Language is the preserve of everybody and yet I often find myself falling into the trap my elders made before me: denigrating and sneering at the language of teenagers.
Teen-speak is an oddly fluid, cyclical, ever-changing, totally unpredictable thing. Now I recognize that all language is that to a point but teen-speak seems to evolve in ways that are counterintuitive to the way most changes occur to a language.
Teen-speak does not evolve through any obvious source of necessity – unless you count the necessity to be as different and “individual” as possible. Different in this case invariably mean different from all the grown-ups that teenagers secretly wish they were and individual in the sense that you fit in with your peers who are all speaking exactly the same lingo as you so that you feel part of a group or a gang or, that most wonderful of entities, a movement.
When I was a kid we had our own set of cool words. “Cool” was one of them having made a post-modern ironic resurgence from the 60’s. I also recall “gnarly” was doing the rounds thanks to Bill & Ted and “no way / way” was popular thanks to Wayne’s World. We also had words like “eppy” for someone who was flipping out in today’s vernacular; “pleb”, “dickwad” and my own personal favourite “buttock-brain”. Of course, most of our special words were insults and a host of them survive today and have merely been added to by later generations. All were inspired by movies and TV, without a doubt.
Now “cool” is one of those strange epithets that has accrued a meaning beyond that of the original one. I’m sure it was as annoying to the older generation as “sick” now is to me. Lord knows I had enough trouble reconciling myself with “wicked” without having to take on board that “sick” now means “cool” which ultimately means something good and desirable.
I’ve noticed, however, that the internet and computing is now having a direct influence on the language of our young people.
My eldest boy, whilst chatting (read that as SHOUTING) with his mates via head-mic on X-Box Live continually refers to annoying players as “hackers”. It annoys the hell out of me because the activity of these people invariably does not involve them penetrating the mainframe of Skynet and bringing about the end of humanity and the rise of the machines.
And don’t even get me started on “LOL”. My boy says it constantly. And not even in an ironic sense either. I could cope with it if he said “LOL” drily in a situation or at a joke that was meant to be funny but plainly wasn’t. A “humour fail” (see, I can still get teen-speak) situation would be appropriate for someone to deadpan and say “LOL” as if they were speaking to an idiot who’d recited the same joke 50 times in the hope of cracking your reserve and finally making you laugh. Instead, “LOL” genuinely seems to stand in for actually laughing at something that is genuinely amusing. Albeit the kind of something that the rest of us would just crack a wry smile at or nod at bemusedly. It is in fact the kind of situation that does not require one ever to laugh out loud but just to feel amusement in a small quiet way. “LOL” now acts as a stand-in for a normal low-level humour response. What actually happens is that the use of the word “LOL” (is it actually a word?) strips the humour away completely from the situation whilst at the same time acknowledging that the speaker did actually get the joke. What is that? Ironic irony?
I’m just waiting for the inevitable development when the audience at a comedy gig no longer laughs out loud but merely utters “ROLF” under their breath every time their favourite comedian delivers a killer punch-line.
That will be the moment that teen-speak finally kills irony and humour and all intelligence forever.
You probably think there is no way that this could ever happen.
Well, I’m here to tell you: