Outside CyberPete's Internet Café in Bedford, teenagers are talking:
Teen girls: "Yo foo cheesy, my home dawg."
"That is just totally unsanitary, there Dolly."
"But home dawg!"
"You're not beastin' like me, you can't handle it"
And if an adult were to dare ask what in the world they're talking about?
Teen girl: "Yo, like hi, how are you? Are you okay?"
They're okay with translating it, because this is not the secret slang of alienation and rebellion. It's the more light-hearted lingo of the Millennial Generation. Just like their parents, they're using it as a tool for growing up. Linguist Tony Thorne directs the English language center at London's Kings College:
Thorne: "Slang is very much a badge of identity. A whole part of adolescence is the playing with identity, creating your own identity. The way they stand, the kind of gestures they have, the kind of hairstyles... These are all signs and symbols, and in a sense slang is just one of those."
Although its purpose as a rite of passage may be the same, Thorne says what's different about the nature of the slang of kids growing up at the turn of the millennium is that they are making it up all by themselves.
Thorne says teenagers have always popularized slang, but until this generation, they didn't originate it:
Thorne: "The people who did have a voice in society, even if it was an underground voice, an alternative voice, were mainly adults. I think this is a relatively new thing, that young people have had any kind of way of expressing themselves that other people could pick up on."
He says the traditional breeding ground of slang has always been the disenfranchised, the underclass, those on the fringes of polite society.
The word "hip" is a black coinage of the late 1930's whose roots go back to Africa. Beatniks borrowed it in the 1950's. Hippies of the '60s borrowed it from the beat generation just as they borrowed "bread" for money, "cat" for a person, "dig" for understand, and "groovy" for cool. Kids still use "hip" to mean cooler than cool... but the urbandictionary.com says it can also mean cell phone as in, "Hit me up on the hip when you're ready to be picked up."
Teenagers are still borrowing from the past. Heather says it's cool with her that her parents still use '60s slang.
Heather: "They do, but a lot of times, like the slang terms are starting to come back, like groovy and stuff, like people are starting to use that more often, so we can kinda understand what they're saying, so..."
Vivian: "What's another one that's come back?"
Heather: "Uh, a lot of people have been using retro a lot, like, 'that's totally retro', and stuff like that."
Although they prefer to make up their own slang, the persistence of "groovy" and "retro" is testimony to the disappearance of the generation gap. Today's teens are being raised by baby boomers who grew up embracing the concept of "letting it all hang out". They not only allow their kids' use of slang, but are also likely to co-opt it, or at least try to:
Amber: "My parents still say, 'that's awesome', they do, they do. Now I'm not gonna discriminate, but they need to stop saying that."
Boomers adopted words that reflected the free-wheeling '60s, when drugs were a big part of the youth culture. Professor Thorne says that hasn't changed:
Thorne: "For example, there's an enormous number of words which describe, essentially getting high " being high, or being slightly drunk, or very drunk, or being under the influence of illicit narcotics. And that was true in the '60s and it's true today, it's a big category of slang."
Thorne says the language may be controversial but it doesn't indicate that kids are behaving badly, just that they love to talk about forbidden pleasures.
Sara Schwartz of Shaker Heights isn't comfortable with some of the words coming out of her teenager's mouth:
Sara: "He uses words like 'homey', and 'foshizzle', and 'homeboy', and 'word'."
Vivian: "What do they mean, what does 'foshizzle' mean?"
Sara: "I think it's just a filler word, I'm not quite sure."
She could have checked it out online at urbandictionary.com, where they even have pronouncers:
Teens: "Foshizzle my nizzle" - "yeah."
It means, "for sure my friend". But 13-year-old Jake says it's not intended as a secret code:
Jake: "Nah I don't think so... I really don't think that. Like at our school, kids even talk to like teachers like that, like some teachers that are flexible enough."
Beatniks borrowed from jazz - Thorne says much of the slang teenagers use today comes from hip-hop music:
Thorne: "Black speech, that is Afro-American or here, Afro-Caribbean speech... Certainly that's the biggest single influence on young slang, youth slang in the U.S., and in the UK."
You can go to an urban shopping mall in Cleveland and hear words like "zzup?", meaning hello, or "chillin", meaning relaxing. Or you could go to a private high school in Akron and hear:
"What's up girl?"
