Do You Speak College Slang? – Culture – GOOD. Here’s a well written article on slang, featuring two prominent researchers on the topic: Dr. Conie Eble, a sociolinguist at UNC and Dr. Michael Adams, a semanticist at Indiana University.
You may recognize Dr. Eble and Dr. Adams from their work with PBS’s Do you Speak American? Dr. Adams has also received attention from other media sources, including some attention that is relevant to the discussion of slang. In 2006, he was singled out as one of the Wordinistas at the American Dialect Society, who dared to define Colbert’s signature word: truthiness. On January 9, he replaced the The E-street Bands’ spot on Colbert’s “On Notice” list. Fortunately, he did not remain there for long. On January 12, after a very sketchy apology, Colbert removed him from the list.
Though both the vote itself and the ensuing Colbert Show coverage were more entertaining than educational, they offer a great opportunity for discussing the ephemeral nature of language. Why was Adams in trouble? (In the interest of full disclosure, I was sitting two rows over for him when he offered his now famous definition of truthiness: “the quality of being truthy rather than facty.”) He didn’t contradict Colbert’s own definition, which is “truth that comes from your gut instead of from a book,” but the encounter does raise questions relevant to slang and to language change in general. For example, who gets to define words? When do we accept a new use of a term? What if two words share the same form but have wildly different etymologies? Although the American Dialect Society rarely takes its Word of the Year vote seriously, questions like these are a central to understanding how language works.
(Still can’t figure out how you know Dr. Adams? If you’ve taken an introductory class in linguistics recently, you might have used his book, How English Works (co-authored with Anne Curzan). I highly recommend it both for students and for people with a general interest in the field of linguistics.)