Does using the word ain’t in a song make it slang, whereas using it in a speech make it colloquial?

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    What do you mean by those two words? What do you consider “slang”, and what do you consider “colloquial”?
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 16:06
  • I'm doing an English Language investigation and trying to pick out slang, "homie", and colloquial, "bunch of" from a song
    – ReRe
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 16:11
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    @Teresa: The question is - how do you define the difference between "slang" and "colloquial"? They cover an overlapping range, so placing ain't on the scale still requires us to know where you draw the line, otherwise all you'll get is other people's definitions of where one ends and the other starts. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 16:14
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    Why would it be slang if it were in a song but colloquial if it were in speech?
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 16:16
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3 Answers 3


It's colloquial.

From your comments about register, you seem to be talking about affecting a colloquialism.

If a songwriter who would naturally use the word in speaking their own dialect, or if it is written from the perspective of a narrator-character who would use it, then it's still a colloquialism.

Now, if a conservative politician who generally used a very formal register and whose background was such that ain't wouldn't come naturally to them, said in a speech "you ain't seen nothing yet", then that would still be a colloquialism. The difference is that it's affected rather than just coming naturally.

And I could just about conceive that happening in a song, though I'd be surprised.

It still ain't slang.

Edit: For that matter, some might argue that since it's "colloquial" to more places than it isn't "colloquial" to, that it's not really colloquial at all, but that gets into more complicated issues about what does and doesn't get to considered "standard".


As far as I know, "ain't" is a colloquialism and is frowned upon by quite a few native speakers as 'nonstandard'. But I don't think it is considered slang anywhere. Then again, there isn't much difference between colloquialism and slang, is there?


The OED labels ain’t as “dialectic and colloquial”. It is certainly not slang. They also mention that it is in “general informal use”.

So it is not formal. It is extremely common, however, in some dialects and registers.

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