This is no sh*t.

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Jul 30 21:32:49 UTC 2004

Just to stir the pot a little, I 'd like to know approximately what proportion of slang terms (defined as you like) have been created by women. Given the current state of knowledge, even an approximate figure - 5%, 50%, 90% - is impossible to know or guess at reliably. My own SWAG is a lot closer to 5% than %50.

You say, Arnold, that "women are adept users of large parts of the slang lexicon."  Other than the "taboo" part, which parts do you have in mind?  And "part" iteself in this regard seems to me to be virtually indefinable.

As I observed in the intro to HDAS 1, we are fairly sure, from an abundance of real-life and media evidence, that women (particularly middle-class) have openly been using far more taboo language in the past, say, forty years than ever before. (Those who doubt this may consult women of their acquaintance who are 65 or over about taboo language before, say, 1960.  Let's see what they say.)

Another likelihood seems to be that the "extra" taboo language they've been using is restricted to the application of a relatively few common words.  How many are "adept" at using the word "poontang," for example, which has been under discussion here lately. Frankly, I don't know.  There is a dissertation topic here for someone.

Writing in 1959-60, Stuart Flexner averred that women use less slang than men.  This is also my impression.  I'll be happy to change my view (which at this point is essentially as subjective as anybody's) when there is good data to refute it.


"Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
Subject: Re: This is no sh*t.

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

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