Glossary Home Diction

Slang Diction

Slang diction contains words that are very specific to a region and time, and have been recently coined.

These are words used today and spoken out loud by friends or close associates. Today, these words might include “dope,” “cancel” and “lit”. Seeing them in a poem would tell you exactly when that speaker was from.

Slang in any kind of literature is a clear marker of who the speaker is, where they’re from, more than likely their age, and the group of people they associate with. INn the contemporary world slang is so widespread, and so very different where it pops up (which is everywhere) that a close and careful reader can pin down exactly where someone is from if they dedicate enough time to the task.


Examples of Slang Diction in Literature

Example #1: 2 mothers in a h d b playground by Arthur Yap

Poets such as Arthur Yap are noted for their use of slang, as can be seen in the following lines from ‘2 mothers in a h d b playground. Take a look at these two lines from the end of the poem:

come, cheong, quick go home & bathe.

ah pah wants to take you chya-hong in new motor-car

The lines of this poem most certainly inform the reader about the speaker. Their language is not elevated, it feels like this person likely has an accent of some kind, or, perhaps grew up in a place where their peers influenced their pronunciation. With study, time, and care, these details can all be fleshed out and a full picture might be made of who every character, just depending on the dialectic differences in their speech, is from.

In fact, Yap is known for his use of a Singlish, or Singapore/American slang. The word “chya-hong” in the second line means “eat wind” and is slang for going for a drive.


Example #2: We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

The next example is one of the best-known short works by Gwendolyn BrooksWe Real Cool’ is only eight lines long, each of which is two or three words. In these lines, Brooks makes use of slang. It places the poem into the time period in which it was written. Take a look at these lines from the end of the poem:
            Sing sin. We
            Thin gin. We
            Jazz June. We
            Die soon.
The phrase “Jazz June” is one of the harder moments of the poem. One interpretation of the phrase is sexual in nature. June could refer to a woman. Then, “Jazz” could be used as a slang word for having sex. From another angle, the line might reference summer and the pool player’s embrace (see the full analysis of ‘We Real Cool’ for more) of the freedom of that time of year. This speaks to their age and to their need to break out of the pattern of society. They make the most of the time they have away from obligations.
Brooks promoted one further interpretation. The month of June might represent the exact opposite. Rather than summer it was to her a symbol for the system that players were meant to conform to. Their “jazz[ing]” of it would be their ignoring of its power. Whatever the truth, or multiple truths, behind this phrase, it is a clear use of slang diction within a poem that benefits so much from the informality of the language and syntax.

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