PICTURED: T.I., who can get you whatever you like, especially if you would like a huge chain.
GateHouse — In my actual job I am surrounded frequently by children, and by “children” I mean “people who are younger than me,” a group that includes everyone in their twenties and has for years. These children I enjoy having around, because they keep me informed about things that are youthful and trendy, such as:
- The appeal of a mysterious celebrity named “T.I.” (Evidently, he can get them whatever they like);
- What to do when I am Facebook Friended by someone I do not particularly like (do nothing, apparently they can’t tell, unless they count their friend totals, which is pathetic);
- And why anyone in the world would be remotely interested in “Grey’s Anatomy,” a show populated by mopey 43-year-olds whose life lessons are learned exclusively to the sounds of the world’s wussiest music.
We have a symbiotic relationship, the children and me: They are amused at a distance by my gray hair and young child, whom I believe they regard as a bizarre window into a mysterious Future World they think isn’t coming nearly as fast as it is. I, in turn, am energized by their lifeforce, which I sort of draw off of like some sort of parasitic vampire. An old, gray vampire, who can sing “Hot Chocolate” from “The Polar Express” on demand.
But every now and again the children throw me a curveball, a twist. This week, for instance, I learned the following: No one younger than 30 uses the full words for anything anymore. The Younger Generation, the one that elected Obama, the one that’s gonna drag us out of this financial crisis, the one single-handedly responsible for the continued production of Will Ferrell films, abbreviate nearly everything. That’s probably how Obama got elected, actually. They could knock on more doors with the time they had saved up by not using full complete phrases like “best friends forever.”
Yes, the idea that people who are younger than you talk funny has been the case ever since ridiculous slang was invented, probably by Australopithecus, which makes a lot of sense, because if ever there was anyone who needed something abbreviated it was this guy. Here is a primitive creature with copious body hair who had only basic tools for hunting and communication. Who, if it was a particularly awesome day, hunted with a rock that was sort of sharp on one side. Who could barely string a series of grunts together long enough to indicate something important like, “Look out Grog, you to be crushed by foot of woolly mammoth!” And yet the scientific community saw fit to befit this genius with the name Australopithecus, which is something that you can only pronounce if you have at least two tongues and which pretty much sounds like the punchline to about three jokes you wouldn’t tell around Grandma.
Anyway, on to the abbreviations — or abbrevs, as the children call them, unjokingly. There is, of course, the extremely popular BFF, which is now being used by cable news commentators, which means it has jumped the shark, which is a phrase my generation coined, thank you very much. BFF has a number of cousins that more or less went from trendy novelty to accepted Merriam-Webster chestnuts in the past few years: your OMGs, your BRBs, your WTHs. There is a kid whom I greet every morning with “WTH, dude?” And he responds by reciting a series of letters and then calling me a “playa,” which I don’t have time to respond quizzically to because I’m trying to figure out what, say, XBQ means.
Last week, I was stunned to learn that the abbrev thing has gone one step further, and some of the youths have taken to boiling “whatever” down to its most base, primitive essence: “whatev.” Yes, it sounded silly at first, but then the genius of it really began to take shape: One lousy syllable isn’t much, but accumulated over the course of a lifetime, could add up to extra hours, if not days. With that kind of time, think of how many episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” you could watch.