From rage-quit to sweatying it: the language of childhood in 2017
In mathematics, a singularity is a point at which things stop following the rules. Ray Kurzweil, author and futurist, describes his version of ‘The Singularity’ as the point at which humans transcend our biology, breaking free of the limitations of our physical shells. It’s a significant moment, a tipping point.
In parenting, there is also a kind of singularity, both social and linguistic. A point at which children realize their friends are cooler, funnier and more interesting than their parents. The singularity can be observed by listening closely to one’s offspring and identifying words, phrases and attitudes that have been gathered and subsumed from beyond the familial walls.
Children at play often reveal signs the singularity is occurring. Listen closely to children – particularly when they’re playing with friends. Have you ever uttered the phrase top bins? Have you lolled at your friend for rage-quitting a game of bottle flip? Have you dabbed after sweatying a goal? No. No, you haven’t. This is when you realise that your child is picking up ideas, words and attitudes from their friends– and of course these friends are far more interesting than you.
You might cry during the parenting singularity. And that’s fine. This is a precursor – a sort of warm-up session – for the infinitely more challenging empty nest period, which is still a long way off. But that’s enough about me.
Let’s examine a few specimens from the Dictionary of Childhood 2017 Edition. While some of these terms are not particularly new, and others are evolutions of more familiar terms, it’s worth cataloguing these usages to perplex future generations.
For my son (age 9 and ¼) and his friends, much of their neologisms are linked to football (soccer for Americans) and video gaming.
Rage-quitting, which has already earned a dictionary entry, is the act of abandoning a game in frustration, usually because you’re losing, or in my son’s case, because your annoying friend has destroyed your Minecraft castle from the comfort of their bedroom, all while taunting him over his Internet-connected headset. Rage-quitters are prone to angry outbursts, with the most furious losers unleashing their frustration on the nearest available technology. Keyboards, game controllers and screens are particularly vulnerable.
The most superior gamers may earn the tag MLG, which stands for Major League Gaming, a company that promotes professional, competitive video gamers. Presumably these stars of eSports are the pinnacle of video-game-playing, so now MLG is frequently heard in playgrounds up and down the country as a mark of respect or kudos (e.g. ‘dude, that goal was totally MLG’). The term’s propagation has been accelerated by the ranks of YouTube creators who have become famous (and wealthy) by sharing videos of themselves playing games. What a way to earn a living!
Another gaggle of language emerges from the football field. The bicycle kick, which was first used in print in The Chester Times in the 1930s, is now abbreviated to bicy for convenience – to the bafflement of many a watching parent.
Goals – particularly those strikes to top bins (the top corner of the goal) – are often celebrated with the dab, the ubiquitous dance move/gesture that had its own singularity (or peak cool) when Ellen Degeneres taught Hillary Clinton how to dab on her popular TV show. The dab, a move in which one arm is held out while the other is held, at an angle, across the head while giving a slight bow, originated as a hip-hop dance move. It soon made the transition to the sporting arena, with American sports stars using the dab to celebrate goals, points and wins. Paul Pogba, Manchester United’s French star, is recognised as one of the first Europeans to import the dab when he was playing for Juventus. Photographs of children from 2017 will be next to useless to historians because the little poppet’s faces will be obscured by their crossed arms and bowed heads.
Sticking with football, kids often talk about sweatying it. This disgusting term, as far as I can gather, originated from the football video game FIFA, and refers to the act of dribbling towards the goalkeeper to draw them out, and then passing to a waiting team-mate who can easily tap the ball into the open goal. The term is now also used to describe the same tactic on the physical football pitch. Let it never be said that computer games never give us anything.
One of the joys of children’s language use is how carefree it is. They literally do not care where they collect words from, or how they ought to be used, or whether their usage is correct, vulgar or obscure. Kids use words that make sense, when they make sense. And above all they delight in developing a vocabulary that is fresh, meaningful and difficult for their parents to parse. In a few months, many of these terms will have fallen out of favour, replaced with a weird new batch of slang. And we’ll be back to try to make sense of it all.