Slang: the changing face of cool

 

In March 1984, the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Alex Brummer, reported that the word yuppie was one of “America’s hottest new status descriptions”. (The other he mentioned, yummie – “young upwardly mobile moderate” – seems to have died an early death.) The same year also saw the publication of Marissa Piesman and Marilee Hartley’s tongue-in-cheek work The Yuppie Handbook: The State-of-the-Art Manual for Young Urban Professionals, with its cover showing a power-suited couple proudly sporting must-have items such as a Rolex watch, a Gucci briefcase and a Sony Walkman. Newsweek rounded off December with a cover feature declaring 1984 “the year of the yuppie”. Yet no one from the streets would have come up with a term based on the words “young urban professional” – it smacked of advertising speak. Far more authentic, and of similar vintage, was the mocking English acronym “lombard” – loads of money but a right dickhead. In today’s online information blizzard, billions of words are sent out into the fray in the hope of causing a Twitter storm, trending on Facebook or gaining countless plays on YouTube, alongside tap-dancing kittens and the latest celebrity wardrobe malfunction. In recent years, the move towards new slang being invented simply in order sell something or identify a target audience has greatly accelerated. Professional trend forecasters K-Hole – whose name is street slang for an after-effect of ketamine use – coined the term “normcore” in 2013, in which being “normal” is a supposedly radical lifestyle choice. At this year’s Social Media Week gathering in London, the ad for one event urged delegates to “put on your marketing seatbelt and get ready for a content marketing riff-a-palooza of actionable takeaways” – which sounds vaguely as if it might involve suing your local fast-food outlet – while another claimed to have identified a new target audience, the “mipster”, or Muslim hipster.

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