Last year, at our annual Christmas “White Elephant” gift exchange at work, I took home a package of Slang Flashcards. I must have gone through these cards ten times that night, laughing harder each time.
It’s fitting that I ended up with this gift. I have a bad habit of using slang words at work.
Wikipedia has a great definition of slang:
Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker’s language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially. Slang is often used as a euphemism and may use informal lexicon to identify with one’s peers.
I shouldn’t be using slang words so much. I’ve caught myself using the word “straight” during a meeting (as in “That process is straight inefficient.”) Last week, I called a female co-worker “bro.” I could say it’s because I’m comfortable around certain individuals but it could be just plain lack of discipline – or laziness. Maybe I’m rebelling against the stuffy corporate-speak that I hear on a day-to-day basis. Or it could be the 30-plus years of hip-hop music that permeates through my brain. I realize that, depending on where you work, slang may or may not be appropriate. Ironically, I work in two traditionally conservative and formal industries: insurance and audit. These two fields require very formal, proper and professional language. I’ve learned when to “button-up” my language and when it’s OK to loosen up. Fortunately, I work with some very funny co-workers who are “down” for a little daily slang. Overall, I’m trying to be more conscious of what I’m saying. Here are some guidelines I’ve set for myself.
- Know who’s in the room: I’ve blown this rule more than once. Not everyone understands slang. For some, English is not their first language. For others, it’s never OK to speak like this at work. I’ve had co-workers pull me aside and ask, “What do you mean?” or “What does that mean?” The latter question was posed to me when I said an executive was “ballin’.” I’m trying to limit my use of informal language in general, but most especially in the workplace.
- Speak plain English: The more I pay attention to my everyday language, the more I’m convinced that I’ve conditioned myself to replace simple English words or phrases:
“Dudes are straight getting jacked!” (That department is undergoing a significant number of layoffs.)
“Man, that manager is such a hater!” (She can be jealous at times.)
So the next time a co-worker puts together a great presentation, I’ll just say, “That was a great presentation.” Simple.
- Slang is not always cool: When I was in 10th grade, I remember one of my classmates cussing in class. My Math teacher, instead of yelling at him or putting his name on the board, simply said, “Cussing is for ignorant people.” My classmate never said another cuss word in class. I feel the same way sometimes about slang. It’s not always cool or necessary to “keep it real.” Sometimes it can even be inappropriate, making the user look ignorant. After all, you wouldn’t cuss at your kid’s bake sale and you wouldn’t (shouldn’t) call the CFO “son.” In other words, there’s a time and place for everything.