Understanding Generational Differences Through Slang

I wrote a post called “Teen Slang: Decoding What Your Teens Are Saying” and it did well for about 2 weeks until the negative comments started rolling in.

“We don’t saaaaaay that anymore.”

“These are, like, so old!”

Two weeks? Two weeks is all it takes for something to become out of date these days? I have always found the use of slang interesting because I think it represents a lot of generational shifts and differences.

Lets take a look at a few examples of slang shifts:

1. “That’s so bomb”    to    “Da Bomb”   to   “The Bomb.com”

These might seem similar, but if you said “da bomb” during the “bomb.com” phase, you would be very uncool.  The shift from “That’s so bomb” (late 80’s) to “da bomb” (early 90’s) shows the shift in that phase to rap music as opposed to rock, brief, concise and, some might say lazy teens during this time period.  The shift from “da bomb” to “the bomb.com” (late 90’s) speaks to the rise of everything electronic in this period and how all encompassing the Internet was for teens in this period.

2. “Groovy”       to     “Cool”     to   “Dope”     to     “Sick”

The ‘groovy’ of the 70’s speaks to this time period’s inherent sexiness and desire for smooth and easy sailing. The ‘cool’ of the 80’s spoke to these teens being up for more of a exterior and not so love and peace good time.  “Dope” of the early 1990’s parallels the large increases in organized drugs and crime compared to the generations of the 60’s and 70’s.  The ‘sick’ of the late 90’s is congruent with the idea that Gen Yers are being born with SPF 50 on.  Kids born in this era learned to take their shoes off at the airport because there might be bombs in them before even attending preschool.  “Sick,” therefore, seems very appropriate.

3. Junk Mail    to    Spam     to      Spim

I love this progression because what annoys us shows how technologically we have developed.  Junk mail used to be the perfect representation of what annoyed us each morning over breakfast.  You do not hear about junk mail as much anymore though.  Then you heard about spam, or junk email.  Spam was the dread of everyone.  Now, a new word has come into play: Spim, or spam through instant message.  For teens, this shows how much their communication has changed.  Penpal letters turned to email chains, which turned to IM.

A few other slang words that show how much our generations have changed:


n/adj. Tact or appropriate expression used in electronic communications such as emails, IM’s, texts or blogging.

“He broke up with me by text, he has, like, no e-tact”


n. An aggressive or mean person who offends, criticizes or harasses another online or using technology.

“Mom, I need to close my IM account so my cyberbully stops bothering me.”

Social Notworking

v. Checking your social networking pages while on the job.

“I got caught Facebook stalking by my boss today. I hope he doesn’t get mad I was social notworking.”


n. Two people who are equal in depth of arcane knowledge

“I knew I had met my geequal when Frank showed me his Star Wars light saber iPhone app.”

Pwn (pone)

v. To “power own” something or someone. Derived years ago from World of Warcraft smack talk, this slang has been adopted throughout other online games, and has since surfaced in the mainstream real world

“I pwn-ed Stephen last night in Wii Tennis.”


n. Taking a vacation from being a hater where you are committed to not saying anything bad about anyone or anything; synonymous with “moral cleanse”

“Whatever, I know you have an opinion but just can’t speak your mind because you are on a hate-cation.”

Overall, I think slang is a very interesting and representative vehicle for understanding youth, beliefs and generational differences.

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One Response to “Understanding Generational Differences Through Slang”

  1. longtimer
    March 29, 2011 at 9:20 am #

    To “Pwn” somebody does not mean to “Power Own” them. The term originated from a typo. It also originated a long time before World of Warcraft. The game it most likely originated from was either Counter Strike of Quake.

    As stated before, it originates from a typo. If you look at your keyboard now you will see that the letter ‘O’ and ‘P’ are situated right next to each other. This was such a common typo that the slang term “Pwn” was born.

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