Many seniors sitting at home are afraid to pick up a pen and put their thoughts on paper because they aren't sure how much slang they should use in their writings. The question comes up often in writing groups, so we thought we would put together this article on the subject, because the answer isn't simple. It really depends on what kind of writing you are doing and what sort of style and voice you are going for with your writing.
What is the definition of slang?
With some types of writing, such as academic papers, slang is very much frowned upon. This goes not just for scientific studies but also for genealogy work, cook books, and many other types of nonfiction. Therefore if you're doing a history of the framed prints that were stolen by the Nazis and eventually returned to a museum, you should avoid slang entirely if you want to have a chance at professional publication.
With fiction, pretty much anything goes, but that doesn't mean anything goes within the context of your story. The kind of slang you use and the frequency of its occurrence change the voices of the narrator and the characters in your story, revealing their personalities, age, and social class. People who work in retail, for example, would use more slang than university professors or the independently wealthy. Irreverent people use more slang than serious people, and young people are the biggest users of slang.
In addition to revealing personality, your use of slang within a story dates the characters and even the stories itself. If you referred to something in the narration as "the cat's pajamas," for example, readers would immediately assume the story was written in the 1950s or that the author was a senior with a dated vocabulary. You can use these assumptions to your advantage by referring to the character's home as a "pad" to set the scene. Readers will be familiar with the slang terminology from reading real estate listings about bachelor 'pads' on popular websites.
So how can you use slang that you don't already know? It's easy. All you have to do is a little research. Watch old television programs made during the time period you're researching. Rent movies, read old magazines and back issues of the newspaper, listen to old radio programs, and check the internet for slang dictionaries complied by other writers. You can even research current slang if you want.