Why all the cray-cray words?

Slang from web, tex­ting al­ters English

Edmonton Journal - - ARTS & LIFE - EL­IZ­A­BETH “LIBSIES” WITHEY

Have I gone cray-cray, or has English be­come just a lit­tle too adorbs?

Peeps are buy­ing prezzies and mak­ing restau­rant rezzies, they’re shar­ing email ad­dies and eat­ing ba­con sam­mies with their swag boyfs. They’re get­ting jeal cos their hubs chat­ted up some hot­tie. They’re tweet­ing self­ies and shelfies and drelfies, lik­ing fails, hearting pics from their BFF’s win­ter va­cay. Totes ridic!

Obvs I get that lan­guage changes. It’s amaze­balls how the web has changed the way we talk — on com­put­ers, on phones, face to face. But some­times I get a lit­tle emo, I think, OMG, if I hear one more Dude or Chickie say “awe­some sauce” or “YOLO” I’m go­ing to hash­tag hurl! Same­sies gets lame­sies, you know?

“There’s an el­e­ment of play­ful­ness to it,” Amer­i­can lin­guist Ben Zim­mer says of the slang, which is pop­u­lar online, in tex­ting as well as face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “There’s fun in shar­ing this in-group code. Th­ese are forms of lan­guage you are shar­ing with a group that ap­pre­ci­ates what you’re do­ing.”

Call it the cute­si­fi­ca­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Or dimi nu­tiviza­tion, if you’re sweet on lin­guis­tics. Diminu­tives are word tweaks that im­ply small­ness or, in this case, af­fec­tion and fa­mil­iar­ity. The -ie or -y end­ing (pro­nounced “ee”) is one of the big­gies, but other diminu­tives in­clude -let, -ling, -ette and mini-. They make speech sound fun, ca­sual, less pre­ten­tious.

“The child­ish­ness of is in­ten­tional,” says Zim­mer, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of vo­cab­u­lary.com and lan­guage colum­nist for the Wall Street Jour­nal.

“It’s a way of be­ing en­dear­ing to a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject in ei­ther a lov­ing or con­de­scend­ing way.”

Take the word “selfie,” a clipped ver­sion of self-por­trait which Ox­ford Dic­tionar­ies just se­lected as the 2013 word of the year.

“Selfie” has its ori­gins in Aus­tralia, the diminu­tive heart­land. Aussies are fa­mous for their af­fec­tion­ate nick­names end­ing in that “ee” sound: break­fast is brekkie, bar­be­cue is bar­bie, rel­a­tives are rel­lies, mos­qui­toes are mozzies.

Words can be hacked up in all sorts of fun ways to make them more caj, more coo­lio, more crazy­pants. Lop off a syl­la­ble or two, add an -s, and bam! Good times. Sud­denly you’ve got “totes” (to­tally), “adorbs” (adorable) and “obvs” (ob­vi­ously).

Zim­mer says th­ese sorts of clip­pings have found a nat­u­ral home online be­cause we tend to be terser when tex­ting and typ­ing, and may be re­stricted by char­ac­ter lim­its. What’s un­usual, he says, is how clip­pings have moved from online into oral speech. “Usu­ally it works the other way.”

To­gether with web-and-text-friendly slang like OMG, LMAO and WTF, we are see­ing “a new, in­ti­mate form of English,” Zim­mer says. “It’s won­der­ful fod­der for me.”

Young peo­ple usu­ally coin the slang. Back in the 1890s, stu­dents at Ox­ford went through a fad of adding “-er” on the end of words, and that’s how we have the word “soc­cer.” As­so­ci­a­tion foot­ball, as it was orig­i­nally known, got short­ened first to “As­soc.” or “As­socer” then “soc” and “soc­cer,” as dis­tinct from rugby foot­ball, clipped to “rug­ger.”

Ken­neth Ba­clawski Jr., a doctoral stu­dent at UC Berke­ley, has used Twit­ter to study the ori­gins of trun­cated words aptly known as “ab­brevs,” which pre­date the In­ter­net (think of pet names like Wills, Babs and Mags, short for Wil­liam, Bar­bara and Mar­garet).

At a party, a kid might say some­thing’s “totes in apro­pro” (to­tally in­ap­pro­pri­ate), but they will likely out­grow that lingo as they be­come adults.

“I don’t see it catch­ing on in a way that’s go­ing to re­place the words,” he says.

Ba­clawski hy­poth­e­sizes that ab­brevs and other web and text slang have popped up be­cause they are the first type of writ­ten lan­guage that’s con­ver­sa­tional.

In the past, “a let­ter wasn’t a con­ver­sa­tion, it was a mono­logue. Now you have an in­ter­face where you have to re­spond in real time.” Be­cause of that, the lan­guage must also con­vey tone, ges­ture — hence slang and emoti­cons.

Be­cause of its youth­ful ori­gins, the slang we’re see­ing to­day “very of­ten gets dis­par­aged as friv­o­lous and unim­por­tant, in the sense that it’s not se­ri­ous talk,” Zim­mer ex­plains.

“But it’s not meant to be se­ri­ous talk. And very of­ten that’s where the in­no­va­tive forms of lan­guage per­co­late, bub­ble up.”

Slang usu­ally works its way into the all-ages ver­nac­u­lar, even if it’s just in­tended sar­cas­ti­cally. So, don’t be sur­prised to hear your dear old grandma say “OMG! Nom!” when she sees the tur­key and all the trim­mings (hash­tag awk­ward).

Ab­bre­vi­at­ing words into cuter shorter forms is noth­ing new. We’ve been say­ing “movie” (from mov­ing pic­ture) for at least a cen­tury, and cre­at­ing diminu­tives out of first names goes back to the Mid­dle Ages. And clipped mil­i­tary jar­gon like “in­tel” and “ops” have sim­ply trick­led into main­stream com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“Lan­guage is still op­er­at­ing in the same ways it al­ways has,” Ba­clawsi says.

Sure, the speed that goes with tex­ting and so­cial me­dia has ac­cel­er­ated the phe­nom­e­non but it’s not al­ways about ef­fi­ciency.

Slang like “cray-cray” (crazy) or “same­sies” (me too) ac­tu­ally takes longer to type and speak. But so what? It’s fun. As long as you don’t go over­board.

Says Zim­mer: “If you’re run­ning around al­ways say­ing ‘Totes adorbs!’ that would get on peo­ple’s nerves.”

T H E ASS O C I AT E D P R E SS/ F I L E S

In this file photo, ac­tress Meryl Streep uses her iPhone to take a selfie of her­self and then-sec­re­tary of state Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton fol­low­ing a State De­part­ment din­ner last year in Wash­ing­ton.

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