Lingo - Definition and Examples

Western Shootout
Using the wrong cowboy lingo could get you shot.

Ed Vebell / Getty Images

  1. An informal term for the special vocabulary of a particular group or field: jargon.
  2. Language or speech that is perceived as strange or unintelligible. Plural: lingoes.


From the Latin lingua  , "tongue"

Examples and Observations

Cowboy Lingo

"The various buildings on the ranch had their various slang names. The main house, or house of the owner, was known as the 'white house' (its usual color, if painted), the 'Big House,' 'Bull's Mansh,' or 'headquarters.' The 'bunkhouse' was equally well known as the 'dog-house,' 'dice-house,' 'dump,' 'shack,' or 'dive,' while the 'cook-shack,' if it was a separate building, was spoken of as the 'mess-house,' 'grub-house,' 'feed-trough,' 'feed-bag,' 'nose-bag,' or 'swallow-an'-git-out trough.'"  (Ramon Frederick Adams, Cowboy Lingo. Houghton, 2000)

Australian Lingoes

"To speak the lingo is to become a member of a group that shares a sense of itself and expresses that sense in its own language. In the sense of the Great Australian Lingo that group consists of all its speakers--most Australians, in fact. There are also many other lingoes, past and present, that are and have been spoken in Australia by different groups, or speech communities as they are called. . . .

"What does the term TALK RIVER mean, for example? You almost certainly will not know unless you worked in or were close to the Murray River boat trade. In that speech community, it means to talk about matters relating to the river, its people and its business. Unless you are involved with the welding trade you would be unlikely to know that STICK and TIC refer to different forms of welding--STICK is with flame heat and TIC with an electric arc. Nor would you know what a KROMER CAP is."​ (Graham Seal, The Lingo: Listening to Australian English. UNSW Press, 1999)

Hospital Lingo

"Like any specialized jargon, the shoptalk used by residents not only conveys facts but provides a running commentary on the absurdities of hospital life...

"A sampling of current resident-speak follows, drawn from the wards of a busy teaching hospital.

"Banana bag: an intravenous solution containing a liquid multivitamin that colors the fluid a bright yellow, used in undernourished or alcoholic patients.

"Doc-in-the-box: an urgent-care walk-in clinic. 'He's moonlighting at a doc-in-the-box downtown.'

"Gomer: shorthand for 'Get out of my emergency room.' Any undesirable patient, usually one that is unkempt, demented, combative or any combination of the above...

"Tail-light sign: when a patient (usually elderly) is dropped off at an emergency room by relatives who drive away before an evaluation is complete, forcing the patient to be admitted to the hospital whether or not his medical condition requires it.

"Wallet biopsy: checking a patient's insurance or financial status before embarking on expensive procedures." (adapted from "Hospital Lingo: What's a Bed Plug? An L.O.L. in N.A.D." by Sheilendr Khipple. The New York Times, May 13, 2001)

The Use of War Lingo by Journalists

"Back in August, the [Associated Press] issued a memo about how to convey campaign coverage, and it included this passage:

war lingo — use criticized instead of attacked, or choose a better verb to describe what the candidate is doing, i.e., challenging, doubting, etc. Also avoidable: launch an assault, take aim, open fire, bombard.

AP Deputy Managing Editor for Standards Tom Kent lays out the thinking behind the rules: 'We’ve long felt it’s a good idea to avoid weapons metaphors when we’re not talking about real weapons. Even beyond evoking memories of violent events, we think frequent use of these terms in non-military situations smacks of overdramatization and hyping,' writes Kent via e-mail." (Erik Wemple, "No More 'Taking Aim,’ ‘Blasting,’ ‘Sniping’!" The Washington Post, December 20, 2012)

A Parody of Social Science Lingo

"The lingo used by sociologists and such annoys many reasonable people. Richard D. Fay of M.I.T. is one of them. Last week the Washington Star picked up a letter he had written to the Harvard Alumni Bulletin in which he showed how the Gettysburg Address would sound, lumbered up in that lingo:​

Eight and seven-tenths decades ago, the pioneer workers in this continental area implemented a new group based on an ideology of free boundaries and initial conditions of equality. We are now actively engaged in an overall evaluation of conflicting factors . . . We are met in an area of maximum activity among the conflicting factors . . . to assign permanent positions to the units which have been annihilated in the process of attaining a steady state. This procedure represents standard practice at the administrative level.
From a more comprehensive viewpoint, we cannot assign--we cannot integrate--we cannot implement this area . . . The courageous units, in being annihilated . . . have integrated it to the point where the application of simple arithmetical operations to include our efforts would produce only negligible effects . . .
It is preferable for this group to be integrated with the incompleted implementation . . . that we here resolve at a high ethical level that the deceased shall not have been annihilated without furthering the project--that this group . . . shall implement a new source of unhampered activity--and that political supervision composed of the integrated units, for the integrated units, and by the integrated units shall not perish from . . . this planet.

("Lumbering Lingo." Time, August 13, 1951)

The Decline of Lunch Counter Lingo

"[T]he vitality of lunch-counter speech--cat's eyes for tapioca, baby for a glass of milk, jerk for ice cream soda, and Adam and Eve on a raft for fried eggs on toast--had a raciness about it that many people sought to put an end to in the late 1930s." (John F. Mariani, The Dictionary of American Food and Drink. Hearst Books, 1994)

Pronunciation: LIN-go

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Nordquist, Richard. "Lingo - Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Lingo - Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Lingo - Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).