Date: Mon, 3 Nov 1997 11:16:07 -0500


Subject: Re: origins of slang

On Mon, 3 Nov 1997, Ellen Johnson wrote:

My research on vocabulary slang suggests that words and phrases often

do NOT originate in any particular ethnic or social group these days

and spread from there. Television, radio, and the many other ways

language is communicated to a wide variety of people at once make

another type of explanation more likely: its use by an icon of

popular culture. I agree we are too quick to ascribe slang to AfAm


Ellen: I would have to respectfully disagree with you on this -- at least

slightly. No doubt the mass media makes for quicker dissemination, which

in turn makes for more difficulty in tracking origins. H.L. Mencken made

a claim similar to yours above except that he suggested that certain

journalists were the top coiners of slang (I don't have the quotation

handy, sorry). Maybe I am old fashioned -- though I am not as old as

Mencken would be -- but I think much slang originates socially and not

individually. That is, I think most of it comes from subcultural jargon,

cant, argot, etc., that becomes popular (often thanks to music, tv, radio,

internet, etc.) among large segments of the general population. The

meanings, of course, quite frequently do not diffuse with the actually

locutions; frequently, they change because the subcultural metaphors make

no sense to the new users.

But then I have had this argument before.....

Al Futrell



Dept of Communication -- University of Louisville