There comes a time in life when you stop understanding what people are saying. I don’t mean that you lose your hearing or develop some horrible cognitive deficit, although that’s a possibility. What I mean is that words as you have known them are taken away from you and used in ways that seem completely foreign.
I remember the first time I heard my niece use the word “random” as a noun, as in: “He’s just some random from The Sydney Morning Herald.” She said that the word had been used as a slang term for years. I replied that using “random” like this made no grammatical sense.
Social media has birthed a slew of space-saving initialisms, such as “IKR” (“I know, right?”).Credit:
I then realised that she didn’t care about grammar, or my opinion. Now, of course, I use random as a noun all the time.
“Random” originated in the United States, but Australians have always had their own rich vernacular, especially when it comes to shortened slang. Witness “servo”, “barbie” and “bottlo”; the term “selfie” also originated here. Today’s slang, in particular, has become a kind of lexical garbage compactor, crushing whole phrases into acronyms. My daughter appends her texts to me with “ILY”, which I only recently found out means “I love you”. When I repeat a favourite joke, she says, “That’s TITF” (“Taking it too far”). When I ask if she liked the joke in the first place, she says, “TBH, no.” (“To be honest, no.”) There’s also “IKR” (“I know, right?”). And she’s always been a fan of “YOLO” (“You only live once”), partly because it feels so good to say out loud.
So where does all this come from? “Initialisms are a product of social media,” says Australian National University academic and author Amanda Laugesen, who co-edits the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary.
“It’s slang in the digital age.” Slang is also about marking out an in-group. But in-groups change, which is why slang can be so ephemeral. (Who really says “totes” anymore?) In this way, slang words are like friends: some pop in and out of your life, others are here to stay. I’ve started adding “ILY” when I’m texting my family, because it’s just a nice thing to do. And besides, as my daughter would say, YOLO, man.
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