Keep up with the kids

Going at the speed of language

It used to take a decade or two for people to lose touch with emerging youth language. Now, step back for a couple of months and you’re a digital granddad wearing his cap ever so jaunty and saying “gee, that’s swell”.


Because social media brings together three powerful language evolvers: technology, media and community.

As new technologies and applications crop up, the digital generation is adopting and abandoning their associated neologisms at a bewildering pace.

Suddenly they ‘unfollow’ people. They google rather than search. Nobody says twittering anymore, mum.

And for all you critics out there, they are ‘real’ words; the American Dialect society named “tweet” their word of 2009, and ‘google’ (a verb) their word of the decade. The Oxford dictionary named ‘unfriend’ their 2009 word of the year. Christine Lindberg, Senior Lexicographer for Oxford’s US dictionary program said it had “currency and potential longevity”. (She also said it had real “lex-appeal”, so maybe they just particularly like hip new words at Oxford.)

This light-speed evolution of language could pose a real problem to advertisers seeking that ever-more profitable youth market. How do you stay down with the kids when you can’t even speak the language?

The trick is, you actually have to stay down with them. Our youth are too fast to just observe – you have to dive right in or you’re going to be left on the riverbank. Get online. Learn the stupid acronyms. Work out how to read the text language and get amongst the diggs, and facestalking, and stumbling, and trolling, and fails, and wins.

It might make your serious, grown-up friends look at you funny, but it’s going to make selling your new sneakers a lot easier.

Helen Steemson

Helen Steemson brings her passion for digital media and the English language to the Social Media NZ writing team. With a background in advertising, Helen now heads up creative at new model communications agency, The Common Room. During stints at Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland, Wellington and New York, and JWT Auckland, she won accolades for her work at international and local awards shows, including Axis, AWARD and Cannes. She thinks a well-placed apostrophe is one of life's greatest joys.

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