Upon some deliberation on the subject, we ended up finding “Slang” particularly relevant to our study of short stories, since it provides insight into the inner workings of an author who might use a lot of slang in his writing. In the English 40B class, we read some works by James Hogg, who uses extreme Scottish dialects, which we all found foreign and difficult to understand. The “Slang” article, through a sarcastic criticism of the use of slang, ultimately helped me to appreciate the style in which Hogg wrote as authentic and culturally relevant, as well as necessary in order to tell his story. This applies to all short stories, through the modern day, which is why I was particularly interested in republishing “Slang” with a modernized twist. I wrote my own article, paralleling Sala’s “Slang,” which I feel really captured what I took away from the article. This project was particularly resonant with me and my overall experience in the “Birth of the Short Story” class because it helped me to place everything we read in a cultural context and to appreciate the value of words specific to that context.
As part of the process of republication, at first glance, the hard copy presentation of this assignment raised some interesting thoughts. We used a cover, hand drawn along with all of the illustrations by Gail Goldspiel, which replicated all of the information and the aesthetic presentation of Sala’s “Slang” in Household Words. While this caused some disagreement among the group, we eventually settled on adding “A New … Modernized” to the title “Household Words.” I felt the point of this first republication project was to republish the article in a completely new light and different context from the original. I failed to see at first how claiming our own publication to actually be Household Words and not adding anything unique to our take on “Slang” on the cover would achieve what we intended it to. We hoped the modernized context of the article would provide a new perspective from which to look at this piece.
In addition to the cover, the group decided to print all of our work in columns to also closely resemble the original “Slang” in Household Words.
Upon more discussion and consideration, I feel that the content of “Slang” itself lends the appearance of our first republication an ironic tone. The point of the article in summation is that the slang dialect particular to any one time and place is incomprehensible to anyone removed from that setting, and even sometimes that setting’s very own members. Ultimately, though, the article parodies itself because it is absurd to think that individuals or specific groups will not change the language they use with the times to better suite their current situations. Keeping the cover of the 2008 version of “Slang” the same as the 1853 version then becomes somewhat sarcastic due to the inevitability that a more modern and culturally specific medium or format would have become available in the interim. While the self satirical side effect of this cover lends itself to Sala’s attitude, I still didn't feel that it really captured the way I feel about this piece as a modern interpretation. This is the reason why I feel web publication was not only appropriate, but the next logical step in the progression of this piece.
As I point out in my preface to “Slang: A Modern Interpretation,” language is representative of time and place and will continue to evolve as long as society does. This point is the basis for the strong relationship between the article “Slang” (and its modern interpretation) and the medium in which it is published. The article makes such a strong point about advancement and modernity and, at the time of its original publication, found its home in “Household Words.” At this time, weekly journals containing these types of articles and stories functioned to entertain and inform the Victorian people. Therefore, it was fitting for “Slang” to be included in such a publication because the article provides commentary on both the readers and the other material contained in “Household Words.” In my preface to the modern version of “Slang,” I also use the examples of short stories from two different time periods and countries to show the cultural significance of the dialect. James Hogg’s 1820 Scottish readers of “An Old Soldier’s Tale” would have no problem connecting with his writing, but someone in 1994 California might find it completely unintelligible. Likewise, fans of Bret Easton Ellis have an understanding of the modern slang used in “At the Still Point,” but don’t recognize Hogg’s language as English. This speaks to the nature of the individual societies: where they are, what type of people live there, how developed they are, etc. In my reinterpretation of “Slang,” I delve into the current trend of blogging and the way language is manipulated in that community. I wrote:
While one may argue that only the illiterate and uneducated masses make common use of slang, it is in fact a new movement in the literary world in which an entirely unique dialect is currently developing. Among users of the “world wide web” or internet, “blogging” has become a popular medium for writing both fiction and non fiction. When bloggers produce fiction based on previously published works known as fan fiction, or “fanfic” as they call it, they communicate using a system of slang barely resembling the English language. “Fanfic can be either “slash” or “het,” meaning homo or heterosexual, depending on preferred “shipping,” meaning the relationship on which the writer focuses. The stories can contain “OTPs” (One True Pairs) or take place in an “AU” (Alternate Universe).
Similarly, Rachel Rosman, in her introduction to our project, wrote:
The great literature of our time is now available to the masses at the click of a button in the form of blogs, where the works of anyone can be published instantaneously. Blog based books, known as blooks, have been published and it’s possible that blooks writers such as Salam Pax, Ellen Simonetti, Jessica Cutler, and ScrappleFace will be the next great authors of our time. Because short stories featured in blogs are written by the average man to appeal to the average man, they naturally use the slang of popular culture.
