Pop language: America’s fountain of youth

The English language never ceases to amaze me with its huge word hoard; peculiarities such as abundant homonyms; virtual absence of inflection; large number of users, even more as a second language; and non-phonetic script. I adore its vast sentence repertoire, or what I call capacity for putting spin on a sentence through skillful modifier placement and syntactical expansion via participial and appositional phrases that, reverberating off one another, unleash a lyricism of mesmerizing tidal rhythms.

Lately, I’ve been delightfully indulging in American English with its colorful idiom, or expletives, that say it all, often with a punch lending sparkle, crackle and pop (or verbal Rice Krispies) to our daily discourse.  Like the French language with its argot, we Americans practice a unique bilingualism all our own. One thing is certain: you ain’t in till you master the dance.

I’ve posted some of the more common of these flash phrases below, though I know there are a good many more out there. Their sources are many, including media ads, movies, TV, technology, politics, music and our rich ethnic and racial mix.

Do you remember “rip off,” via the Watergate scandal?

Did you know that “chill” “cool” and “hip” are among countless African-American contributions that give sparkle to our daily lingo?

I know there are purists out there who trash pop verbiage as tawdry slang, or filler language, forfeiting precision in a numbing truncation of language reminiscent of telegrams, an aspect of verbal hurry symptomatic of being out-of-touch with the richer dividends of more imaginative language.  Pop words assume context savvy, relying on something akin to mental telepathy.

But I remember, too, one of our greatest poets, Walt Whitman, calling slang “the breath of life.” In the same vein, I’d say it’s wittier and more alive and a tribal ID that gets you in.  Witness the rush of media to use it to spice up columns; politicians to render themselves folksy; TV programming (especially for children) to connect; and, of course, the rest of us to sound in.  Like it or not, it serves a context and it’s not going away.

It’s the language of youth that keeps us young; the badge of democracy surmounting social barrier.  A cornucopia of resonance, it’s America’s medley, waxing and waning, yet always abiding.

Pop lingo:

Yeah, right!
Let’s not go there.
You’re history.
I don’t think so.
No way, Jose.
It’s showtime!
Get a life!
Go for it!
Get real!
Thinking outside the block.
Excuse me?
Phone tag
On the same page
I hate when that happens
Who’s your daddy?
I’ll be your worst nightmare.
Day job.
Lighten up!
Make my day!
I’m outta here!
Best case scenario
Kick some butt
Put his ass on the line
I’m feelin’ it.
Your comfort zone
Takes no prisoners
I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.
Walks the talk
It’s a no brainer.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist.
And I was like
He just doesn’t get it.
Kicks ass
Yank his chain
Rattle his cage
Not a happy camper
It takes two
Twist slowly in the wind
What part of no don’t you understand?
Bad hair day.
Wiggle room
Are we having fun?
If he so much as asks
I won’t mince words
Crunch time
No way!
Here’s the deal.
Are you dissing me?
Bring it on!
Buzz off!
It ain’t happenin’
Get over it!
Not ready for prime time.
Not even close!
It’s a slam dunk!
Heads up!
Been there. Done that.
Let’s bounce.
It’s like,
You know?
Up in his grill
How we roll

Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

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