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Learning to speek the language of ‘teen’


Who knew a single word could produce such horror, disdain and disgust?

Then, again, with young teenage girls, I’m learning anything is possible.

For the record, all I said to my young teens on the last night of a recent beach vacation was, “Make sure you leave your thongs out of your luggage for tomorrow’s boat ride.”

“What!?” Here came the horror. “Our thongs? What are you talking about?”

“You know, thongs,” I said, pointing down to the strappy rubber soled shoes I was wearing on my otherwise bare feet.

“Flip-flops!” Both girls corrected me.

“Yeah, flip-flops, thongs same thing,” I said.

“Why would you call these thongs?” my girls wanted to know squirming in the latest public embarrassment I’ve apparently caused them.

“That’s what we called them when I was growing up,” I explained. All I got back in exchange was the look that says, “Weirdo,” or some modern equivalent.

Did we or did we not call the shoes referred to today as “flip-flops,” did we not call them, “thongs?”

I’ve spent more than 20 years in TV news. I’m a published author. I write this newspaper column. Yet, it wasn’t until I had kids that I realized I have no command of the English language.

I shop for food each week at the market. My daughter informs me it’s “the grocery store.”

And I need a glossary to keep up on their social lives.

“Brittany and James are going out,” my daughter told me a few years ago when she was in sixth grade.

“Going out?” I raised a concerned doubting eyebrow. “Not a chance Brittany’s parents would let her out of the house with a boy.”

“Yeah, I know,” my daughter agreed.

“So why do you say, ‘They’re going out’ when actually they don’t go out anywhere?” I asked.

“Well, cause, that’s what they do. What we call it. ‘Going out.’” In other non-explaining words, it’s just what we do.

“How about ‘going steady?’” I offered remembering the term we used in sixth grade. Didn’t go over big.

“What does that even mean?” my daughter replied.

Beyond words, I’m still not entirely sure what these kids do with all their avenues for communication and language.

Often, my daughter will spend a good chunk of time texting with a certain friend.

“Oh, what’s Jenny doing tonight?” I innocently ask.

“I dunno,” comes back the reply.

“Haven’t you just spent the last hour texing with her?”

“Uh yeah.”

“In that entire time, you’ve have yet to ask her what she’s doing? Where’s she’s going? How she’s doing?”

“Uh, no,” my daughter replies with an added shrug that suggests she’d be more likely to ask her friend’s position on alien bowling alleys on Mars before inquiring the most basic “Who, what, when and where questions.”

I guess it’s not news that young people and adults communicate differently. I just don’t understand how I blinked and one day I was the old person being made fun of, rather than the young person shaking her head at the way some older people talk.

“Here’s a conversation starter for you,” I suggested to my daughter. “Ask Jenny if she likes to wear thongs to the market. That should get some thumbs texting, feet flip-flopping.”

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