Latest Issue

The word “slang,” first recorded in the mid-18th century, is of uncertain origin: suggestions include the old name for a convict’s fetters, the Old Norse verb “to sling,” slyngva, and the name of an 18th-century Dutchman, the Lord of Slangenburg. It’s an appropriate muddle. Slang initially meant the opaque private diction of criminals, only later expanding to its present sense of any very informal, non-standard language, and it remains a field in which meanings are hard to trace or pin down.

That’s not for want of trying, however. Around 1536, some 70 years before the first recognised English dictionary (Robert…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect