K.I.S.S.? STAHP pls!

In Language by Gerald Koh

I was told that this article about the colloquial language used by Singaporean youth went no where. Cutting a little deeper, I would probably come across as one of those educated people, but not street smart. Well, this article is going no where. Why? Because even though I lament what is happening to how we speak to each other, I find myself lapping up the new terms too. To a smaller and less trendy extent maybe, much like how parents of my generation tried to use ‘hip’ and ‘lame’ when they spoke to a teenage us. It’s difficult not to when your inner, middle and even outer circles adopt the colloquialism. You are forced to. It is just how life works. You can buck the trend, but then someone will ask why you so uptight? So what good is this article if I don’t live by what it says anyway? It’s just another complaint. Just another bash at what I find uncomfortable. Just another sorry attempt at fighting peer pressure. I see that.

Either way, edit this article or not, the issue is still fucking with me. So, here’s the article, unedited, for your reading displeasure.

Language and words have always been malleable to suit different contexts and situations. When I was growing up, ‘lame’ took on the meaning of what the Oxford Dictionary defines as unconvincing and feeble or uninspiring and dull. This was in addition to a description of being disabled in the leg or foot. Before that, ‘cool’ became an exclamation of agreement or impressiveness. Put another way, if you were cool, you were very possibly not lame. It didn’t just mean you were unenthusiastic or had a low body temperature anymore. These words took on new meaning, growing on our vernacular as their use became commonplace. The origins of how new meaning came to be attached to the words is not the point here. What matters is that both words, with new meaning, were capable of independent use. They could be incorporated into the English language without desecrating grammar. Acronyms – wtf yolo, btw stfu lol, lmao rofl – can sit within sentences without breaking syntax. Even fuck was once said to be an acronym for fuck’s sake, and it is quite possibly the clearest example of malleable language.

This ability to acquire and superimpose new meaning on existing words demonstrates the flexibility of the English language and of its vocabulary. I am no expert but this too surely happens in other languages. But what has happened in recent years with the emergence of Twitter, with its hashtags and 140-character limit, and Tumblr, with its boundless store of platitudes and one-liners, is the movement towards ever shorter sentences and words of broad generality. What for? To satisfy the need for instant gratification in our post-Internet world. Instant gratification? Post-Internet? That’s a story that hardly needs to be retold with countless books like these out there:

The pressing issue here is that we okay what this listicle suggests to be the jargon with which our youths communicate. I know ‘keep it short and simple’ or K.I.S.S. has been repeated by our esteemed -chers in schools when talking about clear and effective communication. But is it really effective when words are reduced to this point? Can we expect these same youths – who will one day be the faces you see at the bank approving your loans, on television reporting the news, possibly running the country – to understand one another fully or to convey their message clearly? Is there no quandary over whether this manner of communicating detracts from the first world education they receive in schools? Can we allow kids these days to step linguists only by mashing words together, spelling incorrectly and not correcting their sentences? Is it really not take to give a fluck? That sounds like such a horrid future I can’t even…

Author’s note (10/6/2015): This New York Times article moves past my frustration where I literally cannot… and turns the corner to posit teenage jargon as a necessary secret code.

Book Cover Images Credit: Amazon

About the Author
Gerald Koh

Gerald Koh

Gerald is an expert dilettante. He used to play in a band, run a recording studio, write about local sports, sell self-designed t-shirts and teach kids to fight fire and save lives. His latest sinking ship is proving he is not good enough for law school.

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