Birthing New Online Slang
In the 1980s, slang words such as “bite me,” “righteous” and “chill” where a part of our everyday vernacular. TV, movies and music made these and many other words the jargon of a generation.
Uses of those words were often fodder for sitcoms. For example, in the ’80s, it was always funny to hear a 40-year-old say “gag me with a spoon.”
In reality, the older generation was using those words to connect to the younger generation. It was a poorly veiled attempt to communicate with teenagers or, what probably seemed like to older generations, alien life forms.
Fast forward to 2016 and, as a parent and a teacher, I’m constantly trying to stay hip to the new jargon, in hopes of making and maintaining connections to my kids and students.
The roles have reversed, and now I’m the goofy guy in his 40s trying to communicate with the aliens.
It is increasingly more difficult to stay ahead of this new slang today than it was in the ’80s.
With the proliferation of new media and countless social influencers, the adoption of slang seemingly happens overnight. And, unfortunately for old fuddy-duddies like me, these new terms are gone almost as quickly.
For example, terms like “bae” and “on fleek” are actually on their way out. You say you’ve never used or even heard those terms? Don’t worry. They’re so 2015.
In case you’re curious, “bae” is a term of endearment meaning “before anyone else,” often used in reference to boyfriends and girlfriends. “On fleek” is a compliment. Instead of saying, “her shoes look amazing” say, “her shoes are on fleek.”
According to popsugar.com, if you want the freshest jargon for your saucy social media updates, try these new cool terms.
Instead of “on fleek,” use the word “snatched,” as in “that outfit is snatched.” Or try adding “boots” to the end of an adjective for emphasis, such as “this is silly boots” or “I’m hungry boots.”
How these words are created and eventually adopted is a bit of enigma. But a group of Chinese researchers think they may have cracked the code.
In the January issue of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, Leihan Zhang, Jichang Zhao and Ke Xu of Beihang University in Beijing, China, found that the adoption of online slang ebbs and flows, but that adoption usually has two peaks: a small peak at the beginning by social influencers (e.g., celebrities), and a second, much larger peak when the social media crowd uses the new slang.
Their research team used Weibo, a popular social media platform similar to Twitter, to analyze slang birth and adoption. Webio has 500 million users in China alone, generating 100 million posts per day. These posts mirror the same kind of content we see on Twitter – status updates, opinions, news and entertainment.
Zhang, Zhao and Xu’s evidence suggests influencers don’t actually have that much influence on the adoption of new slang.
Sure, celebrities are important at the beginning of the life cycle of a new term. It’s the everyday users who deliver lexicon legitimacy.
It's been more than two weeks since Colin Burdette and his friend, Nick Wells, were injured in a four-wheeler accident.
Nick has a broken wrist and a concussion, and is recovering at home. Colin injured his spleen, broke an arm and most of the bones in his face (eye sockets, cheekbones, jaw – you get the picture).
Hours of surgery, a week in Akron Children's Hospital, and hundreds (if not thousands) of social media support posts later, Colin is home recuperating with this family.
Colin is back to doing what he loves. No, not playing soccer and football. Not running around the streets of Hubbard, Ohio. Not yet. For now, he's SnapChatting and Instagraming with close friends from the confines of his home.
Social media provides Colin, his family and friends, and the community the opportunity to connect in ways that wouldn’t have been possible just ten years ago. Facebook, Twitter and other platforms gave people instantaneous access to Colin’s support network, and the ability to send positive messages of love and support.
Colin’s mother, Molly Burdette, used her Facebook page to invite friends to the Akron Children’s website to send personal messages in the form of “get well” e-cards.
“I've been reading them to him,” Molly said. “Only one of his arms is mobile so it’s difficult for him to handle (electronic devices). He only remembers the last couple days in the hospital, so we've been re-reading all of the messages to him.”
Katie Burdette, Colin’s older sister, spent a considerable amount of time creating multiple social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #HelpColin in an effort to unite a broader social media community behind Colin.
“The hashtag campaign was mainly just to get the word out about Colin’s surgery,” Katie said. “I just wanted as many people to pray for him as possible.”
Colin’s facial surgery lasted nearly ten hours.
Her campaign grew so much attention that talk show host Montel Williams tweeted:
“Major shout out @katieburdette2 for reminding us all what being a big sister means. @ColinBurdette is lucky to have u Katie. #HelpColin”
Brendan Burdette, Colin’s older brother said, "Even the Ohio State University offensive coordinator, and actor R. J. Mitte (Breaking Bad) sent social media support messages."
"The outpouring of support was incredible," Katie said.
Katie’s campaign for Colin, and the league of people who responded to offer support, demonstrates the powerful, positive aspects to social media. While stories of the antisocial, negative uses of social media dominate the news, it’s important to remember the good social media can do.
Before the mass adoption of social media, it would take a long time for the message of a hurt child to reach a concerned community.
The Burdettes were able to get the message out in a matter of minutes. The speed of their communication activated the community, and led to rapid responses from friends who "virtually" rallied around Colin.
Some people think that it is because of social media that communities have become disconnected. Colin’s family and social media supporters proved them wrong.
~ A version of this column appeared in the "Connected" section of The Vindicator, Sunday, October 5, 2014.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.