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Chapter One

The 411: An Introduction

These days, simply being fluent in a language doesnt suffice if you want to participate
fully in discourse, especially when your partner is a teenager with Internet access and pop
culture savvy. Conversation today, and even a couple hundred years back, is full of words that
have expanded their context and if one is unable to keep up with the ever-changing nature of
language, communication breakdown takes place. A basic and more well-known example is the
world cool, which, to most people, is related to temperature and means cold to a lesser
degree. In more recent usage of the aforementioned word, the speakers are not just saying it to
refer to something that is without heat anymore; they are now saying it to refer to something that
is hip, trendy or, in their opinion, really, really good. Ironically, its antonym hot is also used to
refer to entities considered of the moment. Another example would be blog. Unlike cool,
blog is a word that did not exist until the late 90s and was not widely recognized until the early
2000s, and is in fact not even a word per se but a clipped portmanteau of web log.
Such words are better known as slang and, while not technically regarded as part of
standard language usage, their employment in everyday conversation is considered socially
acceptable. As the examples given illustrate, the birth of most slang words, despite giving them
entirely new meaning, still relies on certain situations, phenomena, exchanges, denotations and
other reference points in order to fully exemplify their context and meaning. Which begs the
question: Exactly how are these terms born, and how do they become attached to new
meaning? This is what this study aims to answer.
If you think about it, slang is quite impossible to avoid. It is definitely part of culture and is
often used to measure which time frame applies to certain things. It is categorized
geographically (countries, states, specific areas in specific cities; certain schools, towns,
organizations, sports, hobbyistslike campers, stamp collectors and even snorkelersand
peer groups like bikers or gangs even have their own local vocabulary) and chronologically
(which illustrates the ever-changing nature of language and tells us that slang words have a
lifespan, some shorter than others). There are so many types of slang, its quite hard to keep up
and properly list them. People throw slang terms out in conversation without thinking twice
about them because they are now simply part of conversational language. However, perhaps
we should delve deeper into this particular subculture and really get to the bottom of it. That
sentence alone proves the pointgetting to the bottom of a situation or subject is another bit
of slang.

As we have established earlier, slang gets its meaning from several reference points.
Might this be related to Ferdinand de Saussure, who introduced to us the theory of semiotics
and revolutionized our view of linguistic signs? Perhaps Roland Barthess idea of mythquite
different from the legendary tales of fantastic origins that we knowand connotations may also
be of significance.
This study is being conducted to get a better point of view when it comes to popular
words and phrases that dont necessarily belong in a dictionary. Aside from finding out the
different origins of such words and phrases that will be focused on, another of its purposes is to
understand the culture from a linguists point of view, since it is a very crucial element of modern
language and discourse. Finally, the study is in motion because more awareness regarding the
words we speak will help us realize the importance of the actual perspective behind them and,
in future usage, we will be able to utilize them better as well as understand their cultural

Statement of the Problem

In conducting this study, the following questions will hopefully attain answers by the time
a conclusion is reached:

How are slang terms derived and given meaning?

What is their relationship to Saussures theory of semiotics and Barthess essay on


Do the two aforementioned theories play an important role in the birth of new


Following the establishment of our queries for this study, the objectives of the paper are
as follows:

To gather more information about and to be able to fully define the cultural and linguistic
entity that is known as slang.

To illustrate and give examples of proper slang usage.

To shed some light on how certain slang terms are developed in relation to the theory of
semiotics and myth, ergo giving the theories new ground to cover.

To show the importance of slang in general.

Significance of the Study

If conducted successfully, the study will benefit most English speakers, especially those
who are not particularly familiar with a number of slang terms, who hope to comprehend the
language better and truly deem themselves fluent in every aspect. In their encounter with the
upcoming information, they will find that determining the definition of slang words and phrases is
not rocket science, since, if the hypothesis is correct, it is only taken from specific events, films,
television shows, literature and other points of allusion that become the signified and/or myths.
The findings will also be of interest to them for purposes of more efficient communication.
Those who do not appreciate non-standard words will also take something from the
study, as it looks at the role of slang in language change with the help of two important theories.
Moreover, the said theories will also be given entirely new aspects and deeper purpose.
Scope and Limitations
The research covers many aspects of American slang, mostly those from the late 20th
century and, to a larger degree, the 21st century, the Internet and popular culture such as film
and television. Some recent Filipino slang was also examined. Of course, as previously
mentioned, it will be tied together with two linguistic theories.
The study did not include slang from different languages or English slang from the rest of
the countries that speak the language. While the inclusion of European slang, like that of Britain,
perhaps, or Australian terms would be deemed more interesting and open up more areas of
interest, the subject berth would have been too vast. Former popular terms in American English
were not given much room in the study and were only cited to illustrate the impermanent nature
of slang. No other linguistic theories were alluded to.
Procedure-wise, no interviews or surveys were conducted due to lack of time, although
they were briefly yet strongly considered.


