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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Fad Slang

Another blog written in Minnesota: I had a couple of opportunities while I was away to think about slang and when to use it. This came to mind because of a couple of songs I heard while driving, but it was reinforced for me while I read a book that is an old favorite of mine.
Walking the language line can be difficult. When someone reads a book, the story needs to resonate with them, so if it's a contemporary setting, the language should reflect how people really talk. On the other hand, not all slang words are created equal. Some are mere flashes in the pan and will date the book.
This isn't the first time I've thought about this, but the songs that got me going again were from the early 70s. I think. I have an eclectic taste in music and that includes groups like The Monkees, The Brady Kids (yes, those Bradys), and assorted other musicians. The song that started the reexamination of my opinion on slang was The 59th Street Bridge Song, also known as Feeling Groovy. It was followed later that day by another song with groovy in the lyrics.
Groovy is an interesting word, one I've only heard used in reruns of old TV shows from the 70s and in a few old songs. Am I right in assuming that at one point, the word was commonly used by many, many Americans? It for sure was widely used enough to make it into the pop culture of the day.
When was the last time you heard someone say groovy in real life? For me, that would be never. So a word that was once considered common is now dated. I'd say extremely dated.
A few days later, I was re-reading a couple of books that were old favorites of mine. Both were published around 1989. It was the second book that used a slang term that stopped me cold. Turkeys.
In all honesty, I don't remember anyone I knew using that word in 1989. If I had to guess when it was popular, I would have picked late 70s or maybe very early 80s, but that's going by references I've seen in television, movies, and other cultural media.
But the fact that the word was probably already out of popular usage by the time the book was published isn't the point. The point is the word itself. It didn't hold in language.
And that's where a writer walks the line. For me, I try not to use much (if any) current slang. Words come and go from this port all the time. In fact, I just starting using dude on occasion because it's been in vocabulary for something like twenty years now and has shown staying power. Most of the time, though, I still stick with man. That's been around even longer.
Unlike Groovy or Turkey or a host of other once-popular words.