Roll Deep as You Whip and Nae Nae

On Christmas and New Year’s Day, my family played a game with some slang flashcards my sister-in-law was given for Christmas. Each card had a word or phrase the meaning of which we had to figure out. Like roll deep. What do you think it means? (See the end of the post for meaning.) We knew what it meant, since we used terms like this and others back in high school. But there were some we didn’t know.

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Knock Knock’s Slang Flashcards

I was interested in a discussion about slang because of my middle grade WIP. Slang, dances, celebrities, and technology unfortunately date a book. Case in point: have you used the term the bees’ knees lately? Played with a GameBoy Advance? The inclusion of these people and items is the tricky part of writing contemporary novels for kids and teens. Members of this audience mention celebrities and use slang and technology out the wazoo—an old slang term now in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. (See also out the yin-yang.)

Frequenters of the internet quickly pick up the lingo of the internet. Like the term ship. As in “I ship Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy.” If you’ve been on the internet for even a day, you’ll have seen that term. (Go here if the term still mystifies you.) Or mansplaining.

So, what do you do when you want to use slang, but don’t want your book to sound as archaic as using Windows 95 in 2016 and beyond?

One way to do this is to make up your own slang and use it in context often. James Dashner, the author of the Maze Runner series, made up his own slang. This article tells you about that. If you saw the show Firefly and the movie Serenity, you know that many terms were made up to reflect the culture. Go here to learn some of those terms. By making up your own slang, you need not worry about slang becoming outdated.

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Don’t feel up to creating your own slang? Then carefully choose slang terms that will stand the test of time. Like the word cool. Be selective about the mention of currently popular activities that have given birth to slang. Like dance crazes. You might think twice about having your teen characters whip or nae nae at a party if your book will debut years from now. Kids and teens keep current with dance crazes and will cry foul if you mention out-of-date steps. Even I cringe whenever I see anyone in a show or a movie doing the Running Man.

You might also avoid terms so oversaturated in pop culture that even you’ve begun to hate them. If a phrase has become so mainstream that aging celebrities and your great-grandparents are using it (and giggling as they do, because they’re now in touch with “the young folks”), chances are a teen may avoid it, thinking that adults have ruined it for them. So if you sprinkle it throughout your book, they might avoid it like the plague. You feel me, homey? (I know. My use of that statement makes you go, “Arrrgggghhh.” As Senator/Emperor Palpatine might say, “Good, good. I feel your anger.”)

Palpatine-image

As I considered adding slang, celebrities, and items like game systems and phones to my book, I decided to go the route of imagination and make up my own. Too many celebrities nowadays are fifteen-minute wonders (or, sadly, pass away). And technology changes very quickly. You have only to look at the phones Cher and her friends in the movie Clueless carried to see the difference.

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Cher and her oh-so-boss mobile phone

Another thing to consider in the use of slang is how to make a judicious use of it, rather than allowing only certain characters (i.e., ethnic characters) to use it. All cultures and subcultures have a slang of some kind. Geeks, jocks, adults, warriors—people from all walks of life use terms that are familiar to their specific group. Many people also adopt the slang of other groups or cultures too.

How do you use slang or other aspects of pop culture in your writing? Is staying current with slang or trends really necessary for you? Why or why not?

Want to whip or nae nae? Watch this video by Silentó.

Roll deep means hanging with a large group of friends who have your back. They’re your posse, your entourage.

Cher on a phone from metro.co.uk. Book cover from Goodreads. Firefly from tvposter.net. Slang flashcards image found at knockknockgoods.com. Palpatine from momybaby.net.

Preexisting or Made Up?

Have you read a book or seen a movie recently where the technology seemed almost laughably dated, though it was probably cutting edge when the book or movie debuted? I can’t help giggling when Cher (Alicia Silverstone), Dionne (Stacey Dash), and others in Clueless (1995) whip out huge mobile phones with pull-out antennas. Or check out The Matrix (1999), where Nokia phones with sliding covers looked sleek next to landline phones but seem dated to our twenty-first century mindsets. At least the phones changed as Matrix sequels debuted.

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Dionne and Cher in Clueless

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Trinity in The Matrix

I also giggle every time I watch an episode of an animated show like Justice League from the early part of this century and see someone hold up a videotape or a floppy disk. I used to use both back in the day.

Technology and other aspects of life change so quickly. Kids today might not even recognize some of the items some of us used when we were kids. If you have a spare seven minutes, you might watch this video made by The Fine Brothers last year, which features kids reacting to a Nintendo Game Boy from 1989. Their reactions are priceless.

Nothing dates a book or movie faster than the inclusion of game systems and other products, trendy stores, TV shows, or celebrities. What’s hot today may be cold tomorrow. (MySpace anyone?) But if you’re writing a contemporary book, in order to be realistic and appeal to your audience, you have to mention at least some products, stores, TV shows, or celebrities, right? After all, readers need a frame of reference. It’s easier to mention PS4, because we have a mental picture of what that is. (If you don’t, click on PS4 above.) But consider how dated even that console may seem in five years. Probably as dated as some of the phones below.

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As I work on my WIP, I find myself making up most of the products and celebrities named, the exception being well-known people from the past or sports celebrities who set a record or won a coveted award. Making up people and products is easier than trying to guess which celebrities or videogames will still be popular in four or five years. Maybe some games like Pokémon might still be around. Consider how long it’s been around in our time—since 1996. But I don’t want to take a chance that a currently well-known game system will still be popular or a beloved celebrity still in everyone’s good graces and not incarcerated.

There are some existing products I might keep——like Coca-Cola or Rice Krispies®. Those have been around for decades. But I’m having fun inventing my own games, song lyrics, celebrities, TV shows, etc. Making up products gives me much needed world-building practice.

Rice Krispies

What about you? Do you use preexisting items in your stories or do you make up products, trendy stores, or celebrities? Is it safe to assume that certain products will have a longer shelf life, and therefore are safe to mention?

Alicia Silverstone as Cher and Stacey Dash as Dionne photo from tulsa20something.com. Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity photo from photocritiques.blogspot.com. Mobile phone evolution from storify.com. Rice Krispies from Walmart.ca.