Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yo, are your slang terms totally tubular?

Let's talk slang. Current slang, old slang and the dreaded middle-aged slang.

I started thinking about slang recently when I found myself wandering the halls of the local middle school last week looking for my daughter who'd forgotten her new schedule. (Quick aside: if you'd ever like to feel about 110 years old, visit a middle school first thing in the morning in sweat pants with no makeup).

Slang is tough. We're talking about terms that are always changing and technically might not exist. If you write it wrong, your piece is automatically dated. It's like writing a character who has a dialect; you can't overdo it, and you have to do it right.

I found a term on just the other day that made me giggle: middle-aged slang. This is a term apparently used by young people when some fossil comes to their school to offer a motivational speech or promote a book, and peppers the talk with out-of-date terms that are supposed to draw in the crowd: ("What's up, Verne? You're looking totally tubular today!") Naturally, it just makes the audience snicker with youthful derision.

It reminded me of a newspaper I worked at years ago that decided to put out a weekly college insert. They titled it "Yo." I wasn't that many years out of college, but even I knew that was a big mistake.

Bad, out-of-date slang can be fatal in writing. When I do use it, I usually check it out with someone surrounded by it every day - like a student or teacher. Then I modify and modernize.

And as my daughter would say, I try not to get all emo about it.

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