3 Examples of Slang in Journalistic Content

By Mark Nichol

There is always a tension in language usage about achieving a balance between sesquipedalian obfuscation and, um, like, you know, overly casual language. Ultimately, clarity on the writer’s part and fluency on the part of the readership are the key criteria for whether content succeeds in communicating ideas, knowledge, and information, and writers can be flexible about linguistic register based on context.

However, it can be unsettling for older readers and those for whom English is not their first language when they read journalistic content online; there is a trend among some news outlets to make content both more accessible and more potent by using slang. Note the following examples, all of which involve vivid verbs:

1. The twenty-year veteran anchor of Today was abruptly canned.

Canned, slang for “discharged from employment” (perhaps from the analogy of putting the terminated employee in a garbage can), can also, in the form can, mean “score,” as when a scoring attempt in basketball or golf is successful (from comparison of the basket or hole to a can), or “put a stop to,” as in the dated command “Can the chatter” (“Stop talking”), from the notion of containing one’s speech in a can. (As an adjective, canned means “lacking originality” or “prepared in advance,” with the notion that a canned speech or canned music, for example, was retrieved ready-made from a can.)

2. The motocross rider must soar over the train and then stick a landing on the hillside across the tracks.

Stick, originally employed in reference to executing a flawless landing in a gymnastics competition, apparently comes from the comparison of the gymnast’s contact with the floor with piercing or stabbing something. Stick may also refer to tricking someone into paying a bill, or overcharging someone, or to baffling or cheating someone, as well as to remaining in place or being halted.

3. They decided to spike the draft when the agency released its guidance in 2014.

Similarly, here, spike alludes to the previous practice in clerical routines of impaling a document on a spike when done with it; the term also refers to submitted content that is rejected for publication or to blocking or suppressing information. As a noun, spike is used informally to refer to a sudden sharp increase, as in temperature or power consumption, or prices or rates; this usage is based on the shape of marks made on a graph to represent such a change. In verb form, spike might also pertain to a stimulant added to a substance, or to an analogous figurative addition (as in spiking a speech with jokes).


3 Responses to “3 Examples of Slang in Journalistic Content”

  • D.A.W.

    “In verb form, spike might also pertain to a stimulant added to a substance…”
    This is quite untrue in general. There are many ways to “spike” drink or food, including punch, beer, coffee, ice cream. For nefarious purposes, someone can “spike” something with alcohol (a depressant), a tranquilizer, a hallucinogen (LSD), a narcotic, or even poison!
    For unknown reasons, someone in the United States spiked capsules of Tylenol with cyanide, and several innocent people were killed. The detectives never have been able to figure out who did this, or why. Our best guess is that it was a pure psychopath.

  • D.A.W.

    During World War II, there was a company in Italy that made canned rations for soldiers in the Italian Army and its allies. For some reason, a kind of canned meat was just labeled “A.M.” on the outside of the can. Apparently, it was wretched food, too. The Italian soldiers noted that “A.M.” could stand for an Italian phrase that means “dead donkey”.
    The German soldiers in Africa and Italy were more direct about it. They said that “A.M.” was short for “Auld Mann” = “old man”. Ouch! Cannibalism!
    That would be truly a terrible way to get “canned” from one’s employment.

  • D.A.W.

    “They decided to spike the draft….”
    What foolish language this is!
    “The draft” is draft beer, and to “spike” beer is to put vodka, rum, etc., in it to make it more alcoholic and thus more intoxicating.
    Another way to express it, in slang, is “to make a boilermaker”, which is to put vodka, etc., into beer.
    D.A.W.

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