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Slanguage: An Insight into Youth Culture Today
An Interview with Fred Lynch and Jonathan McKee
An article from Jonathan McKee at TheSource4YM.com
4/10/2007


Dare 2 Share's (D2S) Lane Palmer interviews authors Fred Lynch and Jonathan McKee about youth culture today and the 'slanguage' kids use.

D2S: Hey guys- thanks for taking the time to chat with us about the relevance of slang in our youth culture and how that can be a great "launching point" for discussion with students.

Jonathan: Glad to.

D2S: Let me just start off by saying that I love your e-book. Youth workers are always looking for discussion jump-starters, and you two have taken something current—slanguage—and created a nice little tool for youth workers to use to talk about relevant issues in their lives. The thing I like most about this tool is that it's NOT a guide of how to talk; instead it talks ABOUT slanguage and then asks good thought-provoking questions to get kids talking.

Fred: Kids like to talk about what's current. When I've tried out these questions with kids I work with, I find that kids like to be in the know. They like telling us how it is. This book is good at opening doors and getting teens to talk to us about their world.

Jonathan: I'm a sucker for any tool that helps me get a glimpse into their world.

D2S: Me too, so let's talk about their world for a minute. Do all kids use slang... or just a small representative of our youth culture?

Fred: Well, most kids are closely involved with what's going on in slang. So, do they use it often? You could say that, to a degree... (laughing) all kids are "users." Most kids are connected with it, they understand slang, they use it as code to navigate the complex landscape of modern adolescence. If kids don't know, they act like they know—they fake it, until they find out... and they usually want to find out.

Will they want to find out what it means so they can use it? Not necessarily. They always want to just be "armed with it." They want to be able to know what it is, and know how to use it if they get the opportunity.

Jonathan: And let's be honest. A lot of kids out there don't necessarily know the MOST current terms, but they are familiar with slanguage. The media keeps them current. I'm not just talking about hip hop; I'm talking about mainstream TV and movies. Even in Disney movies and other popular cartoon movies... the Zebra walks up on the beach and says to the lion, "What's crackalackin'?" So now, many home schooled kids are familiar with some of those terms. And kids that watch MTV... they watch shows like "pimp my ride" where slanguage is a staple.

Most kids have easy access to slanguage through these forms of media. 64% of teenagers have a TV in their bedroom. 69% of them view it on cable. The average time that an 8 to 18 year old watches TV or movies per day is 3 hours 51 minutes. The media keeps them current.

Fred: True.

Jonathan: So even if they don't necessarily walk down the hallway and say, "What's good wit' you, playa!" They are at least current with some of these terms that are being flung around. So, if they aren't speakers, they are at least understanders.

Fred: Yes they are. And just to reiterate: it's a part of their landscape as far as to be a teen today. If at least to have an understanding of what a lot of the current slang is and just say, "O.K., I'm up on that... I understand what that means." Even if they don't use slang words all the time, they are often lured in simply because it is "their world."

D2S: That totally makes sense for urban and suburban teens, but what about students in rural areas? For example, what about a white kid living in Arthur, Nebraska... when his mom asks him to go pick corn, does he say, "Fo' Sheezy!"?

Fred: Well, I don't think he would because Mom wouldn't understand what he's saying... and I don't know any kids even in Nebraska that would be that hyped up over picking corn! (laugh) But I guarantee he does know what the words "Fo' Sheezy" means.

Now I don't think that kids are always trying to use slang in every situation, especially when it comes to being around adults. Remember, we are talking about kids who have developed such a complex culture, that to a great degree they live a certain way and act a certain way around adults and then act a certain way around their own... their own peers.

So would a white kid from Nebraska say, "Fo' Sheezy" to Mom? Probably not. But would he probably say it in passing, maybe even in joking? Not saying "I'm a serious user of the term 'Fo' Sheezy.'" But would he say it to his friend... more than likely, yea.

