Unless you write exclusively fantasy, SF or historical fiction you should be listening. Listening to speech patterns in the street, cafes, pubs, clubs if you can hear a word and can bear nineteen year olds staring at you wondering what kind of pervert you are (spoiler – I can’t. I never did like clubs, too noisy, not my music, too vapid, so I abandoned attendance long before attracting the attentions of bouncers and scorn of punters). Even if you are writing fantasy, SF or historical fiction you should want your dialogue to sound believable.
Standard English changes more slowly than demotic, colloquial speech which in turn is much slower to mutate than the street slang of what used to be called youth culture. Some words emerge, flare into worldwide acceptance and die within months, sometimes even weeks, especially now with social media. Unless you have a desperate desire to place a set of actions within a very tight time frame, and make it feel really specific to a certain youth culture, it’s probably best to avoid using too much if any, except as pastiche. As I said here recently, it’s not going to be current street talk by the time anyone reads it and if it is still in circulation it will have left the street and been absorbed into standard demotic.
Rhythms, pace, syntax, mark age and time very profoundly. I live in the world and try to keep my ears open and of course my own lexicon changes as a result, my speech patterns are definitely different than when I was in my teens. Having said that many words remain the same and some words have been cool, old hat, cool, sad, cool, old and cool again in my lifetime. I don’t think ‘cool’ is currently cool, but it has been on and off several times which gives, if not the lie, maybe pause for thought about my certainty regarding slang disappearing from the face of the earth within minutes of being coined.
And of course there is a difference between keeping an ear to the ground and using changing language forms in normal speech. There is no way I am going to use current slang except as a joke with my son or my daughter and her friends, although at twenty three I have taken delight in pointing out she is past knowing how ‘young people’ speak.
All this idle waffle was provoked by the current trend, of some months standing, of interviewees, on BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programmes wasting time when asked a question, of first thanking the presenter for having them on ‘the show’. Then the interviewer thanks them for coming on and we maybe eventually get to the answer to the original question. What is the point of this faux politeness? All this should be done behind the scenes when the person is booked to appear. Time is short enough to get a point across on programmes without wasting it in a weird dance of manners. If it were a hangover from the 1930s I might shrug in irritation but this never happened until this year. It sits right up there with the politicians’ ‘clearly’ of the 1990s and the management idiots’ ‘going forward’ of the 2000s in meaningless annoyance in public discourse. Kids at least have the excuse of not knowing better, experimenting to find their voice, and their neologisms have the virtue of being ephemeral. Those seeking to enlighten and inform should know better.
Will I be taking heed and using this in writing? Probably, but only when I want to make a communications organisation look even more annoying and irrelevant than they are already. If the medium truly is the message I suspect we may be intellectually bankrupt.
And thank you for reading.