In the process of this study, various literatures related to the subject of slang, Saussure
and Barthes were examined and read. To gain examples to cite, various websites that become
media for popular Internet terminology usage were visited. Finally, for the popular culture portion
of the study, several videos and books were also given a glance.

Chapter Two

You Must Be Ancient: The History and Usage of Slang describes slang as words or phrases that begin to be used in a
widespread way. It further states that the use of American slang dates back as far as the 17th
century and, a century later, prompted by the differences between America and other Englishspeaking countries, slang evolved. Words not used in Britain were, for a time, considered
Slang can be made up of metaphors, similes and other figures of speech, according to
Encarta. It also includes euphemisms and derogatory terms, and a large portion comes from
sexual innuendo and puns. Foreign languages are common sources for slang development.
(Bullard, et al.) Words of this sort may be a brand-new word, a new meaning for an existing
word, an abbreviation for a word or a word that becomes more generalized than its former,
narrow meaning. (YourDictionary) In order for them to survive and thrive, however, they have to
be widely and often used by a group of people. It is created by people, for people, and exists
based on usefulness and applicability. (Bullard, et al.)
In the early 15th century, scholars began pushing for a standard English language. One
of the main reasons for the development of prescriptive English, the purpose of which is to
minimize changes in language, is slang. The arguable first appearance of slang might be the
English Criminal Cant, which developed in the 16th century. It was used by criminals and cheats
and most probably developed in saloons and gambling houses. Initially thought to be foreign, it
slowly became considered as slang and by the 18th century was being taught in schools as
incorrect usage of English and taboo. It is largely believed that Samuel Johnson and Jonathan
Swift produced the first dictionaries in part out of fear and great concert for the corruption of
When writers such as Walt Whitman and W.D. Whitney started regarding slang as new
and innovative, Whitman even regarding it the life of the language, it started evading criticism
and, instead of being associated with criminals and foreigners, began being accepted socially.
By the 1920s, slang was gaining the interest of popular writers. (Bullard, et al.) Amazingly,
using dude or guy to refer to a young man originated in the 1870s.
In the middle of the 20th century, usage and coinage of slang became widespread and
common. The World War II era gave birth to FUBAR, which is an acronym for Fucked Up
Beyond All Recognition. It became easy to identify eras according to their vocabularies. In the
fifties, when greasers ruled the school, they witnessed the origin of saying hot to describe a

person as sexy or attractive. In the sixties, far out meant something was amazing, to hassle
someone was to annoy them, and to have vibes was to have feelings. People of the seventies
uttered bogus if the felt that something was unfair, gross if something was disgusting, nobrainer if they had easy problems and zip to mean nothing. The eighties saw the birth of crib
for a home, meltdown for a total collapse or acting out on negative feelings and wicked for
something that is excellent.
Usage escalated to all-time highs in the 90s, 2000s and 2010s along with the presence
of new technologies, pop culture and especially the Internet. In the nineties, glitter and flashy
accessories became bling, the police became po-po, and to forget something meant you
were having a senior moment. More recently, if someone is a cougar, she is an older woman
dating a younger man. A peep is a person, while a tat is a tattoo. (
Some examples of slang from pop culture are notebooking, which is challenging the
emotional ties or depth of a boyfriend with the use of the film The Notebook, Rick-rolling, which
is tricking a person into listening to Rick Astleys Never Gonna Give You Up, jump the shark
from the television series Happy Days and legendary, a popular catchphrase from How I Met
Your Mother. These terms are usually created from references to characters or events,
catchphrases, running gags and everything else that is related to or occurs in pop culture
entities. Later we will examine the contributions of the film Clueless to slang.
Finally, a major dispenser of slang these days is the Internet. A study by the BBC found
that technology is driving and perpetuating a lot of new words entering English. (BBC News
2008) Internet Slang consists largely of and is based on a modified version of our current
alphabetical way of speaking. (KnowYourMeme) This means that words are shortened via
phonetic translation (2 for to/too, u for you, r for are, etc), disemvoweling or taking out
vowels (ths s n xmpl f dsmvwlng, srsly?) and Leetspeak (13375p34k), which we will
investigate further later. Acronyms and initialism are also very present in Internet lingo today,
the most popular of which are LOL (laughing out loud) and OMG (oh, my God). Finally,
oversimplified terms like win for success, fail for failure, feels for emotions and because
reasons to state that the causes for certain phenomena are vast and innumerable are seen in
daily interactions with people on the World Wide Web. Even Internet jargon has become slang,
like 404, which is an error message given by web browsers and now means clueless.
Many see the numerous vocabularies of the Internet generation as a massive,
unforgivable misuse of the English language. However, as with the many types of English that
have spawned in different countries and have become more accepted as part of a culture, the

