"Slang is the poetry of everyday life," wrote linguist S.I. Hayakawa back in 1941. And while we can't say all the teenage phraseology here is poetic, it is everyday.Skip to next paragraph
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For this project, we asked Monitor writers and contributors to talk with teenagers on six continents and tell us what words and usages teenagers were contributing to the world's lexicon.
Much of it, not surprisingly, was American-derived, thanks to Hollywood films and television shows. But reporters also found evidence of cultural upheaval in places like France and Russia reflected in slang usage. And there were plenty of piquant, creative, and catchy local terms.
Part 1, which ran June 23, featured glossaries from France, Japan, Scotland, Australia, and Kenya.
As numerous of the more thoughtful teens interviewed observed, a lot of L.A. slang comes from Hispanic and African-American street and gang kids, not to mention the drug culture. All the teens, especially middle- and upper-class ones in nice neighborhoods, use these words with little awareness of the darker context from which some current slang emerged.
Sweet: Good, as in, "That ride was really sweet," or "that's sweet" (pronounced as a single word, "thasSWEET").
Bad: Good. "That doughnut was bad."
'I'm down with that': I am enthusiastic about, in accord with, understand.
Smokin', crazy, nice: Good.
Whack: Bad, unstable. "That situation is really whack."
Lame: Bad. "That meal was really lame."
Fresh, trippy: Trendy, up with the times. "That girl's dress is trippy."
'That's the bomb': Ultimate best.
Homies (HO-mees): Friends. Short for "home boy," someone from the neighborhood; adapted from gang parlance. "They're my homies." Usually male.
Bud: Friend, buddy.
Yo!: Greeting. Perhaps adapted from military usage, derived from "ho!"
'I'm outtie': Farewell. Short for "I'm out of here."
Chillin', rollin': Gathering with friends, hanging out. "We're all rollin' at the corner."
Chill: Relax. Clipped form of "chill out."
The following slang is specific to Beijing; teenagers in Shanghai use different words. Hank Sheller and Greg Ray, two Americans who speak excellent Chinese, provided the following. They co-write "Comrade Language," a popular column about the Chinese language published in a local newsletter for expatriates.
(Note: Tone and inflection make an enormous difference in the meaning of Chinese words, but there is no simple way to communicate that information here.)
Bang (baang): Cool (no other literal translation). "Neige dianying te bang." ("That film is especially cool.")
Gai le mao (geye luh mao): Great! Literally, "put a hat on it." Used as an exclamation.
Jue le (juway luh): Awesome! Literally, "excellent."
Ge mer (guh mer): Man; dude.
Jie mer (jee-yuh mer): Woman. Literally, "brethren."
War (wah-ar): Hang out.
Ke chuar (keh choo-ar): To bum around. Literally, to be an extra in a movie. "Zanmen qu war ba." ("Let's go hang out.")
Beng zhao (behng jao): Chill out. Literally, "don't worry." Used as a response. Jao rhymes with Mao.
Shenme wan yir (shen meh wahn yihr): What is the meaning of this? Literally, "What the heck is that about?"
Brother: Friend. (Yes, they use the English term, and surfers here say "Bro.")
E o bicho (eh oo bee-shoo): Good. Literally, "It's the animal." "Esse filme E o bicho!" ("That movie was great!")