Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, November 9, 2006
“The caf was nast, so I came back to rejuv. I guess it was dece. But whatevs, this pape is totes not my fav, you under? I mean, obvs!”
If this sample snippet of conversation puzzles you, allow me to play linguistic interlocutor for a moment. The speaker begins the dialogue – if it can be called that. I guess it appears almost soliloquizing, so profoundly elegant is the tormented inner anguish that the speaker communicates by noting that the cafeteria (or appropriate eating establishment) was “nast” – that is to say, nasty. After discovering that said food did not meet taste standards, the speaker returned to his or her abode to rejuvenate and gather strength, probably exhausted from the mental exertion necessary to speak like this.
The following sentence continues the laconic report on the speaker’s feelings, substituting the conveniently concise “dece” for the much more obtrusive and unwieldy “decent.” The speaker then switches subjects and dismisses (employing “whatevs” for “whatever”) the pressing assignment at hand, a paper of unfavorable repute, which is totally not his or her favorite. The speaker gauges the listener’s response by asking a comprehension interrogative: “You under(stand)?” Being assured of the listener’s understanding, the speaker then interjects an exclamatory exasperation, remarking how obvious her comments are (and opting for the more pithy “obvs” over the disyllabic “obvi”).
I’ll admit that maybe I haven’t heard these phrases exactly as given above. Sticking so many atrocious colloquialisms in such close proximity would probably leave even the speaker wondering exactly what had just been said. But I assure you that I have heard every one of these slang terms used in separate conversations, usually surrounded by a handful of similar words. (Well, okay, so I made up “under,” but I can see somebody using that. Can’t you?)
Why do people talk like this? Numerous case studies have left scientists stumped. My own theory is that the degeneration of language in our age arises from the fact that we are just plain busier than any age before us. I mean, there are a lot of shows on TV. A lot. If you want to watch even a fraction, you have to learn to flip channels pretty fast. And if you want to write about them, what do you use? That’s right, a keyboard. Those things are covered in buttons – I mean, how many letters can there be? The old-timers had it so much each easier with their quaint pencils and paper. In this day and age, it’s really a great burden to always be so occupied.
Therefore, sacrifices have to be made. What’s something else we all do these days, besides watch television and get on our computers? That’s right: talk. And with so many TV shows to talk about, there’s just never enough time. Other generations had their slang, their jive, their jargon, their jibber-jabber – and those all worked fine. But today, we need a language that can really capture the essence of our busy lives. We need a dialect that gets right down to the point, without wasting time on extraneous syllables.
And so we have one of the capstones of linguistic development in the past decade. Or century. Or … ever. If you find yourself still struggling with this new slang, don’t worry, I’m seeking to remedy that here. Let’s try working with another codex:
“Anys, I’ve def gotta hit the lib. B.T. dubs, that teev show was soo sketch. Watch it later? Yeah, probs. You’re welcs. Alright, outy.”
The speaker here transitions smoothly from a previous conversation to the exchange at hand using “anys,” the truncated version of “anyway.” He or she must most certainly visit the library. A side comment is introduced by a two-layered curtailing “B.T. dubs.” This unique construction is no solecism, but rather a highly intricate code for the letters “btw.” This abbreviation, one we can all thank the Internet for giving us, means “by the way.”
Moving on, the speaker forsakes the traditional shortening of television to TV (far too cumbersome) in favor of combining the two letters and dropping the final diphthong. Sketch stands in for sketchy, a term with which everyone is surely familiar. The final few coded terms should reveal themselves easily by now: “probs” for “probably,” “welcs” for the extremely awkward and tiring “you’re welcome,” and “outy” for “I’m out,” a fittingly abridged adieu for such a condensed conversation.
This new manner of speaking isn’t easy to grasp at first, and language departments nationwide lack funding to adequately develop effective translation guides. I hope this brief primer will be but the first step in an intrepid age of exciting advancements in linguistic theory.
Thanks to Kyoko and Elizabeth for providing many of the idiosyncratic words and terms used above, and thanks to the countless linguistic revolutionaries without whose inspiration and prescient understanding of language’s bold new direction I could never have written this interpretive key.
James Dechant is a june Eng and Thee maj. You can eem him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.