It should only follow that “Slang” receives its well deserved place on the internet -- on a blog no less – considering the implications of this format. It adds another modern aspect to the edition, going hand in hand with the theme of technological advancement as well as the tongue in cheek humor of publishing in the context the article itself disapproves of due to the lack of clear language used in a blog.
I am pleased that this project will now be available beyond LATTE because I feel it has such a strong connection to modern American society. It is about the way people choose to communicate and the words they use to express themselves and how those things are now indicative of a society where the whole world can see my Brandeis University English 40B project. In a way, I feel this actually begins to break down the slang barriers with which Sala concerns himself, because my republication of “Slang” is accessible to anyone in the world with an internet connection.
Preface by Rachel Rosman
The following compilation is written as a current response to an article published in an 1853 edition of a periodical called Household Words conducted by Charles Dickens. The article, titled Slang by George Augustus Sala, is a criticism of our “word-sinning,” of the nonsensical misplaced synonyms of familiar terms that supposedly corrupt our language. But in this modern age, slang has become as justified in our literature as normal vocabulary. The most recent edition of Webster’s Dictionary has been published to include such pop culture terms as “d’oh” from The Simpsons and websites such as Urban Dictionary and Double-Tongued Dictionary are entirely devoted to contemporary slang. Our modern generation is often defined and united by our use of slang, and in an era where our great short stories are now posted on blogs rather than periodicals, slang has come to define our literature as well.
The short story has always pertained to a certain local culture and has naturally used the language of that region to gain popular appeal. During the Middle Ages, certain writers such as Chaucer, William Caxton, and William of Malmesbury represented the regional differences in pronunciations and dialects. The different dialects and the different pronunciations represented the first meaning for the term “slang.” In England slang was first thought to be used only by criminals and cheats because it developed primarily in saloons and gambling houses. However, slang slowly presented itself in popular plays, with Shakespeare being a widely known example. By the 1700’s the cultural differences in America had begun to influence the English-speaking population, and slang began to expand.
As expressed in Household Words, America was largely to blame for furthering these new terms. As our great literature was advanced by the tumultuous events of our country, so was out language. The Westward expansion, the Civil War, and the abolitionist movement all furthered the development of slang. Slang soon gained the interest of popular writers and lost some of its original taboo. Walt Whitman considered slang to be the life of language. Whitman wrote that slang, “was a wholesome … of common humanity to escape the form bald literalism, and express illimitably.” The post WWI era brought a new demand for entertainment, mass media, and slangy fiction. Modern American slang has since been shaped and reshaped by the different cultures and the emergence of technology, which has left our society with varieties of slang from extremes like Street/Drug slang to African-American slang. Whereas slang was once considered to be the lowliest form of communication, many now consider slang to be an insightful variation to the blandness of the standard language.
We all desire the uniqueness of our own language, the unity it provides our culture. As slang is often defined by region and status, so are our great short stories. The works of Melville and Hawthorne often draw from their New England roots and gift books such as The Keepsake are largely written to address the interests of the well-to-do. Stories dating back to Aesop’s fables use simplistic language and dialect to express morals directed to the common people. The short story would be incapable of appealing to its desired region without capturing the dialect and popular language of the area.
And just as we no longer use most slang terms featured in Household Words such as “crushing by Jove!” the short story has also developed to encompass our changing culture. Publishings such as Household Words are obviously a thing of the past but even magazines and journals, the more modern forms of periodicals, are slowly becoming outdated. The great literature of our time is now available to the masses at the click of a button in the form of blogs, where the works of anyone can be published instantaneously. Blog based books, known as blooks, have been published and it’s possible that blook writers such as Salam Pax, Ellen Simonetti, Jessica Cutler, and ScrappleFace will be the next great authors of our time. Because the short stories featured in blogs are written by the average man to appeal to the average man, they naturally use the slang of popular culture.
The goal of a short story is to give the reader a small window into the world it encapsulates. Short stories naturally take on the slang and dialect of the region they originate from and the audience they’re designed to appeal to. As Slang provides a strong commentary on our changing language, so does the following modern interpretation on the slang of our generation that’s so essential for the modern short story.
Thorne, Tony, The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990) 26.
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog] 24 Mar. 2008.