world today is more tolerant of such a way of speaking, as long as it doesnt interfere with the
standard practice of English, especially in work that requires more formal dialogue.
The Internet has radically changed global communication, Rachel Abrams writes. She
adds, The ability to circulate commentary and opinion has revolutionized the way people
communicate. However, British linguist David Crystal believes that English has not become a
totally different language because of simply the Internet. The main effect on the main effect of
the Internet on language has been to increase the expressive richness of the language, he
says, providing the language with a new set of communicative dimensions that havent existed
in the past. (Abrams 2010) The freedom of expression is certainly a main cause for these
widened communicative dimensions, included in which is slang.
As we have established, slang consists of metaphors, euphemisms and figures of
speech, as well, and this trait also manifests itself on the Internet. Soda pressing comes from
the phrase so depressing and makes use of phonetic translation. Moreover, continued usage
of certain phrases results in the evolution of what is already considered slang into another piece
of slang. For instance, quality, which on the Internet is another synonym for excellent, has
evolved into quali-tea or simply qualitea, which in turn has evolved into koala tea. An image
of koala and tea once made the rounds on micro-blogging platform Tumblr and one user
commented, All I see is panda and coffee. This resulted in koala tea further coining the new
term panda coffee.
The process of the evolution from the completely comprehensible quality to the
senseless-without-context panda coffee is a wonderful illustration of the role signs and myth
play in the development of slang terms, but we will get to that.
So, why the employment of slang? One possible reason is that most people are
individuals who desire uniqueness, and slang is a safe and effective way that people rebel
against the establishment. If it was considered as low form of communication before, it is now
regarded as a clever variation to what is a considerably plain standard language. (Bullard, et al.)
David Crystal, in his book The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, lists
fifteen uses of slang according to British lexicographer Eric Partridge. A few of these reasons
are: for fun, to be different, to show wit and humor, to startle, to escape from clichs or be brief
and concise, to enrich the language, as a euphemism, for ease of social intercourse, to induce
friendliness or intimacy, to show belonging or solidarity and to be secret. (Crystal 1995).
Since slang has strong cultural aspects, the use of it in conversation depends on certain
situations, conventions and norms. One good example of this is the term nigga, which is taken
from nigger and is considered derogatory towards African-Americans and dark-skinned

individuals in general. However, it is implied that when used by African-Americans themselves,

it is not seen as prejudice at all but a show of brotherhood.
Derogatory usage is, unfortunately, quite popular in slang, as well, and in fact a lot of
terminology exists for the purpose of insults and inflicting pain to others verbally. This usually
goes hand in hand with terms related to sexual intercourse or bodily functions, such as, and
censoring will now commence due to the rude and indecent nature of these words, b-tch to
refer to women in an awful way, sh-t as an expression of vexation, and d--che/d--chebag or
a--hole to refer to particularly unappealing males. Of course, a popular slang term that has
since branched out to several additional related words and usages is f-ck, which is often
mistaken for an acronym for Fornication Under the Consent of the King. For a local example,
Filipinos are quite known for uttering t---ina, which is a clipped portmanteau of what is a wellknown phrase about what ones mother is.
The antitheses of derogatory terms are words and phrases used as euphemisms. Two of
the purposes of slang mentioned by Eric Partridge are for the speaker to lessen the blow of a
rejection and to subtract negativity from heavy emotions such as grief. (Crystal 1995) This is
perhaps why we have several ways to allude to a death, such as passing away, going to the
great beyond, at peace or at rest, biting the dust, going to a better place and kicking the
bucket, among others. Some terms related to rejection and getting rid of are taking a pass, to
86, cutting off ties, blowing off, nixing and ditching. Other known slang terms used as
euphemisms are gosh for god, dang for damn, heck for hell and fudge or freak for f-ck.
Other people, instead of saying holy sh-t or holy f-ck, say holy cow or any other
substitutions (like snood or cheese grater) instead.
When it comes to informal ways to indicate solidarity and belonging, groups or pairs of
friends use words like bestie, which is derived from best friend and homie, from home boy or
home girl (also slang terms for close friends). There are also new ways of greeting people,
saying hello and catching up, like whats up? or whats cooking? In contrast, different
methods of saying goodbye have also been created: later or late, peace and Im out.
As established, slang is popular within secret societies and theyve formulated their own
language and manner of speaking to keep their goings-on private and exclusive. Popular
examples are in-context inside jokes and, to a greater extent, code words. This may mean
inserting a regular word that is not used often into a conversation to mean a particular message,
which may hint at getting rid of a certain person or a need to use the bathroom. It may also just
be a safe word and is seen in crime television shows, as well. In addition to this, security-related

