Yo, yo, yo ... Catch this
Slang is used to unify the masses
by Kristin Carmichael

Hey,dude, wuz up? I'm the slangspert for Chico State. All the chicks think I'm totally hip. Ya wanna hang with me, man?

Can you figure out what this paragraph says?
I went to Vegas for spring break with my homies. It was sick. We brought some Grade "A" with us to keep the party going, but Barb was droppin' bombs the whole time, so the room smelled rank. The second day we ordered a few slabs and drank too many pales. Sam must have been wearing beer goggles that night, because he was knocking boots with some coyote ugly. It was hella wrong. By the end of our trip, Sam was hooking up with every filly on the strip. The last night we drank more brews and Sarah spewed all over the place. There were a couple of wounded soldiers when we were through, but the trip was wicked.

Now here's the translation:
I went to Las Vegas for spring break with some friends. We had a great time. We brought some really good marijuana with us to keep things lively, but Barb had gas the whole time, so the room smelled very bad. The second day, we ordered some pizza and drank a lot of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Sam must have been really drunk that night because he was having sex with an ugly female. It was very bad. By the end of our trip, Sam was kissing every girl on the strip in Las Vegas. The last night we drank more beer and Sarah vomited all over the place. There were a couple of open beers that no one finished when we left, but the trip was great.

How did you do?
Most likely if you're a younger person, particularly a college-aged student, you picked up on the first slang-filled paragraph pretty easily. However, the older folks (not old, just older) may have had a more difficult time. But just because slang can isolate people doesn't mean it's a barrier among the human race.

Catch my drift

"Slang is used more to unify than to create barriers," said Pamela Munro, a linguistics professor at University of California, Los Angeles . She said slang is a way of showing solidarity of group recognition, one purpose being to identify infiltrators in a group.

Judi Sanders, a linguistics professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona agreed. "One of the nice things slang shows is how people have language that is useful to them and reflects their values," she said.

Both of these women have paid particularly close attention to the slang college students have used. Munro taught classes focused on slang in 1988, 1992 and 1996, in which her students created three college-slang dictionaries. Sanders has engaged in the same type of slang project at Cal Poly, Pomona where her students have created over five college-slang dictionaries since 1990. The dictionary created in 1997, "Da Bomb. Dis is Dope, Dude. Dig it!," contains over 800 college-slang terms. A summer supplement was also made in accordance with Da Bomb, with over 300 more words. A mini-dictionary of Da Bomb can be found on the Web for savvy-seeking slang users, as well as the top 20 slang terms of 1998 at Cal Poly, Pomona.

Sanders said creating the slang dictionaries is a good way to introduce her students into the study of language. "They nearly always think it is great fun and a valuable way to observe the effects of language. Most students are surprised about how much slang college students use," she said.

Say what?

California State University, Chico students aren't any different from other college students when it comes to using slang. Even though Chico State doesn't have a linguistics department, students partake in this common, or not so common, language every day. 

Just by shortening the length of a word or phrase, people are creating slang. For example, who in Chico really calls Madison Bear Garden, a local bar and grill, by its real name? Stacey Hopkirk, a graduate student at Chico State, sure doesn't. Hopkirk recalled a time when she thought she left her wallet at "The Bear." After she gave up looking for the number in the phone book, she called information and asked the operator to give her the number.

"Sorry," the operator said. "There are no listings for The Bear."

"But how could that be?" Hopkirk thought, not realizing that "The Bear" really starts with an "M," for Madison Bear Garden. Good thing she found her wallet at home.

Other Chico-specific terms include places such as "Five and I" for the local Fifth and Ivy Market, "One Mile" for lower Bidwell Park, and "U Bar" for the University Bar. But within a supplement of UCLA slang edited by Munro, it said most college slang words are about sex and drinking, with a rather "spectacular" section on words for vomiting. Chico students have covered these categories across the board.

As Butte College student Bryon Gibbens said, people in Chico don't date. Instead, they "hook up," "go out" or they're called "special friends." On the other hand, if the special friends are having sex, they're "getting it on," "knocking boots" or "getting busy."

