Specialized Vocabularies: Slang and Terminology

Your choice of words can make a big difference to the search results you get with Google.

When a teenager says something is “phat,” that’s slang—a specialized vocabulary for a certain section of the world culture. When a copywriter scribbles “stet” on an ad, that’s not slang, but it’s still specialized vocabulary for a certain section of the world culture—in this case, the advertising industry.

We have distinctive speech patterns that are shaped by our educations, our families, and where we live. Further, we may use another set of words based on our occupation.

Being aware of these specialty words can make all the difference in the world when it comes to searching. Adding specialized words to your search query—whether slang or industry vocabulary—can really change the slant of your search results.


Slang gives you one more way to break up your search engine results into geographically distinct areas. There’s some geographical blurriness when you use slang to narrow your search engine results, but it’s amazing how well it works. For example, search Google for football. Now search for football bloke. Totally different results set, isn’t it? Now search for football bloke bonce. Now you’re into soccer narratives.

Of course, this is not to say that everyone in England automatically uses the word “bloke” any more than everyone in the southern U.S. automatically uses the word “y’all.” But adding well-chosen bits of slang (which will take some experimentation) will give a whole different tenor to your search results and may point you in unexpected directions. You can find slang from the following resources:

The Probert Encyclopedia—Slang, http://www.probertencyclopaedia.com/slang.htm

This site is browseable by first letter or searchable by keyword. (Note that the keyword search covers the entire Probert Encyclopedia—slang results are near the bottom.) Slang is from all over the world. It’s often crosslinked, especially drug slang. As with most slang dictionaries, this site will contain materials that might offend.

A Dictionary of Slang, http://www.peevish.co.uk/slang/

This site focuses on slang heard in the United Kingdom, which means slang from other places as well. It’s browseable by letter or via a search engine. Words from outside the UK are marked with their place of origin in brackets. Words are also denoted as having humorous usage, vulgar, derogatory, etc.

Surfing for Slang, http://www.linkopp.com/members/vlaiko/slanglinks.htm

Of course each area in the world has its own slang. This site has a good meta-list of English and Scandinavian slang resources.

Using Google with Slang

Start out by searching Google for your query without the slang. Check the results and decide where they’re falling short. Are they not specific enough? Are they not located in the right geographical area? Are they not covering the right demographic—teenagers, for example?

Introduce one slang word at a time. For example, for a search for football add the word “bonce” and check the results. If they’re not narrowed down enough, add the word “bloke.” Add one word at a time until you get to the kind of results you want. Using slang is an inexact science, so you’ll have to do some experimenting.

Some things to be careful of when using slang in your searches:

  • Try many different slang words.

  • Don’t use slang words that are generally considered offensive except as a last resort. Your results will be skewed.

  • Be careful when using teenage slang, which changes constantly.

  • Try searching for slang when using Google Groups. Slang crops up often in conversation.

  • Minimize your searches for slang when searching for more formal sources like newspaper stories.

  • Don’t use slang phrases if you can help it; in my experience these change too much to be consistently searchable. Stick to words.

Specialized Vocabularies—Industrial Slang

Specialized vocabularies are those vocabularies used in certain fields. The medical and legal fields are the two I think of most often when I think of specialized vocabularies, though there are many other fields.

When you need to tip your search to the more technical, the more specialized, and the more in-depth, think of a specialized vocabulary. For example, do a Google search for heartburn. Now do a search for heartburn GERD. Now do a search for heartburn GERD "gastric acid". You’ll see each of them is very different.

With some fields, finding specialized vocabulary resources will be a snap. But with others it’s not that easy. As a jumping-off point, try the Glossarist site at http://www.glossarist.com; it’s a searchable subject index of about 6,000 different glossaries covering dozens of different topics. There are also several other large online resources covering certain specific vocabularies. These include:

The On-Line Medical Dictionary, http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/omd/

This dictionary contains vocabulary relating to biochemistry, cell biology, chemistry, medicine, molecular biology, physics, plant biology, radiobiology, science and technology, and currently has over 46,000 listings.

You may browse the dictionary by letter or search it. Sometimes you can search for a word that you know (bruise) and find another term that might be more common in medical terminology (contusion). You can also browse the dictionary by subject. Bear in mind that this dictionary is in the UK and some spellings may be slightly different for American users (tumour versus tumor, etc.).

MedTerms.com, http://www.medterms.com/

MedTerms.com has far fewer definitions (around 10,000) but also has extensive articles from MedicineNet. If you’re starting from absolute square one with your research and you need some basic information and vocabulary to get started, search MedicineNet for your term (bruise works well) and then move to MedTerms to search for specific words.

Law.com’s Legal Dictionary, http://dictionary.law.com/lookup2.asp

Law.com’s legal dictionary is excellent because you can search either words or definitions (you can browse, too.) For example, you can search for the word “inheritance” and get a list of all the entries which contain the word “inheritance” in their definition. Very easy way to get to the words “muniment of title” without knowing the path.

Using Specialized Vocabulary with Google

As with slang, add specialized vocabulary slowly—one word at a time—and anticipate that it will narrow down your search results very quickly. For example, take the word “spudding,” often used in association with oil drilling. Searching for spudding by itself finds only about 2500 results on Google. Adding Texas knocks it down to 525 results, and this is still a very general search! Add specialty vocabulary very carefully or you’ll narrow down your search results to the point where you can’t find what you want.

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