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Brandi_R
Posts: 1,598
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Topic 78: Slang

A review of Michael Adams’ new book Slang: The People’s Poetry got me thinking about the use of slang in creative writing. The reviewer, Stephanie Zacharek, sums up the central idea of Adams’ book like this: “slang is both shaped by the changing culture around us, and in turn helps shape it; and that the rebellious invention of and appropriation of words -- by the young, by subcultures large and small, by the likes of Homer Simpson -- are part of what keeps language vital.”

Slang, by it’s very nature, has a time stamp. For example, if you say the party was “a gas,” you’re speaking from another era. Slang can create voice and, along with other defining elements, place a work in a particular era. The meanings of some slang words survive for quite awhile. We may not use “rad” much these days, but most probably know what it means. But will the current “redonkulous” (“ridiculous to an almost impossible extreme,” according to urbandictionary.com) hold up in the same way?

What does all this mean for the use of slang in creative writing? What do you think? Do you use it or avoid it? Why?

If you want to have some fun with slang, give this a try: Visit urbandictionary.com and click on “random” (upper left side of the page), which will bring up a word at random. Write down this word and its definition. Do this five more times so you have a total of six words. Write a very short story of no more than 100 words or a poem in which you use all six words. Share your creation here.

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Wordsmith
Zack_Kullis
Posts: 235
Registered: ‎02-27-2009
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Re: Topic 78: Slang

Grandpa with a Ki.

 

Paul heard the gunshot just as he was jumping out of bed.  Growing up in the projects will do that to ya.  He knew where the gunshot came from before he even looked out the window.  The Grandpa next door was always looking for a way to hook up with the local latina hotties.  He had the worst case of CSK that Paul had ever seen.

 

The problems with the geezer next door only got worse when Paul moved in.  Everybody knew that Paul was a real Dan the Man.  The Grandpa's wife, who was a total Irena, flat out told her man that he could never swing it like he used to. 

 

Grandpa decided that the only way to show his stuff would be to pick up a Ki of China white

from the Abdar that sold downtown.  Paul shook his head as he recognized the heavy car in front of the old man's house, and knew that Grandpa must have stiffed the Abdar for the Ki.  Paul went to his closet, pulled out his fully automatic Glock 18C, racked a round into the chamber, and went out the door to be a good neighbor. 

Sic volvere Parcas...
Distinguished Wordsmith
Dreamer4ever
Posts: 411
Registered: ‎11-06-2008
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Re: Topic 78: Slang

Slang can be one of the hardest things, in my opinion, to incorporate into a story. But it also can help make a story seem "real." It adds an aspect of a character's life that you wouldn't have from just telling what they did during the day.

 

I read this book: Romiette and Julio. The thing that drove me up the wall was the constant use of slang in the book. There were words that appeared in, literally, every sentence. It was very tiresome to read because I felt that the slang was just destroying any hopes of good conversation in the book. Almost as if the author couldn't think of what else to put there, so she put in a bunch of slang to fill the gap.

 

Slang is hard for me to input because I have a lot of trouble researching, if I'm doing a historical, the type of slang for that time period. You know, resources always tell the demographics and how the economy was and all that, but do they really tell you how the people acted, how they handled things, their speech and accents? I can't find sources that do tell that stuff. And even for present day stories, my slang isn't as up to date as the next persons.

 

Slang can make the story or break it depending on the genre and type of you're writing.

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. --Mark Twain
Wordsmith
Zack_Kullis
Posts: 235
Registered: ‎02-27-2009
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Re: Topic 78: Slang

Okay, so maybe my story was a little over 100 words.....  

 

Language is like an animal or plant, in the sense that it evolves and adapts.  I think that a big part of this linguistic evolution comes from slang.  Slang for an author can be a ying & yang sort of thing.  One way to really draw in  a reader is to use some slang or lingo that they use. 

 

Slang helps identify us, and differentiate us from other groups or people.  By using slang, I could have an entire subculture relate to what I am writing.  But by the same token, by using that same slang I run the risk of alienating other groups.  Who would want to read something that they don't understand?  If we write something with just enough slang to show our connection to reality, I think we can help our readers identify with our stories.  But if we use too much slang, we might as well be writing something in a foreign language. 

 

Brandi, I think your story challenge helped bring this idea home to me.  I selected six words at random.  Each of these words, or phrases, had a very specific meaning that at times was counterintuitive.  Using so many specialized words in such a small amount of space created something that really makes no sense, unless you take the time to look up the meanings of the words.

 

Thanks for the practical lesson!!  

Sic volvere Parcas...
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simple_girl
Posts: 160
Registered: ‎12-28-2008
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Re: Topic 78: Slang

This is really hard to do. I am trying to incorporate slang and different accents into my novel and I am struggling. Hi five to you Zack for giving it a go on the thread!

 

After reading through the responses I can't help but think of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He uses both slang and a thick southern drawl in his work and that is what makes it wonderful. It is really hard to read but it wouldn't be the same novel without it.

 

It amazes me to realize how embedded slang is in our culture and everyday lives. When you say something "deemed" as slang rarely do you recognize it as that. It just what everyone else is saying!

 

Interesting topic Brandi. It really has me thinking. Would you mind posting an example?

"It is not what we say or feel that makes us what we are. It is what we do or fail to do."
Frequent Contributor
holyboy
Posts: 107
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Topic 78: Slang


simple_girl wrote:

This is really hard to do. I am trying to incorporate slang and different accents into my novel and I am struggling. Hi five to you Zack for giving it a go on the thread!