slang also exists. A popular example is saying the Eagle to refer to the President of the United
Sometimes slang is derived from total nonsense and gibberish that, paired with enough
novelty and continued usage, manages to become considered a true word eventually. The
Andrew Clements novel Frindle shows this phenomenon amazingly. In the book, a clever,
creative fifth-grader named Nick one day decides to just start calling pens the eponymous
random name of frindle and his friends and classmates join him. This starts with including the
word in a conversation with a peer on the way home from schoolDo you have a frindle?
Whats that?and escalates as time passes, to the point where local store employees start
pointing to the section where pens are when children ask for frindles and Nicks very strict
English teacher scolds his class and gives them light punishments for their ill usage of English.
The novel ends with Nick having graduated from college and receiving a brand-new dictionary
as well as a fancy frindle from this same teacher, who reveals herself to have been supporting
the frindle movement all along and claims that all revolutions have to have a challenge or
villain of some sort, and so she chose to play that part, and she tells him to flip to a certain
page, where he sees that frindle has now officially become synonymous to pen and is one of the
newest words to become accepted into the dictionary.
It is widely acknowledged that slang, overall, is responsible for a lot of language change.
Our language renews itself and changes with the times. (YourDictionary) It is arguable that
one problem with slang is that it makes translation more difficult, but perhaps that is the point.
Because of it, one is able to know the attitudes and culture of the people who use it even
decades and centuries later. This is why dictionaries are updated on a regular basis and keep
on expanding to include new, accepted words every day, as shown by Mr. Clements, Nick and
frindles. For instance, lol was officially recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary in March,
2011 (Coin 2012). The most recent words recognized by the OED, however, are friend zone
(the situation in which a party in a pair of friends wants to be more than friends, but the other
does not feel the same way), tweetable (an adjective than applies to situations or objects that
one can post on social network and micro-blogging site Twitter) and appletini (a portmanteau
of apple martini) in February, 2013, while boyf (boyfriend), deets (details) and ridic
(ridiculous) were added in late 2012. (YourDictionary)
If not recognized by the OED, however, these words will find a home in what has been
introduced to the modern world as UrbanDictionary, where millions of entries with informal
definitions are defined and acknowledged as actual members of the vocabulary of the masses.
Simply put, it is one of the dictionaries made especially for slang. This only highlights the fact

that slang is so important to human beings that some of us dedicate an entire websiteentire
books, entire studies such as this, entire dictionaries!to it.
Slang is important because, as most of it is coined and used by the youth, Walt
Whitmans claim that it is the life of the language garners some truth. What were seeing is the
influence of technology coupled with current events and, inevitably of the young, who in many
cases drive language, says slang lexicographer Jonathon Green. (BBC News 2008) It keeps
several different languages alive and updates them constantly, reflecting the continual shifts and
endless turns of our world. Mr. Green continues that its only a natural part of language
evolution: Its just another form ofEnglishnot better, not worse.
Really, if you think about it, slang is basically how languages were formulated, how they
grow and cultivate and transform. A democracy in language, perhaps, because it is undeniably
of the people, for the people and by the people.

Chapter Three

The Hunch: A Review of Our Theories

Now that we have established what slang is, how the whole idea of it came to existence
and how as well as why it is used, we will now shift our focus towards the two theories
mentioned in the introduction so as to understand the forthcoming chapter better.
Ferdinand de Saussures theory of signs consists of what are known as the sign, the
signifier and the signified. Saussure, a Swiss linguist who lived from 1857 to 1913, taught
Sanskirt and Indo-European at the University of Geneva, wherein he eventually began lecturing
on General Linguistics as well. It is during these General Linguistics classes that he founded the
school of thought known as structuralism and revolutionized the study of language and
inaugurated modern linguistics. (Hoenisch 2005) The aforementioned school of thought
benefitted other studies and disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and literary criticism. Of
this, Saussure said, It is possible to conceive of a science which studies the role of signs as
part of social lifeWe shall call it semiology. It would investigate the nature of signs and the
laws governing them. He further explained that since the study has yet to exist, a place for it
prepared in advance must be ready. According to his theory of semiotics, however, everything
that takes place around us is not comprehensible without a network of relationships to other
signs. As such, Steve Hoenisch of Criticism.Com writes, a signfor instance, a wordgets
its meaning only in relation to or in contrast with other signs in a system of signs. Terrence
Deacon calls it virtual world, a network of symbol-to-symbol relationships. To speak of it
plainly: Everything is a sign.
This is how it works: A sign is made up of two elements, the signifier and signified. Its
important to note that these three thingsthe sign, signifier and signifiedmust not be
mistaken for one another. They are all completely separate entities. The signifier acts as a sort
of prompt or catalyst that will lead the observer to the signified concept. For example, the
signifier goodbye might result in a signified thought of parting ways. The linguistic sign is
neither conceptual nor phonic, neither thought nor sound. Rather, it is the whole of the link that
unites sound and idea, signifier and signified. Therefore, the signs properties are abstract and
not concrete. (Hoenisch 2005)
According to Saussure, there are three types of sign: Symbolic, which is quite selfexplanatory and refers to an object by symbolizing it; indexical, which points to a certain
direction; and iconic, which refers to the signifier by resembling it. An example of a symbolic
sign is a signifier of a red cross, the signified of which might be first aid or hospital. Other

