Say what? How young people 'turnt' the English language
Any idea what on fleek means? How about bae?
Each generation of young adults and teenagers leaves its mark on the English language, and Millennials are certainly no different.
“It’s always changing, and I always feel like I’m behind, even though I’m 21,” said Kaelyn Wilson of Keller, who is studying nursing at Texas Tech University.
Cracking the language code isn’t just about becoming part of the club. There are some very real consequences for knowing or not knowing the language. And in the business community, that can turn into some very real dollars.
Take Taco Bell for example. That's a company whose bread and butter — or, let's make that tortilla chips and Fire Sauce — is the teenage and young adult audience.
The company has rolled out a “Millennial Word of the Week” at its California headquarters, in an effort to better understand its most loyal customer base.
Small groups of employees in their 20s get together and come up with the word of the week, which is then distributed throughout the company the old-fashioned way — by email — according to an Associated Press story.
Young people are the traditional drivers of change when it comes to the evolution of most languages, said Laurel Stvan, linguistics chair at the University of Texas at Arlington.
It begins with a need to be different from previous generations.
“Different groups of people are going to use slang as a way to identify each other, as a way of belonging together,” Stvan said. “Young people create new vocabulary to separate themselves from the adults in their lives. Most of the slang doesn’t stick around very long though, it comes and it goes really quickly. But some words do stick around and after a while they sometimes they lose their novelty.”
For example, Stvan said words such as cool (“That’s a cool shirt.”), toast (“If that team doesn’t score quickly, it’s going to be toast.”) and serious (“Man, I could seriously go for a burger right now.”) were all once slang words that now fit into mainstream conversation.
For definitions of words and phrases such as on fleek and bae, see the glossary below.
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What are they saying?
Below is a sample of some emerging words used by young adults and teenagers, along with some working definitions. Note: Definitions are from anecdotal conversations with people on the streets of Arlington and Fort Worth, as well as Urbandictionary.com (an unedited website), and subject to variation.
- On fleek: On point, glamorous, sharp. “My outfit is on fleek.”
- Bae (sometimes spelled bay): Babe, baby. A shorthand way to refer to a significant other, or a famous person perhaps you wish was your significant other. “Sonja Gerhardt is my bae.”
- Swerve: I don’t want to talk about it. Person A: “Do you like him?” Person B: “Swerrrve.”
- Lit: A crazy or happening place or event. “That party last night was lit!”
- Turnt: Intoxicated. A word that evolved from the 2013 party song Turn Down for What, a song that promotes a never-ending party attitude. “Let’s go to the club and get turnt.”