Winning English - Mastering Idioms, Slang, and Cultural References
A collection of slang words • Cool • Hot • Flex • Cringe • Ghost •Epic • Da bomb • Bruh • Dig it • Spiked • Crash • I'm out
Hello, everyone! I hope you enjoyed my recent series on major influences on the English language. After I finished that series, I realized I was talking mostly about history. That is, those influences occurred a long, long time ago. But the fact is that language is constantly evolving. And that is most obvious when one considers slang words.
Slang words are brand new words or new usages of words that are very informal. You’d never use these new words at a fancy dinner party. Sometimes they are considered impolite, but you might also discover that some older people might not even understand what you’re talking about!
Interested in a podcast version of Winning English? Check out my site on Podbean or find it in your favorite listening app.
Slang words that have stood the test of time
That said, let me start with a couple of slang words that have stood the test of time - cool and hot.
That was a bonus idiom for you, by the way! When something “stands the test of time”, it means the thing has lasted for many years.
Originally, of course, “cool” and “hot” referred to temperature. But “cool” as a slang word means “something really good” or “really interesting and fun”. While most slang words eventually lose popularity and disappear, “cool” has been used in this way almost 90 years! “Cool” must be really cool.
Meanwhile, “hot” is a way to describe a very sexy and attractive person. You could say, “She is hot,” or “He is hot.” This slang word has been around for hundreds of years in various, similar meanings, but acquired its modern meaning around the same time as cool.
Slang words of today
Okay, enough history! Let’s get to some more modern slang words.
First, to flex - The verb “to flex” normally means “to bend”. When you flex your arm, you bend it at the elbow. Now, eventually this became associated with the sport of body building. Body building is when people develop huge muscles, then display them on stage. (Not me!)
Body builders “flex” their muscles to show how good of shape they are in. That meaning - showing how great you are - eventually became the slang word “to flex”. Usually people use “to flex” to criticize someone. For example, someone might say, “Look how she’s flexing in front of all of us. She thinks she’s so great, but she’s not.”
Another relatively new slang word is cringe. Now, “to cringe” is a well-established verb. It means to bend your head down between your shoulders. We do this sometimes in fear and sometimes when we are embarrassed, either for ourselves or another person. The modern slang word, “cringe” is an adjective, though, not a verb, and it focuses on embarrassing or silly behaviors. For example, someone might say, “Oh, look at him trying to sing. It’s so cringe. He needs to stop.” Sometimes people will also say “cringey” instead of “cringe” when using this slang word. “His singing is so cringey,” for example.
Here’s a third modern slang word. Have you ever been having a text message conversation with someone, and they suddenly stop responding? No matter how many times you message them, they don’t answer. That person has ghosted you.
“To ghost” is a modern slang verb that describes when someone stops contacting you. This one is probably easy to understand. In folklore, ghosts can sometime be seen, and other times they are invisible. With this slang word, it’s as if the person is a ghost, appearing and disappearing without warning.
Slang words that could disappear
As I’ve mentioned already, not all slang words last. Some disappear. Others change their meaning or become, well, cringey.
Here’s an example of a cringey slang word - epic. “Epic” used to mean really great or cool (to use an older slang word). After all, an epic, by its original definition, is a heroic and dramatic story. But now, as a slang word, it’s mostly used ironically. That is, it’s used to indicate the opposite of its original meaning. Nowadays, if someone describes something as “epic”, it’s likely they mean that the thing they are describing is trying too hard to be great or cool - so hard that it just looks silly.
Another slang word that went through a similar transition is da bomb. “Da bomb” is another way of saying “the bomb”, and even though that’s a noun, it was used as an adjective to describe something as really great. For example, “Have you heard that new rock band? They are da bomb!” The idea was the band was like a bomb - dramatic and explosive and attention-grabbing. However, like epic, da bomb is now mostly used ironically to indicate something that’s trying too hard to be great.
The slang word bruh also changed its meaning over time. It’s quite common for males to call close friends of theirs “brother”. This is sometimes shortened to “bro”. Eventually, that transformed into “bruh”. But that’s not all. The word eventually transformed into a short way to ask, “Really? Did you just mean to say that, or do that?” The idea is that your friend has said or done something potentially embarrassing, and you want to clarify if they intended the behavior. To ask the question, you might just say, “Bruh.” 😑
Slang words that seem to be staying
Not all slang words go through these changes in meaning, though. Some newer slang words seem to last and keep their original meaning.
For example, to dig something. This has nothing to do with digging with a shovel in the dirt. When you “dig” something, it usually means you like it. You might say, “I really dig that new band.” It does have a secondary meeting, too, which is, “I understand” or “Okay”. You can see “dig it” used in the movie “Justice League”. Earlier in the movie, Batman had told Aquaman that he dressed like a bat when fighting crime. Aquaman seemed to think that was kind of silly and didn’t believe him. But later, he meets Batman in costume:
“Dressed like a bat. I dig it.”
Another slang word that’s lasted for some time is to spike a drink. A drink that is “spiked” has had a drug added to it, usually alcohol. I saw this recently in an episode of the TV show, “Lucifer”. A police detective named Dan asked the main character Lucifer, “Did you spike my coffee?” To which Lucifer responded, “It’s the only way to get through yet another tedious and useless task. You’re welcome.”
Okay, I’m starting to get tired. I think I’m going to crash soon. I hope you’ve enjoyed this focus on slang words. If you want more examples, here’s a handy list with dozens more.
By the way, “to crash” means “to go to sleep” or “to rest”. I’m not really tired. But I wanted to use this slang word this way. 😎
Remember, if you like Winning English. Please tell a friend about it. Also, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Maybe you’ll even consider supporting this project by donating through Patreon. I rely directly on supporters like you to keep going. Thanks in advance.
Okay, that’s it. I’m out!
“I’m out” is an informal way to say, “I’m done and leaving.” See, I couldn’t resist giving you one more slang phrase. 😄 Let me finish with my usual phrase.
Thanks, and talk soon!