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More Thoughts On the Nonstandard Uses of “Slash”

slash, typewriter, question mark

A couple weeks ago Anne Curzan wrote an article for the Lingua Franca blog about new slang uses of the word slash. This article particularly interested me because I, like her students, have been using the slash in these ways for the last five-plus years. As a linguist slash huge nerd, the first thing I did after reading Curzan’s article was search my personal corpus of Google Chat logs for real-life examples of these new usages of slash.

Let’s review the new uses of slash brought to Curzan’s attention by her undergraduate students.

1. Written out where the symbol [/] traditionally appears (discussed here)
Curzan’s example:
Does anyone care if my cousin comes and visits slash stays with us Friday night?

My examples:

I want to go there slash hang out. (8/6/08)
Anyway, he has a girlfriend slash nothing in common with me. (5/8/13)

2. Distinguishing between “(a) the activity that the speaker or writer was intending to do or should have been doing, and (b) the activity that the speaker or writer actually did or anticipated they would do”
Curzan’s examples:
I went to class slash caught up on Game of Thrones.
I need to go home and write my essay slash take a nap
.
My example:

Making sure my facebook photos are “workplace appropriate” slash obsessively scrutinizing every outfit I’ve ever been photographed in. (1/21/13, submitted by a coworker)

3. Conjunction meaning “following up,” “related to that,” or “on another topic”
Curzan’s examples:
I really love that hot dog place on Liberty Street. Slash can we go there tomorrow?

JUST SAW ALEX! Slash I just chubbed on oatmeal raisin cookies at north quad and i miss you
My examples:
Are you going to Rachel’s tonight? Slash is she really sick? (7/14/08)
You’ll have to tell me what’s up with your boyfriend when you find out. Slash, you should call him out on this. (10/14/08)
When do you get off work? Slash, do you need alone time before I come over? (12/7/10)

While all three of Curzan’s senses of the nonstandard slash are interesting, the second one particularly fascinates me because it brought another use of slash to light. In this sense, the students were possibly doing the two different things at once. The student was watching Game of Thrones while in class, doing both activities mentioned before and after the slash simultaneously.

The second example stood out to me as an entirely different use of the slash. It could mean that the student will go home and work on an essay and take a nap. However, it could also mean the student will go home and take a nap instead of  working on the essay. In this second interpretation, the slash transforms “write my essay” into a euphemism for “take a nap.” My additional sense of the slash encompasses this usage:

4. Slash used between a euphemistic way of saying something and an overly dramatic, negative, or direct way of saying the same thing
My examples:

“Former Donald Trump lieutenantess Carolyn Kepcher may have left-slash-got-fired from the Trump Organization last summer, but she’s still got a lot of wisdom to impart about how to deal with bosses.” (01/30/07, Gawker)
“The Huffington Post, your favorite blog network slash mass content grave, will debut a streaming online video channel this summer.” (02/04/12, Gawker)

Even Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame tweeted an example of this use of slash in 2011.

 

Here the slash expresses snark and not simultaneity. In my estimation, both senses (Curzan’s second sense and my additional sense) are unique and speak to current trends. In a time when so much communication happens in writing, whether text message, instant message, or email, it’s difficult to fully grasp tone. In this case, slash is used as a tool to connote humor similar to the smiley- and winky-face emoticons. “I’m joking,” they say to readers, “I’m being funny.” Curzan’s second sense of slash (I’m doing this thing I probably shouldn’t be doing and/while I’m doing something else) acts as a catch-all in this age of multitasking and (over)sharing. There is an implicit hierarchy to the slash. Imagine telling a friend that you worked on your presentation slash stalked your ex on Facebook versus telling the same thing to a coworker. The friend will probably focus on the cyberstalking bit, while the coworker is likely to weigh the work-related part of this statement more heavily.