Jonathan: Absolutely. And I think that even that Nebraska kid's favorite Cornhusker star was giving "shout outs" to his own mom in a recent TV interview. And so whether or not that Nebraska kid calls himself a slang user or not, he's familiar with a "shout out," He's probably also familiar with other popular slanguage terms like, "pimp," "grill," "krunk," or "holla." Those mainstream words are even penetrating rural areas across the nation.

Fred: Absolutely.

D2S: True dat...I mean I agree. So where does most this 'slanguage' come from?

Fred: Although rock, pop and other alternative styles of music and life are powerful communication tools; hip hop definitely provides the biggest exposure of current slang. A lot of slang is developed out there on the streets where youth culture thrives. Hip hop has become one of those platforms where artist can showcase the latest, greatest phrase that's out and see it take off and become a world wide phrase very quickly. Nelson George, the author of 'Hip Hop America,' said that once the rap video came out, you literally could come up with a new style of dance, art, clothes or slang and see it spread around the world within weeks. Let's say you can come out with a new style of baggy pants. You can wear your pants backwards and within a week of that video being out, now nationally all over the nation, and to a great degree, all over the world, kids are starting to wear their pants backwards. O.K., well, flip that and look at it in the sense of slang. A kid says something like a "Fo' Sheezy" or they say something like "What it do" and all of a sudden it's in a rap song. That rap song becomes a popular song, then becomes a popular video and now fans are trying to find out what that new term means so they can add the latest slang to their repertoire.

D2S: That makes sense, but what about for all those teens that don't listen to Hip-Hop?

Jonathan: It's funny how often youth workers will ask me that. And the answer is this: that's a pretty small chunk of our culture. I'd say two thirds of our youth culture listens to hip hop. As a matter of fact, according to Kaiser's most recent study, hip hop is the most popular music genre. 65 percent of 7th – 12th graders listen to hip hop, where second place to hip hop is alternative rock which is 32%. Below that there is country and other stuff. If you you'd like to see for yourself, pop onto Billboard.com or iTunes and check out the top charts and top downloads.

Now, some people think, "Oh well, are you sure that's all kids? What about white kids?" That's what I love about most of these studies, including that particular Kaiser study. It is detailed by race. Check this out: 60 percent of WHITE kids listen to hip hop each day, where only 38 percent of them listen to alternative rock, then country... And you've got to realize that when kids are averaging 6 ½ hours per day of media exposure, which is what that same survey reports, this is a lot of influence. So when this video that Fred's talking about comes out, most kids... actually... let me reiterate to be completely accurate, 65% of kids are current with that term within a week.

Fred: Within a week.

D2S: That's amazing...can you say 'lemmings' or what? So what about pre-teens or tweens? Tell me they haven't been hip hopped yet!

Fred: Well, have you noticed Nickelodeon lately? I mean if you look from Nickelodeon to Disney Channel to the Cartoon Network, I mean Sponge Bob Square Pants is break-dancing.

Jonathan: (laughing) Which is really hard... because he's square!

Fred: Look at most of these new cartoons! All of these cats – these cartoon characters- are utilizing and using the latest slang. It's become just kind of a cute way to communicate, almost kind of like when the 'Merry Melodies' back in the 50's, 60's were using these funny "screw ball" terms and the slang terms of their day. Hip hop culture is so pervasive within youth culture today that yea, I would say even the average kid, the average 10 year old, 9, 11, 12 year old and up, they are saturated with it.

Jonathan: I was in Toys R Us with my daughter, just a couple of weeks ago, and my daughters are young and whether they admit it or not—hopefully this interview won't go out to their friends—they still play with dolls. And we were in the doll aisle, and immediately I ....

Fred: There ain't nothin' wrong with playin' with dolls, Man!

Jonathan: (laughing) Don't make me tell your secret Fred! Anyway... my daughters were there and we were looking. And wow! Have you seen dolls lately? I don't know if you've seen the Barbie My Scene Bling Bling dolls...

Fred: The Barbie Bling Bling dolls! (laughing)

Jonathan: That's what they're called. It's right on the package. They're the Bling Bling dolls and man they are blingin' it. I'm telling you, they've got bling piercings. They've got bling hangin' off their necks. They got bling on their wrists. My little girls didn't even blink twice. They knew what they were. I showed them the dolls and they just said, "Oh yea My Bling Bling!"

