Conniption. Jamboree. Flunk. Pub. Wallop. Awfully, in the sense of “very.” Bogus, in the sense of “fake.” Today they’re English, but if you’d used them a century ago, you’d have found educated people looking down their noses at you.
These words haven’t significantly changed their meanings since 1914, when they were clearly marked as “slang” in the wonderful Century Dictionary. We’ve just changed how we feel about them. Long use has rubbed off their rough edges and made them fit for polite company. Likewise, kibosh
, and lambaste
have all moved one step up the ladder from slang and are now considered merely “informal” by most dictionaries — as is shellacked
, whose recent use by President Obama
may add a bit to its gravitas.
Slang words aren’t the only ones that clean up their acts and join the ranks of the upright citizens of the dictionary. Arcane science terms also settle down into mundane boring lives. There was a time when calorie was a laboratory term, not a word printed on the wrapper of everything in the grocery store. And then there are terms like acid test and fallout, where the original technical meanings have been largely overshadowed by their figurative uses.