By Rebekkah McKalsen, Contributing Writer
FULTON, NY – “Wow, what a dish!”
“She’s more like a dish rag.”
“Oh, quit being such a stupe!”
Language – fluid and ever-changing.
A conversation like the previous one, although using popular slang from less than 50 years ago, is barely intelligible to the teens of today.
Think of the continued presence of the Beatles and Alfred Hitchcock films in popular culture and a picture begins to emerge of how quickly words can change their meaning even in comparison to other parts of our culture. The way people communicate changes even faster than our taste in music or movies.
Beverly McKalsen and MaryAnn Blake, both of Fulton, reminisced of the days when calling a woman a dish was a high form of flattery.
“But when you call her a dish rag,” MaryAnn started to say, laughing at this reporter’s confusion.
McKalsen shook her head and explained, “That used to be so insulting.”
Blake recovered from her laughter and added, “A dish rag is droopy, old and dirty – it’s only useful for cleaning things up.”
For Amanda Flora, 20, of Fulton, flattery consists of complimenting someone’s personality.
“I typically compliment (someone of the opposite sex) on their personality before I would (compliment them on) their looks. It’s generally along the lines of telling them their very sweet or thoughtful.”
Describing inanimate objects has also changed substantially over the course of even just the last few decades.
Jeneé Bassette, a 16-year-old from Oswego, said the way she describes things that she likes revolves around an inside joke.
“It seems crazy and you wouldn’t understand,” she said, declining to elaborate.
Michael said he used the terms “kick ass,” “sweet” and “nice” most often as a teen in the ’80s. He said that “sweet” and “nice” are terms he still uses a lot today.
Oswego County Today’s Steve Yablonski admits that back in the ’80s, he referred to something good as “decent.” Something better was “outrageous” and “awesome” was topped only by “awesome, definitely.”
Pamela Parker, who is in her 50s, tends to use “awesome” even today as a way to describe something that she finds great.
Abigail, 6, uses the term “great” as well as “awesome” to talk about things that impress her.
The ways that we address things that shock us have changed as well.
Parker said that she generally uses expressions such as “Really? Oh my goodness!” when she is surprised by something or someone.
Don Pittsley, 81, of Fulton, uses the phrase “I’ll be dipped!”
People from younger generations, however, have a different take on things.
Flora remarked, “I normally say something along the lines of ‘what the heck?’”
Other expressions widely used among the teen crowd include “oh snap!” and this reporter’s personal go-to expression, “oh my God!”
Whereas Pittsley uses the euphemism “golly.”
Teens and young adults now are more comfortable with the term that was originally euphemized, “Oh my God.”
Expressions that deal with foolish behavior have also changed.
Michael, who is in his 40s, said, “Whenever someone got hurt by stubbing their toe or getting knocked in the head with a dodge ball (when I was younger), instead of asking if they are OK, out of my mouth would come ‘that’ll teach ya.’”
Now that he is older, Michael said that he mostly uses the phrase, “Come on!” when dealing with foolish behavior.
When Paula McKalsen, who is in her 40s, was discussing someone that she thought was being foolish, she exclaimed, “What a stupe!”
When asked about the expression, McKalsen replied, “I don’t really know that anyone else uses that term; sometimes I make things up as I go along.”
Slang is intrinsically bound up in the popular things that someone, somewhere along the line, simply “made up.”
A quick check of the dictionary revealed that, even though McKalsen couldn’t recall anyone else using the term before, the expression was something that had been made up before.
As Pittsley noted, “Ain’t never used to be a word either, but people keep using it and using it, and now they (accept) it.”
And of course, an entirely new branch of slang has had to enter the English language to address the computer age.
Three out of four people surveyed said that they consider “Google” a verb, despite the fact that it is merely the name of a popular Internet search engine.
In the words of Kate McFarland, a high school senior from Hannibal, “It is a verb … Right?”
Only one person, Bassette, remarked, “I’ve never said it. But I’ve heard lots of other people say it.”
Michael noted, “LOL, I have certainly used it as one.”
Texting has also created a new avenue for slang – abbreviations have become extremely widely used.
Terms such as “laughing out loud,” might become “LOL” in a text or an instant message as seen in the previous exchange with Michael, which occurred over an instant messenger service.
Veronica, 20, of Fulton, uses the abbreviation for “Oh my God” – “OMG” – in everyday speech.
In 30 or 40 years, Americans might still be listening to the music or watching the same movies we enjoy today – but, will they still know what is being said?
BTW, if you think language is going to stay stagnate, you’re trippin’.