I distinctly remember a music awards show around 2000 when during an acceptance speech the rapper Eminen stated that something was “dropping.” I had never heard that word used like that before, but from the context, it made sense that it was a new song or album that would soon be available for purchase. Suddenly everyone said things were “dropping” as if that had always been the known synonym for “release date.” That was the beginning of my loathing for rapid pop culture word adoption.
Then there’s YOLO, or when fully stated, You Only Live Once. A phrase that’s meant to be used when looking for an excuse to do something that might otherwise give one pause. Of course, the phrase should actually stop someone from doing something that could be detrimental, since it clearly states that you only have one life, so once it’s over, that’s it! But I digress. There was already a phrase that serves the same purpose and serves it better… Carpe Diem. A Latin phrase that’s widely translated as “seize the day”.”
In my examination of why this bothers me so much, I initially thought it was due to the simple misuse of words and ignoring of long-standing phrases. Words have defined meaning. That’s literally what a dictionary is for. These two examples and many others like them fly in the face of those meanings. Now there’s the online Urban Dictionary to keep up on all these new words and phrases that enter the lexicon.
Though now I realize it’s not necessarily that on any given day a word can mean something else, or that a made-up word or phrase suddenly exists, but that something or someone can so easily and quickly influence the masses into believing and adopting a new idea. And not just words. Celebrities, politicians, corporations, and news media use the speed and reach of social media to convey any and everything to their followers. It can be a frightening thought, that so many people can be swayed into belief and potentially action. And as we’ve experienced in the last couple years, that can occur.
When it comes to language, I suppose I shouldn’t care so much. The speed of communication these days means that something new can be gone just as quickly as it was embraced. While YOLO has been in existence for decades, it became popular when used by the musician Drake in 2011. Though maybe a bit too popular. It became overused to the point that brands were incorporating it into their social media advertising, which is pretty much the equivalent of your parents using it, and therefore no longer cool.
Of course, when it comes to advertising, brands and products want to appeal to everyone, and it only makes sense to take advantage of a trend. But know your audience. It’s a fine line between cool and cringey, and in worst cases inappropriate. Some brands have created personas and social media accounts for these fake people to better connect with consumers, which can be successful, but for most companies, they’re probably better off avoiding current lingo and instead keeping it professional.
That’s not to say they shouldn’t stay informed on what’s current. For example, Google started as a brand name for an internet browser, and now it’s a verb. Every generation evolves our language and culture, and to better understand we’ve got to be able to communicate. Even if I may not like it.
I close my eyes, shake my head, and sigh every time I hear another new slang term, but I’m sure my parents had the same reaction when I’d say “cool” and “dude,” which I still utter today. As I write this I can see myself as the crotchety old man sitting on a porch waving a fist at kids these days, and I’m okay with that. I’ll let you know when my next blog “drops.”
Josh Durham, Technical Director