Have you ever perused your Twitter or Facebook feed and realised you have no idea what anyone is saying?
You are not alone. Words like “lit” and “woke” have entered the lexicon wearing new clothes, but what do they mean?
The South African Social Media Landscape 2016 report by World Wide Worx showed that Facebook has grown by 8% from 12 million to 13 million users in South Africa, and Twitter by 12% from 6.6 million to 7.4 million users. The biggest growth, the report found, came from Instagram, which rose a massive 133% from 1.1 million to 2.68 million.
The rapid growth in social media user numbers is bringing with it many changes in the way we communicate. Acronyms, expressions and abbreviations are infiltrating our everyday speech at an increasing rate, and slang is shaping the way we get our messages across.
Speaking with the Daily Dispatch, managing director of World Wide Worx Arthur Goldstuck said slang lingo gained momentum with short message service (SMS) texting and tweet posts on Twitter.
“It began as a way of getting more content in using limited words.
“Abbreviations are seen mainly on Twitter where you have a limited number of characters. It has since worked its way to other platforms of instant messaging, with the abbreviations and shortened words often spelt wrong.
“Younger people and avid social media users seem to think its cool to spell differently,” he said.
According to Goldstuck, there are two main categories of slang on social media: in-crowd jargon and abbreviations.
He said the differences were often generational and dependent on how social media-avid and tech-savvy you are. “Different slang words appeal to different generations. Some words survive generations, and some are new and foreign. For example, 25- to 45-year-olds know the meaning behind the word “swag”, while to those over 45, it might have a totally different meaning. In the 60’s, the hippie era, the word “groovy” was a popular term for something cool, but if you use it today, younger people would think you’re ancient. What’s in and what’s out depends on your age, generation and specific interests, like musical genres or fashion trends.”
Goldstuck said the Urban Dictionary has been updated to include various alternative meanings to current mainstream terms.
“The fact that they’re in there shows how prominent they’re becoming,” he said.
We’ve included 10 of the most popular slang words and their latest definitions, according to the Urban Dictionary:
lBae: A Danish word for poop. Also used by people on the internet who think it means baby or sweetie;
lFleek: A term used by teenagers to mean “on point”;
lWoke: Being woke means being aware and knowing what’s going on in your community;
lLit: When something is turned up or popping;
lExtra: Over-the-top, excessive or dramatic behaviour;
lFam: A word used to describe your people, the ones that you can trust or that you consider family;
lSlay: To do something really well, to kill it or succeed in something amazing;
lGoals: When someone posts a picture which is very attractive or is of something they aspire to;
lSavage: A savage is someone who does not care about the consequences of his or her actions. Usually the savage will do things that make other people say “Are you crazy?”; and
lFlames: To be really good, the best, or awesome.
In an 2016 article in international newspaper The Guardian, journalist Max Décharné wrote that the use of slang words in conversations can be traced back to the 18th century.
Décharné added that with the popularity of social media, he observed that a move towards slang being used to sell goods online or identify a particular target market had accelerated.
“Slang words might be hip today and turn into an embarrassingly old word tomorrow,” the article reads.
“My observation is that people have been telling slang-heavy stories to their friends in bars around the world for years, but now, drunk texting on Twitter or Facebook has appeared more appealing.”
Social media marketing agency Floeo MD Jason Mark said: “If you think about even your own life you want to get things done and get them done quickly. We have grown to be an impatient society. In the work of the internet, companies spend thousands of dollars optimising their websites so that users can spend less time and less clicks to find the information they need quicker, otherwise they may lose the sale. It’s crazy right?
“Similarly, in the world of social media we have begun to abbreviate full sentences by using acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud), TMI (too much information), BRB (be right back), the list is endless.”
Goldstuck said the use of slang is often community specific, with different groups like tech-developers and software/ hardware engineers relying on it because “they’re trying to be cool in a different way”.
Jargon, he said, is used to project your “coolness”.
A lot of it now spills over into our normal conversation.
“Even then, its use is often age-specific. Young people use the term “sick” to describe something cool, whereas older people will ask “what’s wrong” when they hear the word. Generational gaps play a huge role in the relevance and comprehension of slang words.”
Mark said the new lingo maybe used because its cooler, but it is also quicker.
“This creeps into daily conversations now too, where a group of people will be chatting about something or some event and someone says they suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). Just five years ago, none of that would have made sense in the real world, but it is now accepted slang. The world is changing. We speak a different language now,” Mark said. — firstname.lastname@example.org