The Evolution of Slang


Staff Writer

Do you find yourself often using words such as “cool,” “um,” “yo”, or “dude”? “Cause like thats um totally like chill dude.” These types of words are classified as slang or anomalies to the English language that are the result of continual and ever-changing lingo. It is natural for language to evolve over time and for there to be new words, abbreviations, and changed definitions of words. Some slang words have some unusual and notable origins and meanings.

“Dude” was originally used to describe a well-dressed man or over-dressed, fancy city folk in the 1870’s. It was even used to call someone a homosexual. However, starting in the 1980’s, the meaning completely changed and was used in a casual greeting such as “Hey dude,” or referred to somebody who was cool. Some people claim the word “dude” can be traced back to kids in Colorado as the result of watching the popular cartoon South Park, in which the word is used very frequently. Nowadays, “dude” can refer to anyone (both males and females) with no further implications.

The word “cool” was first heard in 1923 during the presidential campaign for Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, whose slogan was “Keep Cool with Coolidge.” It became a popular saying among jazz musicians in the 1930’s. However, it wasn’t until the mid 1940’s during the cool jazz movement (when the music started to have lighter tones and more relaxed tempos) when “cool” was used in everyday speech. The original definition of “cool” according to is having low temperature. Now it is more often used to mean relaxed, nonchalant, amusing, or fascinating.

The origin of the word “yo” can be traced back to the 1940s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as African American Vernacular English. The first time it was heard in the media was in John Wayne’s 1950 film, Rio Grande. In the1960s it was used frequently by Goober Pyle in the popular sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show. Then, the word was used as a greeting, used in a way similar to “hello” and was also used as a substitute for “here” during roll call for the military as well as schools in the southern United States. In the1990’s the word became very common in lyrics in rap and hip-hop music and developed new meanings. “Yo” can be used to get somebody’s attention for example, “Yo, can you come here.” It is also a short way of saying “your” as demonstrated in the well known Yo mama jokes which are often portrayed in a comical manner as a way as insulting someone’s mother.

The term “um” (same as “uhm” “umm” or “uh”) is not a slang word but a common speech disfluency. The exact origin is untraceable, but people have always used words showing hesitation. Psychologists from Stanford University and University of California Santa Cruz recently discovered that 6 to 10 percent of words in spontaneous speech are disfluencies such as “like” and “um.” However, their findings also suggest that “um” is more than just clumsy speech and a disfluency marker. It is more often used as a particular, and deliberate way for the speaker to express that he or she is having trouble finding proper words to say. Other languages also have words that mean “um.” While French people say “eu” or “em,” the Spanish speakers say “eh” or “pues,” and Japanese say “etto” or “ano.”

Many words, including slang words, have evolved or changed their meanings, yet are a unique and important part of our language and culture today. Yo so like peace out homie.


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