In the hierarchy of the world’s most cringe-inducing sounds, right up there with the blaring of a car alarm in the dead of night and the screeching of alley cats in a scrap is the dreaded sound of actual grown-up voices discussing the latest in teenage slang.
A fact that we were reminded of recently when listening to Weekend Edition on National Public Radio.
“New ways of communicating inevitably spawn new lingo,” announced Scott Simon this past Saturday. “Every day millions of people type billions of messages on their computers using Instant Messaging. IM is shorthand for the variety of programs that allow people, many of them teenagers, to exchange messages.”
“IM slang includes dropping vowels from common words and expressions,” added Simon, “like LOL, which means laughing out loud.”
What followed was a dispatch from reporter Neda Ulaby honing in on how teenagers behave in their natural habitat — that wild Serengeti known as the Internet.
“In case you’re not hip to IM vernacular,” reported Ulaby, “here’s help from teenagers at a suburban Virginia high school.”
Said one teenager: “I use OMG a lot, and it means, oh, my gosh,”
Said another: “I use LYLAS, which is, love you like a sister, when I’m talking to my friends.”
Said a third, “I use JK, which is just kidding.”
By this time, your humble author was ROFLMAO. But there was more. According to NPR, teenagers not only use these pseudo word-thingies on their computers, but sometimes they even use them when speaking. “The phenomenon of written IM slang crossing over into speech,” reported NPR, “is manna for linguists.”
Not to mention, manna for journalists.
After all, stories about teenagers’ zany IM language have been a staple for trend-spotting reporters for roughly half a decade now. A quick survey of the genre turned up these headline gems:
• From the Pittsburg Post-Gazette in 2003: “‘R U THERE? WT R U DOING AFTR SCL?’; (Or How The Young Are Taking Over The World Through Instant Messaging)”
• From the Seattle Times in 2003: “Call them ‘Generation Text’ Teens’ instant-messaging lingo is evolving into a hybrid language.”
• From the Christian Science Monitor in 2003: “‘r u online?’: the evolving lexicon of wired teens.”
• From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2002: “In Computer Chats, It Helps To Know The Code ;-) ;-).”
• From the Columbus Dispatch in 2002: “Kids Say The Darndest Things In Instant Messages.”
• From the New York Times in 2002: I Think, Therefore IM.”
• From the Houston Chronicle in 2001 “IM so kewl - i unnerstan the lingo.”
Five years later, NPR is just now catching up with the cool kids and attempting to diffuse parental anxiety about this crazy new trend. “Many linguists say not to panic,” concluded Ulaby. “Adults talk differently on a job interview hot seat than they do on a bar stool. And most kids are smart enough not to use chatroom language in English papers.”
Now, if only most journalists were smart enough not to use chatroom language on the air.