July 20, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers community discusses millennial slang

Photo by Chloe Coffman |

Photo Illustration | Language has evolved through human history, with slang being an integral part of that evolution.

"Bae,” “on fleek” and “Netflix and chill” are all modern phrases with one common source.

All three words are a part of everyday slang used by millennials, serving the purpose of language commonality for younger people and a way of confusing older generations about the topic of conversation.

Slang has always been a part of the human language, said Kristen Syrett, assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics and Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science, and it serves a couple of purposes.

“One (purpose) is that it helps to establish our identity as a particular generation, and as a particular cultural group,” Syrett said. “And that happens whether or not we consciously decide to perform that function.”

Millennial slang is an extension of that function and it serves as a way for a group of individuals at a particular point in time — at a particular point in the evolution of language — to find a way to express themselves that defines who they are as distinct from other groups, she said.

One of the characteristics of millennial slang is that you might see a lot of acronyms, Syrett said. But that is also a natural part of the evolution of language because humans tend to evolve towards more efficient and economical ways of communicating with each other.

“It’s like a way of compactly and efficiently getting your message across without having much effort on the part of the perfection of the speaker,” she said.

The increase in abbreviations and acronyms are a sign of slang, but it also shows how technology is influencing the way that we communicate with each other, Syrett said.

“The fact that we are texting more often, emailing all the time and using Twitter means you have to package your message, not just within a certain word count, but within a certain character count. You have to be efficient,” she said.

Syrett also thinks that in the future there will definitely be more acronyms and abbreviations, but what will also be seen in context might call for a more formal register.

“So if I’m communicating with a colleague and we are emailing each other, I might say something like 'lmk' or 'btw', whereas I think 10 to 15 years ago that would not have been appropriate,” she said.

Danielle Bruno, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said she has noticed the increase of abbreviations with certain words in millennial slang.

“It's interesting, for example, the word ‘though’ has been spelled ‘tho,’ — it creates some sort of more friendly version of conversation,” Bruno said. “Our generation loves short and to the point (conversation) so much. We can't sit still to listen to long formulated sentences anymore, apparently.”

Bruno finds millennial slang both efficient and enjoyable, she said. 

It shows the level of your relationship with a person, but also has transformed into a way of communicating an evolution of friendship so that not only close friends could communicate this way, Bruno said.

“It's a hybrid way of identifying a relationship, in my eyes,” she said.

Another aspect of millennial slang is the emoji or emoticon, Syrett said. It will be used much more often, similarly to abbreviations and acronyms because it is a way of clearly and efficiently expressing what you want to say.

“So the fact that you have the Oxford English Dictionary adopting ‘Emoji of the Year’ is pretty huge — that’s a really formal source,” Syrett said. “If you think about the importance of the emoji 'laughing while weeping,' to me that’s like, we don’t really have a word in English for that emotion, but that picture says it so clearly.”

There are no specific time frames that categorize a shift from one generation of slang to the next, but Syrett said there could be certain individuals or cultural influencers that help precipitate those shifts.

“The (America Dialect Society) Word of the Year vote is interesting because you see how from one year to the next there are certain words that remain popular and then words that come sort of in fashion and then leave,” Syrett said.

Much of English slang has influences from hip-hop and R&B, Syrett said, long before the millennial generation.

A quote Syrett shares with her students is by Carl Sanburg and states “Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work." 

“And if you think about it that way, everyone is coming together from different walks of life, different cultures — you find a way to communicate to each other where you could all relate,” she said.

Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.

Samantha Karas

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