Slash as a Slang Word: Use and Significance

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Is slang useful or not? Image by Jonsson.

Slang is an inevitable part of our language and is known to create and strengthen social ties. As usual, we’re forming interesting and unusual slang words – should slang be formally taught in the classroom? What will be the next new slang word?

Slash: New Slang Term

Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan is actively involved in learning new slang words on a daily basis from her students. Recently, one of Professor Curzan’s students gave the example of ‘slash’ as a new slang word. As she points out, usually, slang creates new nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs but it is rare to see conjunctions or punctuation marks being turned into slang words.  It soon became clear to Professor Curzan that many students were using ‘slash’ in ways that she had not seen or heard before.

Professor Curzan explained to Decoded Science that many of us use the slash sign  (/) in writing when wishing to use the meaning of “or,” “and,” or else “and/or” because the slash is normally used to separate two language items that are of the same part of speech or parallel grammatically. She also said that we can say that same ‘slash’ out loud if necessary in statements such as “my sister slash best friend.”

Punctuation Marks Used as Slang Words

Since the use of a punctuation mark as a new slang word is an unusual occurrence, Decoded Science discussed this innovative use of ‘slash’ with Professor Curzan in detail.

Decoded Science: Why do you think, with all the abbreviations being used, would a punctuation mark or a conjunction such as ‘slash’ be used in full?

Professor Anne Curzan. Image by A Curzan

Professor Curzan: College students have talked with me about how much of their texting language is becoming more standard in terms of spelling. They say that they rarely if ever use “r” for “are” or “u” for “you,” for example. There are certainly abbreviations they use (lol, btw, jk), but there are a lot of abbreviations that they tend to avoid at this point. I don’t completely know why they are writing out “slash.”
One possibility is that on many phones, it takes an extra step to get to the keyboard with the slash symbol, so it may seem just as efficient to type out “slash.” I think many students also now think of “slash” as a word in a sentence, not just a punctuation mark.  Some of them report that they do sometimes use the symbol rather than typing out “slash.”

Decoded Science: Do you know of any other punctuation marks being used like this?

Professor Curzan: We sometimes type out “period” as a way to emphasize the end of a statement or utterance. For example, “I won’t call him. Period.”

Decoded Science: Besides unusual finds like ‘slash’ what else do you find interesting and creative about slang?
Professor Curzan: If you really listen, you can hear the poetry in slang—in its rhymes, alliteration, metaphors, and the like. I would encourage people to be interested in slang and recognize the important work it does socially.  It doesn’t mean that we are going to like every slang word that gets created, but we can still be interested in the process. I think people worry that doing so will be the downfall of language arts education or the teaching of writing, but I disagree.

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