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How Texting Is Changing English

Think texting is all about making things shorter? Think again! Texters have created a new English conjunction—”slash”—and they spell it out instead of using the punctuation mark.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #366

How Texting Is Changing English

A couple of weeks ago, Anne Curzan, an English professor at the University of Michigan, wrote an article about her English students this term who report using the word “slash” in a completely new way—as a conjunction.

Here’s an example from one of Curzan’s students:

finishing them right now. slash if i don’t finish them now they’ll be done in first hour tomorrow

Although I hadn’t heard this use before, it’s not entirely new. Curzan reports that one of her students had examples from 2010, and a Language Log post from 2010 discussed this new use. A comment on that post (also written in 2010) by Jeremy Merrill gives this example (and others):

Objectivity is stupid. slash there's no such thing

.

A commenter named David provided an example in 2010 of “slash” being used to coordinate two clauses in Swedish. He translated it as

Instead concentrate on pretty jewelry, the finest pieces are of course the ones I've made (slash I've made the ugliest ones since I don't like to follow fashion too much and make odd things which only I find pretty and no one else, but please buy them anyway)

More recently, in a TED talk that was posted online about the same time Curzan’s article appeared, John McWhorter talked about using “slash” as a way of changing the subject. Here’s his example:

Sally: So I need to find people to chill with
Jake: Haha so you’re going by yourself, Why?
Sally: For this summer program at NYU
Jake. Haha. Slash I’m watching this video with suns players trying to shoot with one eye.

Watch the video of McWhorter talking about texting.

This is an interesting development because, although English often gets new verbs and nouns, it’s rare for English to get a new conjunction or a new conjunctive adverb.

It seems that the exact meaning is still developing. In the examples I’ve seen, it can mean something like “and,” or “however,” or “oh, and by the way,” or “on another note.” If people keep using “slash” and it doesn’t just fade away, it’ll be interesting to see whether one of these meanings wins or whether “slash” keeps all the different meanings.

Next: Rare but Real Examples of "Slash" as an Adverb

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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