Excerpts from Slang by George A. Sala in Household Words, 1853
It has been a pleasant conceit with philosophers and writers to distinguish the successive ages of what, in the plentitude of their wisdom, they call the world, by some metallic nicknames. We have had the Golden Age, and the Silver Age, the Age of Iron, and the Age of Bronze; this present era will, perhaps, be known to our grandchildren as the age of Electro-plating, from its general tendency to shams and counterfeits; and, when the capital of the Anglo-Saxon Empire shall be, some hundreds of years hence, somewhere in the South Seas, or in the centre of Africa or interior of China, the age that is to come may be known as the Age of Platina of that of Potassium, or some one of the hundreds of new metals, which will, of course, be discovered by that time.
However, this present age may be distinguished by future generations, whether ferruginously, or auriferously, or argentinally, there can be no doubt that the Victorian era will be known hereafter – and anything by favourably, I surmise – as as epoch of the most unscrupulous heterodoxy in the application of names. What was once occasionally tolerated as a humorous aberration, afterwards degenerated into folly and perversity, and is now a vice and a nuisance. Without the slightest regard to the proprieties of nomenclature, or to what I may call the unities of signification, we apply names to objects, abstractions, and persons stupidly, irrationally, inconsistently: completely ignoring the nature, the quality, the gender, the structure of the thing, we prefix to it a name which no only fails to convey an idea of what it materially is, but actually obscures and mystifies it. A persistence in such a course must inevitably tend to debase and corrupt that currency of speech which it has been the aim of the greatest scholars and publicists, from the days of Elizabeth downwards, to elevate, to improve, and to refine; and, if we continue to reckless and indiscriminate importation and incorporation into our language of every cant term of speech from the columns of American newspapers, every Canvas Town epithet from the vocabularies of gold-diggers, every bastard classicism dragged head and shoulders from a lexicon by an advertising tradesman to puft his wares, every slip-slop Gallicism from the shelves of the circulating library; if we persist in yoking Hamlets of adjectives to Hecubas of nouns, the noble English tongue will become, fifty years hence, a mere dialect of colonial idioms, enervated ultramontanisms and literate slang. The fertility of a language may degenerate into the feculence of weeds and tares: should we not rather, instead of raking and heaping together worthless novelties of expression, endeavor to weed, to expurgate, to epurate; to render, once more, wholesome and pellucid that which was once a “well of English undefiled,” and rescue it from the sewerage of verbiage and slang? The Thames is to be purified; why not the language?
It is no excuse for this word-sinning of ours to say, that we have learnt a great portion of our new-fangled names and expressions from America. The utterer is as bad as the coiner. It is true that our trans-atlantic cousins have not only set us the example, but have frequently surpassed us in their eagerness to coin new words, and to apply names to things with which they have not the remotest relation. The Americans call New York the “empire city,” as if a city – and in a republic moreover – could be under any circumstances an empire. Another town of theirs is the “crescent city,” and so fond of the name of city are they, that they frequently apply it to a group of half-a-dozen log cabins and a whisky shop in a marsh, on the banks of some muddy, fever-haunted river. Every speculator in “town lots” (slang again) in the States has founded half-a-dozen such “cities.”
In the United States if half-a-dozen newspaper editors, post-masters, and dissenting ministers, two or three revolvers, a bowie knife, a tooth-pick, and a plug of tobacco get together in a bar room of an hotel, the meeting is forthwith called a “caucus” or a “mass meeting.” If Joel J. Wainwright blows out General Zebedee Ruffle’s brains on the New Orleans levee, it is not murder but a “difficulty.” In South America, if a score of swarthy outlaws – calling themselves generals and colonels, and who were muleteers the week before – meet in an outhouse to concert the assassination of the dictator of the republic, (who may have been the landlord of a venta or a hide jobber a year ago,) the ragged conclave calls itself a “pronunciamento.”
And touching the use of the terms, “monster,” “mammoth,” “leviathan,” how very trying have those misplaced words become! Their violent transformation from substantives into adjectives is the least of their wrongs; the poor harmless animals have been outraged in a hundred ways besides. The monster, I believe, first became acquainted with a meeting in connection with that great agitator, so calm now in Glasnevin cemetery, and whose agitation has been followed by such a singular tranquility and apathy in the land he agitated. As something possibly, but not necessarily expressing hugeness (for the most diminutive objects may be monstrous) the term of monster was not inapplicable. But in a very few months every re-union of four-and-twenty fiddlers in a row was dubbed a monster concert; a loaf made with a double allowance of dough was a monster loaf; every confectioner’s new year’s raffle was a monster twelfth cake; we had monster slop-selling shops, and the monster pelagonium drove our old familiar friend, the enormous goose-berry from the field. Then came the mammoth. And American speculator – who in the days when spades were spades, would have been called a showman, but who called himself a “professor and a tiger king,” neither of which he was – had a horse, some hands above the ordinary standard of horseflesh, and forthwith called him the mammoth horse. That obsolete animal the Mammoth being reputed to have been of vast dimensions, gave to the horse this new nickname; but in a short time there started up from all quarters of the Anglo-Saxon globe, from the sky, the earth, and from the waters under the earth, a plethora of mammoths.
