Millennials and Gen Z are Changing English. For the Better. Here’s How.

By: Twumasi Duah-Mensah

“First, I want you to know it’s totally lit to be writing this. Hope nothing that follows feels cringey. Sometimes I can get a little extra. And when we’re not F2F, it’s hard to tell. I’m just hoping it reads fleeky. But trust me, what follows is high-key. TBH, I just hope you don’t throw any shade my way but, instead, will read and wig.”

I know, that was one of the hardest things to ever read. It was from Dr. James Emery White’s blog on understanding Generation Z and millennial vocabulary. It’s quite helpful, actually.

But with all of this new vocabulary and elimination of old vocabulary, many haters believe that Gen Zers and Millennials are dumbing down the English language. This idea completely ignores everlasting historical trends in language. It merely seeks to tear down younger generations for the sake of advocating for outdated traditions and the reminiscence of unattainable “good ol’ days.”

In other words, this article from the Baltimore Sun is well-written, but a whole L.

Let’s start with the English language in general. Betty Briner of the Linguistic Society of America wrote an article answering a basic but important question: is English changing? Her answer: yes, of course, along with every other language. “Language is always changing, evolving, and adapting to the needs of its users,” writes Briner.

The needs of English speakers have most certainly changed. With the advent of social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, there is a need for more efficient vocabulary to express ideas in a timely manner. For example, the word “text message” has been shortened to “text” in recent years as text messaging has become more common.

This principle of chopping words into more manageable phrases can explain almost every neologism that has come out of the 21st century. Examples include:

  • “Loss” to L” and “Win” to “W”
  • “Fixing to” to “Finna”
  • “Bourgeois” to “Bougie/Boujee” – also an example of taking a word from another language and transferring it into English
  • “Best Friends” to “Squads”
  • “Cringeworthy” to “Cringey”

These are not only widely used on social media platforms but have transcended a boundary between the online world and the real world. It also explains other acronyms like “LOL,” “TBH,” “IRL,” “IDK,” and more.

Some will argue, though, that English is being dumbed down, among many other things in our society. Author Lynne Agress professes this belief in her Baltimore Sun article, “The Dumbing Down of a Generation.”

“How many people know about history, government, literature or science today? I still remember former Texas Gov. Rick Perry running for president in 2012… when asked how many people serve on the Supreme Court, he hadn’t the faintest idea. How many people can answer that question today?”

Now, it is certainly important to be aware about systems of government. However, the lack of knowledge more than likely comes from a lack of enforcement of patriotism and nationalism, as has been a trend in American history up until the 21st century. As for other subjects, times change, and some things will just become irrelevant.

That isn’t to say that we should abandon all of our traditions, as they are the building blocks for the society we enjoy today. The burden of proof is on a nascent method to show why a long-standing method is outdated. But it is to say that as our modes of communication have become faster and more efficient, it has become more important to be concise in speech.

As a result, we need new, more efficient ways to communicate ideas. So, we get new words that look stupid but help in communicating ideas quickly. So yes, we need to abandon the “eloquent expression” of the past.

Also, let’s not forget that some of the greatest works of literature haven’t always been written so eloquently. Take Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning album, for example.

Don’t get me wrong, though. As a writer, I love when you can put words together to form something that just sounds so beautiful and well-written and eloquent and everything. But I understand that not everyone can do that—and that not everyone needs to.

 

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