Monday, January 27, 2014

There Are No Boys

by Elizabeth

My daughter has officially been a teenager for several months now, and one big difference in her life is that there are no boys. Since beginning junior high school, boys do not exist. Sure, there are males, I'm definitely not suggesting they do not people her world, but they are not boys. They are guys.

I remember talking about "cute guys" and "nice guys" and all sorts of guys when I was a teenager, too. It seems the day the calendar adds "teen" to one's age, the word "boy" is simultaneously eradicated from one's vocabulary. Not even grade school males seem to merit the now defunct-term; instead they are simply little guys. I guess my husband is probably an old guy. I don't even know what she might call her grandfathers.

As writers, we know language matters, and thinking about all the guys my daughter might mention reminds me that to be authentic in writing, we must be authentic with our words. One of her friends has yet to utter a sentence in my presence that does not include the word "dude." If I am writing a scene that includes a 13- or 14-year-old, it might not be necessary to include that, but it's good to know there are girls (can we call them girls?) out there who do indeed speak that way.

Earlier I laid out a sweater to dry flat, and as I did, I noted to myself how very lovely this garment is. It struck me that the word "lovely" is as particular to my age and stage in life as "guy" is to my daughter. I use the word "lovely" out loud and without irony, but twenty years ago it would have been as alien to my tongue as it would be now to refer to my father-in-law as either a boy or a guy.

I do remember the word wicked meaning something very positive, in particular my brother's girlfriend declaring U2's latest hit "wicked" back in in 1983. Wicked was good, bad was still bad (though soon after very good indeed). Back then, geek referred to people who took theater, not the smartest person in the room. And I remember the first time I heard someone ask if I was "jamming." I was briefly offended, thinking she was making fun of me. But no, this was still 1983, and she just wanted to know if I was leaving for the day.

What words do you find define an age, a generation, or a group? If you write, how do you incorporate this into your work? And if you are a reader only, do you notice when writers succeed or fail with this aspect of language? Are there words you recall fondly or otherwise that have meanings that have morphed?

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