Tuesday, January 25, 2011

About Writing YA – Word Choice

I am a dork. I have always been a dork. I love sci-fi and fantasy. I still watch Star Trek reruns (yes, any season, that’s how big a dork I am.) I collect comic books. I can tell you which robots come from which movies. I am a dork.

Here’s the problem…teens don’t say dork anymore. I don’t think they did even when I was a teen (not that long ago.)  In my manuscript I said dork, dweeb and a couple of outdated words from the 80’s…not sure why, as I was a little kid then.

I had to face the facts, as much as I like being a self-proclaimed dork, using it in my manuscript was a no no. I needed to freshen up my dialogue so I substituted words like tragic and freak. I even discovered that douche-bag is coming back into style, though for the life of me I don’t know why.

I realize this makes my manuscripts sound a bit negative, but really it’s not. My positive words were fine, even made one up, but I was having trouble with the few instances that I needed characters to be, well, a little mean.

So what do teens say instead of dork? What positive slang do they use? I’m curious what you all think, especially those of you who are teens or have teenaged kids.


  1. That's a good question. I'm curious what the other commentors will say. I will check back to see. You're not a dork. I watch Star Wars all the time. :) Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm now a new follower on your blog. I look forward to more interesting posts.

  2. Well, being something of a complete dork and a highschooler...someone like me probably be labeled as a geek or a nerd. But I've never heard anyone called that to their face (except by well-meaning friends). Your best bet would range from "weird" to "freaking weird" to "F****ing weird."

    Positive slang? Well, we still say "epic," as well as "ill" (I've only heard that on the East coast though, people in California do say "sick"). Basically put the word "effing" or "freaking" in front of something. Freaking awesome. =D

    Watch some recent teen movies or shows, like "Easy A," "Juno," or the American version of "Skins." The dialogue is usually pretty true to form. Good luck!

  3. I guess language hasn't really changed all that much...except for dork :)

    Liking epic...thanks for the tip.

  4. I'm 16, and I call everyone a dork haha. =D

  5. I could be completely off-base here, but I feel like words are spoken with less enthusiasm and sincerity and more of a dry, sardonic feel.

  6. douche-bag? really? My brother used to call me that way back when. lol.
    I try to stay away from fad words in my manuscripts because they do date so quickly. I write YA fantasy, so I can do that.

  7. I don't think dork is that out of fashion with teens. Only been one year out of the teens, and I always called people dorks. Most often as a playful kind of thing.

    Epic, ftw (for the win) is becoming really popular, freaking, effing...

    Concerning "sick" (I'm from and in the West Coast) I don't think people really say that. At least, not that I've heard.

  8. Oh my gosh, this is a funny post. I'm particularly amused because of the fact that there's been a lot of buzz on twitter about outdated language and MS's that display a fondness of 80s culture and terminology that isn't realistic for the characters. I agree with Devin - I feel like freaking, effing. . .those are two I'm pretty comfortable using right now. I guess as long as I don't date myself and use "dweeb" LOL:)

  9. Maybe dork is a timeless classic :)

  10. Okay, my 11 yo old was no help here. I have dork in my first chapter of the book I'm querying. Looks like I'll be changing it. The mc in my wip uses dumbass.

    I'm so glad you found my blog, Demitria. Yours is great. :D

  11. I'm a big fan of "epic" but I'm afraid it may already be on its way out. Over at Ink Slingers, we have a real-live high schooler in our group for easy consultation. Hayley keeps us in line.

  12. I still hear a lot of "idiot" and "you're so ignorant." But, by far, the biggest thing I always hear is the word "wack." As in "this work is WACK" and "You are WACK."

  13. Ummm, in highschool (which was four years ago) people still said dork. Though freak was more common. Retarded is a pretty big one to, from what I understand. I agree with some of the other commentors. if you put freaking, effing or f***ing in front of pretty much any word, it's going to sound pretty up to date.

    Nice to meet you!

  14. I'm so lucky. I have siblings that are still pretty young (my baby sister turned 20 yesterday), so I run dialouge past them. Douche and douche bag were their suggestions on guy-to-guy negativity. Snatch is my sister's replacement for B*&%$#.

    We can all thank Napolean Dynamite for bringing back, "Idiot."

  15. I graduated high school in 2005, and we definitely all said "dork" as a light insult for friends. I probably used that one way more than anything else. Computer/LAN party/RPG guys were just called "gamers." Kids who liked anime were just called the anime-kids, but they often called themselves "Otaku," until they met a foreign exchange student who would tell them how gross real Otaku are.

