Modern Latvian slang
In order to define modern Latvian slang, first, we need to look at the general definition of slang. The internet dictionary defines slang as a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.
When I look at Latvian slang though, I see something else. The dominating feature of slang is that they are words borrowed from other languages and then Latvianized. I see very few slang words of the Latvian origin. (One of them is “šitais” which is used to mean “this one”.)
The fact that there are plenty of foreignisms that are accepted in the “formal” Latvian makes me confused. Respectively, I can’t understand the reasoning for how to determine what’s slang. I’m puzzled because I don’t see consistency. For instance, it’s difficult to understand why “futbols” (football) is not slang, but “links” (a link) is a slang.
The King of Latvian slang
Preparing to write this post, I read an article about the king of Latvian slang “forši”. Nowadays, it’s used to mean approximately the same as the English slang word “cool”.
The word “forši” was introduced into Latvian at the end of the 19th century. It has originated from the German slang word “forsch”. This German word is qualified as slang too probably because it was a Germanized version of the French word “force” which has the same meaning in English. Thus, when it appeared in Latvian, it was rather used to mean “bravely”, “briskly”, “forcefully”, “splendidly” or “excellently”.
Let’s compare it with the Latvian word “eleganti” (elegantly) which has a somewhat similar meaning. Its traceable origin is the Latin word “elegans” (elegant) or even “eligere” (to select). Yet, I’m sure it entered into Latvian through a third language.
Then why “forši” is a slang word and “eleganti” isn’t? My first thought was it’s because the original meaning of “forši” has changed, just like with the English word “cool”. However, it still doesn’t explain why the word “links” is a slang.
Do you need to know Latvian slang?
I believe that if you learn a language, you also want to learn its slang. You don’t need to use it, but you want to understand it and perhaps sometimes avoid it.
My husband once told me a story about how he tried to explain something in Latvian and it resulted in listeners starting to laugh hysterically. He never figured out what it all was about. Only years later after he shared it with me, I could explain it to him. He was using a word not knowing it also had a slang meaning. I won’t go into details about what it was because that would be out of my comfort zone.
Instead, I’ve prepared a video with two slang expressions that you can learn. Even more, I’ve also prepared a downloadable file with a couple more slang expressions. In this document, I’m also explaining what the origin of each slang word in those 4 slang expressions is.
Now, enjoy my video and get that 2-page PDF file by clicking the orange button under the video box.