Da most biewteous thang in da whole wide world iz friendship. yiew choose dem outta all da billion trillion and beyond dey are da onez dat days seem toooo short with … Yiew wish dey could just go on foreva (that's why sometimes yiew skip da sleepin part) i am layin in da gra$$ lookin up at all da clouds and tryin to even get a lil solaaaa gaze action jusss bein still ... & bein thankful. Biewty is all around us and we izzzz so lucky to be on dis planet. (I mean seriously wtf are the chances we all meet da onez we love) Feeling supaaaa blisssssed.
Youth. We expect it of them, right? To make up words, to find their voice in a new lexicon, to befuddle the older generation.
That's Miley Cyrus speaking on Instagram last month after her boyfriend, Patrick Schwarzenegger, was photographed hugging another woman in Cabo San Lucas, where he was spending spring break. It was the caption under a photo. Annoying, yes. Irritating. But fascinating, too. Cyrus ended the caption above with the words, "or maybe I'm juzzzz stoned." And maybe she was. But she is also shrewd. Not only does she look like a digital creation, with the signature tongue-wagging and the big anime eyes, posting weird photographs of herself to her followers – she writes in the language of her tribe, one that is evolving in the deep ocean of the Internet.
But before you dismiss her and others as members of just another youth subculture, consider how the digital slangster is different from the hepcats of the 1940s or the hippies of the 1960s. "The phenomenon we're watching is at the next level," says Rhonda McEwen, assistant professor in new media at the University of Toronto's Institute of Communication and Culture. "This is the maximum impact you could get." With the Internet and social media as the vehicle, the new language "has limitless storage [as written words], can cross over geographies as well as demographics." The words are new, but so is how their meanings evolve and solidify, the manner in which they are born, live and sometimes die. It's a whole new linguistic puzzle.
You might say the whole phenomenon is bae.
That's a slang word so popular, it has its own song, Come Get It Bae, by Pharrell Williams, which the rapper released last year. Cyrus appears in the music video.
And what does it mean, exactly? Well, that takes a bit of detective work. No one is quite sure of its origin. (And no, it doesn't have anything to do with Beyonce, nor is it derived from the well-known b-word.) It's a Danish word for feces. But that has nothing to do with how it's used.
The Urban Dictionary suggests it started as an acronym for "before anyone else."
That could be a lazy analysis, though, given that much Internet-ese is based on abbreviations that require decoding – LOL, ROFL, OMG, GTG and BRB.
Bae may have started as a word to signify your girlfriend or boyfriend. Some think it's the word "babe" with a dropped consonant. But then it morphed into meaning your followers or your people, as in "I love my bae."
And then it started to mean that something was really cool. You might write that "my ride is bae."
It evolved based on how people experimented with its meaning.
Last year, advertisers started using it as a marketing tactic – one way to know a word's meaning has solidified. In April, 2014, Taco Bell sent out a tweet saying "Taco Bae," which got more than 48,000 retweets and 36,000 favourites. Their burritos were "baerritos."
But now, it's really not "on fleek," another popular digi-phrase that means nice, perfect or on point. Bae is not. Its apex, according to Google Trends, was last year. Bae is past its peak. If you used it, you'd be mercilessly mocked for being outdated. Which President Barack Obama risked when he used the acronym YOLO (you only live once) in a Buzzfeed video launched in February to remind young people to sign up for health care. YOLO is very yesterday, apparently.
The etymology of "on fleek" is more precise than that of "bae." It had its origin with a creative 16-year-old in Chicago named Kayla Newman, a.k.a. Peaches Monroee, who posted a car-selfie Vine last summer after having her eyebrows groomed.
Since then, her Vine (a short looping video) has had more than 29 million loops. Others posted Vines about her Vine. And in November last year, Kim Kardashian posted an Instagram of herself with bleached eyebrows, standing beside model Cara Delevingne, she of the trendy thick eyebrows. #eyebrowsonfleek read her caption. And the phrase swept through the Internet Sea. It was everywhere, overnight seemingly, especially in the fashion industry. In January, CoverGirl called its beauty products "on fleek." It hasn't peaked yet.
Historically, oral traditions gained social value as soon as they were etched into stone or inscribed on papyrus. McEwen calls that moment in cultural history the "rareification of text." Something increased in social value once it was written down, gaining a life beyond that of the person who first uttered the words or story.
But digital slang, although set down in text, doesn't display the same sense of permanence or reverence for the written word.
"My sense from working with youth is that it's okay for words to die," McEwen explains.
And so is digital language a biewteous thang or a threat to literacy? When I get past my irritation with it, I find it oddly poetic.
It is demographic, emanating from odd corners of the culture – a car in Chicago! – and moving into the mainstream. And it's open to interpretation. No one meaning is right.
Another word, "fanute," created accidentally by singer-songwriter French Montana when he rapped a phrase "from the hoopty coupe" that others heard as "fanute the coupe" is now in the ascendant.
"It means to convert, to flip, to make it better," Montana has explained. "But it could mean what you want it to mean."
And therein, perhaps, lies the ultimate joke on the older generation. We might worry that digital slang represents a cultural deterioration.
But, hey, the words are like feelings. They come. They go. They are of a moment: authentic, expressive and ephemeral.