Slang is one of the great all-time subjects— interesting to pretty much anybody with a pulse—and we already know that people like to hear about what’s going on at colleges. So it’s not surprising that the recently released sixth edition of U.C.L.A. Slang, compiled by an undergraduate class under the supervision of linguistics professor Pamela Munro, should have gotten major ink. Today’s N.Y. Times Style Section had a quite smart piece entitled “Dude, You Are So (Not) Obama”—“Obama” being a recently but (according to the article) no-longer-current synonym for “cool.”
A piece on UCLA’s web site gives a bunch of examples from the book, which itself isn’t available online:
“Schwa” — a synonym for “wow” — exemplifies the rarest approach to slang creation: pulling new words out of thin air, Munro said.“Most slang employs language already in use in the mainstream,” she said. “A subgroup merely assigns a new meaning to an existing the word or phrase.”“Destroy,” for instance, means the opposite of what you would think: to do well on something like a test, according to “Slang 6.” And the phrase “dropping the kids off at school” has a scatalogical rather than an educational meaning.Nouns mysteriously become verbs, as in “napster,” now slang for the verb “to interrupt,” and verbs morph into nouns, as in “epic fail,” now slang for “what a mistake!” …Borrowing words from other languages is also an option. “Mija,” which is Spanish for “my daughter” and slang for female friend, and “papi chulo,” Spanish slang for male friend, made the grade for the first time in “Slang 6.”The lingo of texting provided such visual entries as “QQ,” an emoticon similar to a smiley face that, in this instance, stands for the verb “to cry.”Rhyming helps phrases like “sisters from another mister” and “brothers from another mother” — slang for friends so close they seem like siblings — catch on and spread, Munro explains.When only a new word will do, blending — that is, adding the beginning of one word to the end of another word — is a common approach, Munro said. For example, “bromance” (brother + romance) is slang for an extremely close platonic friendship. Other blended confections from “Slang 6” include the noun “recessionista,” a penny-pinching turn on “fashionista” (slang for “fashion maven” in flusher times), and “eargasm,” which blends “ear” and “orgasm” to describe the sensation of hearing a beautiful sound.Abbreviation is another gold mine, Munro said. Clipping — cutting a syllable or two from a commonly accepted word — produces words like the verb “presh,” short for precious, and the adjective “bellig,” which rhymes with fridge and is short for belligerent and drunk. Taking the first initials of a common phrase can result in a catchy initialism such as I.D.K., which is slang for “I don’t know.” Once those initials start being pronounced as a full blown word, they’ve evolved into an acronym like FOMO, which rhymes with “majordomo” and stands for “fear of missing out.”What Munro calls “reverse alphabetism,” meanwhile, repurposes initials to provide a new, amusingly apt definition for widely accepted initialisms such as “Under Construction Like Always” for UCLA or “University of Spoiled Children” for USC, UCLA’s cross-town rival. Neither is new, but both are still in use, thus their place in “Slang 6.”
No great surprise—almost all of the example draw a blank with me. (“Bromance” is an exception—and that seems kind of old.) Call me bellig, but I suspect that, as has been the case since fieldwork started, some of the informants were messin’ wiff the investigators. Who better to make up something to than someone with a microphone in her hand and a friendly and eager expression on her face? “Yes, my friends and I all call each other ‘recessionistas.'” Right.
But what do I know? Slang is a cherished shared possessions of the groups that use it, and if students are going to include anyone out, it would be their professor. So let me ask Lizy and Maria. Do the UCLA examples ring true? What’s the slang on your campuses?