Has this ever happened to you? You are speaking English and feeling pleased with how well you are doing. The words are coming easily, and you understand without having to translate in your head. You even remembered to use the present perfect instead of the simple past in that one sentence. English no longer intimidates you with its rules-free approach to spelling and pronunciation; you are the master now!
Then someone says something that makes no sense. You understand each word, but the meaning doesn’t seem to fit. For example, maybe you ask a colleague how her Thanksgiving was. She says it was nice, except for her brother-in-law, who has a screw loose. What? How exactly was a loose screw a problem? Was the screw in the dining room table, which collapsed in the middle of the Thanksgiving feast?
When this happens, you’ve often encountered slang. Slang is words or phrases that have a literal meaning, but used informally it has a different, less clear meaning. So having a screw loose literally means that a small metal pin needs to be tightened. In slang it means being strange or eccentric.
American Slang Quiz
Want to test your American slang knowledge? See how many of the common terms below you know, then check the answers at the bottom of the post.
- No sweat , e.g., “Thanks for letting me use your truck.” “No sweat, anytime.”
- Cheesy, e.g., “Romantic comedies are always cheesy.”
- Flakey, e.g., “I knew he would forget to meet us. He’s so flakey.”
- To have a crush on someone, e.g., “Jane has a crush on Sam, but he likes Ellie”.
- A couch potato, e.g., “Go outside and ride your bike instead of being such a couch potato.”
- To tie the knot, e.g. “They got engaged last month and will tie the knot in June.”
- To pig out, e.g., “I really pigged out last night, but that steak was delicious!”
- To lighten up, e.g., “Why are you so angry? You need to lighten up.”
- To screw up, e.g., “I really screwed up this time. I might lose my job.”
- To bail, e.g., “It’s been a great party, but I’m going to bail now.”
- To wrap up, e.g., “Ok, let’s wrap up the meeting. It ‘s getting late.”
- Freebie, e.g., “No, it actually didn’t cost a lot. It was a freebie.”
- Shades, e.g., “The sun’s out and I forgot to bring my shades.”
- That hit the spot, e.g., “That hit the spot. I was starving before eating that burger.”
- A piece of cake, e.g., “Learning to ride a bike is a piece of cake.”
Teenager Slang: It’s Not for You
Did you know a lot of those already? Before giving you the answers, you should be aware that there are different kinds of slang. One kind includes the terms above. They have been around for a long time and are common for everyone. Teenager slang is a different matter. It changes fast, and if you’re over 25 you may never even hear it. If you do hear it, you should never EVER use it. Unless you want to embarrass your teenage children for fun. Then go ahead and use it. Here are a few examples:
- bouta — I’m about to. e.g., “I’m bouta leave. See you tomorrow.”
- clap back — respond to an insult with another insult. e.g., “If you are rude to me on Twitter I will definitely clap back.”
- to do someone dirty — to treat someone badly/unfairly. e.g., “He did her dirty when he dated her best friend.”
- finna — planning to do something. e.g., “I’m finna go play soccer now.”
- I’m dead — that’s so funny. e.g., “My grandma just told me I did her dirty and she’s finna keep my Christmas present. I’m dead.”
- Pull up — come to my house. e.g., “Pull up around 8:00 and we’ll hit Cook Out.”
- Take the L — accept that you won’t do well on something. e.g., “Time for my chemistry test. I didn’t study so I’m just going to take the L.”
- high-key — can mean intense, or can be used to mean “really” or “very”. e.g., “I high-key need those sneakers.”
Back to the slang you can use with out making Generation Z roll their eyes. Below are the definitions for the adult-friendly slang:
- No sweat — you’re welcome, no problem
- Cheesy — overly sweet, silly, or sentimental
- Flakey — indecisive, unreliable
- To have a crush on someone — to like someone romantically
- A couch potato — a lazy person
- To tie the knot — to get married
- To pig out — to overeat
- To lighten up — to relax
- To screw up — to make a mistake
- To bail — to leave
- To wrap up — to finish
- Freebie — something that was received for free
- Shades — sunglasses
- That hit the spot — That was just what I needed (usually food)
- A piece of cake — easy
Make a goal this week to give some of these a try. Adding slang to your vocabulary will help you understand others, and make you sound like more like a native speaker.