As an English Language student, I know more about the complexities of crafting words than I actually care to know. I know when a word is a post-modifying adjective or a complement, or an adverb is posing as an adverbial just for kicks, or when all of the above actually want to be defined as an adjectival phrase so as to make life that little bit harder. I spent a week studying the different types of pronoun (singular, possessive, 3rd person, yadda yadda yadda) and the moods of different sentence types and really, there’s only one sensible conclusion to draw: it’s all irrelevant.
As a ‘young person’, I seem to use more made-up words than I do Standard English anyway, and that makes more sense to me. It’s not a new idea so don’t credit me, but English is evolving - and at a pace that confounds all of us. It always has done; it’s the natural progression. If it didn’t then we wouldn’t have any language at all – how do you think it all ever started? Words simply don’t always mean the same thing anymore. To my age group, ‘whore’ or ‘ho’ is an acceptable term for a friend, male or female (although many older people see it as a kick in the teeth for feminism) and ‘gay’ hardly ever refers to homosexuality. Nine times out of ten the person saying it has no issue with homosexuality, although older generations think we’re being inexcusably offensive. We just don’t see these words in that way. A standard conversation with any one of my friends nowadays will inevitably involve the words ‘filth’, ‘beef’ and ‘gwanin’’, and none of these words will be used in its usual capacity. ‘Filth’ is a greeting, or a murmur of agreement. ‘Beef’ is a bad situation (often used in verb form, ‘to beef’, when you are getting angry with someone or starting some trouble) and ‘gwanin’’... Well, that’s a made-up term that I’m not even sure makes sense to us. The effect of this new language is surely pretty standard-textbook to anthropologists, psychologists and the like; it separates us from the ‘adults’ and the others in our peer group that we have no desire to communicate with. It creates a group identity, improving social cohesion (as they say). And it’s more than a little bit fun. It’s a bit like 40-year-olds looking back at the time they claimed everything was ‘to the max’ or the best put-down they could muster was ‘face!’, or even as I look back to when I was seven and tacked the word ‘not’ onto the end of every sentence to be cool. Not. It’s not a surprise to anyone, yet there are always people moaning - “Speak properly! Pronounce your T’s!” I just think it’s nice.
Slang, or colloquialism to be precise, is a natural convention of human interaction and also, in my opinion, quite a good indicator of societal progression. After all, not everything that I say to my friends is trivial, amassing to a general waste of oxygen. Young people talk about topical events, too. The conversations just sound a little different, key politicians being referred to as ‘this-or-that douchebag’ and the general state of the world being reduced to ‘just a bit shite, really’. The level of slang that pertains to my group seems to increase when there are more issues present in our lives than when we are relatively stress-free. Exam season was an explosion of synonyms for ‘bad’ (filthy, grosty, grubby, rancidity) whilst the long summer was ‘tasty’ or ‘sick’ (resurgence thanks to The Hangover films) and spent with my ‘homies and sistas’. We’re hardly ‘street’ so I guess we use this language ironically, but it’s still amusing when relating stories to outsiders and having to clarify on the sentence, ‘he was beefin’ up deep, give me some correlation sista’. For the inexperienced in cult-youth language, there’s always Urban Dictionary, a site that I often have to run to in order to suss out teenage rants (and I still don’t know what ‘ratting’ means these days) and that really is a blessing. It also shows how determined we are to maintain this part of our culture. There isn’t a name for our generation yet – there’s no more Teddy Boys or Mods – but maybe in twenty years or so anthropologists will be able to suss out a term to describe our incredibly diverse group. Even if it’s ‘that anomaly in our educated society’. That’ll be one for the Dictionary.