Teenage Talk Through the Decades

How not to be mesmerized by girlspeak.

Teenage girls. Everyone has one, has raised one, or knows one. Comprehending what they’re thinking, however, can be quite the challenge—and when they’re sputtering unrecognizable vernacular at warp speed, it’s nearly impossible. 

I hadn’t encountered this phenomenon until a friend’s daughter offered me the deetz on the plight of her BFF. I was able to recognize one word, and it was like, which reoccurred about every third word, amid a scrambled secret code masked with smh, bae, doe and lmk.

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Apparently, some girl liked some guy who already had a bae (boy/girlfriend). The guy said he also liked her doe (though) and wanted to know if it was k (OK), telling her to lmk (let me know). I was so confused, I just smh (shook my head).

My encounter inspired me to take a look back at how slang has spoken to and for various generations over the past 50 years or so. The 1960s were an era of monumental change, with folk music, the British Invasion, feminism, civil rights and antiwar sentiment all in the forefront. Hippies flocked to Woodstock, and cats and chicks were hip. Think cool threads, splitting, cruising in your ride, peeling out and burning rubber, making out, and generally having a blast.   

The 1970s hustled in some groovy disco moves. Here’s the skinny on why everyone was psyched: The Man finally ended the war, Watergate flooded the presidency, we all got down to Saturday Night Fever, and Saturday Night Live was sweet. We cheered Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and piano man Billy Joel. Son of Sam led the headlines, and The Godfather made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Right on, far out and may the force be with you

Then came the material girls of the 1980s. Madonna was “Like a Virgin” (or unlike, whatever the case may be). Princess Diana was a royal draw. There was Prince, the Police and U2, and depending on your perspective, any or all of them were the bomb, lame, bogus, fresh, even grody to the max. From hair styles to shoulder pads, everything was BIG—and Michael Jackson was epic. Totally.

FYI, oh snap … The 1990s-00s were, in a word, aiight. Back in the day, tech-savvy was the way. And remember the threat of Y2K? Nickelodeon ruled, Clinton stewed, some dude lost his car, and bling-bling and cha-ching were the thing. Divorce rates went through the roof, and blended families were proof. Yo, sup?not so muchmy cribas ifpeace out … word.

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Teenage slang speaks volumes, and it’s our responsibility to listen—and try to keep our wits about us.


JoAnne Cannon is a mother of two sons, which explains a lot.

illustration by sara franklin

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