"Not too much, what's goin' on?"
"Nothin', chillin, y'know... like a villain."
Why is it that white suburban kids and black urban kids often speak the same language? Linguist Connie Eble writes in her book, "Slang and Sociability", that "the group-identifying functions of slang may be diminishing in favor of identification with a style or an attitude."
Teenagers want to assert their independence from adults and identify with a unique culture. Slang gives that club it's own language. But often the code is so inscrutable that even members of the club disagree on the passwords.
This 18-year-old has a way of describing an attractive female, that his girlfriend doesn't understand:
Chris: "I would like, 'she got a muffin'..."
Amber: "What does muffin mean? I'm sorry, that's one of those slang terms I don't know."
Chris: "Muffin like a... muffin, mean she got a nice round end. Yeah, slang get made up every day. It all depends on how you use it and who you use it with, it gets made up every day. Like you could be like, you could say, 'what it do?' Somebody else be like, 'what that mean?' Like how you doing? Like gutta, gully, it all depends."
Vivian: "What does that mean, gutta gully?"
Chris: "Gutta, that means like, you working, you making money... that's what gutta means. Gully means like..."
Amber: "...gully means dirty, definitely dirty."
Vivian: "Slang gets changed every day, how can you keep up with it?"
Amber: "Keep talking about it, that's what I do every day " 'oh, for real?' 'Yeah.' Then you go ask somebody... what it means. That's all you do " be like, 'yeah', and you know what they talking 'bout."
The slang of the Millennials reflects their attitude, which Tony Thorne says is a real departure from the anti-materialist values their parents embraced when they were coming of age:
Thorne: "There's a lot more about money, clothes, jewelry, y'know, the bling, bling-bling culture. Much stronger today... that sort of language wasn't around so much in the '60s and '70s."
Americans generally export youth culture but now they are picking up slang from other countries. Bling-bling, for jewelry, originated in Jamaica. Thorne says email and instant messaging has contributed to the internationalization of teenage slang:
Thorne: "All of these people who are talking to each other on the Internet, and most of them are fairly young, they're all using English in their own ways and introducing their own bits of English, so you get Australian slang, New Zealand slang, South African slang... And very often, you can't tell anymore, when you see a slang word, where its come from. You just can't tell if its Australian, South African, Caribbean, Anerican, or British."
Typing online has created its own shortcut slang:
Teen: "What's crackin this weekend? Going to the Bahamas, JK, JK. L-O-L, that was a good one."
L-O-L for laughing out loud. And JK? Just Kidding.
Lexicographer Jonathan Green has dubbed the new internet language "Globespeak". He says in electronic communication "hello" isn't quick enough. It's got to be "Hey" or "yo".
At Akron's Walsh Jesuit high school, 12th grade English teacher Judy Hackman says she's slowly learning Millennial slang:
Hackman: "If you hear it enough times... A lot of abbreviations that are used, they'll use half a word and sometimes it takes a while to catch up as somebody older that's listening to them."
Teachers may get used to it but some parents are left out:
Teen: "And I'll be talking to my mom and I'm still like in the manner of speech that I talk to my friends in? Like, my friends and I use the word... like piece, like to either leave or like getting out, and I was like, 'yeah we were gonna do that and then we just piece it', and she's just like, 'huh?' In response to that, I kind have it the other way around. Sometimes my mom will, in attempt to try to talk like me sometimes, will go the other way and she'll say, 'oh yeah, I'm down with that.' I'll just look at her like, 'What are you talking about?' You know in an attempt to be funny and stuff like that."
Linguist Tony Thorne says adults shouldn't worry - he says the Millennial generation is the most inventive one yet in creating their own language, but they don't forget how to speak English:
Thorne: "What I've found in my research is that young people are very adept, very skilled at codeswitching or codeshifting as they would call it. They can speak slang one minute, then they can speak high-faluting language, then they can speak technical jargon where they need it. And that's what it's all about, it's knowing when and where to use slang and when and where not use it. But I know some people worry about it. I don't worry, I think we underestimate young people's ability to play with language in a sophisticated, creative way."
Whether they make it up themselves, borrow it from previous generations, or pick it up on the internet from around the world, today's teenage slang is just a way of encoding the shared experience of growing up at the turn of the millennium.
I'm Vivian Goodman, WKSU News.