The following is an article by Ashley Parker, published in The New York Times, July 23, 2006. It appeared in the space called "On Language" usually occupied by William Safire. Ashley (C'05) majored in Creative Writing, wrote a creative Senior Thesis, and won the Nora Magid Mentorship Prize.
The LingBy ASHLEY PARKER
Published: July 23, 2006
Meet the Six. Their giggles are cute, but not too cute; their hair is straight, but not too straight; and they are very, very cool. They even have their own lingo. The Ling, to be exact.
I first discovered the Ling about a year ago, when I was hanging out with my friends — a slightly older and distinctly less cool version of the Six. We were trying to make plans for the night, and someone suggested that we head down to Georgetown.
“Yeah, def,” I replied.
“Well, I mean, I think Georgetown would be fun,” I continued. “But whatev.”
“Who are you?” asked one of my friends, looking alarmed. “You’re talking like. . .Justine.”
It hit me. I was becoming my 17-year-old sister. Though I was five years older, full sentences eluded me, and I had subconsciously decided that abbreviating all of my thoughts was fun. And cute.
Justine’s love affair with language — or rather, the anti-language — started gradually enough, and I think that’s why I never noticed it. At first, when my mom would ask Justine if she had a lot of homework, Justine would reply, “Obvi,” or “The usu.”
Then things got worse. Awkward became awk, actually became actu, typical became typ, amazing became amaze and hilarious became hilar. Something utterly hilar, of course, became TOPOSH — Top of the Pillar of St. Hilar — but there was nothing TOPOSH about the situation. As the older sister, I tried to do my part. Sometimes that involved throwing my sneakers at her, and sometimes it was as simple as, “Hey, Justine, you’re an idiot.”
“That is so rudabega,” she would say, before rolling her eyes and gliding out of the room.
With rudabega — actual definition: superrude — Justine was pulling on the Sayings, a part of the Ling distinctly different from Abbrev, but no less useful. She explained all this to me in a tone usually reserved for infants and foreigners, and when I proved still too dense to understand her uber-trendy Ling, she resorted to e-mail. Among the terms:
Abbrevs: ador — adorable; S.T. — silent treatment; S.T. with R.A.C. — silent treatment with rude additional comments (this is never fun to receive!); indi — indigestion (also not fun); pos — possibility; ruda — short for rudabega.
Sayings: def of typ — when something is the definition of typical; freak-a-leak — example: “Where the freak-a-leak is my Spanish homework?”; iffy to the max — really iffy; so true — in response to all comments; to the max — example: “She is being rudabega to the max!”; off the heez — totally ridic.
That Justine chose e-mail as her preferred medium was particularly apt. In many ways, after all, her language rises out of the ashes of the current Internet craze, like some sort of binary phoenix composed entirely of emoticons, abbreviations and other clever online-isms.
Still, when I reread Justine’s e-mail messages, her logic boggled my mind. It was as if my sister was becoming the def of ridic. Not only had she been able to recall upward of 50 Abbrev terms on command, but she almost sounded proud. “I will want a copy so I can read it to the Six + junior girlz at lunch,” she wrote when I first mentioned that I wanted to write about the Ling, and I could just imagine her standing in the cafeteria, the pink ribbon in her hair bouncing from side to side.
“My sister wrote this,” she would say, waiting for the crowd to quiet. “Isn’t that just ador?!”
This is the sort of power that the Six wield. With coolness comes preferential lunch seating, and that’s only the beginning. Just take her friend Carrie. She has a bit of a speech impediment and thus speaks an almost caricatured version of the Ling.
“For a while, everyone thought Carrie was so cool, because she spoke out of the side of her mouth with a lisp,” Justine giggles.
That’s how influential the Ling is — it can transform a social liability into the bastion of pure cool. Not everyone, however, agrees.
“That is offic ridic!” Justine said one day in math class, apparently in response to the officially ridiculous quadratic equation the teacher had written on the board.
She says a frustrated boy turned around and shouted, “Can’t you say anything not in abbreviation?!”
“Um, that’d be a neg,” she replied, not without irony.
In fact, math is a subject ideal for Abbrev. Unusual problems are “so atyp” and tough problems become “off the heez.” Very tough problems are not completed at all.
“I guess I learned my lesson,” Justine said, glaring at a giant red “64%” covering the top of her most recent test. “I’m going to do the H.W. from now on.”
Perhaps most important, the Ling is useful. When one of the Six feels sick, a simple “You have T.D.S.A.? I’m so sor! That’s O.O.C.!” expresses the appropriate message of condolence — “You have the dreaded stomachache? I’m so sorry! That’s out of control!”
Once, Justine even talked — or abbreviated — her way out of a grounding. She was halfway out the door, just one New Balance sneaker away from a perfect sneak-out, when our mom came bounding down the steps. Justine was caught completely off-guard, but recovered with a string of rapid-fire Abbrev.
“Rudabega!” she began. “This is maj awk. And the def of typ. Ashley gets away with everything. But I get caught the first time. And it is the first time — I prom. I prom, madre. So true. I’m sor. I’m really sor.”
My mom let her go with just a warning. When Justine relayed the whole story to me the next day, I gave the only appropriate response I could think of: “She didn’t punish you? What the freak-a-leak.”
What the freak-a-leak indeed.