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Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Pop Slang - English Dictionary

I understand enough about linguistics to realize that a language is a living thing that changes with time and with the times. The English of Shakespeare is full of contrasts to the way we speak it today but 400 years later we are able to read what he wrote without much difficulty. Over two millennia separate the Greek of Homer and the modern language. Greek has changed very little. The two great works of ancient Greek literature, The Iliad and The Odyssey, have cast a mold that still holds the language.

The example of Haiti is the other end of this discussion. After its independence from France in 1804 this former French speaking colony has had its language evolve mercilessly. Haitian Kreyol (Creole) borrows from French, Spanish, English, and a host of African dialects. The problem with Haiti is that because it is a poor nation with a staggering level of illiteracy Kreyol has evolved ruthlessly over the years. A language must have the anchor of the written word to keep it from drifting away from its roots. Haitian Kreyol is a mess of a language and the most under-studied language in this hemisphere. Kreyol of today is very. very different than the language spoken 25 years ago on this Caribbean island.

The slang of American popular culture is evolving faster than the patois of Haiti. Phrases thought to be hip last year are practically unintelligible to today’s hipsters. I thought I would give you a sampling of my attempt to translate the slang of today into Standard English.

WOOOOO! Translation: “I’m a bigot and I’m gay. I’m so confused.” The rebel yell. Few people realize that this is actually a homosexual mating call amongst southern fraternity types, most of whom played football. The rebel yell began as a way to strengthen moral in the troops as they charged the Union positions. Now it is a desperate cry for help.

Woo Hoo High-pitched flip-side mating call of sorority types. Translation: “Why won’t my fiancĂ© have sex with me?” (See above male archetype)

Rap impresario and fashion mogul, Puff Daddy, in a recent New Yorker magazine article described the Louvre and Versailles Palace as “awe-inspiring shit.” Translation: Although I’m fairly well-educated (attended Howard University) I’m absolutely terrified to express myself in a more articulate manner because I may lose my tough-guy gangster image my marketing people have worked so hard to create.

By no means is the following list of vacant pop expressions complete:

Yo. It’s all good. No Worries. Have a good one. That is so... (fill in remainder of phrase. Example: That is so 1999). Like (He is, like, so not funny).

These expressions convey almost nothing in the way of meaning and are therefore difficult to translate. Much like the indiscriminate use of profanity these words lose any value as words and are mere linguistic landfill. There are cultures in the world where a burp or a fart have more meaning than all of these “hip” expressions put together. Continue using these phrases only if you wish to live your entire life as a marketing clichĂ©.

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