examples include national flags, black ribbons to represent death and kangaroos to represent
Australia. An indexical sign, meanwhile, could be composed of a signifier in the form of a trail of
ants on a picnic table and a signified concept that food has been left out on the table and
attracted the ants. Additional cases in point: dark clouds to signify rain, snowfall to indicate
winter and the chiming of the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, officially called Saint
Stephens Tower, more commonly regarded as Big Ben to indicate a new hour in London.
Finally, an iconic sign is quite easy to spot as it physically resembles that which it stands for. For
example, an image of a book is an icon of a book. It is not a book; its a picture of a book.
Therefore, the signifier is the image and the signified is the idea of a book. Similar signs include
an image of a cigarette under a circle with a slash for No Smoking and maps, especially those
taken from satellites. Also, according to Indiana University, onomatopoeic words may be
considered iconic signs.
As the whole system of semiotics is a network of signs, all signs are created by their
value relationships with other signs. (Hoenisch 2005) Roy Harris, a translator of Saussures
Course in General Linguistics, adds: The essential feature of Saussures linguistic sign is that,
being intrinsically arbitrary, it can be identified only contrast with coexisting signs of the same
nature, which together constitute a structured system.
Structuralism, once again, gave way to many breakthroughs in language and social
science, and became the basis of many other ideas and theories from men and women as
forward-thinking as Saussure. One of these men was Roland Barthes. The French literary
theorist, critic, linguist and philosopher lived from 1915 to 1980 and was a pioneer in fields
related to structuralism (and post-structuralism), semiotics, anthropology and social theory. One
of his ideas is that cultural and social activity consists largely of the use of signs. In his book
Mythologies, he referenced Saussures theory with the use of the 1953 motion picture Julius
Caesar. According to him, the Romans hairstyles, which were fringes, could be taken as a sign
of Roman-ness. Therefore, presented with the iconic signifier of the hairstyle, the signified
would be fringe. Where does Roman-ness come from?
In Myth Today, from the same book, Barthes took beloved tales and legends that help
shape our view of the world and argued: Myth is a type of speech. (Barthes 1984) How is that
so? He took his framework from the theory of semiotics and added a new layer to the concept of
signsyou have your signifier, you have your signified idea, and, to add to that, you have your
connotative message. Barthess myth underlined the importance of implicative meanings, ideas
that come from the observer with added context to the simple signified concept. Therefore, it
can be said that myth, to Roland Barthes, is the event in which a sign is combined with a

connotation. The signified already vary among humanity, but the connotations differ in an
entirely new level altogether. If signs are already by nature abstract, then so is myth, all the
more. This is how Barthes was able to come up with the idea of Roman-ness in all the chaos
of fringes and hairstyles.
To bring his point home, Barthes used a cover of the publication Paris Match dated June
25th-July 2nd, 1955. On the cover was a young African in French uniform saluting (pictured

It may be said, then, that the iconic sign is then composed of the signifierthe image of
the child soldier giving a French saluteand the signifiedthe actual child soldier giving a
French salute. However, to Barthes, there was more: But, whether naively or not, I see very
well what it signifies to me: that France is a great Empire, that all her sons, without any colour

discrimination, faithfully serve under her flag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors
of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors.
I am therefore again faced with a greater semiological system: there is a signifier, itself already
formed with a previous system (a black soldier is giving the French salute); there is a signified (it
is here a purposeful mixture of Frenchness and militariness); finally, there is a presence of the
signified through the signifier...In myth (and this is the chief peculiarity of the latter), the signifier
is already formed by the signs of the language...Myth has in fact a double function: it points out
and it notifies, it makes us understand something and it imposes it on us... (Barthes 1984)
From the signified idea of the boy saluting, Barthes was able to produce the connotation
that the French empire was great and good and fair. Therefore, the simple purpose of signsto
represent an object or phenomenonreceives a brand new depth, that of conveying additional
emotions and ideas from current events, cultural framework and certain context that may or may
not differ between human beings. We reach here the very principle of myth: it transforms
history into nature...In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically: it abolishes the
complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essences, it does away with all
dialectics, with any going back beyond what is immediately visible, it organizes a world which is
without contradictions...Things appear to mean something by themselves... (Barthes 1984)
Myth may be timelessuntil now, this image of the boy might still mean that the French
empire was indeed great and good and fairor it may change over the years. For instance,
prior to the horror and great grief brought about by the Philippine Martial Law from 1972 to
1986, an iconic sign of Ferdinand Marcos may have generated the myth that the Philippines
was thriving and in good hands. Nowadays, however, the idea of the late Marcos might bring
about numerous varying connotations and myths due to the outcome of his final years in office.
Of course, the way Barthes described it, his idea of myth seemed to be based a lot on a
persons viewpoint, which means that myth is fluid and always subject to variation. This,
however, only strengthens the ties with social activity that he had applied to semiotics.
Signs and myth help us make sense of our surroundings and everyday life. Theyre a
way for us to pinpoint the way we view, understand, react to and appreciate all that takes place
around us, to interpret our universe. In a way, slang holds a similar purposethrough it, we are
able to articulate certain thoughts and feelings that we didnt have a name for before. As
mentioned earlier, signs work in a system in which all of them relate, lead and allude to one
another; otherwise, they wouldnt mean anything. Which brings us to the point of this paper: Are
slang terms actually just signs that we use to make more sense?

