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Keeping Up With Youth Culture
...and the Language Kids Use
An article from Jonathan McKee at

The following article is the introduction to Jonathan and Fred's
new book What's a Fo' Sheezy?

...and the Language Kids Use

I'll never forget sitting next to a youth pastor at a camp when one of his student leaders mounted the platform to give his testimony...wearing a T-shirt with the number 420 on the front. As the kid started sharing his story, I leaned over to the youth pastor and sarcastically whispered, "Nice T-shirt."

The youth pastor looked at me, confused, and replied, "What do you mean?"

He had no idea. Don't feel alone if you don't, either.

It's increasingly difficult to keep up with the ever-changing youth culture and the slanguage kids use. (The American Heritage Dictionary defines slanguage as "language marked by the use of slang.") Regardless of how silly it is, regardless of how much you like or don't like still use it. Sometimes they use it as a secret code of sorts to stay under adult radar screens. Others just use slanguage because it's catchy, and every cable- TV show they watch uses the terms.

420 was one of those obscure, "under the radar" terms for a while. It's basically defined as the time to smoke pot, but it's come to mean everything from the act of smoking to the stuff that's smoked. But because more than 90 percent of people DON'T know what 420 means, it's become a code people use to identify and talk with each other without outsiders knowing.

It's likely that many of us aren't excited about learning slang terms for drug use or sexual activity. But let's face it: We WOULD want to know if the kid standing in front of our youth group is "preaching" smoking pot. It's in these moments that we probably wish we'd at least kept our thumbs on the pulse of youth culture.

I'll never forget when I first heard the word tight. It was more than a decade ago. A student was talking about a teacher and said, "He's tight." Two decades ago that would've meant the teacher was way too strict or unfair. But a decade ago it was a good thing. This teacher was very good-"tight," in fact. Five years ago this teacher would've been "off the hook" and then more recently "pimpin'" or "bangin'."

It's hard to keep up! Where are these words coming from?

One source is the variety of English known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Black English, or Ebonics. This dialect has greatly influenced teenage vocabulary, crossing racial and socioeconomic lines to the point where speech stereotypes have now become blurry in many communities. White-dominated schools are full of students passing each other in the hallway, uttering phrases such as "What's crackin', my nephew?" And the reply: "Not much, dawg-we 'bout to roll out to lunch!"

The media has been one of the greatest influences of slanguage over the last 20 years, pushing it into the mainstream through media such as MTV. And this isn't just affecting students who listen to gangsta rap and hip-hop. MTV crosses racial and socioeconomic lines, reaching the inner city and the ‘burbs, influencing Caucasians, Hispanics, African Americans, Asians (and every other color), and affecting jocks, gangstas, skaters, and the kids who sit alone at lunch. Whether it's Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Ludacris, the Black Eyed Peas, or even the Pussycat Dolls, popular artists of all colors and genres are influencing all of our students with new terms every day-and the lingo is pretty much the same thing.

While some of these speech influences are innocent, the product MTV sends us begs for an "R" rating. Many of the terms are about sex, drugs, cruising, and partying as well as derogatory titles for each gender.

And slanguage isn't affecting students only-it's also influencing language used by adults. Monday Night Football commentary is filled with "shout outs" to relatives and friends at home. (A "shout out" is a simple "hello" or recognition of important others.) On September 11, 2001, United flight 93 victim Todd Beamer spoke his now-famous departing words, "Let's roll"-also the title of his wife's best-selling book. And while let's roll, a slanguage term meaning "Let's go!" isn't in the dictionary on your shelf, it's used daily by a growingnumber of teenagers and adults.

In fact, the meanings of words adults use every day are changing, too. Many people don't believe it, but check it out for yourself: Is the following sentence grammatically correct? "Do not disrespect your mom."

Pretty straightforward. Nothing wrong here, correct? The word disrespect is used as a verb.

But the dictionary on your shelf-unless it's very new-probably doesn't list disrespect as a verb. Most dictionaries list disrespect as a noun and disrespectful as an adjective. But nowadays the word disrespect is commonly used as a verb because of the growing use of the term dis, which is slang for "to show disrespect." So it's not uncommon to hear someone say, "Don't you disrespect me!"

Our language is changing as youth culture is changing. And at the top of the pyramid, before it trickles down into everyday language, slanguage is changing, too. Whether or not we like slanguage, it's beneficial to know the vocabulary of the generation we're trying to reach.

Our hope is that this book not only will educate you about some of the most popular, current terms of this generation but also will provide springboards for discussion.

This new book, What's a Fo' Sheezy? is not just a dictionary of current slanguage definitions... it's much more. This popular new book is a collection of topical discussions about relevant issues in youth culture. Check out what people are already saying about this new resource:

What's a Fo' Sheezy?

What's a Fo' Sheezy?
More Than 300 Questions from Slanguage to Get Teenagers Talking
Youth Specialties' brand new book
by Jonathan McKee & Fred Lynch

Larry Acosta says it well:
    "In a time where so few are willing to ‘keep up' with the ever-changing landscape of youth culture, Fred and Jonathan help us decipher many of the words, terms, slogans, and crazy sayings that our youth use today. "What's a Fo' Sheezy?" is a creative book that will get teenagers and you communicating."
    -Larry Acosta, president, Urban Youth Workers Institute (

"What's a Fo' Sheezy" is also recommended by Chap Clark, Josh McDowell, Les Christie, Chris Hill, Walt Mueller, Efrem Smith, Greg Stier and more...


Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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