In these examples, slash is used in the same context and with the same level of snarkiness as the strikethrough. The strikethrough is when a writer strikes through text, replacing it with new text. Of course, in the age of computers this outdated mark-up is used as a writing convention to express a snarky or joking tone, as opposed to its original use to simply correct a mistake. Gossip websites like Jezebel and Perez Hilton take advantage of this convention as a sort of wink to their readers. (See also the slang euphemistic construction of “and by ____ I mean ____” as popularized by the show Clone High. In one episode a character says the following to a table full of ladies: “Hey, let’s all go swimming in my pool, and by pool I mean bathtub, and by swimming, I mean sex.” The two real-life examples could easily be written with a strikethrough or with Clone High-style phrasing.)

All three of Curzan’s uses of slash and my additional sense are casual and light in manner. While they’re still considered to be slang at this point in time, they certainly seem useful enough to me to be candidates for mainstream usage in the future. I wonder if they’ll ever be elevated beyond nonstandard usage. What do you think? Do you have any good examples of these new slang uses of slash? Let us know in the comments.

47 Comments

  1. Pradeep -  March 24, 2014 - 2:07 pm

    Gas prices slashed. That’s the only slash that matters, coming to the slash mentioned in the article, who speaks like this? May be snobs… :) Whatever…

    Reply
  2. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 16, 2013 - 4:35 am

    Right now I’m doing my homework slash commenting on Dictionary.com articles (my social site). ;)

    @L.T. Rhyme:
    Please stop posting those comments! When I see them I want to break my laptop screen! Aggh!

    @Stan:
    I think “snarky” is mostly used by middle schoolers and teenagers. I’m both, since today is my 13th birthday! :)

    @ErinStatia:
    Yeah, I think “/” can be used to designate fan fiction relationships between any 2 characters that were not in the original book/movie, not just gay relationships (which I hate). Like Harry/Hermione, or Hollyleaf/Mousewhisker (I just made that 2nd one up for example purposes).

    And that’s another meaning for “/”: “or.”

    Does anyone know how to breed horses in Minecraft?

    Reply
  3. Swinebeef -  May 28, 2013 - 10:29 am

    I think: a) there is no need to spell out ‘slash’; b) the alternate uses (apart from #1 and perhaps #4) seem confusing and contrived; and c) if another expression or construct would more clearly state one’s point, it should be used (such as ‘and’ in place of ‘/’).

    Reply
  4. Ron -  May 28, 2013 - 10:15 am

    Uses 2 and 4 are the same as the examples for usage 1. Each provides an alternate way of saying the phrase preceding the slash, simply with different degrees of comedic intent. Usage 2 is just a specific case of usage 4.

    Usage 3, with the meaning “related to that,” seems to be an extension of that usage. The other examples of usage 3 with other meanings seem to be jumble of erroneous examples used by people who don’t really understand how a slash works, as exemplified by the fact that you consider “related to that” and “on another subject” to somehow be the same usage instead of having opposite meanings.

    Also, for the record, I would not rely on any sentence containing “lieutenantess” to provide an example of correct language use.

    Reply
  5. DBbbb -  May 28, 2013 - 9:57 am

    As a trained linguist and college instructor in central Ohio for the past 18 years, I have heard no such established use of “slash” in spoken conversation as you claim in your column. This leads me to wonder whether you are describing a specific regionalism, that has not yet reached other areas of the States, nor of the English-speaking world. I think, in the interest of academic accuracy, a little more investigation into location is warranted!

    Reply
  6. Gabby -  May 27, 2013 - 8:49 pm

    I think they forgot the most important way to use “slash”. Search “slash fanfiction” on Google and prepare to be amazed.

    Reply
  7. Cas -  May 27, 2013 - 1:28 pm

    As a student of linguistics, I found this article highly fascinating/nerdgasmed. I’m absolutely enamored with the creativity and dynamics of vernacular speech. I don’t know if “slash” will ever be mainstream/standard, but if it did, I wonder if it would come to contrast with “and” similarly to how the two Korean verb endings for “and” do. In Korean, “sö” joins two verbs temporally and causally, e.g. “gagee gasö gudurül sassöyo.” “I went to the store and (in so doing) bought shoes.” And “go” means the two verbs took place one after the other, or at the same time, but are unrelated causally, e.g. “gagee gago jibe gassöyo.” “I went to the store and (then afterwards) went home.” Like “sö,” “slash” seems to imply a closer relationship between the words/phrases they join than “and”, but also implies an “or.” It’s a useful distinction, but only time will tell if it’ll stick around.

