Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
Henrietta Gets "hip"...or was that "cool"?
January 9, 1998
One of my readers claims that one of the worst things an older person
(probably anybody over 30) can do is try to be "Hip" or "Cool." If he
means running around with those huge leg jeans dragging on the floor, or
wearing a ring in my nose, I agree with him completely. But if he
means that adults should make no concessions to language in order to
communicate with young people, I think he is wrong.
Most of us can understand basic English, almost from birth. The
problems come a little later when our kids become teenagers and start
exercising their duty to rebel against the rest of us. They do it in
all kinds of individual ways, but universally they do it in their
clothing, music and language. Their clothes and music, I suspect, come
from a different planet which I have never visited, but language is
essential to our co-existence and we have to try to understand.
My young friends and I communicate each other most of the time, although
we are speaking different languages. When I really don't know what they
are saying I ask for a translation, but I would never try to talk like
them. On the other hand, I am very pleased when high schooler Katie
tells her mother -- very occasionally -- that she thinks I am cool
because I talk to her like an adult. Well, that's really the only way
I know how to talk.
If I got irritated and said, " mad mustachio purple-hued
maltworms!" you might wonder less about my language than my sanity. But
Gadshill said it in Henry IV, and Shakespeare thought it was pretty
cool. That great little paperback called, "Shakespeare's Insults,"
shows what a real master can do with the language. He puts our modern
"hip" kids to shame.
Teenspeak is a form of slang which has been with us for a long time.
It comes and goes so fast that -- fortunately -- only little parts of
it get included in language. Just last year my very intelligent
college grandson like came to visit me and like he seemed to have a good
time, but like it was really kind of dull here like after a couple of
years at like C. C. which is like in that funny town like on the
eastern slope. This year, just one year later he is already speaking
normally. I am told that the expanded use of "like" originated in
California, hardly a surprise.
The one slang word which has survived for decades is "cool." Miles
Davis recorded, "The Birth of Cool" in 1950, about the time that the use
of "cool" first surfaced in the mainstream press. Then it was the word
for "hot" in music. According to Jeff Nunberg, the midwife of "cool"
was the hipster and by all the laws of language it should have died a
natural death around 1963 along with the rest of hipster lingo. Who
would have figured that "cool" would survive the decade, much less the
century? Most of my boomer friends use it regularly, but it still
sounds odd to
Kids who live in snow country have a great new source for teenspeak,
snow boarding. According to my friend the philosopher, who is much
closer to the situation than I am, snow boarding may not be any more fun
than skiing, but since their elderly parents ski, snow boarding is by
definition "cool" and so the language must be "cool." A "shredder"
is "way cool" which is a lot cooler than just plain cool. But on
beyond that, "sick" or "phat" are is a snow boarders words for
"exceptionally great." A "grommet" is a young, fanatic shredder, but
"lame" is definitely uncool. "Skeek" or "two-planker" refer to snow
skiers, usually followed by a smirk.
I would never try to talk like the kids. But some of their phrases
make sense. If I say, "Chill out, man," instead of "Sir, you are a
complete idiot and should learn to think before you speak," I think I
have learned something useful from them. Congress might do well to
learn a little teenspeak.