 

After reading through the responses I can't help but think of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He uses both slang and a thick southern drawl in his work and that is what makes it wonderful. It is really hard to read but it wouldn't be the same novel without it.

 

It amazes me to realize how embedded slang is in our culture and everyday lives. When you say something "deemed" as slang rarely do you recognize it as that. It just what everyone else is saying!

 

Interesting topic Brandi. It really has me thinking. Would you mind posting an example?


 

I think it would be very difficult to get a slang-filled book like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published these days.   Modern readers are too impatient to wade through all the "Looky here, Huck," type sentences.

 

A little slang goes a long way. Like salt, if you use a little, it enhances a dish, but if you use too much, the dish is ruined.

 

I agree with Brandi about the time stamp nature of slang. I remember my daughter saying to me once, "Dad, nobody says 'groovy' anymore."

Moderator
Brandi_R
Posts: 1,598
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Topic 78: Slang


Dreamer4ever wrote:

Slang can be one of the hardest things, in my opinion, to incorporate into a story. But it also can help make a story seem "real." It adds an aspect of a character's life that you wouldn't have from just telling what they did during the day.

 

I read this book: Romiette and Julio. The thing that drove me up the wall was the constant use of slang in the book. There were words that appeared in, literally, every sentence. It was very tiresome to read because I felt that the slang was just destroying any hopes of good conversation in the book. Almost as if the author couldn't think of what else to put there, so she put in a bunch of slang to fill the gap.

 

Slang is hard for me to input because I have a lot of trouble researching, if I'm doing a historical, the type of slang for that time period. You know, resources always tell the demographics and how the economy was and all that, but do they really tell you how the people acted, how they handled things, their speech and accents? I can't find sources that do tell that stuff. And even for present day stories, my slang isn't as up to date as the next persons.

 

Slang can make the story or break it depending on the genre and type of you're writing.


Your post reminds me of just how integral slang is to the issue of voice. Some characters won't be up on slang and won't use it at all in their daily lives. To give such a voice this trait would change the characterization entirely. Others use it often and to avoid slang in such voices is not staying true to their character. So, the question becomes this: when slang is an important part of character how do you use it so that readers are clear on the meaning? How do you use slang so it doesn't get in the way of the story?

I imagine there are resources out there that have to do with historical slang. I'm thinking of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English and Dictionary of American Regional English. They're not slang dictionaries so much as a regional ones, but they speak to the variety of sources that exist when it comes to language. Perhaps diaries or journals from the time would offer some insight into this. Does anyone know of other good sources for historical slang?
letterpressfiction.blogspot.com
Moderator
Brandi_R
Posts: 1,598
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Topic 78: Slang


Zack_Kullis wrote:

Okay, so maybe my story was a little over 100 words.....  

 

Language is like an animal or plant, in the sense that it evolves and adapts.  I think that a big part of this linguistic evolution comes from slang.  Slang for an author can be a ying & yang sort of thing.  One way to really draw in  a reader is to use some slang or lingo that they use. 

 

Slang helps identify us, and differentiate us from other groups or people.  By using slang, I could have an entire subculture relate to what I am writing.  But by the same token, by using that same slang I run the risk of alienating other groups.  Who would want to read something that they don't understand?  If we write something with just enough slang to show our connection to reality, I think we can help our readers identify with our stories.  But if we use too much slang, we might as well be writing something in a foreign language. 

 

Brandi, I think your story challenge helped bring this idea home to me.  I selected six words at random.  Each of these words, or phrases, had a very specific meaning that at times was counterintuitive.  Using so many specialized words in such a small amount of space created something that really makes no sense, unless you take the time to look up the meanings of the words.

 

Thanks for the practical lesson!!  


You're right, there's both an inclusive and exclusive quality to using slang, depending upon the reader. You did a great job on the short passage and some moments of slang, such as "grandpa" were clear from the context. Others, though, were harder to infer from the passage alone. At what point do the use of these words become too cumbersome? I think different readers will have very different thresholds for this.

Thanks for posting your response to the exercise to give us a chance to take a look and discuss.



letterpressfiction.blogspot.com
Moderator
Brandi_R
Posts: 1,598
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Re: Topic 78: Slang


simple_girl wrote:

This is really hard to do. I am trying to incorporate slang and different accents into my novel and I am struggling. Hi five to you Zack for giving it a go on the thread!

 

After reading through the responses I can't help but think of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He uses both slang and a thick southern drawl in his work and that is what makes it wonderful. It is really hard to read but it wouldn't be the same novel without it.

 

It amazes me to realize how embedded slang is in our culture and everyday lives. When you say something "deemed" as slang rarely do you recognize it as that. It just what everyone else is saying!

 

Interesting topic Brandi. It really has me thinking. Would you mind posting an example?


That's so true—slang is often such a part of our language that we don't even really think of it as any different than the other words and phrases we use.

Here's an example from Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao:

Oscar de León was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about. He wasn’t no player. Except for one time, he’d never had much luck with women.

He’d been seven then.

It’s true: Oscar was a carajito who was into girls mad young.


The use of slang goes a long way in characterizing the narrator. Many choices are common enough that many readers will easily understand: "cats," "going on about," and "player." That's not necessarily alwasy true, though. (Click on the title to read more.)

Does anyone else have examples of slang in published fiction or poetry? If so, share an excerpt here and tell us what you think about how it works.

letterpressfiction.blogspot.com