Her Majesty Queen Anne is dead; but for Her Majesty’s decease we should have had an Academy of Letters and an Academy Dictionary in England. There are two opinions in this country relative to the utility of academies; and, without advocating the formation of such an institution I may be permitted submissively to plead that we really do want a new dictionary – if not in justice to ourselves, at least in justice to foreigners, and in justice to our great-great-grand-children.
A Note on the Style of Slang and Its Relationship to Household Words by Ted Levin
At first glance an essay condemning the use of slang and purporting it to be a sign of the slow and uncontrollable decline of society seems to be out of place in Household Words – a literary magazine which employed Charles Dickens, who himself embraced the slang of the time in his own writing, as the chief editor and a frequent contributor. Dickens himself was on the cutting edge of language use employing words to which Sala takes particular exception, namely those that elude the dictionaries and thus cannot be easily controlled or regulated. In some of his earliest sketches concerning the modernizing of London, Dickens adopted the newly formed definitions of words. One of these words was cad. When talking about the increasingly visible omnibus he does not label passengers as cads which was the word’s standard use, but uses the term for the bus drivers. This second definition appeared in print for the first time in the same year as Dickens’ story. Thus it seems odd that if as Lohrli suggests Household Words was Dickens’ mouth piece he would publish such an essay (1). However, with some exploration into the publishing of literary magazines and collections of the time, and paying particular attention to Dickens’ view of his own magazine we can see that Slang would not only be acceptable in content, but that its style lends itself well to Household Words.
Unlike present collections of artistic works including art, literature, or more modern media such as television shows or movies, which seem to be for the most part focused on a specific theme whether that be a creator, an event, or another occurrence, some literary collections of the nineteenth century lacked such a clear theme, and because of this welcomed a variety of entries. This general acceptance of a wide range of materials allowed not just short stories to be published in literary collections, but also poetry and non-fiction. Literary annuals similar in content and purpose to, but more expensive, published less frequently, and hence arguably more encompassing than magazines such as Household Words and even magazines of the present contained, “poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction” (Friedman 8-10). In this same vein, Dickens himself refers to Household Words as a, “weekly miscellany” (Lohrli 3). From this small observation it can be seen that a reader of Household Words or another similar collection during and even decades after its publishing would have had no qualms about seeing an article on slang appear in close proximity to other articles, stories, and poetry.
Nevertheless, the fact that various genres were published should not lead the reader to believe that there was no purpose behind what was included. Literary collections strove to create a work that was not only entertaining, but also instructional. Regarding the Forget-Me-Not, the oldest British Annual, Rudolph Ackermann, the editor, stated that his goal was to, “unite the agreeable with the useful”(Friedman 13). Similarly, Dickens, again speaking of his magazine, stated that one of its intended purposes was, “the general improvement of social conditions” (Lorhli 4). In this pursuit, nonfiction articles regarding various aspects of society, language use among them, were quite effective at relaying to the readers what the editors deemed to be knowledge that would better them. When combined with entertaining fiction and poetry a collection was created that could please the reader but also convey information concerning a wide variety of interests. Looking through the table of contents of the volume of Household Words containing Slang one can find articles pertaining to fashion, travel, homemaking, etiquette, philosophy, and science and medicine, as well as other non-fictional genres (Dickens). Lorhli notes, that articles such as these had two purposes. The first was to inform the reader about various topics as is the goal of articles like The Plant Cell, which as the name suggests concerns plant biology, or to provide social import a feat accomplished indirectly in Ignoble Conduct of a Nobleman (4). Slang can then clearly be seen to have a similar purpose, and in fact achieves both goals. It informs the reader about the current state of the English language providing definitions for some slang terms, as well as commenting on the use of slang and how it is seen by society.
Unfortunately, this remark along with the one above only serves to show how an article such as the one we are considering at present may have fit within the general guidelines of what was acceptable to publish at the time. If we want to understand how the article fits within Household Words more specifically and how it relates to the articles around it we must look more closely at Dickens’ vision and requirements of his magazine.