Fred: It's pervasive. It's saturated into the culture.

D2S: Wow- I can't wait for the 'Strictly 4 My Barbies' video to come out! So in the intro section of your new book "What's a Fo' Sheezy" you say that it is important for youth workers to understand this language. Why is that?

Fred: You know it's so important for us as youth workers to understand this language, not necessarily so we can use it and be hip and be cool with kids, but so we can understand the landscape, so we can understand what's going on in youth culture among kids. Bottom line, it's just another great way to connect with kids and get into their world.

There's a lot of good stuff, you could probably say that we as adults may have a handle on. A lot of scripture, a lot of life experience, life skill, a lot of ways that we want to connect with them. Well, one of the best ways to connect is by understanding their world and giving them that sense of freedom that it's not just about you coming into my world, you know-"let me tell you something!" But uh, "Let me listen; let me hear what's going on in your world." And so there is a sense of "reciprocity."

Jonathan: Whoa, Fred! Hold on... I'm getting my dictionary.

Fred: (laughing) No, seriously. You know, Lauryn Hill made that word popular, a couple of years on one song she did. The song was full of soul, and then she dropped this big dollar word, but it worked and she had kids in the hood lookin' for some reciprocity! I guess it worked because they had to figure out what she was talking about. But there is a sense of give and take... I understand what's going on in your world; let me introduce you to what's going on in my world. And it's backwards and forwards.

Jonathan: You know and immediately... Fred as you're talking, I sit there and think, Man, that's exactly what Jesus did. God looked at us throughout the whole Old Testament trying to speak through the law and the prophets and everything. And finally God just came down and entered our world. He became flesh.

Fred: That's it!

Jonathan: And you know, the Word became flesh. He entered our world and understood what it was like to be human, to walk around, and to talk. He entered our world... our culture. The Apostle Paul... he entered the world of the people he reached and used current examples from their culture. Entering their world is straight from the scripture.

Fred: Preach! Church!

Jonathan: Exactly.

D2S: Fred, you mentioned that this language wasn't necessarily for us to "use" but to understand the landscape. So let me ask it this way: what should youth workers NOT do, in understanding slanguage?

Fred: Well, it's not something that you force. You know, or try to do but it's un-natural. I think that it would be un-natural for youth workers to grab some "slang dictionary" and try to learn all of the words so they can insert them in all of their conversations with kids. You DON'T want to do that. And that's why we didn't just publish a "slang dictionary." Our slanguage book is a tool that talks ABOUT slanguage, asking discussion starting questions that gets kids talking about their world.

So don't try to learn a bunch of new words and force them in your vocabulary. To me that would be un-natural...(laughing)... for someone that's probably my age (40), coming around and all of the sudden they're looking brand new with all of these new words, it looks too suspicious. So I would say that's an important 'no-no' to remember. You don't want to get all of these words just so you can have them in your arsenal to prove that you're cool enough to hang with the homies and you're found firing them off all of the time.

Jonathan: Long before our slanguage book I launched the slang dictionary on our web site, which Fred is now the editor of. Big ups to my man Fred!

Fred: Yep. Lovin' it.

Jonathan: I created that dictionary more for understanding, rather than speaking. I'll never forget... I was sitting in a Chap Clark seminar at one of the YS conventions and he said that some kid walked up to him and said that his wife was a pretty good looking "milf." He said, "I had to jump on Jonathan's slang dictionary to find out what that word meant." A nice little shout out. Then he said, "And once I found out, I was pretty surprised." Sometimes it's good to just know what kids are saying.

Fred: Yea. It's good to be able to know what they're saying and smile and keep it moving as opposed to having to stop the presses and have to run back to the slanguage site and see what it means.

Jonathan: It's nice to not have to fake it.

Fred: (laughing) There you go.

