When it comes to writing copy, there’s one question that a number of people have asked me: “Is it okay to use slang?”Using slang in your copy might be fun, but it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid it most of the time. Click To Tweet
Slang is a form of language that’s not considered to be formal English. It’s comprised of a group of phrases or words, that are very informal. Slang is more common in speech than in writing, and is often used in a particular context — whether it be cultural, or generational.
Don’t confuse slang with jargon. Jargon, also known as ‘industry-speak’ is language that relates to specific professions. Usually, these terms are well-known, and used within an industry, yet not really used anywhere else. Examples include legal jargon, computer programming jargon, or medial jargon.
Slang can be fun, especially Australian slang. Have you ever asked someone unfamiliar with our colonial colloquialisms to ‘pass the dead horse so you can put some on your snag’, and delighted in the confused look on their face?
Yes, slang can be amusing — in the right context. However, using it in formal business copy, blogs or web copy can be problematic.Using slang in your professional communications can at best, cause confusion, and at worst offend people. Click To Tweet
The problems with slang
Using slang in your communications can pose several problems.
It can be confusing
We’ve all heard words or phrases in conversations and not understood what they mean. If you’ve got teenage children you’ve probably jumped on Google many times to decipher their language. And that’s the problem right there. Good copy should be clear and easy to understand. Your reader shouldn’t need Google to help them decipher it.
You run the risk of offending people
Slang words can mean different things in different localities. What might be accepted in one culture, may have a totally different meaning in another. For example, the word ‘fanny’ can mean ‘wasting time’. In the United States, the word refers to ‘a person’s buttocks’. However, in Australia and Great Britain, it is used to refer to ‘a woman’s genitals’. See how easily you could offend someone?!
Slang dates your copy
You only have to think back to the 60s when everything was ‘groovy’ to see how words date. Words such as ‘cool’, ‘rad’, ‘wicked’ — all which had similar meanings to ‘groovy’, simply aren’t used anymore. I’m sure if you came across a company that described their service as ‘groovy’ or ‘rad’, you’d run a mile, thinking they were stuck in some kind of time warp.
It’s not professional
Finally, using slang isn’t professional. Would you use slang in a job interview? Probably not. First impressions count, more than you realise. Whether it’s fair or not, potential customers judge you and your business based on how professional your communications are. Copy that is filled with slang, or even uses the odd slang word here and there, may show you in a less than professional light.
Times you can use slang
Of course, there is always an exception to a rule, and that includes using slang.
If your copy or business needs to ‘speak’ to a certain group of people (e.g. young people), then there may be a case to use the odd slang word. However, you should use caution.
- only use words that are not going to cause offence
- use words that are generally well-known to the particular group you’re targeting
- use slang words sparingly.
Generally, it’s best to stick to ‘real words’ that avoid confusion and offence. Think of your end-reader and how you want them to respond to you. What do you want them to take away from your message? How do you want them to think of you, and your business?
Overall, treat your readers with respect, and ensure you retain credibility as a writer. Keep your message clear, simple and straight to the point, and your readers are more likely to respond in the way you want them to.
If you need help writing clear and simple copy, why not contact me.