Mind Your Slanguage!

02 June 2015

It might seem like slang is part of youth culture, but changes in language are just as interesting to academics, and are also picked up by people of different generations. The use of ‘YOLO’ and ‘selfie’ may have been coined by younger generations but our recent roundtable discussion highlights that ‘slanguage’ is used by all age groups, including the over 50s. This proves that what we communicate is just as important as how we communicate.

A slang panel

We contacted bloggers, students and academics among others. The aim was to try and find out what it is people are saying, and where they’re getting the words from. Irene Estry (73) is a fitness instructor to the stars, and she’s picked up slang from people around her:

“I think I’ve got used to saying ‘it’s cool’. My grandchildren say it. I even say it to myself: ‘it’s cool!’

In addition a lot of older users of social media find that they also pick up language online. Tony Thorne (65), a professor of language at King’s College London, is typical:

“I have to admit I’m picking up language from twitter…calling people nuggets and pellets.”

“More creative and more flexible than poetry”—OMG

Thorne is able to shed some light on the new styles, saying that they use the same techniques as high literature. He also points out its historical origins:

“It’s done in technology. Electronic technical language isn’t new, there used to be telegraph language. Then CB radio, citizen band radio, truck drivers in the US developed their own kind of very abbreviated slang for using on the radio.”

“People are in a hurry, it’s an accelerated society.”

This element of speed is something different panelists returned to. Jess (28) is an expat and travel blogger originally from Texas, and agreed that speed is critical:

“I think people are impatient, like everything moves really quickly and you’re expected to do a lot in a short amount of time.”

Like, OMG!

The panel explored some of their favourite words which they’ve picked up online. For Thorne, spending time on Mumsnet gave him a rather violent piece of new vocabulary:

“Stabby is a word that’s used on Mumsnet, and it just means really irritated, so you want to stab someone!”

Tamsin (17) is a student and has slightly less aggressive language use:

“What’s weird is that I used to just say ‘like’, but now I’ve started texting ‘like’ too.”

Use of this slang in texts and online is just as true for older users as it is for Tamsin. Nathan (42), a PA, finds that his language changes when he’s writing:

“When you’re texting I think it’s OMG for me. ‘Oh ma gaad!’ So many things are happening; you just have to put it in. I think all my texts have got OMG in. If they didn’t know what OMG meant, they’d be…” he mimes flicking through the dictionary.

Whether or not a dictionary would be much help is debatable. The Oxford English Dictionary has just released the words it's adding in March, but OMG, stabby and pellets unfortunately aren’t included. Have any of you noticed any slang words that your grandchildren use cropping up in your own conversations? Perhaps a word from your childhood has become popular with the younger generation but now means something completely different? Please let us know in the comments section below… 

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