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The 50-year-old perspective: words


I love wordsmithing. I love writing words, spicing up my language with interesting mots, mispronouncing them. I follow American slang on urbandictionary.com. Words like "de rigueur" and "segue" are fun to toss into the proverbial salad of conversation. Or, do words merely reflect our genius or our ignorance?

For example, a work colleague pointed out that “aspirational" is not really a word, even though we use it three times a day in our organization. It reminded me of the many words of office favor over the years — you know what I mean, the words suck-ups use to get the boss' attention and show that they are on the cutting edge of business vernacular. These words are sprinkled throughout their comments, usually in large-group settings, to amaze and confuse the audience, thus showing their superior knowledge of the latest corporate lingo.

Remember "lean"? And how we are taking it "off-line" to see if we have "synergy" to get it "granular"? Everything nowadays is "strategic" and "value-added" and "e-fill-in-the-blank" such as in e-tattle, which means, “to copy — on email — everyone in the office when pointing out a mistake” (never mind how I know this). We're so busy "thinking outside the box," the "cubicle monkeys" are completely "hackneyed" by "Fried-day."

That said, we are clearly evolving when it comes to slang. Take the ’80s, when we were "spazzes," "dweebs" and "gnarly wannabes" who wanted to know where the beef was. Then the ‘90s brought "bling," "yadda yadda yadda" (thanks, Seinfeld) and "dot-com." The millennium brought us full circle to include all the "peeps," including the "newbies" and the "nerds."

On a recent trip, I used "nerd" to explain my 12-year-old son, his own self-description.

The grandma, to whom I was talking, was aghast. "That's derogatory! You shouldn't call your son that!" And since Quinn was a few feet away floating languidly on his back in the hotel pool, I asked his opinion.

His response? "I got two words for ya: Bill Gates."

And that was the end of that travel convo.

But really, our slang becomes a part of us, of our language. Take these phrases that hearken all the way back to the ’20s: "gams" and "bee's knees" (when anatomy must have been popular in slang), then "skivvies" and "I'll be a monkey's uncle" in the ’30s. Did you know "cool" was born in the ’40s when we were "keeping up with the Joneses"? Our "Wi-Fi" was "hi-fi" in the ’50s and by the ’60s we were "groovy" (admit it, you want "groovy" to be cool again, I mean it is just a fun word to say) and in the ’70s we were "boogieing" and "digging it," but to my surprise, we coined "workaholic" even though I got the impression (since I was in high school) that more "boogieing" was going on than "grinding." (You can look it up, it’s not what you think!)

What about the words we misuse? I talk back to the radio announcer who uses "hopefully" incorrectly (It's an adverb, peeps!) or "orientate," which isn't even a word, dweebs. And I loved Quinn’s comment a few weeks ago when a learned lecturer said something like, “It’s been light years since we did …” and Mr. Nerd leaned over and said, “Bad use of the word ‘light year;’ it’s a measure of distance not time!” A second-generation wordsmith is born!

No, I think wordsmithing is just plain fun. I heard "kerfuffle" on NPR recently, what a fuss. Which is lovelier, "indigo" or "periwinkle"? Of course we all love "scuttlebutt," particularly when it is "zappy." And don’t get me started on Yiddish phrases: chutzpah, kvetch, schmaltzy and my personal favorite, schmooze, which is the third gossip-orientated word I’ve pointed out!

And the abbreviations! OMG! From the ’80s, DINK, and the ’90s, TMI, and the 2000s, LOL. It all makes me want to giggle with glee, not in the least bit lugubrious.

Lori Sweeney writes for the SW Connection on the reg and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..