Is it okay to use slang in your writing?

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Is it okay to use slang in your writing?

In my freshman year of college, my professor told us a story — and gave us a warning — about using slang or “textspeak” in papers. He told us that one of his former students submitted a paper in which he used the term LOL. I was horrified.

However, I came to find out I was one of few who had such an adverse reaction. Most thought it was normal and were surprised they had not heard more stories like this.

So, the question remains: Is it appropriate to use slang or informal language in your content?

It depends on many factors — ones you should consider before you launch your blog or roll out any content.

What is slang?

Before we get into the factors to consider, let’s draw a distinction between slang and informal language.

Informal language is broadly accepted, casual vocabulary. For example, people might use legit instead of legitimate. They might ask, “Is that accountant legit?” instead of, “Is that accountant legitimate?”

Slang, according to Dictionary.com, is “very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language.” The use of the word very strikes me as defining the difference between informal language and slang.

A few examples of words and phrases that I believe cross that threshold from informal to very informal, and therefore slang, include on fleek (on point), lit (intoxicated or exciting), and fam (family). As in:

  • Her eyebrows are on fleek.
  • Tonight’s going to be lit.
  • What’s going on tonight, fam?

How do I decide whether to use slang and informal language in my writing?

Consider what you are writing about, to whom you are writing, and the brand you want to cultivate. Figure out your desired style, the context of your content, and your target audience to get an idea of how formal or informal your writing should be.

Note: Formal does not necessarily mean stuffy and academic. Formal could describe a professional conversation. Perhaps this is a better way to illustrate the scale:

Degrees of writing formality

 

Style and Brand

What image do you want to project? How do you want to define your brand? Are you going for a relaxed, conversational style or a more professional, formal tone?

Are you creating a cooking blog that you want to have a casual vibe? If you are going for relaxed, it will probably push your formal-informal threshold towards the informal side, maybe even slang.

Or are you writing an industry newsletter that needs a professional tone? That’ll push your threshold towards the formal side.

Context

What are you writing about? Why are you using the word or phrase you are planning to use?

Are you a blogging about recipes and talking about how hangry you are as you wait for those chocolate chip cookies to come out of the oven? Slang might be okay.

Are you describing commercial cooking equipment in your newsletter? Professional is probably more appropriate.

Audience

Who is your intended audience? This is a two-pronged question.

First: Who are you targeting? What demographic?

Is your audience industry professionals or 20-somethings learning to cook?

Your audience will determine whether slang and/or informal language fits your content, or if you should write in a more formal tone to give your brand a professional image.

Note: We are using the term slang to mean something different than jargon. If your audience is cooking industry professionals, you might use professional jargon that this group will understand.

Second: Are you targeting a localized or niche audience, or are you aiming for a broad group?

If you want a broad audience, slang isn’t in your best interests. When you use slang, you might be writing to a narrow demographic (e.g., young people) or a particular culture or geographic area. Slang popular in your city might mean something completely different in another city.

Timeliness

Do you want your content to age well or are you a firm believer in YOLO — that you and your content should live in the moment?

Slang doesn’t stick around very long. There’s a chance the slang you use could be on its way out (or already out) by the time you publish your content. (Do people even use on fleek anymore?)

As Grammar Girl pointed out, “Reference books aren’t much help as most guides to contemporary slang are out of date before they’re even printed. And if you use too much slang in your writing, your work will be as out-of-date as those reference books.”

Your Language Threshold

So where do you fall on the formal-informal threshold? Are you stuffy formal? Professional conversational? Informal casual? Slang? Is your threshold “lit” or is it “legit”?

There’s no right or wrong answer. Go over the above to determine what fits you best.

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