As we have just seen magazines like Household Words did not have a common thread in a sense of a theme or central topic, and, although editors did try to create a collection not just for entertainment but the relay of information as well, this cannot be seen as a unique characteristic of Dickens’ publication. However, there is indeed a characteristic that Dickens’ hoped that all the works, in his publication would contain – a writing style containing levity and humor. In fact, it was this writing style that set Household Words apart from the many other magazines addressing similar issues: “the popular – “readable” – discussion of maters in Dickens’ widely read periodical brought them attention that their sober presentation in specialized journals and in upper-class journals did not give them” (Lorhli 5). Sala’s article, as we soon shall see, was no exception. No matter the topic, Dickens’ attempted to not simply publish works that were either informative or entertaining but ideally both – publishing fiction with morals and nonfiction with flair. His expectations are made clear, again by Lorhli, “Factual, informative, instructional, didactic material was to be presented in a ‘fanciful’, ‘imaginative’, ‘picturesque’, ‘quaint’ way” (9). Additionally, as observed by a contemporary reviewer, singular events or occurrences of little import were embellished: “‘isolated blemishes in the social system are magnified through the hazy medium of exaggerated phrases to the dimensions of the entire system, and casual exceptions are converted into a universal rule” (9). If we now look at Sala’s essay particularly we can see that this humorous writing style full of levity and exaggeration can easily be found and help to explain how this article fits relates to works of all genres within Household Words.
Humor, although it is one of the more subjective attributes of a work, obviously is present in Slang in many categories including exaggeration, sarcasm, and simply the presentation of funny scenes and imagery. Exaggeration may be the easiest to see as it quickly appears to the reader within first paragraph. Sala informs us that the Victorian era will be known to history as the “Age of Electro-plating” because like others eras whose metallurgic nicknames have accurately reflected their age, electro-plating accurately reflects a society that according to Sala has a “general tendency to shams and counterfeits” (Sala 73). Clearly, this statement is an embellishment of an observation that could easily be made of any era. Shams and counterfeits have arguably always existed and will continue to do so for some time, but by taking a simple truth and inflating its importance the author has created a humorous observation that welcomes the reader to learn about Sala’s other complaints. Turning to slang, but continuing his exaggeration regarding speakers of English in the Victorian Era, Sala claims this time period to be, “the epoch of the most unscrupulous heterodoxy in the application of names” (73). Again it is clear, especially by the use of superlatives, that Sala has taken a smaller issue and created a greatly inflated concern of it. Later in the piece another particularly interesting passage of exaggeration can be found. Here we see Sala attempting to argue that slang is a new occurrence and that older writers wrote without slang and because of this Victorians are able to understand older writings with more ease than those of their own times: “I cannot find much tendency to the employment of slang in the writings of our early humorists” (74). Clearly, Sala is either playing down the use of slang by authors such as Shakespeare or he is stubborn in refusing to admit that slang is indeed present. And the former seems the wiser choice, but other examples of levity can be found as well.
Sarcasm is also present within the essay. While discussing the habit of high society to use foreign expressions and to mix foreign sounding terms and pronunciation with English, Sala notes, “when your ladyship does condescend to speak English, it is only with a delightful mincingness of accent and a liberal use of superlatives” (76). In describing the lady’s adoption of French pronunciation into English and the unnecessary use of superlatives like “divine” and “awfully”, it is apparent the Sala abhors these characteristics, but presenting this disagreement sarcastically, calling it delightful, the levity of the article is maintained.
Lastly, Sala employs his light writing style for his definitions of slang terms. These instances more that the other two categories provide clear examples of how a light style can make an informative article much more readable and appealing to a wide range of people. The term caucus is hilariously defined by Sala to be, “a dozen newspaper editors, post-masters, and dissenting ministers, two or three revolvers, a bowtie knife, a tooth-pick, and a plug of tobacco get[ting] together in the bar room of a hotel” (74). Using this funny definition in place of a more serious, accurate definition makes the article much less like a dictionary which would be boring to read, and allows the article to fit more with the writing style Dickens wanted to present to his readers. Even when the definition is straightforward it is not free from Sala’s assault. After defining the slang term “the danseate” (dancing tea), Sala goes on to ridicule its English meaning: “Does tea dance? Can it dance” (76). Again by, attacking definitions showing their apparent absurdity and nonsensical nature, Sala creates not only an article that addresses a social problem and informs its readers, but does so in a fashion that brings entertainment and levity into the piece.
