Slang? Dang!

Readers, myself included, love dialogue that seems genuine. We want it to ring true, to reflect character, to be appropriate for place, time and conversational partners.

In other words, we want it to feel legit.

Which brings me to slang.

Evidently, it’s not cool to say legit any more. (It’s probably not cool to say cool, either, but I’ll leave that there.) The new legit is lit, cracked or vibe. In fact, vibe is so vibin’ that my teenage son has entire conversations using it as a noun, verb and pronoun, as in “I’m vibin’ on this vibe, viber.”

Lit has similar range. Add a “y” and it becomes a super-adjective. I would imagine adding an “ly” would make it an adverb, but it seems that young people (bros? bruhs?) aren’t big on modifying verbs. (And, yes, I’m aware that saying things like “young people” means I’m not one of them.)

I would say this makes me cheesy or, to use an 80s term, Joanie, but I guess those words went out with fingerless lace gloves and antenna bangs. Cringe is the new cheese, but even that has layers, and you have to know when to use cringe versus cringe-y, just as you have to understand the subtleties of cray versus cray-cray.

Then there’s the issue of punctuation.

The period, which has always seemed fairly innocuous to me, is now a sign of derision or aggression. Answering “Okay.” to a text is the equivalent of tossing a drink in someone’s face.

Even an exclamation point may not be enough to indicate good will. (And you know I have a deep and abiding love for that mark). Digital communications now have to include emojis.

Unfortunately, even this is rife with danger. My teenage daughter informed me that using a grinning emoji may mean that you’re very sad or upset. I would respond with a face-palm emoji, but that probably indicates that I’m riding a bicycle or enjoy ham sandwiches for lunch.

All of this makes writing younger characters in 2021 fraught with the possibility of error. The eponymous protagonist of my Maggie O’Malley Mysteries is young-ish. As a twentysomething, it’s more than a little possible that she, or her bestie Constantine, would pepper dialogue with slang.

However, it’s hard for me to imagine Maggie describing a new medication as baller, suggesting that someone is capping to the police or believing that someone is sus based on a lack of alibi. So I have to thread the needle between Maggie’s youth, the heart of who she really is, and the fact that people will be reading well after the year I wrote.

It’s no mean feat, but I’ve seen others do it with aplomb because they’ve got game. Or maybe they are game? In either case, I’m inspired to keep learning, keep writing and keep my ear to the ground for not just what’s new in language, but what’s true for my characters.

Pretty sick, right?

How about you, dear friends? Do you like slang, either to read or write? Are you hip to all the cool terms or are you a square like me?

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on

75 thoughts on “Slang? Dang!

  1. I barely know any of the new slang terms. I also avoid using emojis because who knows what they’re supposed to mean? One of the hazards of not having kids. And periods being a sign of aggression is news to me. Apologies to all of my nieces if my texts ever offended them by ending a sentence correctly!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I admit that I have no clue about the new slang and if it were used around me, I would have the blankest look on my face. I still proudly use “cool” in my conversations, but I have put “groovy” in the closet of my mind. (wink emoji)

    Liked by 5 people

  3. This was such fun to read—and yes, a challenge for sure!

    I used tl;dr in a draft of a story recently, and my writing group was puzzled, to say the least—and then the question of when certain words, terms, phrases might go back out of circulation, dating a work….

    It’s a challenge to try to be accurate to the language of various groups (not just age, but occupation, cultural background, etc.) without others being mystified at times. A balance for sure.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. I think it’s what my son tells me when I write too long a text. But he’s the king of the 1-3 word (imagine them mumbled) text response. Spelling & grammar don’t matter. He also doesn’t cap the capped letters in those captchas. Not necessary. (Srsly?) Blame everything on ac.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Even though I have a teen granddaughter I don’t keep up with slang (and if she uses a term I don’t understand I google it instead of letting her know I’m “square”. I also use emojis however and whenever I like (whether they’re “cool” or not) and figure she’s smart enough to figure out what I’m trying to say, lol!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I feel for you, Kathy! My younger kiddo recently informed me that when texting him, no punctuation in any form is to be used. Not even capital letters.
    At times, I think the best way to communication with the young ones is through Schitt’s Creek gifs. Now, where’s my old man cane?

