The word slick has a long history along with strong slang connection. As stated in the Oxford English dictionary, its origin is 900 A.D. in Norwegia. The word slick was then spelled slikja. Originally, a Norwegian may say, “Slikja down that wood.” In the previous example it was used as a verb to be or to make slick. It first appeared in English around the fourteenth century where it meant quick and was spelled slike. It became a common English word around 1555. It was a noun that described a woman’s cosmetic. Around this time the word slick was starting to be tied with such concepts as shiny or flat. Consequently, a woman’s cosmetic could be considered shiny or flat in appearance. Today the word slick has many meanings. The noun is a floating mass of oil as in an oil slick. In the early 1900’s if you owned a slick, in your possession was an expensive magazine. The verb of slick today is a dash or stroke as in painting. The verb of slick is not as commonly used in our culture as the adjective is. Regularly, when people use slick it means smooth or glossy. An antonym to the word slick is rough or dull. These words mean bumpy, course, or dreary. They are different than the word slick in that when they are used to describe the appearance of an object, they are direct opposites, and the characteristics that they stand for are not the same as the characteristics that slick stands for.
The slang definition of slick has a positive and negative meaning. The positive meaning is a clever person. The negative meaning is a person who can also be a cheat or a swindle. This definition of slick has been around since the 1930’s and has had little change since then. The slang term is primarily used in person-to-person informal conversation between two friends or between groups of people who know each other. If the slang of slick appears in writing, it is in notes or informal writings of that sort. When used to describe a person, slick can emphasize how much of a cheat, or how clever that person is. If slick were used to describe yourself in a letter to your boss, it would leave a negative impression of yourself to your boss, and the word slick should be replaced with the more appropriate word clever.
Around the time of the emergence of the slang use of slick, the word meant
quick or glossy. It was said earlier that the slang definition is
used to describe a clever person who could also be a cheat or a swindle.
The first part of the slang definition is the positive use. It could
also be said that a person is quick, and it would essentially mean the
same as saying that they were slick. It is easy to see how the emergence
of the positive slang definition entered into our culture. It was
a combination of the literal meaning, quick, and awareness that quick and
slick were interchanging concepts. The negative slang of slick came
slightly after the positive slang because the connection between the negative
concepts, and what they stood for was harder to see. A cheat or a
swindle, being negative, came from the definition of slick that meant glossy.
A synonym of glossy is smooth. If I were to refer to a person as
being smooth, I would be passing negative judgment on that person.
Another type of negative judgment could be calling a person a cheat or
a swindle. People started to use slick negatively when this connection
The slang definition has stayed the same for about seventy years, and many generations of people use it. Older people might say, “Those telemarketers think that they are slick.” This is also an example of the negative side of the slang word. The same goes for younger generations too. When playing baseball, someone could say, “That catch was slick,” to offer positive encouragement. There are no barriers to the people and generations who find themselves using the slang word slick in everyday conversation. This is due to the consistent history of the slang word and the fact that the literal meaning of slick, and the slang meaning are not very far apart.
It is very unique that the slang definition of a word could stay the same or even stay mildly unchanged for seventy years. Take for instance the word fat. According to Webster’s English dictionary, it meant a person or object that is larger than normal. Today you could hear young people using the word to describe something that they like. It is even spelled differently: phat. Where and why the change took place are simply questions that may never be answered. The barriers between the generations of people are very far apart. Adults never use this slang word; basically teenagers are the only people to use the slang of fat.
I think that the reason the slang definition of slick has stayed the same, and stayed common amongst all generations, is because the literal meaning, and the slang definition are so similar in use. The word fat in the example above is not shared by many generations because the literal meaning of fat and the slang definition of phat are so far apart that it is hard for people of different ages to accept the new meaning. It takes many years for people of all ages to realize that a word has changed and many more years for people to realize how to use it in its new application. The slang use of slick has withheld the test of time, and it will continue to stay the same for many years.
Why should my definition of the slang word slick be omitted into a Standard English dictionary? That makes me think of a question that is even more basic. Why not? There are many words in the dictionary that are not as common and are better defined than slick is. Take for instance the word beater. When I looked it up in Webster’s dictionary, it had a slang definition that is well worded, and it was easy to understand why that word is used. It said that the slang word beater was an old car that is in bad condition. Although I have heard this word before, I think that beater is less popular and less used in normal conversation than the word slick. My definition of the slang word slick, a person who is clever, who could also be a cheat or a swindle, serves to show that this word is common and can easily be used in normal everyday conversation.