Jonathan: Fred, let me quickly ask you a question. What advice would you give to the white suburban youth worker who is teaching or preaching a sermon... maybe he's doing a talk on sex and relationships. Should he talk about "hookin' up?" Not necessarily trying to be something he's not, but can he use some of those key terms to add relevance? Or is there ever a place, even in a joking sense, for those terms, maybe even in the title of the sermon?

Fred: Well, I think that he does have the right to use it with humor or as a hook. I think that he can, there is plenty of room to do that. And that's one of the reasons that this becomes a strong vital tool. As we've already established, slang is so pervasive in the mainstream America.

I was with a senior pastor about three weeks ago and this guy is about our age, you know, he's in his late thirties, just a phenomenal pastor, leading about 8,000 folks. And we were at a pretty 'straight laced' Bible school and the president of the Bible school said, "I just love how you do this, da, da, da...." And was just going on, giving this friend of mine great accolades. My friend, the pastor thanked the president for the compliments and said, "You know, that's how we roll." Now, this pastor is just the average white, thirty-something, pastor, okay? And the president of this Bible school just looked at him like, "I don't understand what you just said." (laughing)

Well, when this pastor is talkin' to those kids in Bible school, when he's talkin' to youth... for him to say, "that's how we roll" as a senior pastor, he caught and kept their attention.

That's one of the things this tool is for... for you to not have to fake it. My friend wasn't faking that. That was just how he talks, because it's become a part of his life. For you to utilize these words every now and then in a sermon it has to become a part of you.

I do the same thing with Spanish kids. My youth that I speak to, you know, especially my hometown being Texas, there are loads of Latino kids that I work with and so every now and then I'll throw in a Spanish word in a sermon and just, what it becomes once again, is that connector. It's just that bridge. Am I going to try to preach the whole sermon and the whole message in Spanish? No. I'll make myself look stupid, I'll shame the language... I'll loose the connection. But every now and then, to throw something in and even ask them, how do you really say this? All it does is simply shines a little light on the fact that, hey, I want to connect with your world and understand what's going on.

Jonathan: Well said. Well said.

D2S: Once we have a basic grasp on this language, what then? In other words, what are the best ways to use this knowledge once we have this basic grasp?

Fred: Well, once you have the basic grasp, I think just adding it slowly to more of your understanding necessarily than your output... so it's more for your input and helping out your whole matrix of how I do ministry and how I connect with kids, as opposed to your output. You know, you don't want to just every now and then throw a slang out on display to say, "In our store of ministry we do the slang thang too!" (laughing) No, it's for you to develop stronger understanding of how to connect with kids and mind you, once it's a part of who you are, what you're into... yea a word is gonna slip out every now and then. And that word, especially once it comes out natural, will be something that gives you just a greater connection and a greater understanding into the lives of teens.

Jonathan: When I speak to kids, I like to use slang in humor sometimes too. Because I—goofy looking white guy—don't look like a natural slang user. For me to force it would be fake. But if I'm telling the story about David and Saul, I'll talk about how Saul got up in David's grill. When David killed the lion, I'll talk about how he busted a cap in the lion. That always gets a laugh from kids. Kids like that because I'm not forcing something, but I'm taking a Bible character and I'm bringin' it to current terms. If I'm preaching on gossiping I might talk about "whobangin." And some of the kids don't even know what whobangin' is... that's pretty cool when you find yourself a little more current than them.

Fred: Oh, they realize they have to step their game up... Oh my gosh, my youth pastor is using "whobangin." My youth pastor is askin' me "what it do?" and I'm like I don't know what it do.

Jonathan: And then all they have to do is go turn on Nickelodeon for 20 minutes and then they're more current than you.

Fred: (laughing) "Oh, what it do, Sponge Bob?"

Jonathan: That's it!

D2S: Well obviously What's a Fo' Sheezy is a great tool to use this knowledge to open doors to conversation. All that youth workers need to do is download it and they've got... how many discussion questions?

Jonathan: Over 300. We define a slang word, then we give discussion questions about that word and its meaning. There are 52 different discussions with six to nine questions in each. The greatest thing about this resource is the fact that it gets kids to talk about their world.

