By Carla Jean Whitley
You can use the word “wicked,” but you won’t be speaking Jade Bradford’s language. Tell Michelle Smith that a guy is “fine,” and you’ll be met with a raised eyebrow and quizzical expression. “Hot” seems to be today’s description of choice.
“We’re nerds,” 14-year-old Rickey Foster said of himself and his friends, “but we’re not that far out.”
Slang changes from generation to generation. But while these words seem to have faded from Cullman teens’ vocabulary, others stand the test of time.
Hylton Molzof, 13, and Kailey Buchanan, 12, agreed that “great” and “sweet” were words they would use to describe things they like.
“I use ‘sweet’ fluently,” said Auston Smith, 14.
And Elizabeth Harper, 12, added “awesome” to the list.
But the group of teens and pre-teens surveyed at the Cullman County Library on Wednesday afternoon all agreed that at least one word was timeless.
So why do some words last when others fade?
“‘Cause people use them a lot,” said Bradford, 12.
“Cool is certainly a charter member for the slang hall of fame,” said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of popular culture. “Cool just sits back and keeps getting used generation after generation and lets the whole history of language roll off its back.”
The 1997 book “America in So Many Words” traces the modern usage of cool to the late 1940s. In 1947, the book notes, the Charlie Parker Quartet recorded “Cool Blues.”
Thompson estimates he uses the word 50 times a day “as an egghead professor” because no other word quite does the job. He says its versatility helps explain its staying power.
Other words Cullman teens use are picked up from popular culture. For example, Auston Smith said he and his friends label things that they don’t like “gay.”
“We say that a lot,” Foster said.
“I don’t know. We just do,” Auston Smith said.
“We’re people who watch too much TV,” Foster said.
That’s not the only pop culture reference that shows up in Foster’s conversation. Another of his favored phrases is “It’s going to be on like konkey dong,” he said.
“We do that a lot, switch words,” Auston Smith said, explaining why his friend switched the first letters in donkey and kong.
While that particular habit may be unique to that circle of friends, the phrase itself comes from the 2003 movie “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.”
But even as movies introduce catchphrases, some dated terms hang around. Michelle Smith, 18, said she frequently says “goodness gracious,” and her friend Foster was ready with a quick explanation:
“That’s ‘cause she’s old.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
By Carla Jean Whitley