Teen slang now following Internet shortcuts
Published Thursday, February 8, 2007 12:02PM EST
EDMONTON - In red letters on black, Lana Bachynski's T-shirt shouts out that she rules in three simple words: I pwn noobs.
Noobs means newbies or the inexperienced. And pwn, of course, stands for the word own.
Welcome to teen slang in the age of the Internet.
As text messaging and emailing fast become the dominant mode of correspondence for teens, their slang has taken to both imitating and mocking the very cyber-shortcuts it feeds upon.
Take pwn. Own has become pwn because in the flash-rapid text-messaging keyboard typing process, the letters O and P are often transposed, explains Jordan Ashworth.
"People misspelled it so much that eventually people deliberately started spelling it with a P to be cool,'' he said. "Some people say `pone,' but usually you just say `own' regardless of the P because you know that's what it means.''
Ashworth and teen twins Lana and Emily Bachynski _ Grade 12 students at the Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts _ say Internet acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud) are now spoken out loud in the school hallways as "lawl.''
"Usually if I'm saying the word lol it's because I'm making fun of something, like: `Sweet hat. Lol.' It's a terrible, terrible hat,'' says Emily.
She says a friend began misspelling bye as bey on the web: "Now he says `bay.'''
Numbers that resemble letters can stand in for them: 1337 is hacker speak for leet, or elite. But, as with youth slang dating back to King Tut's posse, once a word is mainstream, it's history.
"If it gets overused people say `That's stupid I'm not going to use it again,''' said Ashworth.
English professor John Considine says while youth slang has always been about young people retreating into their own secret clubhouse of language, it's becoming increasingly difficult for them to keep the comb-over dads and control-top moms from honing in on the code.
"More slang is getting written down than ever before and this language that is written down is more accessible than ever before,'' said Considine, who's with the University of Alberta.
"It is changing so rapidly, the only way to put together a slang dictionary is to do it online.''
Go net surfing and glossaries galore, many from the hip-hop culture, get in your grill: diss, hood, homey, chill, bling.
The words morph, stretch and blend: chill, chill out, chillin', chillaxin, chill pill. They develop shrinkage: for sure, fer sher, fo sho.
They skip a generation or sometimes longer: "Far-out'' dates back to the 19th century. "Sweet'' as a praise term was coined in the Depression.
Some come back in old forms but with new definitions and spellings: wicked, sik, phat, ill, shabby _ all former variations once grotty now groovy.
They label: dweebs and dorks; posers and preppies.
So how does a slang word survive?
Katherine Barber, editor of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, says it's hard to predict, but says a word has a chance stay around if there's a need for it. "We don't need another word for good. Why do we need sick?'' she laughs.
She said the dictionary staff track all new words and if they find 15 different examples from 15 different sources over five years, the word _ slang or otherwise _ is in.
She said teen slang doesn't usually have that kind of staying power, but calls it a healthy exercise nonetheless: "If the kids are picking up new words and new meanings then that means they're playing with the language.''
Just remember what's appropriate, says Barber: "What up, dawg?'' may work for the homies, but not for the Macbeth essay.
And if a word is meant to endure, it will. After all, teenager was first coined in 1941. It's now old enough to draw CPP.