Chapter Four

Coming Together: Signs in Slang

This chapter will be divided into two parts: slang from current events and daily life
ranging from the 1950s to the present, and slang from the Internet and popular culture. Both
parts will explore the role Saussure and Barthess ideas played in the formation of particular
words and phrases that we now use in everyday conversation.

Current Events and Daily Life

Let us transport ourselves on a time machine back to a 1950s American ice cream
parlor, where poodle skirts and leather jackets were all the rage. A teenage waitress in thick
cats-eye glasses and a sleek bob cut appears. She says, Whatll it be? After taking our
orders, she exclaims, Boss! Your stuff will be here in a jiffy.
For the purpose of this study, we will examine the terms boss and jiffy, which
originated in that time period and are still continuously used today. From the point of view of
semiotics, the linguistic sign boss might conjure a signified image of an actual boss, the sort
that one encounters when taking jobs. However, that is clearly not the context when Boss! is
uttered by most 1950s teenagers. In their universe, that word is among the likes of cool or
great or awesome. How does a noun that means superior or manager become an adjective
that means a form of praise or an expression of excitement? The two meanings are not quite far
offthe second takes its context from the first, therefore illustrating the property of signs being
in an interconnected network. A boss from someones job exhibits qualities that deem him
superior, indicating that he is better, finer, of a higher position. If you are a boss, you must be
considered worthy of the job and are therefore an exemplary example. If you add this
connotation to our aforementioned linguistic sign, you will get a myth that might have led to the
conclusion that boss is a slang term that means awesome. To summarize: the signifier is the
word boss, the signified is a superior or manager, and the connotation is a fine quality, overall
establishing our slang word.
Now, let us take jiffy and see how it came about. A jiffy, in technical usage, was
actually defined by physical chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis, known for his discovery of the
covalent bond, who proposed a unit of time called the jiffy. According to Lewis, a jiffy was
equal to the time needed for light to travel a centimeter, which is about 33.3564 picoseconds. A

more popular definition is that it is 1/100th of a second. The slang term, meanwhile, is taken to
mean an unspecified yet small amount of time. A person can say a jiffy and it could mean
anywhere from a second to five minutes to a couple of hours, maybe even a couple of days,
although that could be a stretch. When referring to past events, something as long as a few
years or even decades could even count: It feels like it was just a jiffy. Following our pattern,
we will see the signifier jiffy, which results in the signified 1/100th of a second, which results in
the connotation that its a very short amount of time. Thus, our modern, non-technical definition
for jiffy was born.
Next is the sixties term hassling. When someone is hassling you, he or she is annoying
you. In its then-formal existence, hassle is a noun that refers to something that causes
discomfort. The connotation will be that its quite negative and very infuriating, which is why
hassle has become slang in the form of a verb. The term no-brainer, meanwhile, turns out the
signified idea of a persons inability to think due to lacking an important organ, the brain. This
gives people the implication that if someone who cannot think can do a certain task, then it must
be easy.
To different people from different cultural backgrounds, senior moment could mean just
about anything. To seniors in high school, it could perhaps refer to moments that embody their
status as upperclassmen, moments that only they could experience. But the nineties, it mostly
means a moment in which you forget something. It takes the idea of senior citizens or old
peoplequite known for their forgetfulnessand turns them into symbolic signs for the inability
to remember. The myth, then, to having a senior moment, is that something important has
escaped your attention and this behavior is akin to your grandparents.
The linguistic sign cougar conjures the denotation of an animal who is one of the
dangerous members of the feline family. Nowadays, it is popularly used to describe older
women who are in relationships with younger men. This slang term has become so popular that
it has been used and largely referenced in a television show in the United States called Cougar
Town, in which a woman in her forties does, indeed, date a man in his twenties. This
connotation is perhaps taken from the cougars tendency to pounce quickly and take on prey
that is more vulnerable. Once again, our pattern: signifier is the word cougar, denotation is
their goal-getting nature as predators, and connotation is women with similar characteristics
who go after men who are younger than they are.
A lot of slang words and phrases are taken from current events, as well. However, due
to the fact that they get their context from fleeting phenomena, the lifespan of some of these
terms varies. Some of them are relevant only so long as their bases are the talk of the town. For

