Vocabulary Quiz #10: US Slang

By Mark Nichol

As a result of the popularity of police drama in U.S. entertainment, many words associated with criminal activity have become common in general usage. Edit the sentences below replacing the slang term with the appropriate standard English word.

1. The movie was about a notorious train heist that occurred in the 1960s.

2. Come on, Pete. Give me the lettuce you owe me.

3. Is this the piece he used to shoot Brokavich?

4. The perp was identified by two witnesses who were at the scene of the robbery.

5. The police were able to bust the leaders of the drug cartel by pretending to be customers.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: The movie was about a notorious train heist that occurred in the 1960s.
Correct : The movie was about a notorious train robbery that occurred in the 1960s.

Heist is probably a version of the standard word hoist, “to lift.” The word entered the language as a noun. A heister was a shoplifter, a person who steals things from a retail store.

2.
Original: Come on, Pete. Give me the lettuce you owe me.
Correct : Come on, Pete. Give me the money you owe me.

Both lettuce and U.S. paper currency are green.

3.
Original: Is this the piece he used to shoot Brokavich?
Correct : Is this the gun he used to shoot Brokavich?

Here’s an example of a once standard word having turned into slang. Beginning in the 16th century to refer to cannon and other large artillery, “piece” has been used to refer to gunpowder weapons. The term seems to have become slang in the 20th century.

4.
Original: The perp was identified by two witnesses who were at the scene of the robbery.
Correct : The perpetrator was identified by two witnesses who were at the scene of the robbery.
Alterna.: The criminal was identified by two witnesses who were at the scene of the robbery.

Short for perpetrator, perp refers to a person who is known to have committed a crime. The word suspect is often used incorrectly in the media to refer to a known perpetrator.

5.
Original: The police were able to bust the leaders of the drug cartel by pretending to be customers.
Correct : The police were able to arrest the leaders of the drug cartel by pretending to be customers.

Bust is an altered form of burst. “to break.” In addition to its slang use to mean arrest, it’s commonly used in colloquial speech to mean break, but is still considered nonstandard in any but the most informal context.

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1 Response to “Vocabulary Quiz #10: US Slang”

  • Agua Caliente

    There is something humorous about the rendering of street and police jargon be as correct English. Let me see if I can use all the noted slang words (heist, lettuce, piece, perp, bust) in one sentence, using standard English:

    The perpetrator of the armed robbery was arrested with money in his possession. Hmm…it’s correct, all right, but a little boring.

    Let’s try it less formally: The perp was packin’ and had a big wad when he was popped.
    (Do we use smilies here??)

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