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Wait, so emojis don’t mean what they appear to mean? Someone shoot me know. (Which is actually a terms of excitement since I can dictate things mean whatever I want them to me.)

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Kathy, you never fail to make me LLOL—legit laugh out loud. And I must say, I am the heppest of cats in my own mind. I’ve also accepted the very real possibility my kids tell me things like this that aren’t remotely true. Now, where is that eggplant emoji so I can tell you how spectacular your spelling skillz are …..

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Ha ha! Speaking of things fraught with danger, I’ve decided to steer clear of any produce-related emojis. I went to an emoji encyclopedia (yes, such a thing exists) and was shocked, shocked I say, see all the possible things I may accidentally convey!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hilarious. Can you imagine what it’s going to be like 200 years from now when lexicographers (or whoever) try to piece together how we did the talky-talk? It’ll be as weird as when we see Chaucer’s Ss look like Fs.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I am definitely a square. Even my brother texts me acronyms, and I need to look them up!

    On the other hand, I’m glad I have a few resources around. I have a critique partner who keeps introducing slang into her work, so that helps me know new terms. My editor is also pretty good at telling me about up-and-coming vocabulary–and letting me know when I’m writing “too old!”

    Liked by 3 people

  10. This was a delightful post! My kids are always using slang that makes me go “what now?” and then they patiently explain it. It’s fascinating to see the words come and go. (Is it? I think it is. #wordnerd)

    I was able to stop saying “mint,” eventually, which is what we said in high school for something fabulous. But I will never be able to stop saying “cool.”

    Liked by 3 people

  11. OMG, I SO love this post! I have no kids (and, thus, no grand kids) to ask questions of, so I’m always at a loss as to what acronyms and newly coined slang mean. Luckily, I tend to favor food emojis, which I’m hoping are mostly safe. Or are they…?

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Kathy, you have no idea how perfect the timing on this is! I’ve been debating incorporating some current slang into my new book, but would I have to explain “salty,” “thirsty,” and “spilling tea” to readers who aren’t tweens, teens, or Gen Z, like my kid? The last thing I want to do is sound like an old fart trying to sound hip! Loved the post.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I taught myself GenX slang to do Nattie’s unique voice in the Natalie McMasters Mysteries. My teen doesn’t use it at all, so thank God for the Internet. I’ve had a mixed reaction from readers. Some can’t even take all the OMGs, WTFs and WOATs (I’ll bet they’re parents with teens!) and others get up in my DMs to tell me the think Nattie’s voice is totally iconic and to thank me for teaching them a new language. And I don’t explain anything. I’m old school — if you don’t understand it, look it up!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “Look it up!” I love that. Now we have Google instead of the Encyclopedia Britannica! And interesting about the reader responses. So cool (I mean vibe) that many like learning new slang.


  14. GenX slang is not all that I use. Nattie’s wife Lupe is Mexican, so her English is very exact but sprinkled with Spanish here and there. Nattie’s husband Danny was in the Corps, so that gives me the chance to throw in some Marinespeak.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Awesome post, Kathy! Cool. Hilarious. Super cute. (That’s it. That’s all the polite slang I got, ha–because in a NY minute the others will all disappear.) Although here in upper New England, “wicked” has also never gone out of style, along with that horrible Moxie drink.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. You can label me a SUPER square! I stay in the 70’s if I am using slang because that was the last time I used slang of any importance. I have used some slang of newer years but they change faster than scrolling down the pictures on a cell. I am almost 60 and I don’t want to sound anything but a 60 year old or else I would get confused and then…what was I saying? 😴😴

    Liked by 2 people

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