instance, the names of people in the middle of scandals or important events become
generonyms, turning from proper nouns to common nouns that generalize people in the same
situations, even turning into adjectives, verbs, adverbs, you name it. When Tiger Woods many
affairs and rendezvous with various women and strippers came to light, his name, for a while,
became synonymous to polygamy, cheating, betrayal and even the downfall of a highlyregarded human being: Hes just a regular Tiger Woods, Why would you pull a Tiger Woods
on your wife? That is such a Tiger Woods move. In a similar vein, the September 11, 2001
attacks on New Yorks World Trade Center have become slang for very unfortunate, tragic
incidents, and every shooting incident that takes place in the Americas still cannot be articulated
without mentioning Columbine in some form. The names of serial killers are also quite popular
slang terms, as are hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina.
There are also local examples: When devastating typhoons like Ondoy and Pablo leave
parts of our country wrecked physically and emotionally, we have resorted to referring to them
to describe horrific incidents. We say mala-Ondoy, or if we were affected by them, we say naOndoy ako. Another is an event which took place in St. Marys College, QC that was reported
on national news, wherein java rice meals served to the students led to over twenty of them to
food poisoning. All students had to go to the hospital. As a result, the term na-java was coined
and used for a short period of time following the event, which is taken to mean any sort of food
poisoning. All examples cited took their signifiers, the signified events and the connotated
circumstances to create slang words.
Internet and Popular Culture

One of the most popular Internet languagesalthough usage of it has significantly

decreased latelyis leet. Having originated in message boards on the world wide web, it is
expressed by acronyms and synonyms, and by substituting letters with numbers, punctuation
marks, and phonetic combinations. (Mitchell 2005) For example, instead of typing leet, it may
be spelled l33t, 133t or 1337. The system takes its name from elite, or in leet, 31337,
because its a well-known joke between leet users that they are, well, the elite. Its a very
complicated jumble of letters, symbols and words that may be considered similar to our local
jejemons, or people who text a certain way that employs unnecessary additional letters and
omissions. Those who use leet are usually gamers. As it uses symbols and numbers, leet is a
good example of sign and myth in slang. Each letter, symbol and number used in a word may
be considered a sign that, with a proper connotation, will lead the observer into understanding.

The example we will use will be the term 31337 for a simple demonstration. Each 3 will
signify the number three, with the connotation that, in reverse, it resembles an uppercase E.
Therefore, in leet, 3 is a myth that connotes the letter e. Similarly, 1 signifies number one,
which resembles I or a lowercase L and therefore is a myth for those letters, usually the latter.
Finally, 7 signifies number seven and connotes a similarity to the letter T. Therefore, as a
whole, 31337 is a symbol for eleet or elite.
Let us return to the slang term 404 as another word for clueless or any sort of
everyday error. As a linguistic sign, it signifies the problems encountered with connections and
servers on the Internet. The connotation will be that an error has occurred, which is to blame for
the establishment of 404 as a slang term.
Shipping and OTP are two of the most popular and interesting slang terms on the
Internet today. Shipping is derived from a clipping of relationshipping, which in turn is the
word relationship used as a verb. Basically, its when a person wants two people to date or be
together and usually applies to fictional characters. For example, if you watch Friends and think
that the characters Monica and Chandler are a great couple that should never be broken up,
you are shipping them. Therefore, the idea of Monica and Chandler as a couple is a ship.
Ship, as a linguistic sign, should then have the connotation that refers to the support of a couple
and their relationship. There is an additional layer to this: If the signifier ship now signifies the
aforementioned favor towards a couple, the connotation could then be that it is a metaphorical
ship (i.e. a boat) that is floating and setting sail. With that in mind, if your favorite couple ends up
breaking up, you could say that your ship has sunk. OTP is largely related to shipping in that
it stands for One True Pairing. Put simply, your OTP is your favorite ship.
Having mentioned the additional signs and context given to a ship, we now return to our
example of quality and panda coffee from chapter two. Quality as a slang term is quite easy to
trace, as it already exemplifies a high standard as a formal adjective. Lately it has garnered
increased usage as Internet slang for awesome. In linguistic and semiotic terms, then, it is
easy to pinpoint its signifier, signified and myth. Qualitea and koala tea are phonetic
translations. Taken as signifiers, their signified would be regarded as gibberish unless you know
the context of their relation to quality. Ergo, their myth is the same as qualitys, which is that
something has a positive image in ones mind. Panda coffee is a more fascinating case. It
makes use of the iconic signs from Tumblr, seen in the next page. A user made an image
saying My blog is with pictures of a koala and tea underneath. Another user made a
comment: Waht [sic] the f-ck is panda coffee The comment made the rounds and resulted
in many people now using the phrase panda coffee in a similar vein to koala tea.