The definition for the slang word slick is in the dictionary, but I feel that its definition does not fully explain how to use slick or even why you may want to use slick. The definition in Webster’s dictionary of the slang word slick is a smart efficient person. The first part of my definition is covered in the dictionary; however, the dictionary fails to acknowledge that the second part of my definition even exists. I feel that slick can be used positively and negatively. The dictionary just states that slick is used positively. They assume that you can figure out for yourself that slick can be used both ways. But it is not very obvious that slick has dual purposes, and it may be hard to make that connection with the provided definition. Let us assume a person read the dictionary, and that person determined that the slang definition of slick is a smart efficient person. He/she will be left with the notion that slick only has one positive use; they will never find out about the negative meaning, a cheat or a swindle, unless my definition is read. My definition is very straightforward and easy to understand. I don’t try to fool the reader of my definition with confusing forms of the word or add any uninformative words. It is the simplest definition that acknowledges both positive and negative forms of the slang word slick.
Most slang words are used to enlighten a conversation or to make a conversation more relaxing or less formal. They may also be used when talking amongst peers. Most people are unaware of all the slang that they actually use in common conversation. Slang use is so frequent that it is hard not to recognize it as a major part of the English language. Some parts of the English language change frequently; slang happens to be the most frequent change in our language. If you look back fifty or even sixty years to how the people talked, you may not understand everything you hear due to the rapid change in slang. Many words heard years ago like groovy or swell have made drastic changes. It could be said that the words like groovy or swell have become extinct. Extinction of slang words is caused when people, who over a long period of time, begin to use a particular slang word less, and more importantly, expect to hear the word in use less during conversation. By expecting to hear the word less, people begin to ignore its slang connection, and it becomes extinct. The old definition of the words groovy or swell had not changed. What changed was society as a whole simply acknowledged that the definition is out-of-date. The old definitions are still in a dictionary, but they don’t need to be updated because everyone knows of their change. But everyone doesn’t know of the change in the slang word slick. Years ago the old definition, a smart efficient person, was added to the dictionary when it became popular. When the negative slang use of slick, a cheat or a swindle, became popular it was not added to the dictionary. Why has the slang definition of slick not been updated to show that it is used both positively and negatively? Most likely society did not consider this a major change in the definition. It was merely an addition to an already well-established word, and a change was not necessary. They considered this update common knowledge. I feel that this is not common knowledge. A lot of people think of slick as just being positive. It took time for people to begin connecting slick with a negative concept, and it should not take time for the definition to be updated. The definition has not been changed to show both concepts of the word slick, and I feel that my definition best shows both cases of the slang word slick while keeping the original definition in mind.
If my slang definition of slick is not put into a Standard English dictionary, the world will not end, but it might have a couple of miscommunications when communicating. Imagine talking to someone about your friend that is slick. You might be talking about him as being clever which is the positive definition. The person you are talking to might be thinking that your friend is a cheat or a swindle, the newer, negative definition. This potentially trouble causing situation could be simply avoided by adding my dual meaning definition into the dictionary, so people could be informed of slicks change. The dictionary is a good way to attract helpful attention to the new definition. It is a recognized source; consequently, it would bring more rapid exposure to the new definition than other ways of exposure, like word of mouth.
Society is to determine whether slick should be added into a Standard English dictionary, or if nothing should be done. Whether they consider the current slang definition of slick a problem or not is up to society also. Whether they realize that there is a positive and a negative use of the slang word slick is hard to tell. People have different vocabularies and come from different backgrounds. The group of people a person associates with could have an effect on what slang words he/she is familiar with. If everyone knows of the negative use, then you don’t need to add my definition into a dictionary. These are some factors that could cause my definition to be considered or even cause it to be thrown out. The facts are as follows. The slang use of slick has a consistent and slow changing history. It will be around for years to come. I know that it would be beneficial to have my complete dual concepts definition of the slang word slick in writing, so there are no misunderstandings.