"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.
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!")
Oi, cara! (Oy, car-ah): Greetings. Literally, "Hey, face!" "Oi, cara, tudo bem?" ("How's it going, man?")
Vazar (vah-zar): Leave. Literally, to empty out.
Gato, Gata (got-toe, got-tah): Good-looking boy/girl. Literally, cat. "Ela e uma gata." ("She's very good-looking.")
Careta (car-reh-tah): Unhip, uncool. Literally, bald. "Meu pai e um careta." ("My father's out of it.")
Pagar o mico (pah-gar oo mee-coo): Bad; bad news. Literally, "pay the monkey." "Ele tentou de entrar a festa sem convite. Pagou o mico. Foi mandado embora." ("He tried to crash the party. Bad news. He was kicked out.")
Barra limpa (bar-rah leem-pah): The path is clear. Literally, "clean dirt." "Pode ir agora. A barra esta limpa." ("You can go now. The path is clear.")
Fica frio (fee-cah free-oh): Be relaxed. Literally, "be cold." "Fica frio, cara. Nao e tao serio." ("Chill out, man. It's not so serious.")
Ligado (lee-gah-doh): Hip. Literally, connected. "Ele e muito ligado." ("He's very hip.")
Klyovo (CLO-vuh): Great (used as an adverb). From klyov, which means a bite or biting in the sense of fishing. "Vsyo klyovo." ("Everything is going great.") "Ona klovaya devushka." ("She's a cool girl.")
Kruto (CREW-tuh): Great, cool. Literally, steep or hard-boiled (as in egg), tough. In some contexts, this is a synonym for klyovo, but kruto often connotes New Russian-ness, wealth, even criminality. "Krutiye rebyati" are "tough guys," mobsters.
Khrenovo (hren-OH-vuh): Bad, yucky (used as an adverb). From khren (horseradish). "Kak dyela?" ("How are you?") "Khrenovo." ("Awful.")
Otpad (aht-PAHD): Ultimate best. Literal meaning: "molt."
Drugan (droo-GAHN): Friend. From drug (friend).
Koryesh (kor-YESH): Friend. From kor (root). Koryesh and drugan are used by young males to refer to their buddies. The words grew out of prison-camp culture.
Tusovat'sya (too-sah-VAHT-syah): To hang out. From the verb tusovat'; colloquial form of the word tasovat' (to shuffle, as in cards). "Na vecherinka, mi prosto tusovalis'." ("At the party, we just hung out.")
Kuchkovat'sya (kooch-koh-VAHT-syah): Hang out. From kuchka, (small group).
Torchat' (toor-CHAHT): To be somewhere; to be crazy about. Literally, to stick up, bristle, stick somewhere. "Ya ot nyeyo torchu." ("I'm crazy about her.")
Rasslabsya (rahss-SLOB-syah): Relax. Literally, to become weak, go limp.
English teenagers Jessica and Matthew Lambert - brother and sister - live near Northampton, some 60 miles northwest of London. Jessica, chatting with her dad about "teenspeak,"' points out that the coded, acceptable words used are not only "very variable," but also regional - even in such a comparatively small country.
Jessica also says that personality has something to do with it. Extroverts she knows use a different set of words than do quieter types. There are gender and cultural differences, too.
Nice one: Good, commendatory. "That's a nice one," one says when someone has said or done a good thing. ''Good effort'' is popular, too.
Cool: Cool. The universal. "Smart" is a synonym.
Sorted: Cool. Northern English in origin, perhaps. In Yorkshire, people ask "Is it sorted?" when they inquire about the progress of some project, or "Are you sorted?" meaning, "Have you more or less finished?" Now, apparently, one can be a "sorted sort" (extended from "a good sort").
'Are you winning?': Another Yorkshire phrase common to all ages, meaning "Is this job defeating you, or are you on top of it?"
Wicked, sad: Bad. Other words for "bad" include, as Jessica and Matthew's father puts it, "quite a lot of Anglo-Saxon expletives." In a polite newspaper these are unmentionable. Teenagers themselves might consider a true list of teen slang incomplete without them.
Bud, mate, pal, chum: Friend. "Chum," in particular, is used when addressing a friend.
Well good: Ultimate best. High praise indeed would be "That's well good."
All right (uh-ryt): Greeting. Probably run together into one word, with a kind of implicit question in it, meaning "How goes it?" It almost sounds like a statement rather than an interrogative. (See Scottish teenspeak for "all right," pronounced "ahreet," in June 23 Monitor, Page 16.)
Hang around with: Hang out.
Vegetate, veg (vejj): Relax. "What you been up to?" "Aw, veg-ihg.''
Brill: Good. Short for "brilliant."
Nice: Good. Imagine this as a 'cool' word. (See Los Angeles slang.)
Bye (by-eee): Goodbye. This should have a musical notation attached, as it is a sing-song sign-off.
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End Note: Vintage Slang
Some jargon stays current for generations, while other terms disappear within months. Here are a few examples of slang expressions with the approximate year they first appeared in print.
Funky: It meant "musty or foul-smelling" in the late 1700s. To jazz musicians, who breathed fresh air into slang in the 1940s, it meant "earthy, bluesy." In the 1960s, it became "trendy" or "stylishly eccentric."
Groovy: A delightfully exciting state of mind. Popularized by jazz musicians; circa 1940s.
Skidoo: To leave; circa 1910. Perhaps from "skedaddle." "The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang" cannot cite the origin of "twenty-three skiddoo" (go away; scram), from 1926.
Buckaroo: A cowboy; 1827. Perhaps formed from the Spanish vaquero (cowboy).
Jitterbug: In 1934, a jittery or nervous person; an alarmist. From the 1940s, a popular dance.
Cushy: Comfortable. From the Hindi khush, "pleasantly happy"; 1915.
What interesting words or phrases are current among teens in your area? What do they mean, where do they come from, and how are they used? Please let us know. We'd like to print a selection on a future Home Forum Page.
Or how about some "vintage teenspeak"? Words like "nifty" and "spiffy" are again popular in adolescent speech. Give us some of your favorites, and please include the decade in which they were used, if you can.
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*Writers contributing to this report: Gloria Goodale, Los Angeles; Hank Sheller, Greg Ray, and Sheila Tefft, Beijing; Jack Epstein, Brazil; Sara Karush, Moscow; Jessica and Matthew Lambert, with Christopher Andreae in Glasgow; Suman Bandrapalli, Boston.