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Exploring College Slang. Joe McVeigh Ann Wintergerst. Slang—an active introduction. tot wastey face fives boo own slammin. Here’s a little context. A: Did you see her hair? You can tell she did that dye job herself! B: Tot !

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exploring college slang

Exploring College Slang

Joe McVeigh

Ann Wintergerst

slang an active introduction
Slang—an active introduction


wastey face





here s a little context
Here’s a little context
  • A: Did you see her hair? You can tell she did that dye job herself! B: Tot!
  • I got wastey face in the basement last night after my first bottle of wine.
  • I call fives! I’m just going to the bathroom.
  • From now on it’s all about you Boo, all about you.
  • Dude, my snowboard completely owns yours.
  • Did you see that girl?  She was slammin!
here s what the students said
Here’s what the students said

tot (adv) abbreviation for totally. Used in agreement

wastey face (adj) very intoxicated OR noun; a person who is very intoxicated. Synonyms: hammered, wasted, drunk

fives (n) an exclamation to lay claim to a seat when you are leaving for a few minutes, presumably five minutes. Synonyms: be right back, brb

boo (n) a name for a lover, derived from the french word “beau” which roughly means beautiful. Synonyms: girlfriend, boyfriend.

own (v) 1. to be superior to. Synonyms: to rock, to rule. Usage: comparing similar objects.

slammin (adj) very attractive.  Synonyms: hot, good looking. 

what is slang
What is slang?
  • Informal, one or two words, considered non-standard
  • Varies by age, region, or other demographic factors
  • May relate to illicit activities or may be vulgar or vituperative
  • Over time may change to standard status
student difficulties with slang
Student difficulties with slang
  • Undergraduate international students with high levels of English
origins of the project
Origins of the project
  • New first-year international students at Middlebury
  • William Safire article in New York Times
  • Checking with NS undergraduate informants
New York Times September 30, 2007

On Language: Campusspeak by William Safire

  • Sketchy about the lingo being spoken by today’s adultalescents?
  • Word-blending is big in campuspeak. “He’s sort of a nerd, but he’s just so adorkable” combines adorable with dork, the amalgam defined as “endearing though socially inept” … Another blend is fauxhawk, combining faux, “artificial,” and Mohawk, defined as a “hairstyle achieved by combing all of the hair to the center to give the appearance of a Mohawk without shaving the head.”
  • Yet another is ginormous, blending gigantic with enormous A new slang blend is chillax, from the adjective chill, “easygoing,” and the verb relax, the combo meaning “do nothing in particular,” an activity widely practiced in centers of learning throughout the nation.
  • Slang Collection assignment in undergrad TESOL methodology course
  • Results of the initial collection
  • Problems with the initial collection
  • Forming of project team
    • Alexis Mussomeli—editor
    • Ellie Molyneux & Natalie Sammarco—surveys
    • Katie Moon & Uma Tantri—web design
project initial edit alexis mussomeli
Project – Initial EditAlexis Mussomeli
  • Duplicates
  • Idioms
  • Non-local items
  • Standardization of definitions
project survey ellie molyneux natalie sammarco
Project – SurveyEllie Molyneux & Natalie Sammarco
  • Smaller lists of words
  • Survey construction
  • Email requests
  • Responses
  • Survey results
survey objectives
Survey Objectives
  • Obtain demographic information
    • First language, friend group, affiliations
  • Determine frequency of slang use
    • “How often do you hear this…” vs. “say”
  • Determine variability in slang meaning
  • Investigate correlations between demographics and reported slang frequency
  • International and ESL students with less interaction with NSs probably hear and are aware of fewer slang terms
  • Variations in frequency
  • Most students would be aware of the words in the survey
  • 4 surveys
  • 39 words per survey
  • 156 words total
  • Randomly distributed
participant origins and first languages
Participant Origins and First Languages

N = 203

17.7% internationalstudents

15.2% ESL students

81.7% domestic students

84.7% native

English speakers

Middlebury 2007: 10% international

is there a connection between reported slang frequency and
Is there a connection between reported slang frequency and . . .

