Yolo: why we teenagers are 'sick' 'ledges' with language

In the musical My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins, a professor of linguistics, is a purist when it comes to speaking English. He's trying to teach a poor, illiterate flower girl, Eliza, to speak like a lady. She's baffled when it comes to grammar or correct vocabulary, dropping her aitches all over the place. "Think what you're trying to accomplish," Higgins wails. "Just think what you're dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language. It's the greatest possession we have."

I wonder what Higgins would have to say, in his Queen's English, about the state today of the tongue of Shakespeare and Milton. Generations of teenagers have been offering their own additions to the language and their lingo can often seem utterly unintelligible to other people.

I'm guessing Higgins wouldn't respond too kindly to somebody telling him he did a lush job teaching Eliza, or his friend saying to him: "Have a sick birthday, noob."

"Lush", by the way, can simply mean amazing, and "noob" is a silly person, but can be used as a rude endearment. Both words, of course, have different connotations in different contexts. "Sick", meanwhile, conveys something fantastic or well done.

"What are we having for lunch today, dad?"

"Spag bol."


And the other diners immediately imagine a diseased patient or a puddle of vomit in their heads, which puts them off their food. Here, "sick" signifies a pleasant general acknowledgement. Of all the words we could have picked to replace "nice".

Then again, you'd forgive us for inventing words so we sound like we know something nobody else does and seem worldly and clever. Seeming worldly and clever is a rare occurrence for a teenager in a horribly cynical world and, after all, yolo. Oh, sorry: You Only Live Once. I quite like yolo, which conjures up images of yo-yos and Rolos sweets. The caption "#Yolo" would be appropriate, for example, for a photo of that craze last year, "planking". You know, lying facedown with your arms by your sides in absurd places such as famous monuments or school toilets and getting someone to take a photograph. Don't ask.

When I was younger, and not as wise as I am now, I helped a friend with a maths sum and received a hasty, "Thanks mate, you're a ledge." A ledge, I thought, like a shelf, or some sort of mountain rock? Of course, I was being politely told, "You're great", ledge as in an abbreviation of a legend. I'd spell it as leg but calling someone a leg sounds even odder.

That's the beauty of the English language, I suppose; the way it's constantly evolving. Perhaps it's a sign that our lives aren't all that exciting that we like using superlatives. Say you had an accident, such as when I crashed trying injudiciously to do a skiing trick. "Epic fail," murmured the other skiers, shaking their heads, as if I'd led an army to defeat in the Battle of Waterloo. We teenagers are dramatic, yes, but whatevs. Yolo.

The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai