The Ultimate Guide to English Slang for Language Learners
Hey, what’s up? Up? The sky or the ceiling, what else could there be? Hmmm…
As we can see, guessing the meaning of certain English words and expressions can be a bit troubling without understanding English slang. By definition, slang is the informal language often used in speech by particular groups of people.
Now, there is also the simplified (my own) version of what slang means. Simply put, it is the “language that is not taught in the classroom”. It is those informal words and phrases we use on the fly and sometimes even jokingly when talking to friends and family.
As such, English slang cannot be understood literally. In most cases, slang expressions have a totally different meaning than the words comprising them.
How to Understand English Slang
I know what you’re thinking and the answer is: yes, slang and idioms are similar.
However, English idioms are mostly universal and aren’t limited to a specific speaker group. In fact, slang words and expressions are words that we already know. It’s just that in informal settings, they have a different meaning which we might not be aware of. For example:
Hey, what’s up? (literal meaning: Hey, what do you see above yourself?)
Hey, what’s up? (slang: How are you? Hey, what is going on? What’s happening?)
As we can see, whether a word is slang can often be determined by social context and the formality of the situation. But, slang in English isn’t this complicated, really…
What makes matters easier for language learners is that over time, some English slang has become universal that no one even cares about its literal meaning anymore. English slang today is commonly used in everyday speech and language learners can use it boost their fluency.
Everyday Slang Expressions in English
How about we take a look at some of the most commonly used slang in spoken English and learn exactly what it all means?
Spill the beans
Meaning: to reveal a secret or something not commonly known
Example: Jamie just spilled the beans, guys. She’s pregnant!
Meaning: to do something rude or unexpected but usually in a witty and cute way (typically used in British English)
Example: Oh no, you didn’t just steal my last biscuit! You cheeky little thing!
Meaning: a very attractive female; also: girlfriend (endearing expression)
Example: My goodness, Monica is such a babe!
Meaning: to put something off for a later time; to postpone; to reschedule
Example: Sorry, babe. My boss just called. I gotta head back to work. Raincheck?
Have a blast
Meaning: to have a lot of fun; to really enjoy doing something
Example: We had a blast on the summer excursion! I cannot wait ‘til next year!
Give the cold shoulder
Meaning: to ignore someone; to not care about what someone has to say
Example: I tried apologizing to her but she keeps giving me the cold shoulder.
Meaning: moody; bad-tempered
Example: If you’re going to see her, be careful. She’s been narky all morning.
Meaning: the human behind or bottom (noun); to get something without paying (verb)
Example: How did you get here? I bummed a ride from Jake.
Amped, hyped, pumped, stoked
Meaning: overly excited
Example: I am amped about Kendrick Lamar’s new album!
Meaning: in all seriousness; honestly; in all honesty
Example: Girl, I like you for real!
Meaning: two weeks (typically used in British English)
Example: I’ll see you in a fortnight.
Meaning: used as an intensifier (to put special importance on certain words); sometimes used as an expletive or swear word (typically used in British English)
Example: I hate those bloody fruit baskets! They remind me of his bloody awful grin!
Five-o, po-po, the fuzz
Meaning: the police (typically used in American English)
Example: Five-O! Everybody get down!
Example: Mr. Palmer, all we need is your John Hancock and the deal is done.
Lose (one’s) marbles
Meaning: to go crazy; to be out of line
Example: Okay, Kevin is definitely getting fired! That boy’s done lost his marbles if he thinks he can do things like that at work!
Sweet, tight, dope, legit
Meaning: cool or nice-looking
Example: Yo, that new iPhone is legit! The camera array looks so tight!
Meaning: any type of vehicle; most frequently refers to a car
Example: Sweet wheels, man! Thanks, I got it for my birthday.
Meaning: to sit in the passenger’s seat (typically used in American English)
Wrap it up
Meaning: to stop or put an end to something
Example: Let’s wrap it up, guys! The shift is almost over!
The Best Way to ‘Learn’ English Slang
The answer to this age-old dilemma is actually pretty simple if you ask me. There’s two ways you can go about learning English slang, and one cannot happen without the other.
You must a) memorize and b) use slang regularly in day-to-day conversations.
It’s like piling new English vocabulary to your ever-growing word-stock. However, in order to master it, you have to use it on a frequent basis for it to really cement itself in your mind.
It’s really just that simple: the best way to learn English slang is to memorize and use it. Plus, slang in your everyday speech will just make every topic more fun!
Conclusion: Slang Means Fun
Just five or ten years ago, slang expressions that we know and use today had a different meaning and usage in spoken English. The same might happen with current expressions in the future. Slang changes, grows, and evolves over time.
The one aspect of slang which definitely won’t change is the informal context we use it in.
One major area where slang could see a (r)evolution is social media (especially memes), where we write and share the weirdest words and expressions just for fun. For that very reason, I am confident that slang will live up to its name and remain the interesting, often funny, and important part of spoken English that it has always been.
And that about wraps it up, guys (pun intended). Until next time, happy English learning and may the slang be with you!
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Whether you’re trying to understand English slang, grammar, and such, you’re going to need a good grasp of the English language. LingQ provides thousands of hours of English content for you to read in a range of categories. You can also import your favorite content from the web (blogs, YouTube, and so on) and turn those into interactive lessons on LingQ.
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Jasmin Alić is an award-winning EFL/ESL teacher and writing aficionado from Bosnia and Herzegovina with years of experience in multicultural learning environments.