    We'd usually use nerd in conjunction with something: star-wars nerd, computer-nerd etc, or fanatic, like star-wars fanatic etc.

    People who liked Star Trek were just Trekkies, or "a total Trekkie."

    I think this has a lot to do with being from the Pac Northwest where a lot of this is popular. When I heard kids saying things were "wack," or calling other people "freaks." I figured they were from out of town, or they were trying to be gangster. "Epic" and "Fail" hadn't hit by 2005. I heard those in college, along with douche-bag.

    But then, people would often tell me I talked like an old person, so another thing to keep in mind is not only what's normal at your characters school, and in their generation, but how much your character will alter their language to fit in.

    I think the most popular insult at my high-school was "f*cktard."
    I have uh...yet to incorporate that one. And I can't imagine writing a character so classless.

  16. Duuude. Okay, that's one's out.

    Dork is okay. Nerd is okay.
    I too, watch Star Trek re-runs.

  17. Dork, nerd, dude...whatever. Douche-bag is my least favourite but I've heard that one too. Whacko anyone? I love sci-fi but not necessarily Star Trek, more Star Wars. Do I still qualify as a dork? ;)

  18. My fourteen-year-old and her friends are constantly saying "epic fail" as in "That stunt was an epic fail." Or they say simply "fail."
    The other word I hear all the time is "legit." "I'm legit going to buy that."
    Negatives - freak, loser. Haven't heard dork.

  19. I so need to brush up on my teenage slang! I still say dork, too, but I'm learning!

  20. I agree with the "freaking". Pretty much freaking anything! I was also about to be pleased with myself for adding "fail" and "epic fail" and then I got to the bottom and saw that Sheri beat me to it!

  21. Nerd, geek, dork- which is actually a whale penis - yep.

    Oh yes and the English call them swats... I wonder about the Scottish?

    I am too seriously out of date about youthful slang. We had dinner with a teen just recently and he called his love interest - his female... which was sort of funny.

    Hope your well in this new year. :)

  22. There's pwned, of course... and a lot of language has been abbreviated, so good to go or got to go ends up as gtg.

  23. Here is what Hayley the HS Slang Consultant had to say on the matter when I asked her:

    "Epic is still totally acceptable, (I use it all the time) and dork is used but not often and the same goes for nerd. Both of those are used in passing between friends or in reference to yourself like "dude you are such a dork"*shakes head* or "could I be anymore of a nerd?" That kind of thing, only occasionally is it used in a derogatory fashion but I don't think anyone really takes it to heart."

  24. Well I just checked with the resident experts on kid slang.....dork is still used but it is more of a term used when a friend is doing something stupid.
    "Shut up Dork" is something you say to someone you like.
    It is not something you call the icky people. Skeeze or smaggot or anything involving feminine hygiene products...
    douche - stupid, inconsiderate, selfish
    douchebaggery - the act of treating people badly, stealing from friends,tattling on people Just to get them in trouble, these are acts of douchebaggery.
    Douchey - not strictly done with good intentions, iffy motives.
    V-card vanilla - old time miss goodie two shoes, has not Punched her V (virgin) Card and is unlikely to do so.
    And the grossest thing I ever heard....this one wins.
    Pad-sniffer - um the creepy boy who doesn't shower but talks graphicly about events that only happened in his mind...or makes Yucky remarks under his breath to the cheerleaders...til they are afraid to toss a pad that he won't be sneeking around to.....I know Blech!

    Dweebs are still around but its more to describe objects ---you can be a dweeb-magnet and attract L'ers...pronounced Ellerz (losers)
    Your Mom's car is a Dweeb-o-ride and
    a hokie cheesy school dance is a Dweeb-o-tech...
    and any really boring assembly is a Dweeb-fest.

    Bethany is correct in that Nerd is a descriptive for yourself....It is like saying...I'm smart and I am now open for complements...adore me.
    Could I be any more of a Nerd?
    translates to...
    This is my special quality, I'm so like Bella( please be my Eddie and obsess about me)...I am pretending to think I am not pretty so tell me that I am or tell me how cool my nerdy quality is.
    It is the new Fishing for complements phrase.

  25. Oh and the why of douche-bag return, is the show Supernatural - lol....kinda the new Star trek....though personally I only watched star trek for James Tiberious - WillyShat ner is epic!