This is no sh*t.

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Jul 30 18:09:42 UTC 2004

On Jul 29, 2004, at 2:41 AM, Jonathon Green wrote:

>> As I've said here before, women don't
>> understand slang. (Is *everyone* here with me on this?! So far, ain't
>> nary nobody oblected!)
> In that case, let me be the first. (And if I haven't got the joke, mea
> culpa). Setting aside the academic expertise of such as...

i didn't object before because the claim just seemed too preposterous.
wilson isn't talking about researchers, of course, but about ordinary
speakers.  but unless he's using some very specialized sense of
"slang", the claim is just false: women are adept users of, often
innovators of, large parts of the slang lexicon.

from earlier discussions on these matters, i suspect that what wilson
is referring to is the taboo portion of the slang lexicon, which is
conventionally held to be "men's talk" in our culture -- "strong
language".  now, this is a stereotype, and as with any stereotype,
there are at least some people who conform to it.  and it is true that
mastery of the taboo vocabulary is, in our culture generally, a central
part of the socialization of boys.  but in truly massive numbers, women
(of all regions, social classes, ages, races/ethnicities, etc.) are as
competent in the use of taboo vocabulary as men are.

as i think i've pointed out here before, for some people, learning to
use the taboo vocabulary is part of achieving adulthood (rather than
specifically gendered adulthood) and is managed in mixed-sex groups.  i
believe i've mentioned overhearing a set of palo alto high school kids
(equal numbers of girls and guys) having coffee together and, in
effect, practicing their taboo vocabulary together.

for an example of a middle-class white teenage girl from a good family
who really understands her taboo slang, check out claire fisher, the
daughter of the family in Six Feet Under (on HBO).

arnold (zwicky at

More information about the Ads-l mailing list