Words certainly make the world go round and, thanks to the internet and social media, we’re coining them like never before.
Recent years have seen portmanteau terms like ‘hangry’ (being angry because of hunger), abbreviations like ‘NBD’ (no big deal) and gender-specific phrases like ‘manspreading’ (sitting with the legs apart to take up excessive space) and ‘manic pixie dream girl’ (a female character who inspires a male protagonist to enjoy life more) finding their way into OxfordDictionaries.com as their use online infiltrates the media and, consequentially, the way we communicate both online and offline.
Further analysis shows that there is much more etymology brewing within social media than the Oxford dons are picking up on. Last week, the New Scientist reported on software developed at Lancaster University that seeks to pick up emerging words used on sites like Twitter and Reddit. It found that South Wales social media users are mimicking the late Bernard Matthews with their use of ‘bootyful’ instead of ‘beautiful, and Northern usage might well spur a new abbreviation to be ‘cyw’ (coming your way) in the near future. Gamers are indulging in ‘scrims’ (practice sessions) and the phrase ‘on fleek’ (looking good), believed to have been unuttered until 18 months ago, has even made it into a Nicki Minaj song.
This might lead you to wonder whether you need to change the way you’re communicating on your website, blog sections or social media channels. Will using these ‘viral slang’ terms make you look ‘down with the kids’, or will it just come across that you’re trying too hard and missing the beat, much in the way that anybody who uses the phrase ‘down with the kids’ in a non-ironic sense tends to do?
An important thing to remember is that these viral phrases often come and go very quickly, so make sure that you’re keeping abreast of the latest slang. For example, one of the words that’s become most synonymous with the web is ‘lol’ (laugh out loud), but Facebook suggested last year that users are starting to shun it, preferring more onomatopoeic variants like ‘haha’ and ‘hehe’ to display their mirth. Also, when was the last time you heard/saw anyone use FTW (for the win) or pwned (pronounced ‘owned’ and used as an online taunt)? Google Trends has certainly noted their trailing off since the arrival of the 2010s.
Then again, social media is by its nature time sensitive, so don’t be afraid to go with the flow and use an en vogue online phrase when appropriate. Google, as usual, is your friend here, so use tools like Google Trends to find out what’s being said, and be sure to observe what’s trending on Twitter to see the hottest topics and hashtags, and how they could be applied to your business.