Slang is Beautiful, But Not Always Understood in Writing

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

I love to use specific language (or slang, if you will) when I’m writing. All of my writing starts on the streets of New York City, and I try to immerse my readers in what it’s like to be there. I write about the smells, the sounds, and the sights. To bring life to my characters, I toy with the way they speak. You may never have heard someone speak this way, but I have, and I think it adds a beautiful layer of characterization to the fictional people that I write about.

Borrowed from:
Borrowed from:

My favorite way to add flavor to the way people speak is to use slang. The slang I use in my writing is culturally and regionally specific, and sometimes my readers and editors don’t know what I’m talking about (I’m working on that, I promise). The most memorable example I can think of, was when my editor for Somewhat Close To Normal queried me about the phrase “poom poom shorts.” Apparently, Google was not helpful to her in that respect. I can’t remember if I ended up changing it or not in the final version of the novel (I think I did, I probably changed it to “booty shorts”) but I feel like I shouldn’t have to change my specific language. In New York City, everyone knows what poom poom shorts are (they are similar to daisy dukes, a pop culture term that I became aware of only a few short years ago), but outside of NYC, many people didn’t know what I meant. It’s kind of like when I gave my kid a pacifier and everyone around me (from the West Coast) called it a “binky,” which was something I had never heard of before. Apparently in most of America, a pacifier is a called a “binky” (in Jamaica, it’s called a soother).

In many ways, specific language can be seen as divisive, but I believe that it acknowledges the beauty and richness in regional and cultural differences. We’re not all the same, and that’s what makes this world so interesting. No matter where I live, New York City will always be my home, and I want to share it’s vibrancy with whoever reads my work.

Do you use specific language (or slang) in your writing? Do you think it helps you connect with your readers?

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