Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986.

One of the most strategic military sites in the world, the Rock of Gibraltar guards the only entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. For centuries it was much fought over by Carthaginians, Moors, Romans, Phoenicians, and Barbary Pirates. When England took it from Spain in 1713, Gibraltar it became a symbol of British naval might, and it is commonly known in that context as “the Rock.”

In the 1890s Prudential Insurance was looking for a new slogan and symbol. As the story goes, an advertising agent with the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency got the idea when he passed a large volcanic rock in Secaucus, New Jersey while commuting to New York City on a train. The agency liked the image of a big rock and created a logo based on what was then the most famous fortress in the world. Then they added the slogan “The Prudential has the Strength of Gibraltar.”

In the early seafaring days, Gibraltar was populated by sailors from around the world who evolved a pidgin language by merging bits from dozens of native tongues. Gibraltarians say their language (Llanito) is a mixture of Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, and Maltese. This language, where all who knew it were able to converse on common ground, was unintelligible to outsiders. Gibs claim it is the source of today’s word gibberish.

Yo, dude.

Brittanica says the earliest recorded use of the word slang referred to the vocabularies of the disreputable and criminal classes of London, England. My first real experience was with the language of the surfer dudes: laid-back, lame, bummer, gnarly, bitchin’, grungy, wipeout. Much of their language from 70 years ago is still used today by skateboarders and X-gamers.

Slang is a type of language that consists of words, phrases, and idioms that are:

  • Very informal.
  • Originally restricted to a particular group.
  • More common in speech than in writing.

It is composed of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and facetious figures of speech. Slang is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, and elliptical than ordinary language. 

Rebel Without a Cause.

Dictionary.com says “Slang is sorta like the rebellious teen of our adult vocabulary.” Members of in-groups prefer slang over common vocabulary so as to establish group identity and exclude outsiders. Wannabes adopt slang quickly as a way to try and pass themselves off as insiders. 

Do not confuse slang with jargon.

Jargon is insider vocabulary used by a particular profession and is deliberately difficult for others to understand. Physicians, lawyers, and academics call it specialized technical language. The rest of us call it talking shop.

Often obscure and pretentious, jargon is marked by big words and the use of many words when only a few will do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague and evasive. The business world loves jargon – A.I., Big Data, core competencies, due diligence, best practices, benchmarking, bank for the buck. Who doesn’t know enough to pivot and lean in while marketers pick our brains to move the needle and impact the bottom line? Rebels might want to throw some shade and stick it to the man instead.

Many researchers use jargon to impress. 

Snobbish statisticians will tell you they arrived at a solution by rotating their orthogonal matrix. Only a few will tell you they were having trouble finding meaningful relationships, so they bent the data using assumptions they were willing to make but don’t tell you about. Which type of researcher would you rather work with?

Reverse snobbery. 

Groucho Marx joked that he would not want to join any club that would have him as a member. As a undergraduate at Whittier College, Richard Nixon went the other route – he wanted to join a club that wouldn’t have him. He had hoped to be accepted by the Franklins, an elite student society of the wealthiest students who were the social “in” crowd (Dobie Gray said the In Crowd had our own way of walking, our own way of talking).

When they rejected him for membership, Nixon attacked them as “a bunch of smooth-moving slick talkers.” His way of getting even was to form his own group, the Orthogonians, which he said meant at right angles, straight and square. The Orthogonians rejected the elitist assumptions of the Franklins and refused to cede social authority to the well-to-do. A born politician, Nixon persuaded others to join him in the nobility of reveling in their lower status. Nixon wrote in his memoirs that in the college yearbook, Franklins were pictured in tuxedos while Orthogonians wore open-necked shirts to signify they were “men who were working their way through school.”

The Silent Majority.

Thomas Sugrue wrote how the Franklins were made up of those to the manor born (aristocrats) and the Orthogonians were the hardworking squares. Sugrue said when Nixon became president, “his vision of a society composed of haughty, out-of-touch cultural elites lording it over his ‘silent majority’ was his way of reacting to the social and political upheavals of the 1960s.” Nixon liked to tell his followers that peace would come only when the Orthogonians once and for all put the Franklins in their rightful place. Facing certain impeachment in 1974, Nixon resigned the office of president in disgrace.

How many words do you have for snow?

The Eskimos have 50. The Sami, descendants of nomadic reindeer herders, live at the far northern tips of Scandinavia and Russia. They have 180 words for snow and ice. They also have more than 1,000 words for reindeer, while Santa has only eight.

Banana Fana Fo. 

And then there’s the sort of nonsense language that teenagers need to learn to demonstrate they are part of the in-crowd. Click here and see how quickly you can learn Shirley Ellis’ slang.

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