    Reply
  8. Kelly S. -  May 27, 2013 - 11:51 am

    One commenter cited Hermione/Harry as a “slash” pairing; this is inaccurate. “Slash” in this context refers to homosexual pairings.

    Fanlore has an excellent article on the term, citing Star Trek fanfiction as the likeliest origin of it (Kirk/Spock).

    Reply
  9. Leah -  May 25, 2013 - 2:56 am

    I sometimes, when speaking, say ‘slash’ where the slash should occur. But, i’m not sure if i’ve ever used it in typing, where it makes alot more sense to just type a ‘/’.

    Anyway, the person that wrote “who writes like this? this is ridiculous” made me laugh out loud :)

    Reply
  10. Joefrog -  May 24, 2013 - 2:39 pm

    It is easier to spell out slash when texting than change to the keyboard window to get a / .

    Reply
  11. LoriB -  May 24, 2013 - 10:45 am

    @AndyWomack,

    Based on those two paragraphs alone, I think I love you. No slash required.

    Reply
  12. mike smith -  May 24, 2013 - 9:51 am

    Looks like people are using “slash” just to be cute and attract attention to themselves; this includes the author. Plain English can be simpler and more precise

    Reply
  13. SwagYOungMoneyYoloSwerve -  May 23, 2013 - 6:10 pm

    Who needs punctuation when you have swag punctuation is useless and totally swag-less guiz

    Reply
  14. Hoa -  May 23, 2013 - 4:48 pm

    oh so that’s how it means

    Reply
  15. Rebecca -  May 23, 2013 - 4:00 am

    Is this based on American English?

    Reply
  16. A -  May 23, 2013 - 3:57 am

    Very interesting indeed. I’m not sure why people who aren’t interested in such things are wasting their time reading articles on a thesaurus website and leaving negative comments. How sad.
    I, however, am also a linguist/huge nerd and appreciate all efforts to analyse new patterns in slang.

    Reply
  17. Sylvan -  May 22, 2013 - 9:31 pm

    @ Stan: I think “snark” and “snarky” may have regional differences in frequency of use. Here on the West coast of America, I hear it quite a lot, both written and spoken, by both adults and teens. It means barbed sarcasm that is intended to be funny. It is often used when criticizing someone in print so that the tone comes through clearly, since sarcasm often fails to be understood in print. For example “My daughter got in trouble for being snarky to her teacher” or “Gee, I just read the best article ever about new and totally superfluous uses of punctuation! /snark.” (Also, I see that use of the (/) character more often. It comes from HTML coding, and means “end of emphasis”. I’m surprised that one isn’t mentioned.)

    Reply
  18. Estef -  May 22, 2013 - 7:22 pm

    I thought this article was insightful and relevant slash haters gonna hate on the evolution of the English language.

    Reply
  19. Sophie -  May 22, 2013 - 5:52 pm

    no one says “slash” or snarky. I’m a teen and everyone knows someone is listening, and to sound more mature you DO NOT use stupid slang.

    Reply
  20. Annonymous -  May 22, 2013 - 2:56 pm

    That was great slash weird
    lol

    Reply
  21. babs -  May 22, 2013 - 10:01 am

    @ Stan you generally don’t hear the word snarky in conversation but adults and teens tend to use it

    Reply
  22. Me -  May 22, 2013 - 7:00 am

    Wow! Am I the only one that found that hard to read (slash) stopped half way through because the vernacular was really annoying me?
    That’s just awful; and I’m glad I’ve never encountered that in my interpersonal conversations.

    Reply
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