For more explanation of this month’s theme, “millennials in thirty things,” check out this post.
Don’t know about you, but I was a little angry at myself the first time I heard “legit” come out of my mouth. Why would I settle for this lazy and unnecessary halving of a perfectly fine word? Legitimate never did anything wrong to me.
Maybe it was funny. Maybe clever. Really, I think it was just the thing to do.
And now it’s everywhere, the latent, overpowering need to shorten, to minimize, to abbreviate. Would that we as a nation could do to our materialism what we do to our semantics!
When I was a kid, my first real adventures on the internet came by way of gaming. StarCraft and Age of Empires mostly (Age of Kings, of course; what do I look like?). Nothing heavy. Just some LAN partying. Sue me. I was a gamer—casual, once-in-a-while, not-in-a-guild—not a gamer, if you know what I mean.
Between gaming and the exciting then-new world of AOL Instant Messenger (which, I’m being serious, I recently found out quite a lot of people still use), I quickly adapted to a sort of digital, on-the-fly language, where words were created ad-hoc and used to make communication more convenient and to shape lexicons of esoteric terminology.
nvm, ftw, n00b, and w00t fit appropriately into a digital world of aliens and world conquerors. Don’t get me wrong, these little formulations are and always have been disgusting to linguistic purists like I strive to be, but at least they made sense in context.
But pretty soon, the list of abbreviations and acronyms doubled, tripled, became so obscenely long as to constitute nearly a new dictionary. btw, lol, jk, omg (oh my gosh, please), the painfully-dissatisfying thx and l8tr, ttyl, brb, gtg, bff, idk, and hundreds—probably thousands—more.
Fine. You know, it’s gross, but I could deal with it. People can speak and write however they choose, and if they want to adopt a corrupted, watered-down version of conversational English, so be it.
But now it’s 2014. I don’t play StarCraft anymore, but I still see all the same terminology, and so much more. Keeping it a hundred, I don’t understand what some of it means anymore. This veritable Tower of Babel, a language confused, divided and conquered by the Dictatorship of Cleverness. Acronyms are coming and sticking so fast. And the abbreviations… umm, barf.
I don’t like it when I catch myself saying “legit,” so you can guess the goosebumps that prickle up my spine and make my head sort of tilt, sort of ask, “Did I hear what I think I heard?” when I catch wind, as it were, of such semantic turds as totes, ridic, jelly, obvi, cray-cray, and the supremely-putrefying adorbs.
I don’t know. Language is fluid. I get it. I don’t mind adapting. Sometimes it’s funny or clever or convenient to do the things we do to language. Brangelina—it works. YOLO—yeah, it carries more social currency in the acronym than if it was actually spelled out. Bae—I can deal if Beyoncé can.
But really, the question is continually on my mind these days, as I scroll through Buzzfeed and Huffington Post and freaking The Daily Beast—sort of mainstream, near-the-top-shelf-ish media here, people—just why? Are we, as a generation, claiming language or abusing it? Are we making ourselves cooler and more efficient, or dumber and more exclusive?
Can I ever look at a hashtag again and not think #agenda, or #irony, or #spareme? Is society really better off for having the term amazeballs? Wasn’t simple, unadulterated amazing doing just fine all on its own? And, so help me, how did we allow ourselves to build a country where, I have no doubt, more people know what rotfl means (one of the most specific and never-literally-true acronyms in general use) than know the longhand forms of NATO or UNHCR or SCOTUS.
Hear me, please. I like America. I like English. I like being a millennial. Critiques of our manipulation of language have been around for a long time, and many of them have proven not as bad as predicted. But, really, if I hear the word abreves again in serious conversation, I can’t be held responsible for the fate of nearby throwable objects.
After a few years spent correcting grammatical errors and writing subtle, clever headlines in a Chicago newsroom, Griffin Paul Jackson (’11) now does aid work with refugees in Lebanon. He writes about that, God, and, when the muse descends, Icelandic sheep. Read him here: griffinpauljackson.com.