March 30, 2007

How to tell that you're old

It's easy: work with teenagers. Many college graduates insulate themselves among people their own age or older for the remainder of their existence, and since they are unlikely to have children at all, let alone anytime soon after graduation, they'll never be forced to consider the reality that they're old -- that is, until their bedraggled biology refuses to comply with the outlandish demands they continue to place on it. Before considering an example of this in my next post, allow me to list some of the events that have clued me in to my official status as a graying geezer*, courtesy of the teenagers I tutor:

- One referred to the Will Ferrell era of Saturday Night Live as "the old SNL," despite my view of this cast as the "new" SNL which superseded the Chris Farley / Adam Sandler / Dana Carvey cast. This same student referred to an MTV t-shirt from 1981, which she got from her mother, as "retro." That didn't sound right, but then I remembered that when I was 17, a t-shirt from 1971 would probably have qualified as "retro" in my mind.

- Another said she might miss a session since she was going to a concert by Guster. The name sounded familiar, unlike that of most bands my students follow, to which she replied, "Yeah, they are kinda old." In reality, they're an alternative band from the mid-1990s.

- I thought that most people who enjoy Family Guy would also appreciate The Simpsons (at least the episodes from the pre-suckathon era that began around 1998), although apparently the less in-your-face, not so raunchy quality of The Simpsons leads teenagers today to refer to it as "old school" and not worth watching.

- When reviewing the word "gauntlet" for SAT prep, a student told herself that the meaning made sense given the nature of an MTV sports show of the same name, remarking half-contemptuously, "Oh, but you probably wouldn't know what that is." I'd normally take pride in not knowing what passing fad dominated the teenage TV market, but I took a little offense here at the suggestion that I was a withered old goat. In fact, I did know the show she was talking about; I watched a few episodes a couple years ago after being drawn in by the physique and attitude of the choleric, Cuban cutie Veronica Portillo.

- Above all, though, the easiest way to spot someone from a different generation is the slang they use. It's frightening how quickly your lingo goes out of style (my guess is that current teenagers wouldn't even immediately recognize "lingo" as a synonym of "slang"). This goes both ways. I get funny looks pretty frequently for using words like "gung ho," "fogey," "wimp," and others that I never would've suspected had already become démodé. Conversely, I had to embarrass myself by asking my students outright what the word "fried" meant in their argot -- when I first heard that so-and-so "got fried," I assumed they were talking about someone getting stoned. In fact, it means that so-and-so "got dissed really bad" or "put in their place."

At least that one I could've pieced together after hearing it a lot -- not so with "cise." One of my students (the pretty, popular, trendsetter type) used this word about ten times within an hour, despite never having used it before. "Oh great," I thought. "This word's just been born, so you can never say it too many times." She tried to explain it, but it has too many uses to be concisely defined. Reading over the entries at Urban Dictionary (most of which were entered by people in the DC metro area, so this word may not have spread to your region yet), and having heard the word many more times since then, I'd say the closest definition is "to hit someone up with" or "hook someone up with." (Yes, I realize the irony of using my generation's own impenetrable slang here.) For example, "hit me up with that pen over there" would be "cise me with that pen over there." Or when she wanted to be quizzed on vocabulary: "OK, cise me with some vocab words." I think someone needs to cise me with a few extra IQ points so I can keep all the usages straight.

So, that's a hint of what I deal with in my daily routine, although I could surely think of more examples if I had the time. The point is that I never would have discovered what a fogey I'd become if I'd chosen another line of work. A lack of contact with youngsters, such as that which characterizes the lives of most educated people, can seduce a person into believing that they're never going to grow old, thereby quieting their anxiety over their drifter's lifestyle and allowing them to persist in their adolescent view that "growing up" simply consists of getting a job and filing taxes.

*Although I am "only" 26, that is still older than most estimates of human generation time, which are typically between 20-25 years. My father started dating my mother in college when he was probably 20, married her when he was 22, and was 26 when I was born (my mother is one year younger than he). Perhaps this, too, has made it more difficult for me to escape the reality of how behind schedule I am -- most educated people's parents were probably 10 years older at each stage of the courtship and childbirth cycle than mine were.


  1. If you're past 35 or especially 40, the quickest way to realize that you're old is to associate with people your own age. You will quickly realize that some of them are just plain old.

    It can be misleading, of course, because people age at different rates. Some people are quasi-elderly at 60, say, while some of their contemporaries barely seem middle-aged.

  2. Hold up, yo. Fried does mean to get baked (at least it used to). The must've jonesed that shit from the past and redefined it -- freakin jonesers. Kids these days always gotta be frontin, not lettin a playa' play. Fools. Step off.

    (Have I dated myself?)

  3. Speaking of The Simpsons, they had a bit illustrating this very point about how quickly slang dates you, in one of their post-suckathon episodes in fact (the supposed decline is totally overhyped but I guess that discussion is for another thread).

    Linguistics and The Simpsons

    Lisa (rolling her eyes): Just what we need. Another lame suburban kid who loves rap.
    Bart: So? You like the blues!
    Lisa (smugly): Yeah, but the blues are unpopular!
    Bart (more symbols): Man, are you illin'!
    Lisa: Rappers stopped saying illin' twelve years ago!
    Bart: I'm keepin' it real!
    Lisa: They stopped saying keepin' it real three years ago.
    Bart: Mom, Lisa's dissin' me!
    Marge: Dissin'? Do rappers still say that?

  4. It can be misleading, of course, because people age at different rates.

    Um, are they moving at relative speeds more closely approaching that of light? If not, no they don't.

    Some may like to fantasize that immaturity or youthful tastes make them young, but polling young people should make this fallacy abundantly clear.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."