What is SLANG?

Slang is a vernacular vocabulary not generally acceptable in formal usage: it is the non-standard use of words and sometimes the creation of new words or importation of words from another language.

Slang generally implies playful and informal speech, notable for liveliness, humor, emphasis, brevity, novelty, and/or exaggeration.

Slang is often particular to a brief period of time, with common usage ranging from decades to only a few months. Therefore words which are widely used and understood at one time, do not have the same meanings later. For example, a good thing may have been "swell" in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, "groovy" in the 1960s, and "cool" in the 1970s.


Because slang changes quickly it is a language that is difficult to capture. Also, it is a primarily spoken language, although most of what endures is written, not spoken.

Slang serves the important function of identifying people as members of a group: because we know the same words, we are members of a group and can therefore speak freely around each other. Slang also therefore serves to change the level of conversation from formal to informal, allowing users to handle awkward social situations.


Slang is often used to discuss semi-taboo subjects, such as:

  • Drunkenness
  • Sexual organs and activities
  • Drugs and drug use
  • "Elimination" and bodily waste

And The Great Depression was no exception! Read on to find out more about slang in the 1930s!