Times haven't changed much from nearly a decade ago. Greg Bardsley, a 1991 graduate from Chico State, recalled some of the slang words he and his friends used as college students. Bardsley, now a 32-year-old professional, said today's knocking boots was "gettin' some lovin'" back in his day. And for kissing, he and his friends would say the sweethearts were "talking politics." But the word I found the most intriguing came from a story about vomit.

"In my little Chico volleyball world, one memorable word was 'Wet Chips,' after a guy threw up a whole stomach's worth of tortilla chips all over someone's apartment in San Luis Obispo," Bardsley said. "After that, anyone who puked would be called 'Wet Chips.'"

Talkin' 'bout my generation

Most students probably wouldn't pawn off words about sex and vomit on their parents, which is one way Munro said slang can create a one-way barrier. This barrier is most commonly created from the younger generation to the older generation. Munro said kids usually understand what their parents say because they learn the older generation's slang just by growing up with it. But as kids get older they are exposed to different language cultures that their parents are not. 

However, Munro said, "Parents know they're not your buddy." She said there's always going to be a differentiation between parents and their kids because of the generation gap.

Nevertheless, Michael Scott, a professor in the communications arts and sciences department at Chico State, said, "Every generation owes it to the following generation to learn its slang." He said the importance of being multilingual doesn't end with foreign languages.

"It's important to be well-rounded and articulate," Scott said.

But even though there is some miscommunication between generations, parents and their children have a lot more in common than people think.

"A beat poet from 1950 could go to a Chico coffee bar in 1999 and would understand the people talking at tables nearby," Scott said, adding that these two generations even take on the same likes and dress styles.

Another similarity among generations is the recurring use of the word "cool." Scott said there are also many different variations of "cool" that have evolved over time. The most recent word he has heard used to substitute "cool" is "sick." No, this time it doesn't relate to vomiting.

But don't forget "hella." Although this so-called Northern Californian word does not substitute for "cool," it does work in conjunction with it. As in, this is "hella cool." Thanks to Cartman on the late-night cartoon, "South Park," "hella" has become a nationally used term.

Munro said there are also other words that are considered slang but have been in the English language for over a century. One example is the word "mooch," meaning to borrow without intending to repay, or to "sponge off" of someone. Munro said this word was created by Shakespeare, but has never been accepted as a regular word.

Regular or not, Scott said one downfall of using slang is that people start writing the way they speak.

"Writing and conversation are not the same things," he said.

Still, Scott doesn't think slang is something to avoid. "I don't think it's a bad thing. It's true of all cultures. Everyone creates their own lexicon of being cool, hip and with it."

So if someone ever tells you to clean up your act, you can just tell them to chill for a bit, get jiggy with it and stop talkin' smack.

To get up on the rest of this story, click on what you dig most, or just keep reading:

Catch my drift: Two linguistics professors from Cal Poly, Pomona and UCLA rap about the general use of slang and what it does for communication.
Say what?: Gettin' down with the lingo at Chico State University, past and present.
Talkin' 'bout my generation: Michael Scott, a communications specialist, tells it like it is from year to year.

Get the 411 on more words Chico students are using these days.


Yo, want more slang? Click on these sites:

The Alternative Dictionaries: This site allows you to search for slang terms in various languages. So if you plan on traveling across the world, mosey on over to become hip with the international gurus.
Rap Dictionary: To find out what those rap guys and gals are really saying, check out this website.
Crackin' Wise: A Slang Dictionary: This site, created by Matt Lerner, includes words donated to him from web crawlers such as yourself, as well as selections from The Dictionary of African-American slang, American Tramp, and Underworld slang, Australian Slang, Slang from the 1880s, and Logger Talk of the Pacific Northwest.
International Swearing: If you really don't want people to understand what you're saying, crash this site to learn some frisky words in French, Russian, Spanish, Italian and more. This site may be offensive to some people.

For more help in becoming slang savvy, buy an electronic dictionary from Inductel Software.

Back to top

Get the 411 on more words Chico students are using these days.


Back to top

© copyright by Cat Bytes; Magazine produced by online students of the journalism department, California State University, Chico. Page maintained by Dr. Glen Bleske.