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.
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?
Leave a Reply