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Listen Up, Parents: A Guide To Break The Code Of Teen Talk

Mon., Nov. 24, 1997

Parents and teens, take note of this guide to the subtle system of teen communication.

First, I want to dispel the myth that all teens are clueless, noncommunicative lumps whose greatest grasp of English literature is magazine quizzes (example: Do your breath mints perform for you?). Most teens are also familiar with Cliff Notes. And, sometimes, we can, like, concisely, you know, like state kinda an idea.

Seriously, though, when teens respond to adults’ inquiries (interrogations, in teens’ terms), their monosyllabic grunts have very distinct meanings. For example, take the question, “How was your day?” It is obviously a very broad question, and anyone could write a novel on how their day went. Many people do, and that’s why we have 90-percent-off book barns. A few common words, however, are far more efficient for answers:

Fine: My day really was fine. My school didn’t burn to the ground, my cafeteria lunch was almost digestible, and I am happy with my life.

Fine (with a hostile tone): My life is not in danger. I do not use drugs. I am not selling national secrets to the Liechtenstinians, and I am perfectly normal. My picture is not in the Post Office, I have never joined a cult, and I don’t have a sense of humor.

OK: I’m alive and well. Could I have money to eat at Bruchi’s tomorrow? My cafeteria lunch ran away from me today.

It sucked: The same as fine, except I was mugged, and flunked out of high school. I got in a wreck, so my insurance payments will surpass the national deficit before I graduate, and we are now at war with Liechtenstein, so I might get drafted.

Whatever: I didn’t hear your question. Could you repeat it?

Imagine how much easier it would be if the president asked a teen to give the State of the Union Address. Instead of a three-hour, fluff-filled sermon, the teen would say, “Our union is fine. Can I ride in Air Force One now?”

Teens, in fact, have developed English to an art form, that, if adopted, would improve the world. We could save the rain forests by condensing books and wasting less paper, reduce daytime talk shows to five minutes and even shorten this column: teens are fine.

I hope I have opened the door to understanding and appeciation of teen communication, and apologize to any family counselors who lose business because of this column.

Tags: language

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