Thursday 22 March 2007

If only we could write half as creatively as kids use language

YA writers are constantly asking themselves who their readers are. This week, the Education Guardian helpfully published a glossary of words from the "MySpace generation" and it's a great eye-opener for the YA author.

I especially liked "404", as in "he’s got the 404" — from the internet error message. I just love the mind-blowing inventiveness of it all!

Last year, I posted a piece on slang, quoting Uglies author Scott Westerfield on teen readers:

When you are a teenager you are still in the act of acquiring language. One of the reasons I really like YA is that teenagers are more interested in voice than adults.
His comment woke me up to the fact that the YA reader is a tough act to follow:
Teenagers, . . . write more poetry per capita. They play more word games. They memorise more song lyrics. They like to spell things creatively. And a high percentage are in fact learning a language in school.
The blogging agent Kristin Nelson recently described learning the word 'EMO' from a 15 year old at a dinner party.
His best friend calls himself an "EMO."

First time I’d ever heard the word but I guess this is quite the rage at the moment in high schools (and yes, I did start feeling a little ancient). “Emo” is short for "emotionals." According to him (and yes, I understand that one source is hardly scientific), EMOs like to wear tight jeans (really straight leg), color their hair (but they don’t always have to), and like to listen to death metal or something that might be similar (that was a little fuzzy for me and the bands he named weren’t ones I recognized).

I felt like I had been given a peek into a secret world.
Then what do you know, Agent Kristin got a submission featuring — guess — EMOs! And when you google it, you find . . . well I'm not sure if this is some kind of 'mock-you-mentary (the actual film is on YouTube, generating a lot of hate mail from EMOs) and there's this too.

I’d never heard the word either, until I saw it in the Guardian's glossary ("The new goth. Likes depressing and angry music and has long black hair swept across the eyes").

Whatever the politics of EMOs, all I can think is . . . if only I could write half as creatively as kids use language — how daunting to serve such an audience!

And what a privilege!

'You're so Emo' art by Chris Marzuola


  1. That is jokes!
    English dictionary is replaced by

  2. My son is 'emo'/punk/goth at the moment! There is also a sub-section of emo called 'Screamo', for the fans of the death-metal music that is more about screaming and growling into the microphone.

    Then there are those who are 'scene'.

    Unfortunately emo kids ooze angst at every joint. It makes for interesting parenting.

  3. This is so true. I shall survey the kids I teach and post a slang dictionary for everyone. I'd not heard of EMO till recently and there are a few other categories kids use.... one of my students did a speech on the problem with categorising people into these groups... thought provoking stuff. Thanks Candy.

  4. Thinking about the identity-searching stuff young people go through - they're at the beginning of a journey aren't they, anonymous? and as parents we're only peripheral to the ride ... all we can offer is safe haven when things go wrong.

    jude, you're so lucky to have that kind of contact with teenagers. i look forward to reading about your slang dictionary.

  5. Well, I'm 17 and truthfully, I don't know anyone who uses all of those. Actually, I'd never heard of half of them until I clicked that link.
    The ones I have heard are: beef, dope, emo, fugly, ice, lol, my bad, omg, pimp, random, sick, tight, uber, and zip it.
    And even all of those I wouldn't say, and in some cases never say outloud (it bugs me when people actually say "lol"). The rest in that dictionary basically made me laugh, especially McPee.

    But perhaps most of these terms are specific to a certain area and haven't made it to Chicago just yet?

  6. thanks for your comment, jez - and you're absolutely right about this slang not making it to chicago ... it's british slang.

  7. oh and speaking of geographical slang, one word popped into my head from my teenagerhood in the philippines. "alaska!" - which referred to being cheeky. which probably came from a brand of evaporated milk called alaska which featured a cheeky blonde boy.

    it's passed into common usage now but it's fascinating to think of how these things evolve.

  8. Heh, I didn't even notice the UK thing. Which makes this slightly more interesting, because some of these words are used in the US as well as the UK.


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