Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/131

This page has been validated.
127
WHAT IS SLANG?

WHAT IS SLANG?
By Professor EDWIN W. BOWEN

RANDOLPH-MACON COLLEGE

TO the purist slang is an unmitigated evil which makes for the gradual corruption and decadence of our vernacular. The pedant who is a martinet regards all slang with absolute contempt and abhors its use, because he believes slang spells deterioration for our noble tongue. Such an one takes his self-appointed guardianship of the language very seriously and deems it his bounden duty as a curator of our English speech, not only himself to spurn the use of slang, but also to inveigh against all those who employ it habitually or occasionally. The baneful influence of slang, he tells us, is sweeping like a mighty tidal wave over the English language, debasing it and corrupting its very sources.

Nor is the precisionist alone in entertaining this alarming view. For many others who are not sticklers for strict propriety and correctness of speech share, to some extent, the same opinion, although they feel no special concern as to the final outcome. However, it is reassuring to reflect that the best-informed among us and those whose thorough knowledge entitles them to speak with authority do not take so gloomy and pessimistic a view of the future of the English language. They inform us that the fears of the pedants and pedagogues—the half-educated—are never destined to be realized.

"Strictly speaking," says Professor Lounsbury, than whom there is no higher authority in America on the history of English, "there is no such thing as a language becoming corrupt. It is an instrument which will be just what those who use it choose to make it. The words that constitute it have no real significance of their own. It is the meaning men put into them that gives them all the efficacy they possess. Language does nothing more than reflect the character and the characteristics of those who speak it. It mirrors their thoughts and feelings, their passions and prejudices, their hopes and aspirations, their aims, whether high or low. In the mouth of the bombastic it will be inflated; in the mouth of the illiterate it will be full of vulgarisms; in the mouth of the precise it will be formal and pedantic. The history of language is the history of corruptions—using that term in the sense in which it is constantly employed by those who are stigmatizing by it the new words and phrases and constructions to which they take exception. Every one of us is to-day employing expressions which either outrage