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10 December 2021

Youth language - where does it come fromg meaning?

How does youth language develop, what is its purpose and how can it be used to address target groups?

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A few weeks ago the Youth Word of the Year 2021 was chosen - the winner was

cringe

!
If you are also older than 20 years, you probably have no idea what to think of it either. The Tagesschau made a nice move on the topic of youth words. Runs with you, day news!

The following youth words were still in the running in 2021:

Sheesh:

With this word, young people express amazement, disbelief, or surprise.

Sus:

Short for the English word suspicious, the word stands for suspicious or conspicuous.

Lost:

Also a word influenced by English, it means lost and expresses feelings of cluelessness, uncertainty and helplessness. No wonder it was chosen as the Youth Word 2020.

Wyld:

Quite a wyld, isn't it? Perhaps you're more familiar with the synonym

crass

?

Accurate:

You'll probably know the meaning of the word, even if you wouldn't exactly expect it in youth language.

How is youth language created?

Since the presence of social media has increased, youth words have been heavily influenced by the English language. "There wouldn't have been anything like that in the old days!" - grandma and grandpa would say now. Stop, not so fast: youth language has always existed, even if it has changed, of course.
Youth language has always been shaped by literature, then later by radio, television and today social media. While in grandma's and grandpa's time youth words like "dufte" (beautiful/beautiful), "schwofen" (going to the disco) and "Schürzenjäger" (womanizer) dominated, today youth language is mainly shaped by instagram, tiktok and co. Viral videos and [memes](https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme_(cultural ph%C3%A4nomen)) reach millions of young people at the same time and become a symbol for a certain emotional state.
Youth language is created through specific words, emphasis, grammar, and the contextual meaning of terms. This can also mean that grammar and spelling are intentionally used incorrectly, as in the following example:
Incorrect spelling and grammar are trademarks of vong language.

Incorrect spelling and grammar are trademarks of vong language.

The word "vong" was voted Youth Word of the Year in 2017, and draws an entire idiom after it. This imitates incorrect spelling on social networks, created by typing quickly on a smartphone. The hype surrounding vong-speak was such that even the Duden reacted to it:
Even the Duden dedicated a post to the vong hype (shorturl.at/mrsBP)

Even the Duden dedicated a post to the vong hype (shorturl.at/mrsBP)

Since young people do not always remain youthful, of course, but become adults themselves, some youth words enter the colloquial language, as can be understood by the example of "cool", "awesome" or "mega", which are no longer used only by young people today. Youth language is subject to constant change, and so even young adults can no longer keep up with the youth language of today. Especially today in times of Tiktok, Instagram and co. Due to the influence of social media and international networking, globalization and interculturality also have a major impact on Generation Z.

Why youth language?

Contrary to what adults may feel, youth language is not used for rebellion or provocation, but is an expression of identification with the peer group and at the same time of differentiation from other groups (and that can then also be the parents or other authority figures).
The more nicen words are used in a sentence and the better they fit into the context, the more impressive they are. Young people who juggle youth language particularly well are admired and can distinguish themselves in front of their peer group.

Youth language to appeal to the target audience?

This TV commercial from Edeka went viral in 2014. "Superheftig, superdeftig, superlässig, supergeil". Edeka not only alludes to the word "supermarket" here, but also uses the youth word "supergeil" a total of no less than 33 times. However, it is crucial that Edeka uses the youth word with humor and does not try to use youth words in a serious context. Young people use youth slang to communicate with their peers, so slang often doesn't fit into serious advertising, articles, or communication with other age groups in general. At best, it triggers a sense of cringe among young people.
It's a different story when youth slang is used in commercials by young people themselves, as in this 2016 Sparkasse TV commercial:
Here, young people can have the feeling that they are being communicated with at eye level, they feel better addressed because the advertising message is conveyed by people who are similar to them. In psychology, this is known as the

similarity effect

. The fact that people share the same slang can also contribute to them being perceived as more similar. However, youth slang should always be used authentically and not artificially or forced.
In general, the use of youth language in advertising is not a bad idea, but it can also backfire, as with this Vodafone advertising campaign, which earned a lot of ridicule online:

 This advertising campaign by Vodafone backfired.  © Screenshot Twitter @DerKaiserWill

This advertising campaign by Vodafone backfired. © Screenshot Twitter @DerKaiserWill


But why did this advertising flop? Vodafone took its cue from vong language here, but made the crucial mistake of not using "grammar" correctly. This is because "vong" is not simply used as a substitute for the grammatically correct "of," but replaces a state or action. Here's how to do it correctly Vodafone:

If your datem volume from the previous month is still there. 1 nices momemt vong surprise her

. A grammatically correct description for "vong" is hard to find.
So using youth language in advertising isn't quite as easy as you might think. It's best to involve young people themselves in developing the campaign, then nothing can go wrong :wink:
You want to address your younger target group? Get in touch with us.
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