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Rarely is there a time when someone in America isn't worried about the state of our language. This worry generally arises in two forms: "our children don't know how to use proper English" and "there are too many immigrants who don't know how to speak English."

Often the concern about the lack of "pr per" English arises in response to that awful specter of alleged sloth - slang. Most linguists define slang as vocabulary items used in in formal settings. If a new car (wheels) is appreciated by someone's peers, then that ride or hot rod might be called hot, cool, sweet, or phat, depending on one's generation, circle of friends, and range of ability with slang terms. If, on the other hand, this car barely runs, has smoke coming out of the tail pipe, has four tires of four different sizes (one being white-wall, the other three lettered) , then that car might be a piece, a junker, or just plain ol' jacked, again depending on one's generation or group of intimates.


From the column, Frankly Speaking: A Discussion of the English Language.