By Julie Barzilay
Itâs Jeremy Michaelsonâs fifth period English class: students are perched on desks and tables reenacting the river-crossing scene from William Faulknerâs âAs I Lay Dying.â There is an analysis of Faulknerâs imagery on the board.Â One student volunteers their perspective: Jewel Bundren is âsuch a baller.â
When Faulkner first put pen to paper to craft this 1930 novel, Jewel the Mississippi farmer would more likely have been âthe catâs pajamas,â or âthe real McCoy,â as per the vernacular of the era.
Regardless of what Faulkner intended, hearing literary characters referred to as ballers or beasts does not bother Michaelson.
âAs someone who loves language, Iâm always interested in the way itâs evolving,â he said.Â âSlang reminds you that language is alive.âÂ
Slang has propelled social groups, defined youth culture and elicited reproach for decades, but the technology of the 21st century has propelled and amplified the reach of this evolution significantly.Â
Last year, a Facebook group called âABBREVS… most def sweeping the H DUB FROSHâ emerged on the social networking scene, complete with a list of about 50 abbreviations and their translations for use in everyday English.Â Pioneered by current sophomores Natasha Ettensberger, Anna Etra and Nicole Hung, Facebook enabled the girlsâ fave abbrevs ranging from the âlibesâ (library) to âinformayshâ (information), to penetrate the vocabularies of at least 93 other group members â and likely many more casual Facebook-addicted browsers just searching out legit new groups.
On a broader scale, websites like urbandictionary.com, a user-edited site dedicated to defining the words of today as they are invented, enables words used by a few kids in one area to circulate to the masses. These attempts to document and translate the burgeoning repertoire of slang reinforce the power of the internet to inflate the time-old tradition of adopting hip jargon to new proportions.
These attempts to document and translate the burgeoning repertoire of slang reinforce the power of the internet to inflate the time-old tradition of inflating hip jargon to new proportions. Jesse Mirman â10 credits much of the current teen vernacular to instant messaging.
Keyboard abbreviations like âlol,â âttylâ and âomgâ are becoming old news, but the truncation trend is still going strong with âtotes,â âmost defâ and keyboard symbols like âslashâ seeping into conversation as well âmuch to the annoyance of Sarah Tither-Kaplan â09.
âItâs just laziness,â she said, especially irked by âcompletely unnecessaryâ abridgements, such as shortening crucial to âcrooshâ or unfortunately to âunfortch.âÂ
Laziness as an inspiration for language reaches an all-time high in the urbandictionary.com definition of âpwnz,â a.k.a. beating or mastering something or someone, pronounced âpones:â âOriginated when a lot of computer nerds misspelled ownz.â
Then again, a separate definition for âpowns,â pronounced the same way, claims that it is derived from âprofessionally owningâ someone.Â
This ambiguity of origin may be surprisingly important in slangâs function. If a word has many nuances, it allows the user to label subtle emotions or actions that he or she perhaps feels is unique to the current generation.
âWeâre young and we like to be individual,â Tony Baker â09 said.Â âI think [slang] is a way of building camaraderie amongst other members of our generation and separating ourselves from older generations.âÂ
Pop culture also feeds the fire with songs like âThnks fr th Mmrsâ by Fall Out Boy, or the âIDK my BFF Jillâ Cingular commercial in which a mother and daughter argue in text message lingo.Â This commercial spawned over 180 Facebook groups, diffusing the trendâs reach further still. Beyond abbreviations, words from previous generations sometimes make a comeback. Baker said that âpsyche!â is recycled from the early â90s, and school psychologist Dr. Sheila Siegelâs memories of phrases like âfrom the gitgo,â âbitchinâ and âboss,â would not sound too foreign around campus.Â
However, Michaelson remembers â80s jargon like âstoopid freshâ (really cool), âwedgeâ (to eat voraciously) and ânubsâ (a fight), that appears to have faded with time, much like the 20s expression âgoing pecan,â meaning to go crazy.
Sometimes convenience and what Bookstore Associate Allie Costa described as portmanteuâ combining two words into oneâalso yield new slang.Â âFor serialâ substitutes for âseriously,â âsuperflyâ refers to coolness and âsicknastyâ combines the best of two adjectives.Â Slang is also regional. In Connecticut, âtotesâ means totally and âsickâ is transformed to âill.â
Stephanie Maldonado â11 confirmed that words like legit, ridiculously, literally, casually, beastly, random and awkward are commonly inserted into daily chatter.Â These words are striking only in their overuse and exaggerated nature.Â Rebecca Contreras â09 sees the tendency to dramatize descriptions and emphasize the awesomeness or suckiness of something as natural.
âSlang happens. Every culture, every school has their own,â she said.Â âSomeone says it once and suddenly it becomes part of the vernacular.â
Costa thinks some of these words are flat-out misused: for instance, in sentences like âmy head literally exploded.â
âHowever youâre communicating, you should still express yourself well and fully,â she said.Â âI like classy words that roll off your tongue, but any form of communication is fine as long as the lines are open and healthy.â Even though Michaelson is chill with letting unconventional vocab fly, not all teachers are as mellow.
âIt depends on the class and the teacher,â Contreras said.Â âSome teachers are put off by it, others are amused.â Science teacher Dr. Yanni Vourgourakis fits into the latter category.
âI donât know where they come from, but those words are usually clever,â he said.Â âI think itâs great â some of them are hysterical.â
Michaelson sees slang, whether promulgated by technology or rebounded from the past, as vital.
âThink about it: would you rather live in a world where people speak proper English all the time, or a world where language evolves? I know which one Iâd pick.â
Trudat, teach.Â Â Â