It is then clear that although the essay may at first seem to be out of place – this is indeed not the case. Rather, the essay was not only compatible with the content of literary magazines of the time, but also compatible with the style and goal specific to Household Words. Through the use of exaggeration and a humor, Sala was able to craft an essay that successfully achieved the goal that Dickens’ expected of all works in his periodical. It combines information and comments on societal acceptance with entertainment to weave a common thread through all the material and connect and seemingly disjointed collection into a unitary, readable compilation.
Friedman, Paula R. Introduction. The Keepsake for 1829. Frederic Mansel Reynolds Ed. Ontario,
Canada: Broadview Encore Editions, 2006.
Lohrli, Anne. Household Words. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1973.
Sala, George A. “Slang”. Household Words. Ed. Charles Dickens. Vol. 8. London: Bradbury and
Evans Printers, 1854.
Preface to “Slang: A Modern Interpretation” by Rebecca Blomberg
James Hogg wrote stories featuring various dialects representative of specific locations in Scotland. At the beginning of “An Old Soldier’s Tale,” Margaret says, “It’s no to be the battle o’ Culloden, then Andrew, ya hae gart me greet ower often about that already.” Published in 1820, this represents a time and place where the characters would understand each other, but a majority of the audience might not. On the next page, Hogg addresses this issue, saying, “were I to tell it in his own dialect, it would be unintelligible to the greater part of readers.” In 1853, the original article “Slang,” was published in “Household Words,” in which the author criticizes the Victorian era’s use of such slang, which to a reader of a Victorian short story may appear as difficult to comprehend as “An Old Soldier’s Tale.” While the tone of the “Slang” article is often sarcastic, it ultimately proves that writings specific to a time and place will not necessarily translate to a foreign or future audience. This issue is inherent in language, and continues in the use of present day American English in fiction. In Bret Easton Ellis’ short story “At the Still Point,” some dialogue reads, “’You guys are being total dicks,’ Graham says, playing with a bread stick. He offers it to Dirk who waves it away. ‘No, come on, Raymond,’ Dirk says. ‘You brought this up. Now say it, pussy.’ ‘Tell them to shut up or something,’ Graham says to me.” These words and terminologies suffer the same flaws as Hogg’s. Scottish readers in 1820 would understand “At the Still Point” as well as California readers in 1994 would understand “An Old Soldier’s Tale.” This issue will continue for as long as languages evolve.
Slang: A Modern Interpretation by Rebecca Blomberg
Philosophers and writers have distinguished periods in history separate from one another, characterized by various metals. We have the Golden Age, Silver Age, Iron Age, and Bronze Age. While the Victorian period may be comparable to the Age of Electro Plating, the current American era will for generations come to be known as the Fool’s Gold Age. Much like Pyrite, which is not quite what it seems, the English language presents itself in countless words which simply do not say what they mean.
What began as an occasional joke among friends has become downright criminal. Different groups of people, rather than using the words that describe their necessities, have resorted to mutilating the integrity of words, assigning names seemingly at random to items with already perfectly acceptable titles. Not only does this interfere with communication by obscuring the true nature of the object being described, it confuses the inner significance of those things already in existence. If, as a society, we continue to borrow words from every popular rap song, every trendy advertisement, and every celebrity interview, the English language in fifty years will become a nonsensical jumble of esoteric dialects and hipster terminology.
The language is becoming a mass of fog and greenhouse gases. Where we aim to save the environment and improve the condition of global warming, we should also detoxify the current state of American English. Where we strive to produce electric cars and eliminate carbon emissions, we should pick up the slack, returning English to a pure state and removing all forms of unnecessary slang.
It comes as no surprise to mention that a majority of our slang derives from the urban community associated with hip hop music. Where these speakers mislabel their lives, the literary community and general public commit an offense against humanity in repetition of such gibberish. If one grows up with little money and one parent in a neighborhood full of people in similar situations, they all of a sudden are locked in a “ghetto.” If one of these men grows up to become popular and gathers a following, the people with whom he surrounds himself are his “posse.”
In terms of description, “mad” has taken on a life of its own. Rather than referring correctly to “madness” or “a state of mental instability”, or even less correctly but more acceptably “angry”, “mad” now means “very.” To say one is “mad angry” would not be redundant. That person would simply have a severe case of anger.
Due to the overexposure of celebrity in American culture, Paris Hilton’s personal dialect has swept the nation by storm. When something is “hot,” it is not necessarily at a very warm temperature. In fact, “hot”, can be a number of things from good to pleasurable to attractive, or even “cool.” Like “hot,” “cool” may have nothing to do with temperature, but rather an ineffable quality of peer acceptability. The poor girl with the “cool” scarf may unfortunately suffer overwhelming heat despite its “coolness.” Likewise, the girl with the “hot” jacket may not in fact be protected from the winter cold.
