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Grown-ups will always be far out of lingo loop

Sat., May 8, 2010

I’m no longer chillaxin with the cat. In a transparent, teachable moment I learned not long ago that this term is a literary toxic asset, not too big to fail in these economic times, and more than shovel-ready for the lingo graveyard. I’ve unfriended it.

The Lake Superior State University language czars put every term and phrase above in their 2009 banned words list, except for “lingo graveyard,” which I made up.

I prefer sprinkling my bon mots with only the very freshest jargon. However I’ll always be behind the times, because I’m old – over 22 – and even my sleek and limber lexicon raft can’t navigate the rushing rapids of current argot.

I’d choose Jurassic (“swell!”) over pitiable hipster wannabe, but prefer to be contemporary without sounding forced, or poaching on youth territory, a now foreign country.

Language fascinates and entertains me, and I enjoy how words and their meanings evolve and change and become generational self-definition. Slang used to hang around longer compared to our cyber-times, something like the difference between a handwritten note and a tweet. Now slang appears, mutates, and disappears remarkably fast, before U R ready. This makes it hard to know where the Line of Ridiculousness is for self-respecting adults.

Curious, I consulted two younger West Side friends: Leanne Anderson, a Starbucks shift supervisor in Enumclaw who works with people ages 16-20, and Dana Smith, a Sehome High School English and journalism teacher in Bellingham, who discussed the topic with her 11th grade AP English class.

Leanne and Dana sent some current “young” terms: wicked, sick; texting acronyms such as OMG, NVM (nevermind); and the phrases “you are a rock star!” and “I know, right?” Also popular are “epic” and “fail,” as in “my balsa bridge for physics was an epic fail.” Some tough dinos – awesome, hella, lame, crap, weak, “heck, no” and “heck, yeah”– have survived the comets and stuck around, although kids think they invented them and claim them like mining rights.

“Dynamite” and “groovy” are cringe worthy, said Leanne. Heck, yeah. Dana’s students cringe when adults use the terms sick (cool), bro, dude, rap (as in “rap session”), yo (“a serious no-no”), dawg, and fo sho. Oh, yeah, excruciating.

Dana added, “I overheard some of my seniors laughing about how their parents text them and use ‘U’ or ‘gr8.’ They thought it was quaint –‘You know, I guess people USED to text that way….’ They have keyboards on their phones now, so don’t need excessive abbreviations. One girl laughed about how her mom used to think ‘LOL’ meant Lots of Love, ending each text that way. The conversational tone was sort of ‘kids say the darndest things’ – rueful and amused.”

Surprisingly, “legit” and “lame” are now restricted solely to the youth ghetto, which cracked me up, as these terms have been part of my lexicon since I was a kid in the “groovy ’60s” (“groovy” always deserving ironic quote marks.) Besides, who appointed kids the word police?

Happily, “cool” is a rock star, timeless and universal, sort of a verbal Beatle that transcends generations and rifts in the space/time fabric. As Dana said, “ ‘Cool’ will always be cool. I sat through a presentation about a senior project where said project was described as cool about 38 times.”

Whew, … cool is safe. Cool!

I’ll toss “banned” words and über youth lingo, but keep old favorites. I refuse to have lifelong slang hijacked by the cool kids’ table. That’s lame. And what’s the use in being a hopelessly pathetic old person, if I can’t be, well, eccentric? Epically eccentric. Heck, yeah!

And that’s legit.

You can reach Deborah Chan at

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