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For communicators, slang is trickier than ever

May 31, 2012

Texting, e-mail and social networks are generating waves of new slang and abbreviations. As The Wall Street Journal reports, learning slang is essential for communicating and building relationships at work. “Many professionals don’t realize they need help until they arrive here,” says Amy Gillett, author of books about English slang and director of executive education at the University of Michigan.
Even savvy communicators have to learn which slang words and phrases are appropriate for the situation. Gillett teaches terms like “slack off” and “stressed out” but avoids idioms that are too cutting-edge, such as using “sick” to mean “cool” or “epic” to mean “awesome” — words that were once considered slang themselves. Indeed, slang taught in classrooms can be outdated: A recent Berlitz class in Chicago reportedly taught students the meanings of “skedaddle,” which dates back to the Civil War, and “Valley girl,” from the 1980s.

Among the slang that students of English most want to learn — and which can be the riskiest for them to use — are “dude,” which has no female equivalent; “chilling,” as in hanging out, doing nothing; “psyched,” as a substitute for “excited,” and “what's up?” and its shorter versions “wassup” and “’sup?” Another common phrase, “shut up!” can be rude, but with a smile and rising intonation it can also mean, “Really? Tell me more!”Greg Beaubien


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