Alone in the Slang Graveyard with Drunken Elephants

EEW. Seriously? That’s so gross. A recent Geico commercial has some popular middle school girls following a dieting man everywhere. Each time he tries to eat something, the trio says the same thing, one by one. “EEW. Seriously? That’s so gross.” The ad made Miss Crankypants think about the use of slang in writing dialogue. And how many of us end up looking like drunken elephants on a high wire when we try.
When trying to evoke contemporary speech, we writers walk a very thin tightrope indeed. Do we completely omit all slang in our work so as to ensure its relevance to readers in 2212? We don’t even know if the world is going to make it that far! On the other hand, do we liberally sprinkle current expressions into the story so the characters will seem believable? If you are writing for middle school girls, popular or not, you are likely to be overly familiar with the words, like, basically, totally and seriously? Not to mention EEW and gross.
For most writers, the problem is how quickly slang changes. If the novel you’re working on takes 10 years to write and publish, teens and preteens have already moved on.
Thus, when my groovy husband says, “Yeah, we’re just rapping,” our kids think he’s trying to get someone to open the door. And if I call someone radical or rad, I’m liable to get arrested or pepper sprayed. If you’re old enough you know if someone is “the bee’s knees,” “far-out” or my personal favorite, a “hep cat.” All these rather neat-o terms now rest in the Slang Graveyard.
The one slang word that seems to endure is “cool.” “You guys are like, basically totally cool,” I might write. I’m pretty sure the drunken elephants are going to fall off the wire if I write it in the presence of a trio of popular middle school girls. You already know what they’ll say. Seriously, that is so gross.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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