How does a word come to mean what it means? How do we come to share those meanings. The answer has to be tied, at least in part, to the communities or subcultures within which the words are used and the meanings are taken for granted. I came across a post on BoingBoing.net about a book that collects slang terms for a variety of subcultures. The book is “Talk the Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures,” by Luc Reid, and it looks to be something of a slang dictionary. The Boingboing post puts it this way:
a thoroughly enjoyable toilet-tank-top reference book, the kind of quirky thing that is endlessly fascinating and full of odd insights into worlds you never suspected existed. It’s a collection of glossaries of the slang of 65 American subcultures, from skinheads to hookers, puppeteers to ren faire habituees, con artists to Antarctic researchers, truckers to prisoners.
There is also a website devoted to the book at subculturetalk.com. It includes a list of the 65 subcultures covered in the book (under Table of Contents), some of which include: bodybuilders, circus people, goths, online gamers, pro wrestling fans, surfers, and many others. A sample of a couple of pages from the book (including slang from gardeners) is available here (pdf).
Such language helps to clarify the boundaries between the insiders and outsiders and provides a greater sense of identity for the members.
If only I can get some subculture to adopt the word chickenjagging, perhaps it will move farther along the path toward wordification. Eleanor would be thrilled. 🙂