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Slang: The People's Poetry

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A passionate defense of slang, jargon, argot, and other forms of nonstandard English, this marvelous volume is full of amusing and even astonishing examples of all sorts of slang.


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A passionate defense of slang, jargon, argot, and other forms of nonstandard English, this marvelous volume is full of amusing and even astonishing examples of all sorts of slang.

30 review for Slang: The People's Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    The best parts of this intermittently fascinating book by Michael Adams are those where he gives free rein to his enthusiasm for the recondite details of slang for a hugely diverse array of "language communities". The specific slang terms that he includes, from sources such as * inhabitants of the Buffieverse (Professor Adams is an acknowledged expert on Slayer slang) * restaurant jargon * stamp-collecting * snowboarding * soccer moms * raver culture * "hip" and "raunch" cultures * different online soc The best parts of this intermittently fascinating book by Michael Adams are those where he gives free rein to his enthusiasm for the recondite details of slang for a hugely diverse array of "language communities". The specific slang terms that he includes, from sources such as * inhabitants of the Buffieverse (Professor Adams is an acknowledged expert on Slayer slang) * restaurant jargon * stamp-collecting * snowboarding * soccer moms * raver culture * "hip" and "raunch" cultures * different online social networks are hugely entertaining and are by far the best part of this book. For those who just get a kick out of language, but who have neither a background in linguistics nor any professional involvement, the main attraction of this book will probably lie in these concrete examples (and the author's obvious delight in presenting them). Professor Adams does have his academic career to consider, so the book also contains a certain amount of - how to put this delicately - less accessible prose (you know, the kind of headache-inducing bumf that members of the academy seem to feel obliged to cobble together to confuse/intimidate/bore their colleagues and rivals into submission). I've never really been clear about why academic prose is so uniformly impenetrable. Since I am disposed to like Professor Adams, who establishes himself as a genial guide with a good sense of humor in the first two chapters, I will spare everyone the cheap shot of picking out a particularly bad sentence to mock as part of this review. Professor Adams has mercifully confined most of the worst academic jargon to the final chapter (roughly the last 40 pages out of 200), and for all I know, if you are steeped in Chomsky's linguistic theories and have a particular interest in cognitive linguistics (heck, if you even know what that is), it might be smooth sailing for you. But it's a safe bet that most people will have tuned out well before they reach that final tormented (and more or less incomprehensible) "slang as linguistic spandrel" metaphor. In a way, I felt kind of sorry for Professor Adams, that he felt the need to get all theoretical on us towards the end. At the outset, he appears to set himself a baffling, and completely unnecessary challenge, namely to come up with a definition of "slang". Not too surprisingly, he fails to do this in any convincing way, but I think perhaps he was just using the definition challenge as a device around which to structure his thoughts about slang. Other than the Chomsky-fest in the final chapter, the author's general remarks about slang (it represents a deliberate break with established conventions, often with the intent of defining a particular 'in'-group; commonly serves as a vehicle for people to show off their linguistic prowess/indulge their pleasure in language games) don't go beyond anything you hadn't already figured out for yourself. There were two specific points where I just couldn't share the author's enthusiasm (which just seemed endearingly goofy, but weird). Homeric infixing (the reference is to the Simpsons, not the Odyssey), exemplified by "edumacation", "saxamaphone", or the hideous Flanders variation where the infix is 'diddly', is neither as clever or as fascinating as Professor Adams appears to think. The amount of space devoted to this single linguistic tic was vast, baffling, and lethally boring. The phrase "how's it going, protozoan?" might have seemed clever, once, when some member of the author's family coined it at the breakfast table. It is not a phrase that deserves to appear in print more than once. That it appears repeatedly throughout the book, often in conjunction with even more regrettable phrases, such as "Please don't pout, my sauerkraut" and "Don't rock the boat, you billy goat!" is unfortunate, to say the least. It was as if Teddy Ruxpin had suddenly joined the debate. I was perfectly happy to excuse these lapses, given that the author provided several more entries to add to my list of euphemisms for the specific activity variously known as: bash the bishop, grip the gorilla, paddle the pickle, punish the pope, rub your radish, wave your wand, jerk the gherkin, tickle the pickle, yank the plank, jerk your jewels, gallop the antelope, etc etc etc... Other pleasures included the hundred or more slang terms for ecstasy included in the first chapter, the primer on dating and sex terms used by young soccer moms ('perma-laid', 'flirt buddies', 'coin-slot shot', 'spliff'), slayer slang, and snowboarding jargon. Not to mention learning such necessary urban survival terms as 'bagpiping', 'maple bar', 'lobbin' and 'cherryoke'. That last one is what you lose at your first karaoke performance - the others you'll have to research for yourself. Read this book for the fun examples and Michael Adams's infectious enthusiasm for language. The final 40 pages should be attempted only if you are feeling particularly masochistic.