An initial 4A N2...?

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Mon Jul 1 14:42:00 UTC 2002

In a message dated 7/1/02 8:10:20 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU writes:

> I'm still at a loss. Does this mean that no special interest group
>  has slang?

Yes, a special interest group may have slang terms that are not part of their
jargon, that is, terms that are not "necessary" (that is, can be easily
avoided by using either jargon or standard terms).  Baseball example:  "gear"
is jargon, because the alternative is to specify "face mask, chest protector,
and shin guards" (7 words, 8 if "cup" is included).  However, "toos of
ignorance", a synonym for "gear", is slang.  Air traffic control example:
rules require certain separations between aircraft.  There are some jargon
terms (more than one, because the rules levy multiple requirements.)
However, controllers have additional terms for loss of separation that are
slang because they would probably not get into written reports.   One that I
heard in a conversation between controllers was "deal".  (I suspect, but do
not know, that the implication was that two controllers might have made a
"deal" to simplify things by ignoring the regulations.)   Another one I once
heard was "two jets got a close look at each other".

>  And, by your definition, drug use slang written down for
>  police to memorize would have ceased to be slang on the spot (at
>  least for those cops), although they set out to learn "slang."

No.  For the police officers, it was jargon in that they were ordered to
learn it.  However, the linguistic interest lies in whether a particular term
is slang or jargon to a drug user, not to the police who are outside
observers.  Examples:  I think you will agree that "horse" for "heroin" is
slang.  However, "nickel" is jargon because it saves the speaker the trouble
of saying "a five dollar bag of [the drug in question]."

>  I suspect the difficulty really lies in our inability to pinpoint
>  what we mean by slang, and I suspect a set of prototypical categories
>  (ephemerality, raciness, etc...). no one of which is defining is the
>  major source of the difficulty.

I do not have any definition of slang worth stating here.

To confuse the issue, a word can be slang, jargon, and standard at the same
time, depending on use and meaning.  Example: "jazz", whose origins have been
disucssed at length on this list.  With the meaning "a type of music"  it is
standard English.  With the meaning "to have sexual intercourse" it is slang.
 "To jazz up (a piece of music)" is a jargon term to musicians, as it has a
specific technical meaning that one could write books about; however, this
usage is so well known to the general public that arguably it is standard
English.  Other meanings or connotations of "to jazz up" may well meet
someone's definition of slang.  Scientific American once discussed whether
Brahms, as a conductor, had a "jazzy style"  In this case it is borderline
whether "jazzy" is slang or jargon (or even standard English).  "Jazzy" was
used to mean "somewhat irregular beat, definitely not like a metronome".  Was
the writer using a jargon term to describe a conductor's beat, or a slang
term that could have been replaced by "syncopated"?  I could argue either way.

>  For me, therefore, every item of technical language must undergo the
>  same investigation to determine whether it is slang or not (as well
>  as, of course, a reinvestigation for in-group and out-group users).

I agree.  Hopefully that is what I was doing in my previous paragraph.

>  One suspicion I have is that we often use the word "jargon" to
>  indicate the convergence of technical vocabulary and slang (but
>  sertainly not exclusively; we obviously also use jargon when we feel
>  that technical language is "unnecessary:).

Agreed.  I am a purist on the word "jargon", but most people are not( my
teenage daughter says that "jargon" means "slang that has been cleaned up.).
Example:  Google gives 220 hits on the phrase "barbarous jargon".  Example:
about a century ago, "Jargon" was used as a derogatory term for "Yiddish".

         - Jim Landau

     - Jim Landau

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