The quality of comedy has declined in recent years due to the use of slang words. As Shakespeare wrote comedy, he employed language both straight forward and accessible in order to convey his point clearly and without confusion. Presently, Judd Apatow produces comedy after comedy using all kinds of distorted words. In “The Forty Year Old Virgin,” he unintelligibly writes, “You know how I know you’re gay? You just told me you’re not sleeping with women anymore.” Traditionally and according to the genuine definitions of these words, one character accuses another of being felicitous because he does not slumber in the proximity of women. American audiences appreciate this comedy so much, Apatow’s film grossed domestically $109.5 million, in comparison to the foreign gross of $67 million.
While one may argue that only the illiterate and uneducated masses make common use of slang, it is in fact a new movement in the literary world in which an entirely unique dialect is currently developing. Among users of the “world wide web” or internet, “blogging” has become a popular medium for writing both fiction and non fiction. When bloggers produce fiction based on previously published works known as fan fiction, or “fanfic” as they call it, they communicate using a system of slang barely resembling the English language. “Fanfic” can be either “slash” or “het,” meaning homo or heterosexual, depending on preferred “shipping,” meaning the relationship on which the writer focuses. The stories can contain “OTPs” (One True Pairs) or take place in an “AU” (Alternate Universe). In an effort to create literature, these bloggers destroy all that is holy and sanctified about the English language.
Beyond the world of internet literature, digital communications have been reduced to barbaric symbols in order to express ideas. This “IM” or “Text” slang leaves little trace of actual words. “Lol” indicates that a person is “laughing out loud,” even though this is often misrepresentative, as most typers do not in fact laugh out loud when they claim to “lol.” “Brb” means one will “be right back,” “ttyl” means one will “talk to you later,” and “idk” means “I don’t know.” To avoid the strain of typing two extra letters, “you” has become “u” and “are” has become “r.” At this rate, our society can easily revert back to cave drawings and banging rocks together.
Slang extends from the highest class of society to the lowest in all aspects of life. In fine dining, a culinary artist may offer you an “amuse,” or a bite to entertain your mouth before a meal. In the theatre, “spiking” a set piece involves no sharp objects and “striking” a set involves no beatings. In politics, “grassroots” campaigns involve no horticulture.
Drug users may consume “shrooms” or “percs.” When smoking marijuana, they might label it “pot,” “weed,” “grass,” “herb,” “Mary Jane,” “ganja,” “reefer,” “green,” or any other number of contrived names. Thus through all grades and professions of life runs this ubiquitous slang.
Without any clear line as to where English ends and nonsense begins, it is clear why so many foreigners living in America fail to learn English. Spanish is fast becoming a rival prominent language in the country, and if Americans continue to mutilate English, Spanish will prove to be a more pertinent language to learn. Therefore, a compilation of actual words and definitions as an official national dictionary may be the most prudent action at this time to save America from losing English completely.
Hogg, James. “An Old Soldier’s Tale,” in Winter Evening Tales. Edinburgh, 1820
Ellis, Bret Easton. “At the Still Point,” in The Informers. Vintage Contemporaries, 1994
Author Biography: George Augustus Sala, 1828-1895 by Jessica Steinberg
Often debated in the short story genre is the importance of the author The article “Slang” is no different, in that investigating the life and perspective of the author gives greater insight into the meaning and purpose of the work. Dickens did not include the name of the author for most of the contributions in Household Words, but through Anne Lohrli’s investigative work, the authors have all been compiled, providing us with the opportunity to hopefully draw deeper meaning from the articles. The article “Slang” was written by the English journalist George Augustus Sala.
George A. Sala was born on November 24, 1828 in London. His father died soon after his birth, and he was raised by his mother, a singer and actress. He was educated in Paris for some time, and had a career as an artist, doing illustrations and engravings. But this was not where his true interest lay, as he wanted to someday become a journalist (Lohrli 421).
Charles Dickens, who compiled the stories and articles within the magazine Household Words, was well acquainted with Henrietta Simon, Sala’s mother. Through this connection, Dickens became familiar with Sala’s work as an aspiring writer and journalist, and in 1851 invited him to submit his writing to the collection. Sala’s first contribution to Household Words was a work entitled “The Key of the Street,” which Dickens called “a very remarkable piece of description” (Lohrli 422). For the next five years, Sala continued to submit regularly to Household Words, writing both articles and pieces of short fiction, contributing over 150 pieces during this period.
