Teen speak

American slang and a sense of belonging.

Michigan State University Extension’s Building Strong Adolescents program states that a key purpose of teen friendships is to provide young people with transitional emotional attachments, which allow them to separate and attain independence from their parents. They gain a sense of belonging when they become known as a member of the leaders, brains, jocks, musicians, nerds, etc. One way they demonstrate their belonging is through the creative use of slang which is unique to each generation of adolescents through history.

I recently heard a discussion regarding words or sayings you shouldn’t say today if you are over age 30. It was pretty funny, and most of the words or sayings I don’t think I would have an occasion to use. It made me think that throughout history, the younger rebellious generation has always found a way to form their version of American slang, even going back as far as the 1800’s. In fact early in the birth of this nation, any words that weren’t considered proper English were considered slang. Today, I would suspect the majority of how we speak would be considered slang.

Slang provides us with a sense of belonging. It is different than dialect, or industry specific speech. It is a creative way of expressing thoughts and feelings by re-assigning new meaning to old words or inventing completely new words. Using them signifies you belong; you are a part of the current teen scene.

When I became a mom, I also realized that while our children were learning to talk, many of their early attempts at words became our own family slang. Many of those words we all still use today when we are talking together, and it brings us a sense of belonging, a sense of our own history. Some family slang words our kids “created” and some we adapted from other families close to us. The word we use for melon is mel-la-lella, thanks to my son. Bokenie is a blanket – don’t ask me why. My brother, and now his kids, have “bus-sketti” for dinner, not spaghetti. Really big things are “shuge” as in “it’s huge.”

Looking back, in my 50 some years, I have heard quite a few generations of American slang. My older brothers, during the 1950’s used words like: Hipster, cool and way out to describe positive people or situations. In the 1960’s they used words like: Dude as a negative, cool was still good, and far out was really good.

During the 1970’s, my teen generation used words like: Bad which was good, chill which meant to relax, to the max which meant really good, and cool was still good. When you danced you boogied. The 1980’s brought such creative words like: Cool and bad were still good, as were awesome, phat, radical and tubular; grody and gnarly were both used to describe a negative. Veg meant to relax.

Teens of the 1990’s gave us words and phrases like: All that and a bag of chips – which meant you were really something and then some. Bling-bling meant flashy jewelry. Score, snaps and sweet were words used to praise someone or something. By the way, cool still meant good.

Much of the slang of the 2000’s has to do with an insurgence of technology and online communication. Giving someone your digits means to give them your phone number. Dude and cool are still good, and so is sweet. Peeps are friends or family. Then of course there is all the “text talk slang” that I am not even going to get into – LOL!

You can see that words you say can really tell a lot about which generation you belong to, and which family you belong to. It keeps us close, gives us a sense of belonging and provides us with a way of enriching our own American slang. Stay cool!

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