This is no sh*t.

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Sat Jul 31 17:59:59 UTC 2004

On Jul 30, 2004, at 2:09 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: This is no sh*t.
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> 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

Arnold, amazingly enough, now that I've had time to digest what you've
said, lo! the sleeper wakes. I've long had the feeling that something
was wrong with the idea that women and slang don't mix. Even though I
truly believed this, I've always had the nagging feeling that it
couldn't be correct. One obvious problem was that it would mean that
women, in some undefined way, were essentially psychologically
different from men, a concept that is, as in your admirable summation,
preposterous. Naturally, I don't agree that every facet of what *you*
have to say is necessarily correct, it has removed the scale from my
eyes. Nevertheless, I do agree with you that what *I* had to say was
wrong to the point of inanity.

-Wilson Gray

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