Slanglish

All communities have their tribal groupspeak to help differentiate them from other communities. Just as U.S. citizens must understand words and phrases like “democracy”, “freedom of speech”, “voters rights”, “The Pledge of Allegiance” and more, other communities have lexicons that help define who they are.

You don’t have to be a megagroup like a nation to have these communal bywords. Occupations also have their own word sets. Remember the last time you got a new job? You spent the first few weeks figuring out the special words every company has, the anecdotes and jokes everyone in the office already knew. You did this to try to “fit in”, to join your new work community.

Real estate agents have their own vocabulary. If you want to buy or sell your house, you quickly learn how to “list”, “show”, “bridge”, and (fingers crossed) “close”.
Boaters, gamblers, doctors, lawyers, golfers, car enthusiasts, plumbers, gamers, music buffs, marketing professionals and many more all have their own version of the English language that must be learned to identify yourself as “one of us”.

If you don’t know the words, you’re not a part of the community.

More examples.

Wine enthusiasts know all about “palette”, “acidity” and “oakiness”. If you’re really immersed, you know terms such as “Angel’s share”, “beeswing”, “drip dickey”, “ullage” and “frizzante”. How well you know these words establishes where you are in the community of wine enthusiasts. And if words like “Riesling”, “Pinot Noir”, or “Chardonnay” give you nothing but a blank stare, well, point your nose somewhere else.

Not unlike wine-glish, you don’t need a Starbucks card to know that coffee speaks. And it’s not just the dividing line between “robusta” and “Arabica”, either. Like wine, there is a complete vocabulary defining aroma (e.g. “woody”, “fruity”, “nutty”, “floral”) and taste (e.g. “bitter”, “sweet”, “sour”). And we haven’t even discussed whether or not you want a “late”, “mocha”, “perino”, or “cappucinno”. Anyone who has stood in front of a Starbucks menu understands the perplexity of not knowing the language.

IM speak, short for AOL Instant Messenger, has a printed language invented by our children. IM enables the tween set to communicate with several friends at the same time. To keep this spontaneous communications flow moving, you can be tapping out entire words. So kids have invented their own IM shorthand. “Got to go” becomes “gtg”. “Be right back” becomes “brb”. Something funny is responded to with “Laugh out loud”, abbreviated to “lol” (even Russian kids use lol, even though it has no real meaning in Russian—which uses the Cyrillic alphabet anyway).

A quick watch on The Cooking Channel reveals that cuisine is equal parts skill and cook-speak. Words like “reduction”, “deglaze”, “braize”, and “pare” speak volumes for those who know what they mean. Those who don’t may go hungry.

Computers have long held their own in terms of keeping commoners at bay. Even the rise of “personal” computers still holds a vast storage space of impersonal argot, and the rise of a whole new category of society: the computer geek. Geeks understand and speak the language of a world the rest of us never will, a nano universe beyond our basic knowledge of “chips”, “DSL”, “mother board” and “server”.

There has been a total resurgence in the game of poker, with its own vocabulary of “Texas Hold’em”, “ante”, and “poker face”. Roulette, craps and blackjack have their own gamespeak.
These micro-communities have vibrant, robust languages that are daunting for anyone trying to enter those worlds. But once entered, those worlds become as fascinating those surrounded by French, Mandarin and Italian. The purpose of this language is not so much to leave others out, as it is to define a world that is important to those who inhabit it. In addition to naming the parts of that world, it is filled with nuance, expertise, artful ranges of ability.

The chef who does not understand the words “port reduction”, is not a chef any more than the computer geek who does not understand the differences between a PC and a Mac, or the baseball fan who thinks a “homer” is a cartoon Simpson. If these communities are bound together by their common understanding of the words in their small groups, it brings up questions of how larger communities—even nations—are brought together and/or kept apart by language. Do bilingual signs in English and Spanish bring us closer together as a nation, or stretch us apart? (Esperanto rise!)

As nations and economies come closer together on our flat planet, perhaps the languages we use will too.

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