The origins of slang words more often than not are difficult if not impossible to pin down, but in general they are “produced in ways that aren’t particularly different from the ways Standard English words are produced” — both, for example, “borrow words from other languages, reuse existing words with new grammatical functions or with slightly different meanings, abbreviate words, and produce blends, acronyms, and initialisms.” Coleman argues that there are “four stages” in the development of slang: “creation,” “early development,” “adaptation and survival,” and “spreading into wider use.” Probably the vast majority of slang terms never are adopted beyond the relatively narrow circles in which they are created, and many die young, though “if identifying the birth of a slang term is hard, it’s harder still to pin down its death.” Something that was “the cat’s pajamas” in the 1920s might be “awesome” today, and if you tried to call it “the cat’s pajamas” the odds are that almost no one under age 65 would have any idea what you meant.
Still, some slang terms — or slang meanings for Standard English words — have persisted. Charles Dickens , whose ear for language was, well, awesome, caught wind of one while touring the United States in 1842. He described it in his “American Notes,” published that same year. A fellow diner, “handing me a dish of potatoes, broken up in milk and butter,” asked, “Will you try some of these fixings?” Dickens writes: