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Judith Natelli McLaughlin Headshot

Language Trends: Cray Or Perf?

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I am a lover of words. It says so in my bio and it has been going on for a very long time. I even made up the word ollymollymento somewhere in my sixth year of life. I'm not certain of its meaning, but I always liked the way it rolled off my tongue and sounded to my ear. When it comes to expletives, I am not a big user. I always told my children, "words are just words. We, their users, give them the power." I believe you can use your brain to think of more clever ways to express anger than muttering a few profanities. Certainly, there are times when a good "f-bomb" is fitting, but if you are looking for it to pack a powerful punch, it can't be overused or sprinkled lightly in daily conversation.

As far as word trends go, I pick them up easily (a lot more easily than I pick up my children's wet towels off the bathroom floor. Ollymollymento)! One summer I came home from camp prefacing every adjective with the word wicked -- clearly I made some Boston friends that year. It was a wicked good summer.

Another summer, anything terrible was replaced by a string of six words. A dinner wasn't simply awful, it was "gross, foul, bogus, disgusting and vile." A bloody wound you got stubbing your toe wasn't ugly, it was "gross, foul, bogus, disgusting and vile." Someone's business, accidentally left in the toilet, was... well you get the picture. My parents picked up on that linguistic trend, and my mom, in particular, even threw it into her personal lexicon. She would smile at me when saying it, as in, "Judy, your room is gross, foul, bogus disgusting and vile." Her smile brought one to my face too.

A few years later I remember a friend from high school wanting us to start using the words "hang fire." We were supposed to drop the phrase when leaving the lunch table, as in "hang fire, guys." Or, when ending a phone conversation. "See ya tomorrow. Hang fire." It never did stick. The inability of hang fire to become Tenafly High School's newest linguistic trend is fascinating. Looking back I realize you can't force a language trend, it has to happen more organically, growing at will, like the herb, mint, in your garden; a hardy perennial with a vigorous growth habit.

It seems today's language trend has to do with chopping every word in half. Things aren't perfect, they are perf. Anything obvious is obvi. And because the word crazy is too long to bother to complete, the word to replace it is cray. A sentence uttered in 2013 could be, "Obvi this humidity is cray, but your hair is still perf." I am way too old to be uttering sentences like that, and yet, I do. I spent some time thinking about it, and decided it is because, like I said at the start, I am a lover of words. I like to cut them in half, piece them back together and elongate them at will. I like to string words into interesting sentences, cool rhymes, or funny jokes. I like to piece a puzzle of words together that makes people think, believe, laugh or cry. I like words, all words, and trends in language too. And just because I can appreciate all things chopped, doesn't make me ridic (ridiculous for those of you still unfamiliar with today's trends) or unable to appreciate, say, Shakespeare's language. Instead, I like to think I have embraced my children's language craze just as my mother embraced "gross, foul, bogus, disgusting and vile." Does it make the McLaughlin girls smile or cringe? I wonder. Perhaps they just think to themselves, "My mother is cray."

Hang fire, friends.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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