The grandmother replied, “I was saying ‘cool’, ‘awesome’, and ‘chill’ before you were even born, girlie.”
Yes, the grandmother! Now if you think the grandmother’s use of slang had me gritting my teeth and calling Grammar Girl, you’d be wrong. Although the grandmother was much older than me (so I’d like to think), I felt a sense of kinship. You see, I have been guilty of peppering my casual conversations with “cool,” “awesome,” and yes, the ever-annoying “dude.”
However, this unintended eavesdropping did mark the beginning of some serious introspection for me. I began to consider that when those first few lines around our eyes begin to appear in the mirror, if our use of the slang from our youth should begin to disappear?
Chances are that even the most hardened ambassadors for the proper use of the English language would find that they unknowingly use slang in their everyday speech. For instance, if you refer to someone as being an “ace” at something, that’s slang! If you say “O.K.,” that’s slang! Okay, so maybe that’s not as bad as “awesome” or “dude,” right?
Not right! Emma Thompson would disagree. The 51-year-old Oscar winner told the Radio Times in September 2010 that people who used slang when they spoke drove her “insane.” She added, "Just don't do it. Because it makes you sound stupid.”
Elena Neitlich, an international etiquette expert who has trained etiquette trainers in over 30 countries and is owner of “Etiquette Moms” by Moms on Edge, says that although she agrees with Thompson to a point, she views the teen use of slang as “harmless.”
However, regarding adult use of slang, Neitlich says, “I believe that by the time we reach adulthood, our days of exploiting the slang lexicon are over. Slang use by adults is ‘ginormously’ sophomoric.”
Is “ginormously” slang? Or “sophomoric”? I’m so confused!
Concerning slang use in general, “Etiquette Moms” list a few simple rules:
- Never use your kids’ slang.
- Kids can use slang with each other but never with an adult.
- Abstain completely from sexual slang; it’s offensive.
Is there anyone out there who thinks adults SHOULD speak slang with their teens? I don’t think so; but there are those who say parents need to know WHAT their teens are saying in order to understand them.
Joining this movement is “Middle Earth,” a non-profit, community-based organization in Somerset, California. Their March 2010 article, “Teen Slang and Acronyms,” provides a list of common teen slang and encourages parents: “Although sometimes it feels easier to live in the dark rather than try to understand teenspeak,” parents shouldn’t give up.
In an article in The Independent, “Teenspeak is not for adults,” Martha Robinson writes that adults should steer clear of teen vernacular. She says, “You don’t need to speak like a teenager to speak to one, but you’d better respect them enough to talk to them like a grown-up.”
I am in agreement with many of the points Robinson and the “Etiquette Moms” make. However, is it really so wrong to occasionally use teen slang from our own era?
I am the mother of three teenage boys, two teenage girls, and a “tween,” 12-year-old girl. Since I have my finger so firmly placed on the pulse of teen angst, I decided to interview the “real” experts.
My sons, unanimously, with all of the enthusiasm a teen of the male persuasion can give, each mumbled a variation of, “I don’t care. You got anything to eat?”
My daughters shed a more illuminating light on this perplexing puzzle, especially my 17-year-old, who told me that she didn’t mind my occasional use of “awesome” or “cool.” She even said that this just made an adult more personable when they occasionally used their own slang. She made this stipulation, however: “If you try to use our slang, like, ‘bomb-diggety, or ‘g’, I tell you this—we’ll just stop listening to you altogether, ’cause it’s fake!”
She then put her arm around me in a motherly gesture and reminded me that I should never go to work and say to my boss, “Dude! This is awesome!” In an echo sounding vaguely like my own voice, she continued, “Because we both know that there is a time and place for casual conversation. Capeesh?”
My 13-year-old chimed in with, “Yeah. What she said. You just gotta’ stop snorting when you laugh. Because that’s WAY more embarrassing!”
So, this is my vow to all those teens up-in-arms with adults who hijack their teenglish: I will never tell you that something is ‘bomb-diggety’ or ‘g.’
However, you will just have to bear with me if I tell you, “Dude! You’re gonna’ hafta’ chill! This is an awesome movie and the light from your cell phone is so NOT cool!”
But about that snorting business when I get to laughing?
Chill, it’s all good!