By Tamar Honig
Epic. YOLO. Rachet. Swag. Goon. Cray-Cray. As Merriam-Webster and The Global Language Monitor research the new top words and phrases of 2012, politics, the environment, the economy, and the Mayan-predicted end of the world dominate the English speaking world. Here at BHS students seem more concerned with how “epic” or “ratchet” someone or something is, or whether a certain action under certain circumstances is YOLO-justifiable.
Like an epidemic of the common cold that circulates the school, it is often unclear exactly where these words come from and how they make their way into our everyday lingo. Despite mysterious origins, certain words that infiltrate our slang manage to proliferate with astonishing speed through social media sites, text messages, and high school hallways. Popular musicians can often profoundly impact the teenage language. For example, many are familiar with the term “swag,” a shortened version of “swagger” that implies being or having something cool. Increases in swag can be attained through great accomplishments of any kind, while distinctly un-cool moves correlate to swag down. Justin Bieber recently took the already morphed word to a new level by whispering “swaggy” while singing his song “Boyfriend”. Swaggy indeed.
The Biebs is certainly not the only musician making headway with teens and their ever-evolving jargon. “Cray” or “Cray-Cray” are, incredibly, considered shortened versions for the already pithy word crazy. Cray was popularized by rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West in a song in which the latter repeatedly tells the former that “that s**t cray.” We can thank rapper Drake for one of the most pervasive phrases of 2012 among English-speaking teens: “YOLO,” an acronym for “You Only Live Once.” YOLO is often uttered before taking a risk or performing an impulsive action and was popularized by Drake’s song “The Motto”. BHS senior Sydney Hoff adds that the phrase is often “used as justification for making a questionable decision” and that while she and her friends use it jokingly, others may perceive it as a valid reason for anything from chopping off all one’s hair to taking a dip in the sea in subarctic temperatures. Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced website that defines slang, remorselessly describes YOLO as “carpe diem for stupid people.” Whatever one’s position on the intelligence of the term, its ubiquitous prevalence among teenagers today cannot be denied.
The meanings and emotions conveyed by our charming new slang words range from disapproval to admiration to condescension – and beyond. Most are familiar with shorthand expressions such as “BRB” (be right back), “LOL” (laugh out loud), and “TTYL” (talk to you later). Two of the newest additions to text messages, Facebook chatter and Internet memes are “SMH” (shaking my head) and “TBT” (throwback Thursday), used to respond to any sort of socially unacceptable action and to reminisce on old (often embarrassing) photos, respectively.
While “darling” and “sweetheart” are generally reserved for an older crowd, teenagers have developed their own terms of endearment. So next time you are referred to as a boss, a goon, or a thug – have no fear. These versatile nouns are generally used with a positive connotation to highlight any number of qualities, from gutsiness to chillness.
No discussion of contemporary descriptors would be complete without mention of the increasingly prevalent “ratchet.” Even some of the most active employers of this word cannot articulate exactly what it means. All they know is that it exists and that they are going to use it. Possibly derived from the word wretch – which is used to describe a poor, despicable, inferior, or pitiful individual – “ratchet” is an adjective generally connected to someone who is rude, loud, or obnoxious, or someone who is acting like a diva. Urban Dictionary has its own array of synonyms for this word ranging from mildly to highly offensive, but those will be left to the slang enthusiast to discover on his or her own.
Which of these words and phrases will continue to pepper our speech in 2013 and beyond? Which will become a passing trend? It is impossible to predict. All that is certain is that teenager slang will continue to evolve and transform, as it has for centuries. So while we may cringe at hearing an elder describe something as groovy, flossy, or jiggy, let’s try to imagine a time when our children and grandchildren may squirm with equal discomfort upon our defiant declaration of “YOLO!”