words that shouldn't be?
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Slayer Lexicon
Explore totally pointy  profiles, and other words, all-Buffy

The Power Of Slang
Slang is everywhere - and youth slang, in particular, exerts enormous power

Slang & Sociability
Explore campus trends in colorful, casual language

Born In The USA
American slang has become global

Additional Resources
Sez Who? Index

Sez Who?

Slayer Slang

Buffy & Co. Changed How
Teens Talk. A Lot.

Television heroine Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, has been an unlikely source of language change. In his book, Slayer Slang, A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon, Michael Adams tells how this unconventional teen challenged linguistic taboos and introduced new words and phrases in nearly every show.

Slayer, witch, werewolf, vampire, commando, contractor, vengeance demon, supernatural force incarnate – in other words, they are all average kids, in average relationships, battling the forces of adolescent evil, personified, in Sunnydale at least, by vampires, demons, and monsters. They are also particularly adept speakers of American English, especially of slang. After her self-sacrifice, Buffy is buried under a headstone that reads “She Saved the World. A Lot.” What does it mean for American English that the world’s protector, its thoroughly contemporary American savior, is a rapid-fire quipster, a hip teen who knows the language of her place and time, but who, by virtue of her role as Slayer, however hesitantly accepted, is necessarily an unacknowledged hero, an essentially normal person whose destiny casts her out of the mainstream, whose status paradoxically erases her status in the conventional world? Buffy needs slang, as a means of shrugging off millennial expectations, as a weapon, and as an expression of personality officially denied her by her role: in a sense, she IS slang, as are those who associate with her.

Slayer slang may be here to stay, not only as slang, but as standard American English

Buffy has introduced new slang terms and phrases in nearly every episode, many of them formed in the usual ways, some of them at the crest of new formative tendencies. The show incorporates familiar slang, too; the familiar and newly coined slayer slang together compose a particularly vivid snapshot of current American teen slang. Undoubtedly, most slayer slang will prove ephemeral, not that there’s anything wrong with that; indeed, short-lived terms and tendencies are often significant in their time and can influence the course of American English, though once they disappear, we may not see the connections between them and what follows them. Some items of slayer slang, however, steadily intrude on everyday speech and may be here to stay, not only as slang, but as standard American English.

Does anyone feel like we’ve been Keyser Sozed ?

Besides contributing items to the slang lexicon, slayer slang intensifies current formative practices in slang: it glories in them, certainly, but it also constitutes, by exaggerating them, a critique of those practices. For instance, the writers acknowledge that slang increasingly trades on references to popular culture by shifting proper names into other parts of speech, both verbs and adjectives. Thus Xander asks in Puppet Show (5 May 1997), “Does anyone feel like we’ve been Keyser Sozed?” after the character in The Usual Suspects when he means ‘tricked, manipulated’. Afraid that Halloween will get out of hand, Xander remarks in Halloween (27 October 1997), “Halloween quiet? I figured it would have been a big ole vamp Scareapolooza,” from the alternative rock festival Lollapalooza; similarly he argues in The Wish (8 December 1998), “Look, you wanna do Guiltapalooza, fine, but I’m done with that.”

On much:

When we say sentences like Walk much? we shorten Do you walk much?; Do you is understood by both speaker and auditor. At first glance, Whedon’s sentences seem well-behaved, but they aren’t really: Do you excuse much is not what he has in mind in Excuse much; if anything is understood, it must be a pronoun, yet it isn’t the me we usually assume, but you, as in the very colloquial declaration Excuse you! And what is the result?  Excuse (you) much, which makes a lot less immediate sense than Walk much?, not least because the question is “…rude or anything?” rather than the phrase involving much.

When we hear a word or sentence pattern, it undergoes scrutiny, whether we’re conscious of it or not: we judge its acceptability according to a certain set of standards; the standards vary according to the vocabulary against which the newer item is measured. In the case of much, collocations with verbs in brief questions have long been acceptable in colloquial English; collocations with adjectives have not. At first, those saying or listening to ADJECTIVE + much constructions approved of them as slang because such sentences do not pass our acceptability judgments: in other words, acceptability as slang depends on a certain degree of unacceptability with regard to a standard. After a while, though, ADJECTIVE + much had been repeated often enough that it lost at least some of its original unacceptability. Without offense to the perpetually hip Gary Trudeau, when sentences like “Off message much?” appeared in Doonesbury (7 October 1999), the once rebellious much had begun to conform, to enter the consciousness, perhaps even the verbal repertoire, of the statusful. And it doesn’t help the street cred of ADJECTIVE + much that NOUN + much is clearly so much more effectively rebellious against traditional English grammar and conventional meanings of much, of course, but also against the increasingly acceptable ADJECTIVE + much; comparatively, after those more radical collocations began to appear, Pathetic much? just doesn’t seem so tough. Even NOUN + much faces gradual acceptability: Stephanie Manzella doesn’t seem to have missed a beat when asking her boyfriend, Tim Redding, who was having trouble parking, “Curb much?” While NOUN + much consigns ADJECTIVE + much to acceptability, frequent repetition of both ADJECTIVE and NOUN + much gradually may push the latter into colloquial English usage as well.

Slang is a type of linguistic jaywalking

Slang is a type of linguistic jaywalking: you can stand at the crosswalk and wait for the light to change, but that would be boring, as well as slow, so we’d rather not. Adverbial much jaywalks when it modifies adjectives; when it modifies nouns, it’s about as extreme as language gets.

Excerpt reprinted from Slayer Slang, A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon  by Michael Adams. Copyright © 2003 Oxford University Press.

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

  • Adams, Michael. Slayer Slang, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Dalzell,Tom. Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang. Springfield, Md: Merriam-Webster Inc.,1996.
  • Eble, Connie C. Slang & Sociability: In-group Languages among College Students. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Michael Adams teaches at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon (Oxford University Press, 2003) and co-author of How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction to the English Language (Longman, 2005). From 2000 to 2005, he was editor of Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America. In 2006, he will become editor of American Speech.

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