Don’t you just love English, no not the Shakespearean version. I mean the version we use every day, the version that is being constantly twisted, stretched, expanded and mutated. Some old fuddy-duddies might raise an eyebrow or two and tut disapprovingly when they hear slang, but not I. English is sooo fun! Language is THE best way of expressing thoughts and emotion, and we’ve been doing it since the dawn of the human age.
Our desire for social belonging instinctively drives us to bond with people who share the same beliefs and aspirations, creating a tribe, and language is the super glue that bonds. This glue is used oh-so liberally when we reach our teens, when the hormone overload drives our need to break free from the apron strings of our parents and look out to the wider world for a new support system. I see this happening now with my sons and find myself listening intently when they explain how they have allocated each other nicknames and whilst doing so they pepper the conversation with words used in new contexts that I barely recognise.
Of course I then reflect on my youthful days and recall all the words that over the years have been used to express ‘joy’ or ‘approval’. The list is by no-means comprehensive and I’m sure you could add a few more (see below), but my, what a list and gosh, how they have changed. Some are logical, some opposites, whilst others have clearly been sourced from ‘the new’ such as technologies. And as the pace of innovation increases, so too the cycle of existing slang being disregarded, making way for new ones, which are so readily embraced.
So why else do these slang words get disregarded by the tribes? Well, in the case of my sons about as soon as I open my mouth and try using the words in my own conversations. How they wince and cringe when they hear Dad trying to be ‘hip and trendy’. Another is marketing, big corp machines wanting to ‘engage’ with its target audience to ultimately flog a widget or two. How I recall that as a teenager I constantly used the word ‘Bad’ as something ‘Good’ and now I ponder how Micheal Jackson was ‘Bad’… and then cringe that he was ‘oh so really really bad!’. Recently I hear business techi types saying ‘BOOM’ every time a target has been met, presumable BOOM was once used by some bad-ass rappers, who knows.
For brands it’s a constant challenge to be relevant to their target audience, to remain ‘part of the conversation’ the audience (or tribe) is having. The tribe will always be a bit miffed that their party has been gatecrashed and so dash for the nearest exit, quickly disregarding tribal words and create new spaces for new language.
It’s a game of cat and mouse, but hey, it’s great fun and as creative types we are sponges, constantly absorbing all that is new, looking for the trends, and squirrelling them away, waiting to bring them out for the next ‘sweet’ brief, to creating the ‘sick’ copy or ‘rad’ image that makes people sit-up and take notice 🙂
Author: Marcus Bennett
Marcus is a Creative Director with over 15 years London experience. Client experiences includes BBC, Timberland and Coca Cola. Marcus is a member of the Typographic Circle and D&Ad. A passion for playing cricket, exploring the Devon coastline and collecting 1950s cigarette adverts.