. . . social house residence ?

. . . class year ?

. . . gender ?

. . . international student status ?


Is there a connection between reported slang frequency and social house residence?

survey limitations
Survey Limitations
  • Relatively small sample size
    • Confirmation bias, fatigue, correlation vs. causality
  • Self-reporting vs. discourse analysis approach
project web implementation katie moon uma tantri
Project – Web ImplementationKatie Moon & Uma Tantri
  • Dictionary – navigable or downloadable
  • Categories
  • Audio files
  • Resources
  • Practice materials
the web site
The Web Site


  • Or go to www.joemcveigh.org and look for the link to the Middlebury Slang Project
  • You will find:
    • Definitions and example sentences
    • A downloadable dictionary
    • Sound files
    • Electronic resources
    • Learning suggestions
project idioms team
Project – Idioms Team
  • Dictionary of idioms with definitions
  • Downloadable from web site
    • Sophie Elphick & Ley Lacbawan
slang and idioms
Slang and Idioms
  • How is slang different from idioms and colloquial language?
  • Idioms under the weather

to kick the bucket

to bite the dust

  • Colloquial language shut up
  • Slang babe, chick,

dude, hunk

wired, mellow

purposes of slang
Purposes of slang
  • To identify members of a group
  • To change the level of discourse in the direction of informality
  • To oppose established authority
slang and idioms1
Slang and idioms
  • Idiom processing strategies by L2 learners of English (Cooper 1999)
  • Guessing from context (28%)
  • Discussing literal meanings (19%)
  • Using the literal meaning (19%)
  • Other strategies (29%)
  • L2 learners employ a variety of strategies based on what works for them
slang and idioms2
Slang and idioms
  • Corpus analysis of Am. Eng. Idioms (Liu 2003)
  • Aimed at identifying most frequent idioms in academic contexts
  • Difficult to capture low-frequency idioms that could be important to students
general learning strategies
General learning strategies
  • Converse with native English speakers.  A lot of slang can be picked up easily if the first time you hear it or use it, you can personally relate to it. 
  • Watch American sitcoms or movies.  Slowly you will be able to understand more and more slang by picking up on context clues. 
  • Listen to American music.  American music is one of the mediums through which many slang words are created and shared.
activities for teaching slang
Activities for Teaching Slang
  • Fill in the blank dialogs
  • Listening fill in the blank
  • Sentence matching exercises
  • Crossword puzzle
  • Campus research projects
specific steps for classroom teachers
Specific steps for classroom teachers
  • Compile a list of slang expressions that would be useful for your students and that are level-appropriate.
  • Ask students if they have heard of any of these slang expressions on the list.
  • Give them an example of each one in a sentence either orally, on the board, or on a handout because additional context is usually helpful in figuring out the meaning.
  • Distribute the handout with the slang expressions, definitions, and example sentences and review these with them.
  • Create activities such as the ones you just participated in to help them learn, understand, and practice these slang expressions.
specific steps for classroom teachers1
Specific steps for classroom teachers
  • Ask students to work in pairs/groups on these activities.
  • After checking the answers, have each pair/group prepare a short skit in which they use any of the newly learned slang expressions.
  • Have students perform these role plays in front of the class.
  • For homework, assign them to listen for slang expressions used by Americans on or off campus, on television, in the movies, or in songs and bring these to the next class. The first five minutes of each class will be a mini-lesson on slang expressions and feature the slang expressions of 2-3 students.
  • Ask students to keep a running list of new slang expressions. By the end of the course, their slang vocabulary will have increased tremendously.
electronic resources
Electronic Resources
  • Middlebury College Slang Project


  • Introduction to TESOL Course Web Site


  • Joe McVeigh dot org – presentation resources


  • Urban Dictionary


  • The Online Slang Dictionary


  • The Internet Slang Dictionary


published resources
Published resources

Owen Hargreaves

David Burke