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    I read this book for my Linguistics class and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it. At times the author was repetitive, condescending, and a seemed a little harsh towards teenagers, but I thought the material was both hilarious and interesting and he presented it in a way that I understood-- through pop culture. I never realized how much The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer affected the way I speak :)... even though I have watched maybe 5 episodes of the Simpsons and have never I read this book for my Linguistics class and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it. At times the author was repetitive, condescending, and a seemed a little harsh towards teenagers, but I thought the material was both hilarious and interesting and he presented it in a way that I understood-- through pop culture. I never realized how much The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer affected the way I speak :)... even though I have watched maybe 5 episodes of the Simpsons and have never seen a single episode of Buffy. Some of the stuff seemed far-reaching-- like teenagers come up with slang based on rhyme cause they "are poets that didn't even know it" (a joke he used way too often in his book). Yes, there are a lot of rhyming slang, but I don't think teenagers came up with it because it rhymed... that would be too nerdy... I think someone just said something--maybe drunk or high-- realized it rhymed and how funny they were, then started using it all the time so their friends caught the habit, and their friends caught the habit and so on. Adams also came up with these huge metaphorical meanings for some slang words. Now, I have never been drunk, haven't hung around many drunk people, never been high, never been around many high people, but I doubt they sit there thinking "So we could say we got baked because in Shakespeare's play..." yada yada yada. Really? I don't buy it. Besides that, though, most of his reasoning made sense. He uses the F-word quite a bit to show off slang, so don't read this book if the F-bomb bothers you. He also goes into detail about different slang words for sex and why they work-- so, again, if that bothers you, don't read this book. Otherwise, if you have an interest in language, I would totally recommend this book. But beware: Afterwards I am sure you'll have an itch to watch a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode to listen to their slang :)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    What started out as a fun romp through the purposes, uses, and "rules" of slang bogs down in the final 50 pages of linguistic theory. Be warned, while of general interest and quite interesting for most of the way, in the end this is a book with serious linguistic intent, requiring a concomitant level of skill and dedication to understand through to the end. On the other hand, "Slang" seems at time an excuse to use as many vulgar terms as often as possible under the guise of academic study! So tha What started out as a fun romp through the purposes, uses, and "rules" of slang bogs down in the final 50 pages of linguistic theory. Be warned, while of general interest and quite interesting for most of the way, in the end this is a book with serious linguistic intent, requiring a concomitant level of skill and dedication to understand through to the end. On the other hand, "Slang" seems at time an excuse to use as many vulgar terms as often as possible under the guise of academic study! So that part is fun, but also serious and understandable to the layman. Adams begins by attempting to define slang, an exercise more fraught with difficulty than one might imagine, then moves to document by example slang's two primary purposes--to identify its users as "fitting in" as a part of a self-defined group, while at the same time enabling an individual user to "stand out" from the group by their Raunch or Hip use of slang. Along the way, we learn that the two groups most proficient and prolific in generating new slang are young people and African-Americans--although each group's sometimes nonstandard use of language is often incorrectly ("and unfairly?", asks Adams) identified as slang by the older and whiter literary and cultural establishments who think about such things. We learn that slang can be quite syntactically complex, and in fact that the intellectual exercise of inventing and using slang can be a good workout for the brain. So most of us will enjoy that part of the book, and you sir, the lone linguist at the back of the Amazonitorium who raised his hand earlier, you read on intently to the end through the discussions of cognition and evolution and Chomsky and linguistic spandrels--and write your own review wherein you rate "Slang" five stars. I'm rating it 3 for the rest of us.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I think a linguist would've liked this book more than I did. Don't get me wrong -- there is a lot that is likable here. Good history, examination of different takes on slang (including one definition that is over-the-top biased against slang)... But the first 1/4 - 1/3 of the book is spend examining and defining what slang is, and it didn't capture my interest enough to continue slogging through that part and finish it. I think a linguist would've liked this book more than I did. Don't get me wrong -- there is a lot that is likable here. Good history, examination of different takes on slang (including one definition that is over-the-top biased against slang)... But the first 1/4 - 1/3 of the book is spend examining and defining what slang is, and it didn't capture my interest enough to continue slogging through that part and finish it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Suvi

    Material for Bachelor's Thesis Using Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a tool for discussing phrasal verbs in slang: "Xander: "Hey, Snyder, heard you had some fun Friday night. Have you come [down] yet?" Principal Snyder is a frustrated little man, but not as frustrated as the clipped form would imply." Material for Bachelor's Thesis Using Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a tool for discussing phrasal verbs in slang: "Xander: "Hey, Snyder, heard you had some fun Friday night. Have you come [down] yet?" Principal Snyder is a frustrated little man, but not as frustrated as the clipped form would imply."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  7. 4 out of 5

    Loila

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kendra Drischler

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lee Barry

  11. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Fisher

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tony Rubio

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kenny

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andy Phillips

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hartati manullang

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tami

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alex Crookes

  24. 5 out of 5

    Papa

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

  26. 4 out of 5

    Adrienne

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kantemir

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

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