Slang, Jargon, Idiom, and Proverb Explained for English Learners

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Slang, jargon, idioms, and proverbs. What do they mean? Here's a short overview for English learners that explains and gives examples of each type of expression.


Slang is used by relatively small groups of people in informal situations. As it is used by limited groups of people, slang also tends to be confused with dialect. However, slang can be referred to as words, phrases or expressions used within a language, in this case, English. Also, slang is used by some to indicate words, phrases or expressions used by various ethnic or class groups. It should not be used in written work unless that work includes quotes that contain slang. This category of vocabulary changes rather quickly and expressions that are "in" one year, may be "out" the next. 

Slang Examples

emo - very emotional.

Don't be so emo. Your boyfriend will be back next week.

frenemy - someone you think is your friend, but you know is really your enemy.

Has your frenemy got you worried?

groovy - very nice in a mellow sort of way (this is old slang from the 60s).

Groovy, man. Feel the good vibrations.

(Note: slang goes out of fashion quickly, so these examples might not be current.)


Jargon could be explained as slang for business or enthusiasts. Jargon can be defined as words, phrases, or expressions that mean something specific in a particular profession. For example, there is a lot of jargon associated with the internet. It can also refer to specific words used in a sport, hobby or other activity. Jargon is known and used by those who are on the "inside" of a business or of some activity. 

Jargon Examples

cookies - used by programmers to track information on a user's computer that has accessed the internet.

We set a cookie when you first access our site.

birdie - used by golfers to state that the golf ball was put into the hole with one less golf stroke than expected on a hole.

Tim got two birdies on the back nine at the golf course.

chest voice - used by singers to indicate a style of singing that has chest resonance.

Don't push so hard with your chest voice. You'll hurt your voice!


Idioms are words, phrases, or expressions that do not literally mean what they express. In other words, if you were to translate an idiom word for word in your own language, it most likely would not make any sense at all. Idioms are different than slang as they are used and understood by almost everyone. Slang and jargon are understood and used by a smaller group of people. There is a wide variety of idiom sources on this site for English learners. 

Idioms Examples

rain cats and dogs - rain very heavily.

It's raining cats and dogs tonight.

pick a language up - learn a language by living in a country.

Kevin picked up a little Italian when he lived in Rome.

break a leg - do well at a performance or presentation.

Break a leg on your presentation John.


Proverbs are short sentences known by quite a large part of any language speaking population. They tend to be old, give advice, and be very insightful. Many proverbs are taken from literature, or from other very old sources. However, they are used so often that the speaker does not realize who originally said or wrote the proverb.

Example Proverbs

The early bird gets the worm - start working early and you will be successful.

I get up at five and do two hours of work before I go to the office. The early bird gets the worm!

When in Rome, do as the Romans - when you are in a foreign culture, you should act like the people in that culture.

I'm wearing shorts to work here in Bermuda! When in Rome, do as the Romans.

You can't always get what you want - This proverb means what it says, you can't always get what you want. The Rolling Stones knew how to put that to music!

Stop complaining. You can't always get what you want. Learn to live with that truth!

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Slang, Jargon, Idiom, and Proverb Explained for English Learners." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Slang, Jargon, Idiom, and Proverb Explained for English Learners. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "Slang, Jargon, Idiom, and Proverb Explained for English Learners." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).