‘Slam Dunks’ book review

Kendal Kelly

In our daily lives, it’s almost impossible to hold a conversation without relying on certain go-to words or catchphrases.

“Puh-leeze.” “Yeah, right.” “Cool.” “Chill.” These words and countless others invade our speech, and it seems that fewer and fewer people are even aware of this phenomenon, let alone concerned by it.

In Leslie Savan’s new book, “Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Pop Language in Your Life, the Media, and Like … Whatever,” she examines the forces behind the way Americans communicate with each other. “Pop language,” a term Savan uses to describe the way we talk, is more than just slang words that we occasionally throw into our conversations; it’s a system of vocabulary and phrases that we not only use, but also depend on to get our points across.

She credits the media with injecting and sustaining the use of pop language. Remember that Budweiser commercial that had everyone repeating “Whaazzzaahhh” ad nauseam almost immediately after its premiere?

Overall, Savan’s exploration of pop language is thought-provoking, particularly when she discusses the crossover appeal of phrases from the black community and the subsequent exploitation by advertising, movies and music.

At other times her arguments are excessive. She uses same pop language that she claims to dissect in order to add emphasis, but after the first couple of references, it becomes unclear whether she is actually critiquing, or if she simply slips into pop speak without realizing it. Savan’s book entertains while pointing out some absurdities of the modern American vernacular, but it might also make Americans more aware of what they say and why they say it.