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Bewildered by modern ‘slanguage’

September 24, 2011

I did it to my parents who did it to their parents. Now they’re doing it to us, and I’m wondering if the King’s English is already our “second language.” 
Of course, I’m talking about slang. It swings, grooves, rocks and rules from generation to generation. Each has its own “slanguage” composed of puzzling pet phrases which allows them to communicate while their elders remain clueless.
What was “23 skidoo” in the 1920s is “Let’s roll” a century later. What was “jivin’” in the 30s became “groovin’” in the 60s, and “boss” in the 70s. What “burned you up” in the 50s will “frost” you in the new millennium. Where’s the logic in that?
Slang is probably no more puzzling today than it was two centuries ago when a thief was called a “smatter hauler” when stealing handkerchiefs. They couldn’t steal credit cards, so they stole handkerchiefs, I guess. The thief would be detained by the “crushers” – 18th century equivalent of “cops.”
Slang is a tribal thing, and I think my tribe (the over-50 crowd) is engaged in a hostile take-over.  The rise of texting has complicated things even more. If you catch your grandchild texting GPOS, that’s short for “grandparent over shoulder.” 
From flappers to rappers, slanguage has always been around and it will reveal your age quicker than you can say “Botox.” No matter how much you spend on skin treatments or hair color, it’s what you say that gives you away! 
I was chatting with my 20-something neighbors today and we were discussing work underway to install fiber optic cables along our street.   
“Sweet,” remarked one. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” said I. They looked at me like I was a Twinkie at the health club.
“Err, groovy,” I corrected myself. They said nothing, but I saw the eye-roll. When did I cross the Grand Canyon from hip young career woman to a 1934 Studebaker?
What we once called a newcomer would soon be shortened by e-mail to “newbie” and, more recently to just plain old  “noob” – meaning someone totally from the dark ages - like a parent, perhaps?
A simple phase like “None of your business” has been replaced by “nunya.” To say “hi” on television has become a “shout-out” and everyone’s doing it from the President to Sponge Bob Square Pants.
And you haven’t lived until you’ve been “dissed” by someone.  Apparently getting “dissed” is not a good thing and involves being the butt of someone’s joke.   I heard the new verb five times today and had to run look it up to discover it’s the most modern form of disrespect. 
Okay, I think I’ve got it. I’ve been practicing saying “You dissin’ me, noob?” I’m just not sure where or when to use it.
Emily Jones is a retired journalist who edits a website for bouncing baby boomers facing retirement. She welcomes comments at

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