American Slang and Idioms


Brief History of American Slang

The pioneers in the new world taught their children to pronounce words the way they were written, in order to keep things simple. This was a departure from the way the British spoke. As the nation grew, it's language was shaped by a variety of influences:

  • Native Indian cultures
  • The expansion of the western frontier
  • African-American culture
  • Immigration
  • Sports and entertainment
  • Urban culture

If you are unsure about a word, why not ask?
Most Americans will understand if you don't immediately understand their slang and idioms. The best way to comprehend new terms is simply to ask. Your questions will most like seem interesting and entertaining. You will be making friends as you learn colorful words and phrases. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common American slang you might encounter at the university. These words are not bad words or swear words - they are common American slang words that are acceptable in any conversation for ESL students.

American Slang A to Z:


  • A all-nighter: I almost fell asleep during the test after an all-nighter. (after studying all night)
  • B barf: He barfed all over his dorm room. (vomited)
  • C couch potato: He is a couch potato. (lazy person)
  • D damage: Let's look at the bill and find out the damage. (cost)
  • E eating: That issue is really eating at me. (bothering me)
  • F freebie: The pen and pencil set is a freebie. (free)
  • G grub: Where can I get some grub? (food)
  • H hang tough: You need to hang tough on that decision. (be determined)
  • I I.D.: If you want to get into the game, you have to show your I.D. (identification card)


  • J jock: He's a quite a jock. (good athlete)
  • K knock: Don't knock it unless you've tried it. (criticize)
  • L lame: He's really lame. (incompetent)
  • M Make waves: Don't make waves if you don't have to. (cause problems)
  • N nuke: I nuked the popcorn. (cook something in the microwave; destroy; or nuclear weapon)
  • O OK: Dave is an OK person. (decent)
  • P pig out: Joan is famous for pigging out on chocolate ice cream. (eat too much)
  • Q quick buck: I need to make a quick buck. (some easy money)


  • R road hog: That guy in that lane is a real road hog. (takes up too much of the road)
  • S scam: Don't lose your money in some kind of scam. (swindle)
  • T totaled: Her car was totaled in that wreck. (completely destroyed)
  • U up: He's been constantly up since he met his new girlfriend (in a good mood)
  • V vibes: She's giving off really good vibes. (feelings)
  • W wasted: He's totally wasted. (high on drugs or alcohol)
  • X (you fill this one in when you find it)
  • Y yukky: This hot dog is yukky. (bad)
  • Z zip: He knows zip about what he's saying. (nothing)

Don't be embarrassed!
Most Americans are impressed that you know more than one language. The thought of coming to your native country and taking classes at a university is overwhelming to most. They will enjoy helping you learn the language and will find your questions with slang and idioms quite interesting.

For more study
There are excellent resources on the web to help ESL students with English and practice with slang and idioms: