Millennials are killing language, but that actually doesn’t distinguish them much from any other generation before them. Young people throughout time have always been the drivers of language change, and their parents have consistently disapproved. The one factor that does set Millennialese apart somewhat: much of what this generation has brought to the table is internet and texting slang, which is uniquely suited to the communication needs of modern times.
That language is changing in response to emerging technology actually isn’t new, and neither is the anxiety that comes with that. When Alexander Graham Bell introduced the original telephone in 1876, some critics also wrung their hands over the supposed “death of communication as we knew it.” But language conventions adapted, and nobody alive today would ever think twice about saying “Hello?” to begin a telephone conversation, though a lot of people in Bell’s day thought it sounded crude and barbaric.
Some people might think we’re descending into barbarism because we can no longer be bothered to write out “What are you doing?”, but what’s interesting about internet grammar and texting slang is that it’s inventive and flexible enough to compensate for all the missing context clues we normally get from body language and tone.
This tweet sums it up nicely:
My master’s was in sociolinguistics, and I absolutely see this as true. pic.twitter.com/lbHwjSQPYj
— Deanna Hoak (@DeannaHoak) March 4, 2018
Bustle identified and discussed a few of these linguistic innovations, such as indicating volume through capitalization (“lol” means something different than “LOL”), using run-on sentences to express your breathless excitement, and indicating tone through punctuation (Have you even thought about the difference between two dots and three dots in an ellipses? What about using commas instead of periods to show that you’re unsure instead of angry? And what about not ending a text with a period if you’re not mad at the other person?).
In short: it’s not lazy, it’s inventive (and often totally functional). And it’s not only happening in English — although the changes occurring in other languages often feature lots of Anglicisms, or borrowed English elements. Here’s what Millennialese looks like in Swedish, Turkish, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
In Swedish, internet language often tries to look the way spoken language literally sounds (which uses tone to express mode). Sometimes, this looks like double, triple, quadruple (or more) vowels used to enhance the emotional impact of what you’re saying. Examples of this are jaaaaa! (yeeees!), ska bli sååå skönt (it’ll be sooo relaxing), eller huuuur? (an emphasized “that’s what I’m saying/I agree”).
It’s also become common to write the words as you would say them, especially if it makes them shorter. For instance, och > o (and), är > e (am/is/are), jag > ja (I), också > oxå (also/as well/too).
Here are some other common abbreviations:
- tycker > tkr (think)
- eller > lr (or)
- i och för sig > iofs (actually/on the other hand)
- i så fall > isf (in that case)
- gumman > gmn (sweetheart (fem.))
- ikväll > ikv (tonight)
English proficiency among young Swedes is high, so it’s no surprise that Anglicisms have woven their way into spoken youth Swedish, almost as a form of code-switching. Some slang terms that we use as verbs in the United States are also used in Sweden, but with the -ar ending in present tense: ghostar, facebookar, spoilar, trollar, chillar, skypar, retweetar. Words like “selfie,” “fail,” “hashtag” and “hack” also pepper colloquial speech.
Punctuation in Swedish functions much as it does in English. Ending a message with a full stop can be seen as passive-aggressive, and an ellipsis can express either uncertainty or unhappiness. Question marks can be left out of questions, or they can be doubled and tripled for emphasis. Capital letters are either omitted or used extensively to express shock or other strong feelings, e.g. “DU SKOJAR!?” (you’re joking!?)
It has also become somewhat common (especially among older generations) to use superlatives without an article or possessive pronoun: “Middag med finaste sonen”; “Tre år med bästa, smartaste, mysigaste pojkvännen” (Dinner with most beautiful son; Three years with best, smartest, coziest boyfriend). These sentences are becoming a bit of a hated cultural meme because a lot of people find the excessive use of superlatives a bit ridiculous.
What seems less ridiculous over text is affection, however. It seems that the distance of written language makes intimacy easier, so it’s more common for Swedes to write things like “I love you,” “kisses” and “hugs” over text than say them aloud.
One very interesting shift in modern Swedish is that internet language uses a lot more “ej” instead of “inte” — ej being the old and stiff form of negation, used mainly to express things like “Beträd ej gräset” (“Don’t walk on the grass”). It has become a bit of a tic online, perhaps because it’s shorter, e.g. “Har ej tid ikv” (“Don’t have time tonight”).
When it comes to texting in Turkish, it’s become common to ignore upper case for proper names or at the beginning of sentences.
As with many other languages, punctuation is also semi-optional (for instance, full stops at the end of sentences). One thing that’s unique to Turkish texting slang is leaving out diacritical signs to type faster, so long as context is clear (for instance, replacing “ç” with “c,” “ş” with “s,” “i” with “ı,” and so on).
Here are a few other kinds of acronyms and abbreviations, which are often formed by dropping vowels:
- selam > slm (hi)
- merhaba > mrb (hello)
- tamam > tmm/tm (okay)
- lütfen > ltfn (please)
- teşekkürler/teşekkür ederim > tşk (thanks/thank you)
- ne haber? > nbr? (what’s up?)
- kendine iyi bak > kib (take care of yourself)
- seni seviyorum > ss (I love you)
- Allah’a emanet ol > aeo (God bless you, used when saying goodbye)
Some Anglicisms that have found their way into colloquial Turkish speech include “bye” (also written as “by” or “bb”) and “ok” (also written as “oki” and “oke”).
Also, “muck/mcks/mck” is used as an onomatopoeia to signify a kissing noise.
Punctuation is hardly used in online chatting in Russian (are you noticing a trend yet?).
One of the most striking phenomenons in Russian youth slang is the use of Anglicisms — more specifically, the transferring of English words into Russian, either by directly or partly spelling them in Cyrillic letters. Sometimes Russian suffixes and/or endings are added to them, which gives them a uniquely Russian-sounding flavor.
For instance, почилиться (pochilitsya) means “chill out,” and you can see the word “chill” in there somewhere. But adding the prefix по- gives the verb a “perfect aspect,” and adding the typical Russian verbal ending -ть, plus reflexive postfix -ся-, makes the verb sound quite Russian.
Here are some other examples:
- сорян (soryan): from “sorry” + Russian slang-suffix -ян
- винда (vinda): “Windows” (like the Microsoft program)
- видос (vidos): from “video” + Russian slang-suffix -oс-
- пикча (pikcha): picture
- гайз/гайс (gaiz/gais): Direct Russian spelling of “guys”
- ридонли (ridonli): “read only”
- ЛОЛ: LOL
- мессадж: message
- хай (hai): hi
- тру: tru
- бро: bro
Because there is no single internet or millennial language in Germany, some differences between regions and communities can be found. The main characteristics, however, are semantic shifts (regarding the meaning of words), foreign influences (especially from English, Arabic and Turkish), and a lot of creativity, especially when it comes to neologisms (or made-up words). Every year since 2008, the so-called Jugendwort des Jahres (“youth word of the year”) is elected by Langenscheidt, a famous German publishing company.
Some examples of neologisms include entbieren (going to the bathroom to get rid of the beer you just drank), tinderjährig (to be old enough to use Tinder), napflixen (to take a nap while watching Netflix) and merkeln (“like Merkel,” as in Angela Merkel, aka to not be able to reach a decision).
Playing with words can also result in metaphorical expressions, such as Omabonbon (lit. “Grandma’s candy,” or pill), Salamiparty (the German equivalent of “sausage fest”), and vorglühen (“to glow before,” or to pregame).
English, Turkish, Arabic and other foreign influences have also led to the introduction of words like YOLO, LOL, bae, chillen and swag (familiar to English speakers), as well as Babo (“boss”), Lan (“guy”) and Wallah (“Dude”).
Abbreviations are done by leaving out letters or replacing them with numbers, such as meins (1 = eins) > m1 (“mine”); Nacht (8 = acht) > N8 (“night”); auf jeden Fall > fjdn (“in any case”); and Wie geht’s? > Wg? (“What’s up?”).
Informal internet or texting slang also takes liberties with leaving out articles, verbs and prepositions to create grammatically incorrect sentences:
- Lass mal ins Kino gehen! (Let’s go to the cinema!) > Lassma Kino gehen! (Let’s go cinema!)
- Ich gehe zum Bahnhof (I go to the station) > Isch geh Bahnhof
- Es ist so (It’s like that) > isso
- Ich bin’s (it’s me) > I bims
And if you wanted to express your approval of something in a youth-friendly way, you have some options. The expression leider geil translates to “sadly awesome” but means “really cool,” and hamma fett literally translates to “bold” but means “wicked.” Lastly, don’t laugh, but porno means “cool” or “interesting” (though it originally meant exactly what you think).
Similar to Russian Millennialese, the Italian Millennialese often used on social media is made up of popular English expressions that have been, well, “Italianized.” A lot of times, it’s not only the words that are translated from English, but also the phrasing of the sentence. This results in translations that are intentionally wrong or too literal, used for ironic effect.
Some examples include shippare, from the English “shipping” (short for relationshipping, or wishing that your favorite characters were a couple). You could also say È partita la ship (The ship has left) when you first realize that you “ship” somebody. In this case, the phrasing is also mimicking the English structure, but in a funny “out of context” way.
Lollare is a verb adaption of “LOL,” and laikare is an Italian adaptation of “liking.” Same goes for fangirlare (fangirling) and Instagrammare (Instagramming). I miei feels/i feels is adapted from “giving me feels/in my feelings,” and la mia vita/della vita/la vita is a literal translation of the English “of my life” or “is giving my life,” which is also used in the same overdramatic millennial way. Words like meme, queen/king, OTP (one true pairing), hater, hype, selfie and gol (relationship goals) often surface in Italian internet slang.
Social media and texting slang also includes quotes from trashy, popular Italian TV shows or songs, which are often regional slang expressions that sound funny because somebody said them on national TV. Regional expressions can sometimes go viral via memes or hashtag.
A well-known example of this is Mai una gioia (“Never a moment of happiness”), which became not only a generational motto, but a common expression used everywhere in Italy. Although it’s not clear how it began, Mai ‘na gioia appears to be a common way to complain about the bitterness of life in Rome. Millennials made it into a motto by turning it into a trending hashtag and a way to comment ironically on their everyday life (think FML in English). In a way, the popularity of this statement is revealing: young people between 25 and 30 are experiencing the highest rate of unemployment ever in Italy.
“Maria” is also a meme you might encounter in Italy. If you hear someone say Maria io me ne vado (Maria, I’m leaving) or “No Maria, io esco” (Maria, I’m going out), they’re referring to the afternoon show Uomini e Donne and the show’s top commentator, Tina Cipollari. Her strong Roman accent, her diva-like personality and the constant exaggerations and provocations make her a beloved character. “Maria” is the show’s anchor woman, Maria De Filippi. These specific quotes are used to express frustration or to declare that you have had enough of something or someone.
There are many different varieties of Spanish, and so there are many variations on internet/millennial language in Spanish. However, use of English words like “swag”, “meme” and “like” figure prominently into Spanish texting slang overall, as well as the “Spanification” of foreign words (stalk > stalkear, like > likear). Those familiar with internet speak in English won’t have to think twice if they see a Spanish speaker using “asap,” lol” or “lolazo,” “yolo,” “plz/pls,” “bff,” “fyi” or “omg.”
In Spain specifically, you might encounter words like swag, random, crush, hater, hype, bae, stalkear, trol/troll, yass, selfi/selfie, emoji, fail, meme, viral, likear, likes, coach, ghosting, freak/friki, spoiler, squad and goals (as in “relationship goals”). Latin America uses most of the Anglicisms Spain uses, in addition to expressions like “no way” and “say whaaat!”
Young Spanish speakers are also pretty creative when it comes to neologisms. In Spain, you might hear newfangled words like postureo (“posturing,” or doing something because you’re motivated only by appearances), crema/cremita (cool), cuñado (lit. brother-in-law, or someone who’s very conservative and discriminatory) and salseo (gossip). In Latin America, estar darks means “to be in a dark, sad mood.”
Some informalities have woven their way into traditionally Spanish words too. For instance, holi is the new hola, festi is short for festival, and guapi is the new guapa (or beautiful).
And in some circles, gender-neutral language has been adopted. Examples include tod@s, chic@s, latin@s, amig@s, Latinxs, amigxs or todxs in Latin America, or the use of “e” in place of “o” or “a” in Spain: todes, amigues, hijes, etc.
In some ways, the concept of millennials in Brazil is an American construct. There is an internet language that is extremely rich and playful, however, as Brazilians generally love to recreate and refresh Portuguese instead of sticking to the prescribed grammar rules.
They also have a number of slang terms to help “get the party started,” such as Sextou (the verb form of Sexta, which is “Friday” in Portuguese), Começam os trabalhos (“Let’s start our job,” used when one begins partying), and Fechar a lojinha (“I am closing the shop”).
The way you express approval in Portuguese can depend on your sexuality. Top means something like “great” and is used mainly by straight people, and bapho means “great/amazing” and is used by the LGBTQ+ community, though it can also signify something scandalous.
Brazilians have their own abbreviations, such as mara (short for maravilhoso, which means “wonderful”).
Affectionate terms are also the source of much innovation, such as mano(a) do céu (“dude”) or miga (“my friend”). The words mozi and mozão come from amorzão (“big love”).
In some circles, you might encounter gender-neutral adaptations too, such as the use of -x or -e at the end of the words. Amigo or amiga can become amigue, which can be shortened to migue.