Essential American Slang: 12 Words and Expressions You Need to Know
American slang is everywhere English is spoken – that’s what happens when one country’s cultural reach is so impressive. From Hollywood films to hit TV series, from popular music artists to advertising, American culture is everywhere, and those words which were once unique to Americans, and even certain demographics in the country, are now known around the world.
If you want to speak a fluent, natural English, then American slang needs to become part of your vocabulary.
Here are 12 expressions that you need to know:
1) What’s up?
Meaning: Hello / Hi / How are you?
You’ve heard of the popular smartphone application, WhatsApp, right? Well its name is no accident. It’s a play on words of this popular American greeting which is particularly suitable in informal situations.
“Hey John, what’s up?”
Note: In UK English, ‘what’s up?’ can also mean ‘what’s wrong?’, but most young British people will appreciate the difference. It might lead to confusion with some older people, however. Also note that this is a very informal greeting.
2) My bad
Meaning: My mistake
Sometimes we have to admit our own mistakes, and in American slang there is a short expression you can use to do this. ‘My bad’. It’s informal, it’s definitely a younger person’s thing to say, and it’s probably not what you’d say to your boss.
“Jane, did you forget to invite Casey to the party?”
“My bad. I’ll call her now.”
Americans love things to be ‘awesome’, which obviously means that something is really really good. It works in all manner of different situations too.
“Hi Dave, how do you like my new jacket.”
“It’s awesome. Where did you get it?”
Note: In the UK, and other English-speaking countries, not only is this slang word not used nearly as often, but it can also be considered to be a bit too enthusiastic. British people would prefer ‘nice’ as a way of being a little more understated about something.
4) Cool / not cool
Meaning: Good, I’m happy, fashionable
Chances are you’ve heard this slang word a million times. Not only does it mean that something is good, but in a slightly different context it can mean fashionable, which was the original meaning of the slang word.
Example: “Hi Sandy, everything is organized for the party on Friday.”
“Cool. What time does it start?”
or “They’ve got some really cool clothes in that new store.”
“Yeah, it’s a bit expensive, though!”
Note: Of course, the original meaning of ‘cool’ in English is connected to temperature (slightly more than cold). In traditional English, it can also mean someone who is relaxed (the opposite of someone who panics), or even slightly unfriendly (the opposite of warm).
Tip: The Linguix extension for Chrome or Mozilla can be used to identify the meanings of countless words and expressions, even informal slang words such as those found here. Simply hold down Alt and double-click, and all definitions and synonyms will be presented to you.
5) To be cool with something
Meaning: To accept something / to be okay with it
If you are cool with something, then you are happy enough with it – you accept it. It could be used to ask if someone would be comfortable with a situation too.
“We are meeting at 7 on Friday.”
“I’m cool with that.”
“Would you be cool with looking after Rusty on Tuesday?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Note: You can also state that you are ‘not cool with something’, meaning that you do not accept it, and are not comfortable.
6) To hang out
Meaning: to spend time with people informally
If you enjoy spending time with friends, doing nothing in particular, then this is hanging out. It’s a favorite pastime of teenagers, but works whatever your age.
“What did you do at the weekend?”
“Not much, just hung out with the family.”
Meaning: Someone who has done something stupid, someone not cool
Calling someone a ‘loser’ is definitely not a nice thing, especially if it becomes a term to define a particular group of people in a high school or workplace. However, anyone can be a ‘loser’ for something stupid that they do. Please note that this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a competition in which someone wins. It could just mean that the person is not very successful, or made a poor choice.
“Did you hear Jason broke up with Jennifer again.”
“I know, he’s such a loser. She should forget him and find someone better.”
8) You bet!
Meaning: Yes, you are right, correct.
This expression has nothing to do with gambling (where the word ‘bet’ originated) but is instead just a nice informal means of agreeing or confirming that what someone has said is true.
“Have you been on holiday? You look well.”
“You bet! We were in Florida for a week.”
Note: This particular expression doesn’t travel much outside of the United States, but like nearly all American slang words or expressions, will be understood by all native English speakers everywhere in the world.
Meaning: Very attractive
This one is a favorite of teen TV shows, although probably doesn’t sit too well in the modern world of political correctness. However, it can be used for men and women, so stands up for equality.
“Have you seen the new guy in Science class?”
“Yeah, he’s hot. What’s his name?”
10) To suck
Meaning: In traditional English, this is a verb which would describe how you use a straw to drink something. However, in American slang terms, it is synonymous with something being of poor quality, or a situation being unfortunate.
“I can’t go to the party on Friday as I have to study.”
“That sucks. Can’t you come for a little while?”
“Do you still follow the Bears?”
“Nah, they suck. I like the Steelers now.”
11) Shotgun / to ride shotgun
Meaning: To sit in the front passenger seat of a car, to claim the front passenger seat
The origins of this expression are interesting. When stagecoaches used to cross the American west in the nineteenth century, it was a dangerous business. So alongside the driver was the person armed with the shotgun, who was there for security purposes. The expression has survived till modern times.
“Ah! You always get to ride in the front, can’t I have a go?”
“You were too slow, you should have called it.”
“I can’t drive but I like riding shotgun with my friends.”
“Me too. That way you can control the music!”
This one works in a number of countries which use dollars as the currency (Australia, for example). A dollar = a buck, and so on.
“How much do I owe you for the pizza?”
Note: In Britain, ‘quid’ is used in the same way to represent pounds. However, unlike bucks, quid always remains without the ‘s’, so a quid (one pound) or two quid (two pounds).
Tip: Download the Linguix tool today to get all the definitions you need, even if that word is a slang term or expression and has multiple meanings.