We now move forward to slang lifted from popular culture. Several slang terms have
been developed from this area, especially books, television shows and film, even music. To
name them all would not be practical, so examples will be taken from one of the biggest sources
of slang from 90s pop culture, the 1995 movie Clueless. According to People magazine, Mixing
Valley Girl slang with pop-culture smarts, the film launched a whole new language. (People
2006) A few examples of terms popularized by its iconic character Cher Horowitz are Audi,
Baldwin, Monet and solid. Audi takes its name from the car model of the same name and
is a phonetic translation for outta, which is a portmanteau of out of. It denotes leaving a
location, i.e. Were Audi! As a sign, it signifies the car model. However, with a connotation in
relation to its phonetic translation and meaning, it became an informal term for leaving.
Baldwin, meanwhile, signifies any of the Baldwin brothers, like Alec Baldwin and Billy Baldwin,
who are actors. With these images in mind, one gets the connotation that these men are
attractive. Thus, Baldwin in Chers universe is an adjective used to refer to good-looking

members of the male population. Finally, when one hears solid, theres an image of an object
with that particular scientific property, and when an item is solid, its particles are very closely
coexisting together. The myth, then, is that those particles are tight and inseparable, and
because of this, solid became slang for close friends or a stable relationship of any sort.
The term spam, meanwhile, is a combined example of Internet slang and slang from
popular culture. Before the Internet, it used to mean canned meat that is a portmanteau for
spiced ham. This SPAM appears in a Monty Python sketch wherein an old lady tries to order a
meal that doesnt include SPAM, but finds that the entire menu consists of SPAM and the word
is repeated excessively throughout the sketch. (Coin 2012) If you take this into context as a sign
with its signifier and signified and turn it into a connotation for SPAM as a sign, you will get the
myth that spam is excessive or unnecessary data, the way the old lady deemed SPAM
unnecessary from her food and the way the world spam is repeated too much in the sketch.
Thus, spam now means junk mail or mail that is sent repeatedly.
All of these examples illustrate the important role sign systems and myth play in order to
fully grasp the background behind countless terms. As mentioned, its quite visible that
semiotics and connotation have helped us make sense of the words that are continuously being
created and coined over time. However, as some slang is taken from plain gibberish, it becomes
difficult to associate them with any particular connotation unless one is specifically created for
them, as shown by Frindle. Eventually, though, the relationship establishes itself and the
situation is attached to the word and the connotation is brought to light. So, given the question
as to whether the sign system ever backfires and is unable to describe the main idea behind a
slang term, the answer will be no. Again, everything around us is a sign, and new signs are
being created and understood every second. Even seemingly random occurrences will have
signifiers, signified concepts, and resulting connotative ideas.

Chapter Five

Peace Out: Conclusion and Recommendation

In the future, a more thorough study may be made if other slang terms from other
countries, cultures, groups and languages were examined and more definitions and
developments were studied, and if other semiotic theories were put to use. More recent
examples of pop culture slang may also be of use, especially those from literature (classics will
also be appreciated) and music. Hip-hop, in particular, has a lot of interesting slang terms.

The previous three chapters were able to articulate and illustrate the importance of slang
and the two theories, as well as the role each of them play in relation to each other. Going back
to the questions of how slang is derived and given meaning, how Saussures theory of semiotics
and Barthess definition of myth come in and how important these two ideas are to the formation
of slang, I therefore conclude that slang is created in all sorts of ways that have been listed
throughout this paper and illustrates the creativity and intelligence of humanity; Saussures
theory and Barthess myth help determine the meaning of slang terms and how these meanings
become attached to their words or phrases through sign systems and various bases of context;
and finally, the aforementioned theories indeed have crucial roles in the slang development
process as without them, our slang terms will be meaningless and we wont be able to make
sense of them. Our language and signs affect our reality and bend our minds a certain way that
cannot be separated from us as human beings, and slang is one of the things that both affects
and is affected by this fact. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan once claimed that
different languages were created by different choices in forming linguistic signs, and its quite
true that English then is not identical at all to English now. The world is always transforming,
and as a result, so are its languages. It may be said that slang may be considered a different
choice in forming linguistic signs, as it takes old or new linguistic signs and gives them meaning
with the help of other linguistic signs and myths, and because of this, a different English or any
other language is created.