Slanguage barrier: How to decipher teen speak

You’re not sure, but you think your teenager might have just insulted you.

Which seems a bit rich given you’ve just emptied your purse for yet another must-have purchase. But before you let rip a tirade on how you don’t take kindly to being labelled ‘a goat’, pause, because apparently in today’s teenage vernacular, you have just earned the highest of praise.

‘Goat’, or simply the goat emoji if your teen is communicating through their preferred medium of text, means Greatest Of All Time. Far from being derogatory, it’s a much coveted accolade.

Life moves pretty fast, but nothing moves faster than teenage slang. If you’re a parent, you probably remember when ‘gaff’ meant a house. Now it means a party.

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Even terms that were popular just a few years ago like ‘on fleek’ (meaning on point/great) and ‘woke’ (meaning in the know, usually about a cultural issue) are no longer cool, especially since they’ve been appropriated for wide-spread use by oldies. Not that anyone uses the word ‘cool’ anymore, obvs.

The terms used may change, but teenage ‘slanguage’ has always been around. It’s a normal part of development. Creating a unique vocabulary is part and parcel of forging an identity.

I doubt anyone over 30 has a clue what ‘feek’ means, much less how to use it in a sentence, but apparently in Irish teen vernacular, it means a girl that another girl would get it on with.

A huge amount of today’s teen slanguage is simply to save time typing – afk (away from keyboard), brb (be right back), wdymby (what do you mean by that), j/k (just kidding), oic (oh I see).

Your inclination might be to leave them to it, but deciphering what your teen is saying is important, particularly when it comes to some red-flag phrases parents need to look out for. Because while most slang use is innocent, it’s a fact the creation of some words and phrases are motivated by a desire to hide things from parents.

Words like ‘shoulder’ and ‘sneachta’ sound fairly innocuous but, when used by an Irish teen, they mean a 350ml bottle of spirits and cocaine respectively. K.O means to keel over drunk, ‘prinks’ are drinks before going out, ‘grafting’ or ‘meeting’ both mean snog.

‘On the Units’ should raise an alarm bell – it’s code for a drinking session – and if someone’s simply ‘gone’, well, they’ve been on the units too much and are drunk.

But it’s increasingly online where teen slang revolves around cryptic letter and numbers combinations that often have a potentially darker meaning – CU46 (see you for sex), 420 (marijuana), f2f (face to face), gnoc (get naked on camera), wttp (want to trade pictures). PIR and PLOS mean parent in room and parent looking over shoulder.

Innocent-looking emojis like blunt grass, the fist emoji and the lollipop mean ‘weed’, ‘would bang’ and ‘oral sex’. Then there’s the world of vault apps and hidden apps, which can be used to hide pictures and messages.

“Vigilance is key,” says Philip Arneill, Head of Education and Innovation at CybersafeIreland. “Our general advice regarding online safety and activity is threefold.

Accept the difference: every generation is different and what they are doing might not be what you value or like doing yourself, but if it isn’t hurting or harming anyone, is it really that bad? Maybe it’s just generational difference in generational taste and it’s easy to be judgemental.

“Have conversations: talk to your kids and find out what they are doing and what they like about it, how does it make them feel and why? You can even try doing stuff online together with them.

“Do your research: if you want to know what kids are into and what they are doing (online or otherwise), find out! This is much easier than it ever was with the wealth of information and resources online.”

Just recently, the organisation Webwise.ie launched a campaign, Connected, taking a look at how young people communicate online, encouraging teens to reflect on the way they interact and how to be respectful to each other.

In the UK, a recent report from the British cybersafety company SafeToNet revealed that teens have been using phrases from the menu of restaurant chain Nandos as a sexual reference code. ‘Mayo’ refers to ‘a bit on the side’, ‘wing roulette’ is used to describe sexual promiscuity, ‘Peri’ is a well-endowed male. Irish youth organisations say it’s not in operation here (that they know of). It seems a spice bag is still simply a spice bag… for now at least.

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