Back when I was in Year 5 at Primary School I remember a woman coming in and asking us what phrases we liked to use in the playground. She had a little tape recorder that she used to record all our semi-secret language - things like 'gert lush' or 'mint' if something was good, or 'Jimmy Hill' if we thought someone was making stuff up (along with an enthusiastic rubbing of our chins). She loved hearing the phrases we used and we relished the chance to share them with her: It felt like we had adopted her into some sort of secret society. Our parents didn't know these terms; neither did our teachers. Back then we developed a language in the playground that was all about separating ourselves from the grown-ups. Words cost nothing, so why not start building our own world with them?
A few years later and I was one of many pink-haired 'jitters' around town. 'As if' was being said by pretty much everyone. Bad things (and some good things) were now 'brutal. 'We went from 'chatting up' to 'pulling' or 'getting off' with each other. If you didn't like someone you'd 'doggem up.' If that didn't go your way you'd get 'battered'.
Nowadays I hardly use any of those terms. I definitely don't hear the term 'jitter' any more, but I do hear loads of new phrases being used by the young adults I work with. I enjoy asking them about their language - and they find it just as funny as I did to share what their phrases mean. I've also started to appreciate the language that was around before my generation got our hands on it- and how certain phrases nose-dive out of style as quickly as other phrases hit the big-time.
It's something I've been thinking about this week because of an unlikely source. Someone sent me a link to an online survey 'to find your age based on the language you use' that an insurance company put up online-
I'm normally pretty cynical about quizzes/links like this. Honestly, I've had so many dodgy word-based videos and links sent my way that I normally grimace before clicking new ones. In this case, though I found it surprisingly interesting. As I started answering the questions, thinking 'well, that's the obvious answer - surely everyone would put that down!' or just laughing at the thought of someone saying 'spiffing' I began catching myself - reminding myself that people really did and still do say phrases like that and that my phrases probably sound ridiculous to someone else. As I went through the questions I started seeing other phrases that i used to use, or that I remember other people around me using that sound really odd now. By the end I was realising how little I've thought about the language I use and how it changes over time. Side note: I came out as having an age of 40, which was also a bit of a shock!
So yeah, it was a cool little reminder about language from an unexpected source - it made me think about how I get to play with words for free my whole life, and leave my own mark on the next generation and how they use words, but also how others have come before me and how language isn't something we ever get to fully own. I think I'm going to write a poem about it sometime - if I ever get the rest of the pieces I'm supposed to be working on wrapped up. You know what? I will. If you catch me at any music festivals this summer, ask me about the piece and I'll make sure to read it to you.
For now, I thought I'd check out with a piece that I use in school a lot - all because the key words (board games) in it haven't changed much over time. I normally get students to count how many board games are in this rap - and its probably my go-to piece to perform in schools, just because everyone has a shared knowledge of those games. It's kind of sweet that our language changes so much, but certain things like 'Monopoly' seem to stay the same, as families play games with their kids and pass those experiences on.