(Graphic by Helen Jane Hearn/ TueNight)
Long before Mean Girls tried to make ‘fetch’ happen, a coworker of mine was determined to make us all say everything was ‘box.’
“Huh? That is the worst word ever. No one will say that,” I said.
“Yes they will. You are so ‘box.’ It is so ‘box.”
“First of all, box already means like three different things,” said another coworker. “An actual box. The shape of a dress is, say, boxy. And I’m pretty sure it’s already slang for lady parts.”
Here we were in our little Philadelphia cubby of an office, and my coworker had such lofty, zeitgeisty ambitions. Needless to say, it never took off.
Over a decade later, I asked him about his botched box: “I realized the word had to be fun to say.”
Slang is nothing if not fun to say. You’re part of the “in-crowd” (’50s slang!) when you know what bae means. (By the way, what does it mean?) And it’s typically the marker of the young. Sadly, you won’t find too many olds inventing new words. In fact, we’re trying to shake the slang already embedded in our brains. Because even worse than old peeps trying to get jiggy with the new slang is them continuing to use old slang like “yo, I’m Audi 5000,” which I still occasionally think in my head and try very, very hard never to say.
At some point, certain words become a permanent part of our linguistic DNA. My husband still says “word” all the time despite younger folk reprimanding him. “I will never stop.” And I say “psyched” all the time, though I’m not sure it’s okay. The word “excited” just sounds like you patted the pooch a little too vigorously.
Slang is all about who, what, where, when — it’s contextual, representative of a place, time period and culture. Our latest American slang is all about shorthand. Lopped-off words like adorbs. Totes. Ridic. Texting shorthand (BTW, LOL), which started back in ye olde AOL IM ’90s. And the smoke signals of slang: emojis. I struggle to speak in this visual language beyond smiley and sad faces. Who has time to find the right freaking icon — and what’s up with all those trains and car options?!? But a lot of my peers and older have embraced it. Even our potential president is addicted.
For this week, we are exploring all manner of colloquial goodies:
- Annette Earling avoids the “Hos and Bros”
- Penny Wrenn wonders why some slang crosses the color lines
- Rumnique Nannar is in a Cockney/ Canadian culture clash
- Tamar Anitai asks, “Does this slang make me look old?”
- Laurie White has been waiting for the middle finger emoji for years
And a few slangers of note, around the interwebs:
- Over in Norway they’ve taken to using the word “Texas” to describe “crazy.” (Alternet)
- A Merriam-Webster editor opines on Fubar (New York Times)
Off to Netflix and chill (or something),