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.
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 By making up your own slang, you need not worry about slang becoming outdated.
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 Kids and teens keep current with dance crazes and will cry foul if you mention out-of-date steps.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.”)
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.
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.