By Trisha Mae Carual
Humans have perceived language ever since we were infants. We communicated with gestures and sounds like crying out loud in the middle of the night just to tell our mothers or caregivers: “I am hungry”. We absorb language and communicate naturally. Similar to infants, the human language grows and evolves as time passes by. However, as it keeps on changing, the idea of communicating effectively is challenged. Furthermore, slang, a trendy way of using words, is now confusing different generations. How does slang keep on challenging the norms, especially in communicating effectively?
Slang, according to Collins Dictionary, “consists of words, expressions, and meanings that are informal and are used by people who know each other very well or who have the same interests.” They are a group of words or phrases that are surrounded by different meanings that some may not understand where at some point, it may be an entire generation. In her article on Time, Katy Steinmetz (2012) cited Ben Zimmer, a lexicographer, who explained that the history of slang is harder to trace down as it denies the standard treatment. It will be mostly spoken first before it gets written. According to Steinmetz, some of the American slang went mainstream as it was created by African-Americans. Moreover, slang words created bonds between subcultures, in-crowds, and the youth. In the same article, she wrote how Zimmer explained that it’s a type of territory but determined by language. As it is harder to track down, the first slang was used between criminals, a group of people who used certain phrases that made it hard for the authorities to track them down. Thus, this proves the point that slang puts boundaries between a group of people.
The evolution of slang shifts quickly just like how progressive the internet is. Communication plays a vital role in society. It enables people to connect with each other, exchange information, and also showcase their skills for everyone to see. As the internet offers a great and endless possibility for communicating, this helps slang or phrases that are only used within a certain group of people, in a region, or the country itself, find their way to the mainstream populace. One example is: ‘dogshow’. Naturally, it would mean a show for dogs, but in the Philippine English slang, it is synonymous with the word ‘playtime’, or when a situation calls for seriousness, people choose to be comedic or do something opposite of what should be the intention. Furthermore, slang is prominent in social media, but it is a place where you’ll either stay too long or not. Taking advantage of language by reinventing words and phrases to deliver a much more complex idea is the most efficient way in social media’s fast culture. While the usage of slang in social media is increasing, a lot of people behind this are now entering the workforce. We may agree that there is a huge difference between the language used in a workplace and outside of it for casual talks. Generation Z, people who were born from 1997 to 2012, are the incoming adults in the professional world. Slang is prominent in this generation as technological development is at its peak and social media plays an important role in their lives, not to mention, the global pandemic that affected everyone’s lifestyle. This resulted in not just an increase in the number of users, but also a shift in optimizing the ‘new normal’ setup of businesses.
The business world has adopted and maximized the usage of the internet as another way of promoting their offers and products. Some businesses now even use slang to appeal to younger people. But this doesn’t mean it is appropriate to use slang in the business world. Kevon Martin, an assistant human resources manager for Hyatt Regency Houston, in an interview with Jordan Hart on Business Insider said:
“Older colleagues can benefit from being adaptable and relatable to younger coworkers, so they know how to appeal to a younger consumer base. However, Gen Z must also recognize you can’t come to work and use whatever slang words you’d use with each other because it’s not the same environment.”
Furthermore, Gen Z has adopted a text-driven communication wherein it doesn’t only involve slang, but also emoji and punctuation which challenge the multi-generational crowd. According to a study conducted by researchers at Oxford Economics, by 2030, Gen Z will contribute a large percentage of employment; while Daniel Abril (2022) quoted on her blog, “For younger workers, that means being prepared for different interpretations of messages they send. And for older workers, that means getting comfortable asking questions.” There are pros and cons to using slang in a workplace and one of the pros is comfort, as the use of slang in a workplace could initiate a relaxing and fun day. It could open different doors for creativity, as the young workers feel less pressure from the environment. One disadvantage is confusion, as it was stated that there are people who might not be aware of the word you use. It may mean something else to them, and this may lead to a misinterpretation and misunderstanding that could possibly result in a much bigger problem. Another concern is it challenges professionalism. As Kevon Martin in his interview, also mentioned, casual talks have the right time and right place of execution.
The development of language is inevitable; it is a process of growth and adaptation to other changes that may affect people’s culture and beliefs. Slang on the other hand is proof of this growth. Every language grows at a staggering rate and that reflects how important language and especially communication between each other is. But it’s also important to remind ourselves, that there are appropriate moments when to insist on a formal or informal conversation with others from different environments. Adaptability and relatability are important, similar to respect for formality.
Slang is both important and admirable as it is a product of humanity’s creativity and colorful culture. Languages will keep on changing as the generations keep on evolving because they play a vital part in human communication. It is important to remember that misinterpretation and misunderstanding are inevitable in communication, too. But to talk it over once again is also important. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Do not be afraid to learn from other people.
It is how language keeps on evolving. It is how we effectively communicate.
The opinions expressed here by Communicare contributors are their own, not those of Communicare Training and Development.
About the Contributor
Trisha Mae Carual is a senior taking Bachelor of Arts in Literary and Cultural Studies at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila. She likes reading and writing prose and fiction, and she dreams to publish a novel someday, or even a compilation of short stories. She also likes photography and photo and video editing as her hobbies. During her free time, she watches movies, series, and documentaries of different genres. She’s currently focusing on her education and her future endeavors after college.