Sala wrote “Slang” in September of 1853, during the middle of his time writing for the publication. While his contributions were varied, “Slang” is a good representation of his work, demonstrating his societal focus and his style, including humor and the use of sketches within the article. Sala was particularly skilled in this regard, one of the reasons he was continually asked to write on a variety of issues. His pieces were popular with a public who was interested in the state of society, but preferred a more varied style than one would normally find in a none-fiction piece.
The fact that Sala was a novelist as well as a journalist during his career makes his contributions like “Slang” particularly relevant in relation to the short story genre. Essentially Sala creates societal critiques in a literary style: As was common with most of the non-fiction articles in Household Words, Sala employs “fantasy, vision, fable, imaginary travels, and the use of fictitious characters to serve as mouthpieces of information and opinion,” all of which are devices employed in the short stories (Lohrli 9). While a piece like “Slang” or another of Sala’s articles does not have a narrative arc like a short story, Sala does create a societal sketch, giving the reader a glimpse into life at the time. His unique perspective allows the article to be more than simply a journalistic piece, and instead bringing it into a more literary genre.
In a collaborative decision made in 1856, Dickens sent Sala to Russia as a special correspondent, where he periodically sent articles back to Household Words. Dickens was unimpressed with his work during this time, but it provided Sala with experience that would later influence some of his greatest and most recognized work. After publication ceased on Household Words, Sala worked briefly for All the Year Round, Illustrated London News, and The Sunday Times. Up until right before his death he worked for the Daily Telegraph, for which his work as a special correspondent was employed and especially useful. He was married twice during his lifetime, neither marriage producing children. Sala died on December 8, 1895 at the age of 67 (Edwards).
Edwards, P.D. “Sala, George Augustus (1828-1895).” Oxford Dictionary of National
Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005
[http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/24526, accessed 26 March 2008]
Lohrli, Anne. Household Words. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1973.
The quote on the "caucus" drawing reads: “In the United States if half-a dozen newspaper editors, post-masters, and dissenting ministers, two or three revolvers, a bowtie knife, a tooth-pick, and a plug of tobacco get together in the bar room of an hotel, the meeting is forthwith called a “caucus.”
The quote from the "mammoth" drawing reads: “Then came the mammoth … a loaf made with a double allowance of dough became a monster loaf, cheese made considerably larger than convenient, were exhibited under the false pretense of being mammoths. If anybody made anything, or saw anything, or saw anything, or wrote anything big, it became a mammoth.”
Note from the Illustrator by Gail Goldspiel
In illustrating this non-fiction article, “Slang,” found in the 1853 edition of Charles Dickens’ Household Words, I like to think of my images as those of the sort that would run as cartoons in The New Yorker. They are at once not as elaborate nor as ornate as the engravings seen in The Keepsake, but they too work in forming a cohesive whole, in forming a product of both images and text.
Unlike The Keepsake, Household Words, did not pride itself on including a lot of illustrations. Meant for the middle-class, this periodical assumed a more newspaper like form, packed with news and commentaries, as well as with poems and short stories. It was, as Dickens’ pointed out in the “Preliminary Word” to the 1850 edition, a periodical that aspired to “live in the Household affections … and be the comrade of many thousands of people, of both sexes, and of all ages, and all conditions.”
I like to think that my illustrations in this way appeal to anyone and everyone, and maintain “that light of Fancy” which Dickens’ eagerly sought to keep as the famous tone of his periodical. My images are extensions of the humorous and often satirical language of George Augustus Sala’s article, and are meant to serve as visual representations of his written words.
The images you have come across were thereby ones which I was inspired to create from particularly humorous prose and descriptions found within the article.
While it is true that illustrations were not often found within Dickens’ Household Words, we decided to incorporate them within our version, as a way to better update and create a new edition. As this was and always has been a periodical which seeks to reach everyone, illustrations are a good device through which to engage and capture the reader’s attention. I have not sought to convey the fashions of the time to women as was seen in Godey’s Lady’s Book, nor have I attempted to create intricate engravings as those in The Keepsake. Just as Dickens sought to advertise not “beyond the display of a few sensible announcements and placards carefully placed,” I have sought to illustrate simply and sensibly and in tandem with the essay as a whole.
It is thus my hope that these illustrations add to the reader’s enjoyment and overall experience of the article. I hope that they help to portray this intriguing topic of slang, which was and still is most cleverly (and wittily) conveyed.
-Gerald Giles Grubb, “The Editorial Policies of Charles Dickens, 1943. PMLA, Modern Language Association. JSTOR. Brandeis University Libraries.