that is anything but colourful. The examples are almost a contradiction in terms. It must be the Winter blahs!!)

Moving on...I also love the incorporation of words from other languages to add to our vernacular. Yiddish comes to mind, as having very colourful slang words, when used in English sentences. "Schlep," for example is the perfect connotation of dragging oneself and one's paraphernalia to and from a situation. "Kvetch" again is a great description of "bitching" without the rude overtones.

I probably use so much slang now that it has become commonplace and I have trouble separating it from the proper words that ought to be used. (This is one of the reasons I write. I need to remind myself of the correct form and usage of the words I use.)

I sense that this concept of colourful slang will be an on-going blog topic. I have written so little about what is really exciting in our everyday speech. Perhaps in Britain there are more interesting slang words - bloke, knackered, grub, come to mind. I also find myself interjecting a few words from French or German and, of course there is always Shakespeare's English.

I will close by posting two memorable, colloquial, expressions: 

First from the British, a slang interpretation of Grace, a prayer before meals:

"Thanks Gov. for the very fine grub." 

Secondly from a poem I taught in Grade 10 English:

"Methinks that the language has gone straight to pot."

The pictures? Street slang, maybe - colourful, unconventional and cryptic - the story of my life

Have an awesome day!

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