Why This 50-Something Copywriter Loves Millennial-Speak

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SEPTEMBER 2015

MillennialsThis is not one of those posts where another old fart grumbles about the way these dang kids talk today.

It’s also not one where a seasoned marketing veteran reminds his fellow greyhairs that we need to speak the younger generation’s language if we want to harness their buying power.

No, I’m here to defend—nay, celebrate—millennial-speak, simply because I love what it reveals about the possibilities of our language.

 

MUTATION AND EVOLUTION

English mutates constantly, absorbing words and expressions from every language it comes in contact with, and evolving to adapt to every shift in society and technology.

For instance, when email and texting caught on people realized that, without subtle gestures and vocal inflections, it was hard to indicate whether they were being serious, sarcastic or merely ironic.

Until someone typed “lol.”

That giggly acronym and its hundreds of cousins became words unto themselves. And even though “lol” is supposedly vanishing, I’ve heard my 15-year-old and his friends actually verbalize the acronyms like real words: loll, berb, geegee and stefoo*.

Juvenile? Silly? Maybe—but that’s how we got snafu, laser and scuba. Pow!

 

GENERATIONAL TRIBALISM

I can already hear your rebuttal. When kids use made-up words like that, no one else can understand them!

And any cardcarrying millennial might reply: Uh, hello?

News flash—kids don’t want adults to understand them. Teens are intensely tribal. They instinctively cultivate speech that separates their tribe (or squad, as they say these days) from the rest of the world—and “the rest of the world” includes everyone older than they are.

As a grown-up, I’m as puzzled as you are by teen-speak like turnt, fleek and cray.

But as a writer, I’m giddy with admiration. I love how people continually build completely new words out of the same 26 letters—or invent entirely new meanings for familiar words and phrases like troll, swerve and brick—just because they can.

We totally did this, too, and our parental units thought it was bogus.

 

UNEXPECTED, UNMISTAKABLE AND UNFORGETTABLE

Millennial and teen-speak terms aren’t always random. To my ear, they usually communicate concepts with fun, irony and—if you give them a chance—complete clarity.

I remember the first time a friend told me his phone bricked. It took me a second to realize that bricked meant “rendered inoperable”—a broken phone, after all, is just another rectangular piece of dead weight. “Brick” was clever, it was descriptive, and it made perfect sense.

Remember when you first heard about surfing the web?

Some kid in flip-flops probably said it first, but it was perfect—capturing the act of aimless website-visiting with fun, irreverence and just enough familiarity to make instant sense.

And that’s the epitome of what a good copywriter tries to do—capture a new idea with words that are unexpected, unmistakable and unforgettable.

Or, as millennials might say—nail it.

*Loll = lol = laughing out loud; berb = brb = be right back; geegee = gg = good game; stefoo = stfu = you don’t want to know.

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Jeff Segal

Jeff Segal

Senior Copywriter

Senior Copywriter Jeff Segal writes blogs and social content for several SN clients, while crusading tirelessly against the words provide, quality, strive and utilize.

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