Some of my students complain that American slang is incomprehensible to them and they are glad to learn British English, because “it’s easier to understand.” But other students have discovered that they were unable to understand anyone in London because they talked “slang.”
Now the question is whether the problems were really caused by slang. Or were there other problems? Native speakers, speakers who have been born in an English-speaking country, can speak in an accent, they can speak dialect, they may use expressions, and yes, they may use occasional (= used sometimes) slang words or expressions.
In my humble opinion, problems of incomprehensibility are mostly caused by accent and the fact that natives speak fast. I’ve written some exercises about these things, and there will be more in the future.
Should You Learn to Talk Slang?
No, I don’t think you should. If you get used to speaking slang, you won’t be able to speak normal English. In most situations that you’ll be in, you need “normal” English (if there is such a thing), and not slang.
However, it is good to know what a few of the most common slang words mean. Here are some American slang words and expressions: Next time we’ll do British slang.
Ace = did something easily, as in: He aced his exam.
Booze = alcohol
Bummed = disappointed, as in: She was bummed about losing the tennis match.
Chill out = relax, as in: Chill out! Don’t take life so seriously!
Cushy = comfortable, as in: She thinks working in a nail parlour is going to be a cushy job.
To dis = to talk about someone disrespectfully, as in: It’s awful how Cecilia disses her teacher!
To down = drink or eat quickly, as in: We downed our pizza slices and pineapple juices and went back to work.
Dork = a person who is the opposite of cool, as in: Miranda is such a dork.
Eating = bothering, as in: What’s eating him? I’ve never seen him so angry.
Flip out or freak out = to get hysterical, as in: She flipped out when she discovered her broken sunglasses under his suitcase.
Freebie = something that you get for free.
Geek = someone who loves games, computers or electronics a little bit too much.
To get a fix = to have a dose of drugs or something else that you feel you need, as in: I got a fix of my favourite carrot cake.
Gig = a pop concert
Glitzy = luxury, as in: They slept in a glitzy hotel on their honeymoon.
Go with = choose, as in: I’m gonna go with Joe’s opinion about communism. Or: I’m gonna go with the black jeans today.
Gross = disgusting.
Guts = courage, as in: You don’t have the guts to do that.
Hit on = try to seduce, as in: A guy hit on her when she was sitting at the bar.
Hit the sack = go to bed, as in: Sorry guys, I’m going to hit the sack now.
Hoopla or hype = fuss, as in: What’s all the hoopla about Lady Gaga’s new outfit?
Hot = physically attractive, as in: You look hot in those jeans!
Have the hots for = be attracted to, as in: After five years, he still has the hots for his girlfriend.
Hottie = someone who is sexy, as in: Is Justin Bieber really such a hottie?
Hoodie = a sweatshirt with a hood, or the person who wears it, as in: My son is hanging around with a bunch of hoodies.
Icky = disgusting
Iffy = questionable, as in: The sky looks a bit iffy today.
In the doghouse = in trouble, as in: She’s in the doghouse now that she failed her exam twice.
The john = the toilet
In a jiffy = very quickly, as in: I’ll finish that in a jiffy.
Killer = amazing, as in: You must try this new killer shampoo.
Knock up = to get a woman pregnant. Knocked up = pregnant.
Lame = weak, as in: That’s such a lame excuse!
Let someone have it = to be aggressive, as in: If he thinks he can call me up in the middle of the night again, I’ll let him have it!
Maxed out = reached it maximum, as in: My credit card has maxed out again, and it’s not even the end of the month!
Munchies = snacks
Nerd = someone who likes academic subjects more than sports or social activities
No-brainer = something that is easy to do or decide about, as in: Of course I will call him on his birthday; that’s a no-brainer.
No sweat = no problem
On cloud nine = extremely happy, as in: When his daughter was born, he was on cloud nine.
Piece of cake = very easy, as in: That test was a piece of cake.
Plastered = drunk
Psycho = a crazy person
To puke (rude) = to throw up, as in: She was so drunk that she puked all over my expensive carpet.
Quitter = someone who gives up easily, as in: Don’t be such a quitter. Come on, play one more game with me.
Rock = great, as in: Rihanna’s new song rocks!
To rub someone the wrong way = to irritate, as in: That Carine didn’t want to pay for her meal rubbed Fritz the wrong way.
Screw up = fail, as in: I screwed up my math exam.
Sharp = intelligent, or about clothes: elegant, stylish.
Split = to say goodbye, as in: Let’s split. See you tomorrow!
Split up = to separate from a lover
Stunner = an attractive woman
Swig = a sip, as in: He took a swig from his whisky.
Tag along = to come with someone, as in: I’m going shopping. Wanna tag along?
Turn-off = something that makes you less interested, as in: The fact that he always had to call his mum was a real turn-off.
Uncle Sam = the US government, as in: Uncle Sam takes 20 percent of the profits our company makes.
Uptight = square, never trying something new, as in: My parents are too uptight to smoke a joint.
Up to = going to do, as in: What are you up to this afternoon?
Veg out = become very relaxed, as in: I’m going to veg out in front of the TV tonight. (this word comes from become like a vegetable).
Washed-up = no longer as good as in the past, as in: Zack is an old, washed-up painter with no money.
Weirdo = somebody who is weird
Wimp = someone who is too soft
yak = talk stuff that’s not important, as in: She was yakking on the phone while she was driving.
zit = pimple
Note: Some words have begun their career as slang words, but they’re normal vocabulary now. One such word is “awesome,” for example, but it’s now so commonly used that actually it’s no longer slang. Some other words on the above list could also become part of the regular vocabulary, who knows!
Here’s an exercise. Use words or expressions from the list above to fill in the gaps:
You can do this quiz online here and check your answers (click on the link).
1 I’ve come home tired from work. I’m going to ____ ____ on the couch.
2 “I think he’s ugly.” “No, no, he’s not. He’s a _________.”
3 Zelda likes to get good deals from Groupon and other sites that offer ___________.
4 I don’t want you to take a picture of me now. I have a ________ on my nose.
5 You look ________ in that stylish suit.
6 I’m going for a walk along the seaside. Wanna _______ _____?
7 He _________ _____ the relationship because of his cheating.
8 It looks like it’s the end of the party. Let’s _________.
9 Our plans for tomorrow look a bit ________ because a big storm is coming.
10 Our new ice cream machine can make the most wonderful sundaes in a ___________.
11 Word Up is a _______ app that teaches you many words that you didn’t know.
12 Don’t leave the party so early. Don’t be a __________.
Did you like this quiz? Buy quizzes here.