Should slang have a place in your copy?

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Well blimey, that’s a blinding question to answer. A rising trend in business copy, let’s take a look at what slang is and the benefits it might offer your copy - when incorporated in the right way.

What is slang?

It’s nothing new. In fact, it’s centuries old. Slang is the definition given to non-standard language, often used amongst certain social groups. That might be a handful of people or many million.

Slang is more commonly associated with the spoken language, not the written word. But these days, you’ll spot examples in many pieces of commercial copy.

What’s considered cutting edge slang today, will often become mainstream in the future. It’s a constantly evolving process and the definition can be quite subjective. You might not realise that words like cuppa, dodgy and skive would be defined as slang by many. Albeit, they’re more established phrases for many of us nowadays.

Why is slang used?

Good question! You’d think the English language would have plenty of words to express every possible remark or emotion. But knowledge and use of slang can be considered “cool”. It associates you with a particular group of like-minded people.

You’ll always find that teenagers create slang phrases to separate themselves from their “uncool” parents. And us parents can often be left wondering what on earth they’re on about!

As a set of slang words become more widely adopted in daily language, the original creators stop using them and move onto another collection of non-standard words. It’s a gradual process, but a constant one all the same.

Is slang bad grammar?

No, not at all. You probably didn’t learn it in your school English lessons, but that doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, more established slang words sit proudly in the Cambridge Dictionary today:

Cuppa: [noun] UK. A cup of tea.
Skive: [verb] UK. To be absent from work or school without permission.
Miffed: [adjective] UK. To be annoyed at someone’s behaviour towards you.

It’s amusing to think that words considered as mainstream English, were originally slang!

Take OK, for example.

Did you know that it originates from the mid-19th century? It dates back to USA President Van Buren’s re-election campaign in 1840. His nickname was Old Kinderhook and it’s thought that this provided the initials. He also used the humorous slogan orl correct instead of all correct. I know, but they thought it was amusing at the time.

A simpler example, Granny is slang for Grandmother!

Can you use slang in commercial copy?

Hell, yeah! Absolutely. If it works for you.

And that’s the point. Whether to use slang words or not depends on the culture and style of your business and your target audience.

*Yawn* she always bangs on about target audience…

By writing in a way that your audience resonates with (using their words, for example), you can more readily associate with that social group. It’s why I always dig into any customer feedback my clients have access to.

Us copywriters are great at saying “write as you speak”. In most instances, this is great advice.

Think about how you might have a conversation with a customer when face to face. Would you be all formal and dry, or would you inject some personality into your explanations? Simplify them with easier language perhaps? I’d suggest that 90% of the time, you’d unknowingly use at least one slang word in your conversation.

And that’s a great guide for your copy. If you’d say it verbally, perhaps you should be happy to write it too. Why does your copy have to be different?

Unless you particularly want to project a formal and serious tone (and I appreciate that some businesses do, and should), you’re probably going to have room for a little bit of slang.

Slang can create personality and character

Many businesses are starting to use slang and more informal language as a USP. It can work well. For example, I always like the language MailChimp uses on its website.

Slang can break down barriers and project warmth.

Slang can add expression and emotion.

Slang can make copy far more engaging for your reader.

I know I’ll be pushing the boat out for some but think about how you might incorporate a smattering of these lovely words into your copy. They’re all slang really:

Malarkey   Newbie   Hassle
Hullabaloo   Yup Aha!
Phew! Yippee! Argy-bargy
Dodgy Dog-eared   Natter
Faff Porkies Blinding
Botch Chin wag Pear-shaped
Piece of cake   Sod’s law Flog

Don’t over-do it

You’ll have gathered I’m a fan of incorporating slang into commercial copy. But too much is a big no-no. Don’t be corny. Sprinkle rather than spread. Consider slang as an accent colour, not the main event. And always consider how your target audience will receive it.

If you’re not sure, ask some friendly customers to give you feedback on some of your draft copy.

Never compromise a clear message

Your priority is always your message. Its clarity and its resonation with your target audience (them again). Never take your eye off that important ball. Creativity and informal expression can enhance a message in particular circumstances. But don’t let it muddy the waters and present an overdone muddle.

How slang savvy are you?

Just for fun.

Today’s younger generation are busy creating the mainstream slang of the future. Whether it sticks or slides is yet to be seen. Are you up on the terminology? Here’s a brief list to get you started:

LOL: abbreviation for laugh out loud.
TBH: abbreviation for to be honest.
The tea: spill the tea is the same as spill the beans (please give me all the details).
Basic: a description of someone who is predictable or mainstream.
Jelly: short for jealous.
Fierce: a description for someone who looks powerful or beautiful.
Wild: shocking or weird.
All the feels: having lots of strong emotion about something.
On fleek: describing something that looks perfect.

Got copy that needs some work? Or blank pages to fill? Let me help you. With or without some slang, I’ll get your message on point and beef up your communication.

Please get in touch.