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Dealing with an ever-evolving vocabulary

Catching up with the lingo of the young can sometimes be a challenge, but that is how the world goes

The challenge with having adult children is that your beliefs and actions are constantly questioned in the light of how “woke” you are. Millennials including my two daughters use a slew of words that seem to be at odds with the English language that I grew up with.

The first time my kids tested my ‘wokeness’ quotient (I passed with a decent grade), it was an eye-opener. For a while now I feel a strange kinship with Rip Van Winkle who only woke up after 20 years and realised that the world around him had changed so much.

One new term

“She’s gaslighting you!” The first time I heard my kids use the word “gaslighting”, I looked at the woman who was sitting in front of me. They were referring to her in an aside to me and I just didn’t cotton on to their ire.

The woman didn’t have any lighter in her hand, and neither was there a foul smell emanating from her side. What on earth were my kids talking about? Noticing the blank look on my face, they explained the term ‘gaslighting’ after we had left the room. “It’s a form of manipulation when someone makes you question your own perceptions.”

The gaslighting comment was a response when they observed my relative putting me down in front of them. In the past I’d brushed off the woman’s comments wondering if I had misunderstood her. “Amma, she’s been treating you like this as long as we can remember and you don’t even realise she’s gaslighting you.” I then became aware that there were so many millennial terms that I was unaware of. By no means had my education ended — it had only begun.

“It was so lit!” When my 20-year-old described a college event that she had been to, I didn’t realise she was talking about the event being very cool. I was in a happy state because I thought the venue had enough lights and I didn’t have to worry about her safety!

“He’s bae!” My daughter munched on her murukkus even as we watched a serial on television. I looked hard at the male actor on the screen. He was certainly easy on the eyes but what did she mean by him being bae? “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I tried to get some clarity. Her subsequent eye roll didn’t perturb me, and judging by the pleasant look on her face I decided it was a good thing.

With new words being added to the dictionary almost every day, there’s been a rapid evolution of the English language. Whenever I use highfalutin’ jargon, my kids and their peers give me a tolerant smile. All that’s missing is a pat on my head.

Ever since a politician’s speech at the Oxford Union on reparations payable to India by the British went viral on social media, dinner table conversations have focussed on colonialism and white supremacy that put not just my vocabulary but my viewpoints to the test, constantly. When I cry out in frustration, “thalai shutharthu” (my head’s spinning: Tamil) I’m told to take a “chill pill”.

But even the little brain cells were severely taxed one day when I heard bleating sounds instead of strange words. A torrential downpour in the city had us cancelling our plans for a family outing. When I suggested playing board games at home, I heard a strange noise behind me, “meh.” I looked around to check if a four-legged creature had entered the room — perhaps one had taken refuge in this stormy weather? But it was: “Board games are so... meh

There was no confusion as to what it meant when I looked at the scornful expression on their faces. I shook my head in despair as they left the room.

When I heard the sound of a text message arriving, I reached out for my mobile phone. It said: “Love you amma — ttyl”. The words preceding the abbreviation and an emoji were certainly enough to bring a huge smile to my face. While I may not fully understand the millennials’ evolving vocabulary, I’m grateful that their texts for most part are still comprehensible!

chitrasrikrishna@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 6:08:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/dealing-with-an-ever-evolving-vocabulary/article24904620.ece

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