“Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.” – Carl Sandburg
As a writer and an avid reader, I find words and language usage fascinating. Just call me a word nerd. Admittedly, as I have entered the digital age, I find myself being a little more lax in language and grammar rules. Some of my participles dangle, and sometimes I end sentences with a preposition and I often find myself starting sentences with “and” or “but.”
But (oops, I did it again) one thing I try not to do is use slang – at least in my writing, even though it fascinates me.
My earliest memories of slang and its usage began when I was about eight years-old. My father was all decked out in a crazy-patterned synthetic shirt paired with gold polyester pants. This fine-looking outfit was accessorized with white loafers and a matching white belt. Dad was so excited with his fashionable look, which truly went well with his gold Buick with the black landau roof.
He was, as we’d say today, stylin’.
Back then, my dad was doing his part to be relevant, with a Beatles eight-track tape and all. No work dungarees for him. Being all jazzed up, he used the first slang I can remember: “Do I look hep?”
Hep? What the heck is hep? Did he mean “hip,” which, back in the day, would be the correct term for cool? My second-grade self was burning with embarrassment for him.
Now that I am the parent, I sort of understand where dear old Dad was coming from, trying to fit in and understand the language of youth.
Our busy household has presented us with four kids, which was like raising two sets of teens a decade apart due to their age differences. One set of teens raised in the early 2000s, the other set being raised now.
Imagine my surprise, ten years ago, when I found out a hoe wasn’t always referring to garden equipment.
Imagine my surprise when I heard “junk in the trunk” and it didn’t mean the bags of discards that should have been dropped off at a donation center.
Imagine my surprise, when about a year ago, I learned that ratchet isn’t always a tool. Or that swag didn’t mean window coverings or someone’s stance.
Imagine my wonderment the first time I heard “word” not used in the way my professors taught – as, well, a word – but more as an action item.
Imagine the horror on my teens’ faces when I used the term “cray.” Even used in proper context, my usage was met with wild eyes and the insistent plea to never, ever, say that again. And for the most part, I haven’t used that crazy term, however tempted I may be.
Let’s face it. Each generation comes up with their own terms and language. And trying to be a relevant mom, I want to know what my kids are saying. I want to be, um, “hep” and know the lingo.
The fun I have trying to de-code the slang used today with this generation’s terminology is worth the struggle. I want to make sure that if I have to emphasize a point, my teens get it. For instance, when my teenage daughter is out with her pals, I want to make sure she is safe. I may say, “Stick together with your pals. I saw a sketchy character.” Back in the day, I would’ve said “shady character.” Sketchy is quite descriptive, and she knows what I mean. Seriously, I have had to take to Googling some terms just to figure what is going on. (Note to readers: if you offend easily, don’t do this. It could make your eyes bleed.)
For this generation, I know all these terms and acronyms they use are deemed “legit.” I just need some sort of word play book, probably something my own parents wished was available back in the day.
What is truly amazing is how slang used today keeps evolving! It is really difficult to know what the term of the day is, especially when, purposely, this secret language is kept from me. When I left a note for my daughter using “ratchet” and “sketchy,” her brother seemed alarmed and wondered what was worse – me using the terms, or what his sister did to cause me to use those words.
My assumption is that the latest and greatest term I have heard yet, “my stomach feels jank,” would be defined as “my stomach is jacked-up” or, in my midlife world, “my stomach is upset.” And since using “sick” can mean anything from illness to awesomeness, I guess a new term was needed.
But because I love them, I am doing my best to not have my offspring burn with ratchet embarrassment. Therefore, I vow not to speak their sketchy language, even though it dashes my dream of being that relevant and “hep” mom.
© Lynne Cobb – 2014
Did you ever figure out teen or tween speak? Let me know your favorite term!