What are some types of language are used in "A & P" by John Updike? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A comic story trimmed with both satire and sentiment, John Updike's "A&P," with the title of a long-time grocery chain that catered to middle America, depicts the rebellion of a young worker against the middle-class consumer-conditioned society that has grown insensate. As he rebels, Sammy chooses to reject being "sheep-like" and live honestly and meaningfully. 

Outside of standard or formal English, there are about a dozen types of language, but the most common are colloquial languages, which use an informal terminology, or a vocabulary specific to a region. Another type that is prevalent is dialect, which is regionally specific language, or language that is based upon social factors.

Here are examples of different types of language from the narrative of "A&P":

1. Informal Standard English - For the most part, Updike's narrative is written in Informal English that conforms to the standards taught in the United States. Here is an example:

The girls had reached the meat counter and were asking McMahon something. He pointed, they pointed, and they shuffled out of sight behind a pyramid of Diet Delight peaches.

2. Colloquial Language - Colloquial language is language that is used in a specific region. Some words have different meanings from the denotation given in dictionaries. For example, in some southern regions of the United States people say "I'm fixin' [fixing] to go to the store," meaning they are soon going to leave for the store.

  • "berry-faces" = rosy-cheeked
  • "oaky-hair" = blondish/brown 
  • "she buzzed to the others" = signaled
  • "their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed." baskets - grocery carts
  • "some sunny day" = a day that is propitious

3.  Lingo - Similar to jargon but less specialized, this is language that is created by workers that is specific to their environment.

  • "cash-register-watchers" - this phrase describes the shoppers who watch each item being rung up
  • "sheep" - the people who pass through, unable to see anyone or anything outside their immediate environment.
  • "Policy is what the kingpins want" - "Policy" constitutes what the company's rules are; "kingpins" are the bosses.

4.  Slang - Slang is language that is composed of invented words or words whose standard meanings are altered to take on new senses.

  • "this jiggled them" = unnerved them
  • "with two babies chalked up on his fuselage"
  • "a really sweet can"--"pipes up" - Sammy likes the girl's gluteus maximus and front of her body.
  • "a few houseslaves in curlers" - the women who stay at home and go nowhere except to the grocery store or drug store.
  • "queen" - the prettiest girl
  • "two smooth scoops of vanilla" - the girl's bosom from which she extracts the money to pay Sammy 
  • "the pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside" - a feeling that Sammy has when a pretty girl blushes.