D2S: Wow. That's good stuff. So how would you respond to someone who said, "Well we have the Bible and the experiences from when we were teens...why do I need to learn anything else, why do I need to know 'slanguage'?

Fred: Well, I would say right off the bat is that we have to agree that the Bible has truths in it that speak to all men at all times. As culture changes, we need to take this unchanging truth and apply it to changing culture. We might notice that this is where we are as a nation, as a society... and slang right now is really important in the life and the minds of teens. It's taken up a lot real estate in the minds of kids. And so to connect scripture, to connect truth, this is just the viable tool to use to connect it.

Jonathan: Yes... the truth of the Bible is unchanging. And that very Bible shows us examples of using creative and current ways to communicate that truth. God has always chosen creative ways to reveal himself to humankind. In Psalms 19 he speaks in Nature, "The Heavens declare the Glory of God." Theologians call this general revelation. Later in Psalm 19 the writer talks about the very specific words of God "The law, the commandments". Theologians call this special revelation—meaning that God moved from the general information about God to very specific "words" from God to us. He put these in his law—his commandments-- "Thou shalt not steal." Pretty clear.

In the New Testament God even revealed himself as the Living Word (John 1). He became limited in time and space as a human being.

So what? What's the point? God chooses the use of "words" that we use to talk to us and reveal his nature, his love, his message and his salvation to us. And Jesus, the peripatetic teacher...

Fred: The what? Uh oh... now I'm getting my dictionary (laughing)

Jonathan: Yeah... my dad just used this word recently... I like it. The word means "teaching as he walked along." So Jesus, the peripatetic teacher, would stop and use words that his listeners understood: fishing, farming, nets, seeds, sheep. I really think that today He would use words that we use: texting, commute, SUV... I don't know... maybe soccer mom, cyberspace...

And Paul used the athletic events of his day—particularly the Greek games, which often had pagan overtones. But to communicate the discipline of the Christian life he talked about boxing, running, striving, winning, crowns.

And, an example I use a lot... on Mars Hill -Acts 17-, Paul is walking along and checking out the idols of the day. He uses their "unknown" God as an example or a "discussion jumpstarter," if you will, to communicate the message of Salvation.

Words are dynamic. They keep changing. Ten years ago we would have never used the words, "Googled," or "hooking up" -in the sense that it's used today- or "Podcast." In the Bible there are customs and words that were used in 1000 B.C. and/or 1 A.D. that we don't use today. We have to interpret them in today's language. For example, we don't talk about putting "oil in our lamps". We put batteries in our flashlights. When the Bible was written they rode in chariots. Today we ride in gas guzzling SUVs.

Slanguage is a 2007 'American culture' glimpse into the window of today's youth. Our experiences when we were kids, and the Bible, need to be interpreted to the youth culture just like God, Jesus and Paul took the powerful message of Salvation and communicated to their culture without diluting the message at all. The message is unchanging.

Fred: Preach!

D2S: Any final words?

Fred: Final words? I want to shout out to Kiki and to Boom Boom... (laughing).

Jonathan: (laughing) Who the heck is Boom Boom?

Fred: Ju-Ju, Lil' T and Neckbone, I'm gonna holla at cha' Neckbone and... (laughing)

Seriously now. I would say that ultimately what we're all after is how can we connect teens, and journey with them in their lives. If you're reading this, I may not know you personally, but I probably do know this about you if you are hearing this interview: when you get around a bunch of teenagers, something kicks in, you just come alive and you're like man, how can I get these kids closer to Jesus? How can I get to know them more, how can they get to know me more and how can we all journey together to know God more? Well, that is what we're all after and our goal and our heart's desire is to allow this book to be one more tool in your tool belt, in your utility belt to get that goal accomplished. My hat is off to you. And my prayer and my hope is that you do get that goal accomplished. Get out there, love teens and change the world.

Jonathan: Aw yeah!

Fred: Church!

D2S: Thank you guys for your time- my prayer is that God uses this great resource in huge ways. It will definitely keep youth pastors from jumpin' the shark too soon!

Jonathan: Ha... nice idiom. I appreciate your time as well. This was fun..

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 speaking to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. 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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